After careful explaining, Zach was informed of the problem by Soter and Doctor Stihl. He wasn't exactly married to the girl, who's name was Opera Fiendeye, at least not by the earthling standards of marriage, but it worked the same way, the title she held to him was still "wife" and his title to her was still "husband." And the term was still referred to as "marriage." So basically, he was married to Opera Fiendeye. The only difference was that it wasn't a holy union, only a legal union but because the concept had been introduced to Earth-Humans through an Ave, the humans put two and two together with the religious aspects due to its introduction through an "angel" and so it became the holy union between two lovers. Zach found it difficult to wrap his mind around it all.
The group had grabbed one of the rental vehicles they approached after their encounter, which Soter referred to as Overgates. The vehicle's entrance opened from the back and they walked in, taking one of the four seats inside as Doctor Stihl took the pilot's chair in the front and activated the vehicle. The Overgates had been in a row along the sidewalk but were directly in front of the opening to one of the many winding highways trailing across the city. When the Overgate was activated, Zach could feel the vehicle lift into the air and hover a few feet above the crowd that walked in front of it. Doctor Stihl pulled back on the gear and the Overgate shot forward directly for the highway ahead. As soon as it reached the half-silver/half-transparent road, Doctor Stihl pulled back on another gear and the Overgate lowered back down closer to it as it trailed along side the other Overgates, continuing onward to their destination.
"So what am I going to do about this whole marriage thing?" Zach asked worriedly. "I barely know that woman."
"Honestly, I'm not sure, Zachary," Doctor Stihl said with a sigh. "You can always get a divorce."
"Well, I don't want to do that. She still seems like a nice lady. I'm just not in love with her."
"Well you could always try and see if you like her. She will show up again soon, I'm sure, now that she knows you're back. You might find yourself infatuated with her."
"Maybe," Zach said, looking away in thought. "So what's at the Monolith?"
"An Earth city's worth of inhabitants, a plethora of young cadets training to become the government's next generation of soldiers, and the leader of our civilization."
"And that's where I'm supposed to be getting my 'Memory Log' thing?"
"Correct. We have to get authorization from Chairman Tome himself, but he will almost certainly approve. He has a deep admiration for you."
"Charming. So what is this Memory Log thing and how's it supposed to help me find my pin."
"After every Shore Leave, every Star Crest soldier is given the option of having their mind scanned for a Memory Log, in the event of any kind of mental injury such as an amnesiac episode or anything of the sort. It basically stores all of their memories but it stays locked in a confined area where only authorized personnel can access it. Then there's what we know of as the Cesspool Log, which is the section of the Memory Log that not even authorized personnel can gain access to. It is basically the place where soldiers store the memories that are private or that they'd much rather forget but still need to hold on to. No one can gain access to them without the soldier's permission."
"I'm guessing I'm probably not going to get to see what's in that then."
"Probably not," Soter said. "It's probably best that you didn't. But I'm not even sure if the Zach English we know even had a Cesspool Log, so its really nothing you need to concern yourself with. All you need to focus on is keeping your eyes open for that pin."
"Oh okay," Zach said, nodding. "....So, how do I do that?" Soter looked back at Zach with a questionable gaze. "Like, you haven't told me what I'm supposed to be expecting. Is it some kind of computer or something? How am I supposed to find the pin if I don't know what to look for or what I'm going to be looking at when I get there?"
"I believe there was one of those moving plays from Earth that probably explains it," Soter said. "What was it called? Gosh, I can barely remember any of the popular culture from that place."
"Well first of all, what's a moving play?"
"You know a moving play. You sit in a big room in the dark and consume hot expanded seeds while your electronics provide you with a previously recorded play. Its a huge part of Earth culture."
"You mean a movie?"
"Right, that's what they're called. Its the one with the....oh gosh, your phrases are so strange, I can't remember what they translate to in Agnathan. It had something to do with them going into a virtual program-"
"You're talking about Tron?"
"I believe that's it."
"So its like that. I travel into a virtual world?"
"Kind of. But instead of a program, you'll be traveling into your memories essentially."
"Oh...okay. Sounds exciting."
Soter shrugged. "Might be."
The rest of the ride was uneventful, but it was easy for Zach to lose himself in thought as he rode quietly at the back of the Overgate. Once again drawing comparisons to his old self and his new non-earth-toxin-filled self, he knew that he probably would not have traveled this far with these two had he not went through the change; given his impatient and belligerent nature, he probably would have attempted to bail on them from the moment they tried to get him to board the Taxicruise and probably would have dragged to Arias from there. Now he was riding in the back of one of their hover vehicle things and headed even farther down into the rabbit's hole. It was definitely a lot better than handling the whole thing on his own. But he had no idea what this was all leading up to. He knew he needed to get access to his account in order to live a stable life here, but from that point on, there was no telling what he would do. He didn't exactly have any experience in anything here in the North Circuit to help him get a job, except for apparently expert military prowess that he never remembered having. A military job was out of the question, unless they were willing to teach him from scratch how to be a soldier, something of which he didn't see himself being very enthusiastic for at all. He would rather be some type of lawyer or have some kind of input on a political scale; they were bound to have those kinds of professions and studies of those professions here, hell, they probably originated from here. But after this vital step was taken, there was no telling how his mind might be changed. The trip into the Memory Log just might allow him to remember an entire life he had lived here and be set back on the course he'd left off on. Whatever it all led to though, he was much more likely to take it in stride than he would have been just a few hours ago.
The highway they traveled on had an express way leading straight for the Monolith, which was even larger in person than from the Taxicruise. From this point, Zach could see it stretch beyond the purple clouds and disappear behind them. It was bulk from the bottom but grew increasingly slimmer in width the higher it got until it was as thin as a radio tower once it broke through the planet's atmosphere. The winding road led into a large tunnel that seemed to run under the Monolith area and as soon as they entered it, they could see that security had grown exponentially. They were forced to stop at a terminal before entering the tunnel where Doctor Stihl had to verify his identity to get through before continuing on. Zach hadn't seen many enforcement officers of any kind on the way there but here, they seemed to make up the population of the area. Soter wasn't kidding when he said this was the headquarters of that Star Crest thing. There were multiple groups of soldiers walking along the walkways beside the tunnel, wearing various forms of armor and some clad in only uniforms but still walking with a degree of professionalism.
"The ones in black are the Orbital Police," Soter explained, referring to the soldiers that walked with blocky black protective armor covering their bodies and unique helmets that sort of resembled the riot cop helmets back on Earth, only they were equipped with a much more rounded shape over their heads. Only a few actually wore helmets, most went without them. "The ones in uniform are actual Star Crest soldiers. You can tell their division by their uniform. The ones in the red and black are Artillery Corps, the equivalent to the US's Army, the ones in blue and black are Motor Infantry Epsilon, the equivalent to the Navy, and the ones in purple and black are the Steel Wing Reserve, similar to the Air Force."
What about the ones in the silver and black?" Zach asked, though he could only see a few wearing those colors among the sea of men and women in arms beside them.
"They're from Cosmic Flash," Doctor Stihl answered. "The Intelligence Branch of Star Crest. They are like your CIA."
"Interesting," Zach muttered, as they continued onward. After a while the crowd of soldiers thinned out, most of them taking their own route into several doors that ran along the walkway they traveled along. After a while, Doctor Stihl turned the Overgate down another road which led to what looked to be a parking deck with many other identical Overgates organized neatly in rows throughout a rather large cavern-like area. The Overgate finally found a space, where there was a large open tech platform jutting up from the white "pavement." Zach hadn't seen it when they first took off, but it looked like some type of charger that the Overgate was supposed to fit on when left dormant. Doctor Stihl pushed the gear forward, lifting the Overgate into the air once again as it hovered over the parking space, then pulled it back once more, lowering the vehicle onto the platform with a loud click as it locked into place.
The three of them exitted from the back and walked out into the large cavern-like parking deck.
"This place is huge," Zach said, his words echoing throughout for what seemed like miles. "I hope we're taking one of those lightlift thingy's to get where we need to go."
Doctor Stihl chuckled. "In a moment. Only a short walk before we get inside."
Once they reached one of the many doors that ran along the wall closest to where they'd parked, Zach realized that he was right; they were walking along a large orange-tined corridor in no time. After a few twists and turns, the three of them emerged into a lmassive atrium-like lobby, filled to the brim with tons of soldiers walking past them and minding their own business, all of them of different origins and species, a few of which were human while the rest were of the same variety of species he'd seen on the streets back in town. There were various desks scattered across the massive area where individual visitors were being helped, the entirety of the area lit up with more dim bulbs hanging by the ceiling, giving off the same orange tint that had covered them in the corridor. The floors were slick and there were massive pillars located every few yards down the lobby.
"So this is where all of the soldiers in Star Crest live?" Zach asked, watching them socialize among each other and walk by him, only a few noticing him at a time but otherwise paying his acute wonder no attention.
"When they're not on duty, but some do, some don't, its a personal choice," Doctor Stihl answered. "Star Crest does provide free housing access to cadets and certified soldiers, but this is mainly where the Star Crest Academy is located and where future operatives are trained and educated to their peak, then they graduate after four Arian years of training. The first ten floors of the Monolith belong to the Academy."
"And from there?"
"From there starts the actual Star Crest Headquarters, split into Epsilon, Artillery, Steel Wing, and Flash, in that order from bottom to top. Everything above that belongs to the Parliament and the Chairman himself. The Parliament consists of representatives from various branches of our government."
"Right, basically Congress, gotcha." In the center of the atrium-like lobby, there was a single desk that ran into a complete circle with various male and female employees behind it addressing whoever walked up for assistance. Behind the desk and the employees was a giant holographic image of the symbol that had been branded onto Zach and Soter's arm, the diamond with the circle and the four stems, shining from that spot. As Zach noticed through closer observations, there were more of these help centers along either side of the lobby.
As they approached one of them, Doctor Stihl turned back to the others. "I scheduled an appointment with Tome before we left the hospital on Ichthios. He's aware that I'm on my way, so I'll just let the receptionist know I've arrived."
"Okay," Soter said, crossing his arms. "We'll hang back. But remember what I told you."
"I understand," Doctor Stihl said assuredly, before turning back to the circular desk and addressing the Ave woman who's station was open. After a few minutes of waiting, Doctor Stihl returned and nodded. "Everything is set. But you know how security is, Soter. They are only going to let me in and after I authorize it, Zach will be able to enter. I doubt they will let you in without a good reason."
"That's fine," Soter said calmly. "I will just wait outside. As long as everything works out."
"Fair enough," Doctor Stihl said. "Let's find a lightlift and we'll head up."
Considering the sheer size of the Monolith alone, it took a lot shorter of a time to get up to the Parliament Levels than Zach expected. By the time they reached it by use of the lightlift's split-second floor phasing, they were at about the same height Zach had been on his trip to the top of the Empire State Building in New York, only times two. There was a window by where they were let off and he could see the entire cityscape from the view but it still stretched onward. From his view on the Taxicruise, nearly the entire surface of Arias was covered in the skyscraper metropolis of the planet's seemingly endless city, so there was no telling if and when it actually ended.
Because of the large space and the lack of general use of the lightlift in the Monolith (there were lots of floors where people simply walked), it could only be used to take them to the level they needed to be on and then from there they had to walk. Before long, they reached a set of double doors currently being guarded by a pair of men, one Dark Alfimese, one Human, standing in front of it vigilantly. They were clad in armor, a slick dark orange with a tint of black. They were standing with their hands behind their backs, but there were some rather large dangerous looking weapons by their belts. As the three of them approached the two, Doctor Stihl, pulled out a transparent tablet resembling one of the many he'd seen others in the city handle.
"This may be a while. If you two would like to relax for a moment you can and I will tag you, Soter, when he's ready to see Zach."
"Tag?" Zach repeated.
"A little like your paging concept, only slightly more advance. Soter will let you know when to return."
"Let me know how it goes," Soter said sternly. "And don't forget"-
"I won't, Soter, I know what we're here for," Doctor Stihl said, turning back to the guards. He pressed on the tablet a few times ldelicately and a few light images swirled around on it. When he turned it around for the guards to see, Zach noticed that the light from the "screen" could only be seen from the side he used it on, but when it was turned away from them, the lights disappeared, most likely to preserve privacy. The guards examined the screen intently and then nodded, one of them pulling out a small button and pressing it, which allowed the doors to slide back and Doctor Stihl walked in. Zach could only get a brief look inside, but there wasn't much to see; just another corridor, this one small, that led farther into the building. When the doors closed, the two stood in the hallway alone.
"Well, I'm going to the cafeteria to see what they've got," Soter said, beginning to head off. "You can walk around if you like, just meet me in the lounge in twenty clicks. Follow the signs on the wall to get there or ask for directions. You want anything?"
"Um," Zach muttered, suddenly realizing exactly how hungry he truly was. He hadn't eaten since he left the Frat House, which was approximately a day or so ago. But when he thought about the exotic weirdness they probably dined into here, he didn't feel like there was much of an appetite for it. He could only hope that some of the food would be among the many things they'd have have in common from Earth, at least. "Do I?"
Soter laughed and shook his head. "I'll bring you something you might like, Mota. I'll see you later."
"Okay." Soter headed off and Zach decided to go in the opposite direction. Now he was alone for the first time since he'd arrived in the North Circuit. Not wanting to stay in the hallway and get stared at by the mean-looking guards standing by the door, he headed off around the corner and tried to look as much like he was from there as possible. It was hard for him to blend in but at the same time easy, since one of the reasons why he didn't blend in was because many of the people passing by were messing around with those transparent squares that seemed to capture their attention so interestingly, but because their attention was elsewhere, they barely noticed him as he walked by. With no aim in particular for a destination, Zach decided to just head for this lounge that Soter had mentioned and stay there until he arrived with the food.
Unfortunately, the holographic-looking signs that Soter had referred to were of little help. They showed that the lounge area was a floor below and without a lightlift, it didn't seem like there was any other way to get there. This complicated things, since asking someone how to use a lightlift would be a lot more conspicuous than asking someone for directions. Back at the Bank in the courtyard area, he'd seen children and preteen aliens using it by themselves, so it was obviously very simple. He just didn't know where to begin. Zach decided to head to the cafeteria area and just meet up with Soter, who would be able to show him how to use a lightlift and they could head down to the lounge together.
Following one of the signs to the cafeteria, Zach turned a corner and began to head down the corridor when he spotted a young Alfimese woman sitting down by the wall by herself with her legs crossed, simply looking around curiously. She was a Light Alfimese, so her skin was the same glowing light green complexion as the rest, her hair dark blue, long, and tied into a high ponytail with her tall ears carrying small piercings along the outer edges. What stood out about her was that she was wearing the same skin-tight jumpsuit that he was wearing, except hers was grey, while his was blue. She was also wearing a headpiece placed carefully over her forehead, the emblem of which was uniquely designed into what looked like a star with jagged ends. When he walked by, she caught his eye and he attempted to look away and try not to draw attention to himself.
When he was about to pass in front of her, she called out to him. "Hey!" He turned to her and she smiled at him.
"Um, hey," he greeted back.
"Who are you?"
"Um..." Zach was a little wary about saying his name around this area since there was always a chance that he might get called out, especially now that he was so close to the guy he'd apparently saved to make himself famous in the first place. He decided to dodge the question. "Just a guy wandering the hallway half-lost."
"Are you a recruit?" she asked with an American accent, eying his jumpsuit.
Zach looked down at it. "Oh no, a friend of mine gave this to me. I'm not exactly from around here."
"I figured as much," the girl said. She tapped her hand on the spot to the left of her. "Come sit down with me. I need a talking buddy. Unless you've got somewhere to be?"
"Uh," Zach wasn't sure of what to say. He did have somewhere to be, in about twenty minutes. But he guessed maybe he could spare the time. Maybe she could help him find the lightlift that would take him to the lounge below. Zach walked over and sat down on the floor next to her. She smiled at him once again.
"My name is Jeila," the Alfimese woman said, introducing herself. "Jeila Halos."
"Does your mother work for a Bank just across town?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"I was just over there. She mentioned she had a daughter named Jeila. She's under the impression that you don't care about her."
Jeila chuckled. "Yeah, she gets upset with me when I don't contact her every day."
"What are you here for?" Zach asked her.
"I'm an Intern for Cosmic Flash. You have no idea the kind of mess I had to go through to get this far. And I'm still not guaranteed a position. I haven't even started training yet."
"What exactly do you do there? As an Intern."
"Just sit around and watch people do desk work. If we're lucky, we'll get to watch some of the Field Operatives at work on a Video Feed, but because we're not yet apart of the service, we're not allowed to see them ACTUALLY at work, you know with it being so clandestine and what not, so most of what we see are authorized clips they are allowed to show us that don't feature much more than a punch and a kick here and there. The whole thing can be so boring sometimes. I mean, I don't mind it, I would just like to know that its going to all be worth it in the end, you know?"
"Yeah, I could see how that would be frustrating. So what are you doing up here in the uh...Parliament...level thing?"
"My dad works for Blackgriffon."
"Oh," Zach said without any understanding. "Blackgriffon, that's um...um..."
Jeila looked confused. "Maxim Blackgriffon, current King of Alfheim."
"Right, right, I-I knew that. I have horrible memory, sorry."
"It's okay," she said, chuckling. "Yeah, so by my dad being apart of the King's Court, I'm allowed to be up here whenever I want. Diplomatic Immunity, you know. What about you?"
Zach looked surprised now that the subject was once again turned to him, though he realized he shouldn't have as it was bound to come up. "Uh...I honestly don't know why I'm up here."
"Oh. Well you know you can't be on the Parliament levels without authorized permission, right?"
"Well yeah, I actually came here with someone but they left me alone for a while and I guess I don't have any way to show that I'm supposed to be here."
"Oh okay," Jeila nodded. "Well if anyone asks, I can just say that you're with me. No big deal."
Jeila nodded again and the two sat in silence for a little while. Before long, a group of men in uniform walked down the hall, all of them wearing the red attire that meant they belonged to MIE. When they passed the two sitting by the floor, one of them, an Honarian with long brown hair to his shoulders, black circles around his eyes and no pupils looked over at them. He said something aloud in another language that Zach could not understand because he only knew Agnathan and Korian, as he was told by Soter, but he could tell by his inflection and the way the others that walked behind him, a Light Alfimese and another Honarian, laughed at his joke, that it had been an insult hurled toward them. Zach decided to ignore it but when he turned back to his right, he could see that Jeila had stood up.
"Hey!" she called back to them, as they turned around casually. She lifted her finger and beckoned for the one Honarian that had insulted them to walk back to her. He looked back at his friends with a smile and headed over to her without a loss in stride but when he was within a few inches of her, she pinched him in a specific spot on his abdomen with her thumb, middle, and index finger. The Honarian immediately froze as the expression on his face twisted into a mixture of agony and shock. When Jeila spoke again, it was intense. "I've been here for two Arian years and I know a fresh face when I see one. You think because your daddy helped you get those three badges you carry, you can walk around like you own the place? That's not how shit works here, exto. Next time you come around here again with that arrogant trash, your ego won't be the only thing imploding in on itself. Do I make myself clear?"
The Honarian nodded weakly and Jeila let go of his abdomen quickly, then punched him in the chest, sending him flying off his feet and onto his back. The Honarian got up quickly, holding the spot on his torso and walked back to his shocked friends embarassed as they disappeared around the corner. Jeila sighed comfortably and sat back down next to a bewildered Zach who was now slightly intimidated by the young Alfimese woman.
"Sorry about that," Jeila said, not losing a beat. "I kind of hate Honarians. Sorry if that sounds racist. They're always so arrogant."
"What exactly did he say?"
"Nothing important. Just being disrespectful. I don't tolerate lack of respect. From anyone."
"Duly noted," Zach said with a surprised chuckle. "I was already going to, but I'll definitely make a conscious effort to treat you with the respect you deserve."
"Okay, no need to ass-kiss," Jeila laughed. "I'm not that bad. I've just got a temper when it comes to that kind of thing and I have a habit of losing it when someone fucks with me."
"Right, I understand," Zach said. He was starting to like this girl. She had a lot of energy and she seemed to exude a contagious optimism in her attitude that made her appealing. "So, like I said, I'm not from around here, so I'm not that familiar with some of the lingo. What exactly is an exto?"
"They used to be an Alfheim beast that was once the dominant species on the planet billions of years ago, you know, before us Alfimese grew intelligent enough to take their place. Many years later, after they were long extinct, through our research we learned that Extoes were notoriously stupid and it was a miracle of nature that they managed to actually become the planet's dominant species when they should have died out in their early stages. So the term just kind of stuck to mean anyone who's such a tool, they shouldn't have even figured out how to live. I only really hear the Alfimese use it often and its not really socially accepted in general conversation since its technically a swear, but its not like I really give a fuck anyway."
Zach laughed. "I get you. Who gives a shit if we swear?"
"Exactly. I'll say whatever the fuck I want, whenever the fuck I want, however the fuck I want...Unless its in front of my Cosmic Flash superiors - then I'll shut up because I want the job."
"So what made you want to get a job with Cosmic Flash?" Zach asked curiously.
Jeila shrugged. "Well I'd be lying if I said it wasn't because I wanted in on the action. When I was little, I was really into Earth culture and I got into this series of movies called 007, not sure if you've ever heard of it. But it was so great and I really liked how cool and glamorous it looked. Then one day, my uncle, who is a retired Cosmic Flash Operative, told me that Cosmic Flash was almost just like that with the explosions and gun battles and everything. So from that point on, I've sort of had an obsession with Cosmic Flash. I just see it as like, my dream job. I mean, I know he was just trying to impress me; I'm not a kid anymore and so I'm not so much looking for the glamour of it, I just want to be apart of something bigger. My parents are very wealthy and they always have been, that's how I was able to watch media from Earth in the first place, but up until that moment where I realized I wanted to be apart of Cosmic Flash, I aspired to be a street Rhythic performer."
"Rhythic Performer. You know, the guys that do physical music." Zach was still confused. "You've never seen a Rhythic Performer?"
"Man, you really are out of touch. Basically, if you get close enough to them while they're playing or you're in a Reverb Room, it allows you to physically feel the music they play, like it alters your atomic structure and everything to where the pressure from the soundwaves gives you this soothing organized massage that works just like it would if you were to hear music. Its way ahead of anything they've developed on Earth."
"Yeah, but Rhythic performers make a lot of points off of street shows and that's what I was going to go for before I realized Cosmic Flash was my calling. My point is, I never saw myself being a doctor or involved in politics like my mom and dad. I want a career that's either something simple or balls out insane. I'm a unique case of crazy. I can't settle for in-betweens. Its all or nothing for me. So I guess Cosmic Flash is my idea for the ideal job that has that balance, either I end up with a simple desk job or I end up with a totally outrageous Field Op position, whichever one I'm more qualified for. Really I can't lose...unless they pass me up for the job entirely. And there I go again, spilling out my life to somebody I barely even know. I always do that, why do I always do that?"
"Its okay, really," Zach said. "You're a really interesting person, so its fine. I just think patience is the way to go, I'm sure that's a vital part of the job. You've just got to embrace that part of it as apart of the learning experience and I don't know, maybe it'll make it feel more enjoyable. If they see that you're attentive at all times, even through the boring parts, they may be more inclined to think you're much more dedicated than the other interns."
"That's a good idea," Jeila said with a smile. "You give really good advice."
"Yeah well," Zach said, rubbing the back of his head shyly. "I try."
"So anyway, do you want to have sex?"
Zach didn't hear her at first. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Would you like to have sex with me?"
"You mean like - where, you like - have sex...like sexual relations-type sex?"
Zach began to stammer stupidly. "Uh, uh, we - uh - um"-
"Its a simple question."
Zach didn't know what to say, so he said the only thing he could think of. "My name is Zach English and I lost my memory and the only thing I remember is how Earth works."
Jeila looked back with a smile. "I knew your face looked familiar."
"Yeah, um." Zach shook his head, weirded out by his own sudden outburst and how it had nothing to do with what she said to him. Then he realized why he'd done it. "Yeah, so...sorry, I'm just not used to someone outright asking me a question like that. Because they don't do that kind of thing on Earth...from what I know."
"Oh okay," Jeila said, nodding. "I understand. I think. Not sure about the amnesia part but I get why you're hesitant. Well see, here in the North Circuit, we do things a little differently. The Earth-Humans like to make sex this sacred thing that you have to involve love with, otherwise its morally wrong to do. That's a load of Cransak. Here's the thing, in the North Circuit, sex and love are two entirely different things. Let me see how I can make this easier to understand...oh I know. You ever hear about an Earth-dog giving another dog flowers before they get it on?"
"Exactly. They just do it. Its a natural part of nature. You look like you have good genes. I know I have good genes. So you and I should fuck."
"And this is how things are done all the time in the North Circuit?" Zach said in complete shock.
"Yeah, pretty much."
There were specific rooms in every building in the North Circuit similar to "excrement rooms," the NC equivalent of bathrooms. These rooms were called "mating rooms," and they were specifically made for two beings to have "mate" in. Like going to the bathroom, it still wasn't socially acceptable to do it out in public despite its frequency, but when it is done, no one really cares. As Jeila put it, its seen as a natural part of nature for everyone. Zach kept wondering why everyone in the North Circuit wasn't just getting it on 24/7 by this logic and after thinking about it for a while, he realized: sex here just isn't that big of a deal. Earth-Humans make sex out to be this ultimate thing and whenever you make something out to be more than it actually is, it becomes everyone's desire, Zach new that from the pointless consumeristic tactics of corporate America. Here, sex was more like a slightly more intense hug; if you want to do it, you do it, if you don't, then you don't. Because of this, things like rape didn't exist; no one here considers sex to be that important. There were many other things to worry about.
Jeila assured him that they weren't going to concieve. That had been Zach's main concern from the beginning, but she let him know that there were fool-proof ways of preventing breeding if they didn't want it to happen. Jeila took him to the nearest mating room, relinquished their clothing, and entered Phase 2. Being that this was Zach's first time, the experience was new to him and he hadn't initially even tried to think of Jeila in a sexual way after seeing her: 1. Because she was of another species from his own, so it didn't directly cross his mind that she'd be attracted to him anyway and 2. Because she was so unbelievably attractive that he didn't think she'd be attracted to him anyway. But his genes were apparently enough to impress her to the point where she was willing to engage in sexual relations with him, if only to let nature run its course. Somehow, the thought of that alone made the situation even hotter.
As amazing as it was, Zach did notice that she didn't make any moves to kiss him at all during the encounter. He didn't know if it was just that people in the North Circuit didn't kiss or if that went along with the whole "love thing" which was absent here. It got awkward when all he could do was stare into her face without being able to break the tension by locking lips. She didn't seem to mind it and although it made the entire session strange, it was still nonetheless satisfying. When they were finished, they laid across each other naked on the soft matress-like cushion jutting from the floor with one dim yellow bulb floating in the corner. Zach was still in shock.
"Well," he said aloud but mostly to himself. "That was...interesting."
"I hope that's a good thing," Jeila replied with a laugh, rubbing his chest as she laid in his arms.
"It is," he said, still a little out of breath. "Well I think it is. Well no, the sex was fucking amazing, but I'm talking about just being here and seeing everything around me. This whole thing has been...interesting. That's the only word I can say to describe it and its still not enough to accurately express how I truly feel. I've probably pinched myself like twelve times since I got here."
"Yeah, I'd imagine if the only thing you know is Earth, the North Circuit would be like one hell of a culture shock."
"Tell me about it," Zach said, before looking down at Jeila, her magnificent green nakedness on full display. There were various abstract tattoos and/or markings trailing along her thighs, back, and ribs. "You know, I never said anything about being from Earth."
"Wait, you're actually from Earth?"
"Yeah, but you said...wait - crap," Zach said, leaning his head back on the pillow-like cushion. He had thought she'd been inferring that she knew he was from Earth, but when he thought about it, he did tell her earlier that all he could remember was Earth. The Post-Virginity loss shock was getting to his head. "Okay, truth is...I actually am from Earth. At least I think I am. I have the memory of an entire life there and then I accidentally brought myself here and I'm told I've been living an entire life in the North Circuit the whole time."
"Wait," Jeila said, looking up at him. "How did you bring yourself here if you knew nothing about the North Circuit?"
"I found a spacecraft in the woods, got curious, accidentally turned it on and it sent me straight here."
"Yeah, like a forest."
"Oh. That sure is strange."
"I know." Zach rubbed his face in exhaustion and then once again realized that he was insanely hungry. Then he remembered. "Wait, how long has it been since we were in the corridor?"
"About thirty clicks or so, why?"
"Shit, Zach said, leaning up. Jeila got off of him and he scooted off of the cushion, grabbing for his jumpsuit. "I was supposed to meet someone down at the lounge ten minut - uh, clicks ago. Actually, do you think you could help me get down there, I don't know how to use one of those lightlift things on my own."
"Sure," Jeila said, pushing back her hair and Zach felt his heart melt. Oh man, he thought to himself. I hope I see her again. "You need a Cosmer to access the lightlift on your own."
Jeila, who was already in the process of putting on her own jumpsuit, reached into the pocket of it and showed him her own slick transparent tablet that he'd seen so many North Circuit residents handling.
"It connects to the S.I.N., the Shared Information Network, which is like a global system of mini-networks where people share media and information."
"Sounds very socialist. We don't have anything like that on Earth."
"Actually, I think the Parliament offered it already. Earth-Humans developing it into something called the Internet."
"Its probably just gonna be one of those pointless trends that'll pass in a couple of years like party lines," Zach said, his jumpsuit back on, fitting comfortably over his body. "So you can activate a lightlift with one of those things?"
"Yeah, it gains access to the Monolith's CNS, the Central Networking System, and allows you access to it. Most buildings have their own lightlifts that move on their own, but in certain buildings like these you can access it if you have a Cosmer."
"That's pretty cool. Do I look okay?" Zach asked, displaying himself for her when she was finished dressing. When she stood, he realized exactly how tall she was to him. He was pretty tall himself and Danielle had come up to his chest but Jeila stood pretty much at eye level. She walked over to him and flipped up the small collars that had been folded into the neck of the suit, which he'd forgotten were there. When they were sorted out, she pressed her hands over his suit and smiled.
"Yep, you look fine. You ready?"
"Yeah, let's go." As soon as they walked out of the mating room, Zach heard a voice call his name. He turned in the direction of it and could see Doctor Stihl heading down the hallway in his direction. Accompanying him was a rather large group, two of which were the guards by the door, others were men in MIE Uniforms trailing along behind him. Walking beside the doctor was a reasonably handsome middle aged man with short white closely shaved hair and a thin beard, walking with a relaxed but authoritative posture and an instant charm to his dimeanor. He looked human at first glance but as he began to approach them, Zach could see that there was a hint of green in his complexion and from the silver glare in his eyes and his partially erect ears that only traveled halfway up his head, that he was unique. Zach figured out who it was by the massive amount of security alone. Tome Knightgrief.
"Zachary," Doctor Stihl said, approaching Zach and Jeila as they stood outside of the mating room with the congregation behind him. "It is my pleasure to 're-introduce' you to the Chairman of the Unity of Stars, Tome Knightgrief."
"Its so great to finally see you again, Zach," Tome said with a bright and genuine smile, holding out his hand to shake. "I'm glad to see that you're doing well."
Zach shook it and smiled back. "So you're the famous Chairman I've been hearing about."
"Its true, I am the one and only. Doctor Stihl and I go way back and he told me about your predicament. I'm sorry to hear that you're technically not the same Zach English who saved my life two years ago, but my gratitude and respect for you hasn't diminished one bit."
Zach had expected for Tome to be much more tightly wound, like a carbon copy of every US President or authority figure he'd seen before. But Tome was just the opposite; he felt just as, if not more relaxed than the people of which he governed far below the Monolith outside. His clothing was casual, resembling a slightly classier vibe than the normal civilian attire in the North Circuit but still completely laidback. It was some type of leisure suit, like something he'd see in a movie, like Al Pacino's Scarface, only it didn't seem like he was wearing it to be flashy, only because it was comfortable. The look combined with his natural charm made him seem like a pleasant man to work with. Zach could see why he had been elected Chairman of the UoS.
"Who's your friend here?" Tome said, motioning towards Jeila, who stood behind Zach.
Jeila smiled shyly when everyone turned to look at her. "Oh, I'm nobody," she said with a modest smile.
"Nobody's nobody sweetheart," Tome said warmly. "I recognize you. Your father is an Lance Halos, Ambassador of the King's Court on Alfheim and your mother is Doctor Kizni Halos of the Arias Circuit Points Bank."
"Yeah, that's right," Jeila said enthusiastically.
"I figured. I'm really good at remembering faces and yours just happened to match your parents, so I just put two and two together. We aren't interrupting anything are we?"
"Oh no," Zach said. "We were just on our way to go see Soter. He wanted me to meet him at the lounge on the floor below."
"Oh well, we can always catch up with him later," Doctor Stihl said, slightly more on edge than usual. "Chairman Knightgrief just gave us the 'okay' to access your Memory Log, so we should get going soon."
"Right. Is it all right if we get something to eat on the way there?"
"Sure, that's no problem," Tome answered as he turned back to Doctor Stihl to discuss other matters and Zach turned back to Jeila.
"I wish I could come but I've got to be heading back to the CF Floor before they realize I've went well over my break time," Jeila mentioned. "I'm such a slacker."
Zach smiled. "Well it was really nice to meet you." There was so much more he wanted to say, but that would have to do for now.
"Don't say that like its the last time we're ever gonna bump into each other! You should come down to the CF Floor one of these days if you can get authorization and we can hang out. If you don't, I have absolutely no problem hunting you down. Don't even try me."
Zach laughed. "Understood. I'll do my best."
"Goodbye, Zach English," she said before turning on her heel and heading down the hallway out of sight. Zach watched her walk off and sighed heavily before turning back to Doctor Stihl and Chairman Tome, now with a definite reason for staying here.
"All right, I'm ready. Let's go find out who the real Zach English is."
Due to the amount of information thrown at Zach in the last few minutes, or clicks as they say here, a lot of it had been forgotten by the time the Taxicruise had arrived on Arias. However, this did nothing to soften their impact; he was still shocked by the vastness of this place's history, though he was even more taken back by the true knowledge and input they had on his own society back on Earth. Worse even, he knew that this wasn't all that was left out there to see, that there were still a ton of surprises waiting for him in this place.
Knowing that he was now going to most likely spend the rest of his life here, the thought did, however, dawn on him of what exactly he would be leaving behind. Soter was right. There was nothing really there for him back on Earth. Nothing but a bunch of disloyal friends, with the exception of Ward who was there for him sometimes, although now that Zach thought about it, probably would have sold him out in a heartbeat. His girlfriend was apparently tired of him, especially now that she had found another man. The only thing that truly worried him now was his father's well-being. He hadn't gotten the chance to wire him the money, so there was no telling what shape he may be in in the coming days. He tried not to think about it. He couldn't just go all the way across the galaxy just to send some funds to a relative, not with the fact that he apparently needed to be here. He still couldn't wrap his head around it; how did people on Earth know him for so long if he apparently spent his entire life here at the same time. It was impossible for him to be living these two lives simultaneously, especially when he only had knowledge of one, but that image of himself on the hologram clearly proved that Zach was here at some point and apparently saved the Chairman of the space government. I guess thats the equivalent of me saving Ronald Reagan's ass, he thought to himself.
Even though Zach's attitude about a lot of things had changed (He now knew that if he were to return to Earth and by some miracle everything would return to normal, he would be doing things much differently), it didn't change the fact that he was a conspiracy theorist at heart, he had been one since he was old enough to comprehend what the government was and his lack of understanding of its initial system gave birth to his sleuth-like attitude. With this in mind, he detested the idea of having anything to do with the American government; he knew what it was like and he'd had numerous documented evidence to suggest the corruption behind the system. However, as much as he hated supreme authority in general, he couldn't immediately pass judgment against this new Unity of Stars, not when he knew so little about it. It was at least worth giving a chance.
On the way to Arias, Zach asked a few more questions about his past to the doctor, who went by the name of Stihl. Doctor Stihl revealed that Zach was reportedly born on Alfheim but his uprbringing was a mystery to most, as there were little records of his parentage, only that they were once wealthy business owners who made their living through Real Estate in Elphame, the home continent of the Light Alfimese. Records showed that during the sharp decline in the Housing market around that time, his parents' business went bankrupt and from then on, records of their activity in the North Circuit were wiped out, nonexistent. Due to this, no record of Zach's own existence in the North Circuit were recovered until his enlistment with Star Crest, the Unity of Stars' Military, at the Arian age of 70. Doing the math in his head, Zach came to the conclusion that he was 17 at the time he enlisted, which, in his own history, was around the time he'd graduated High School, 1985. This only further complicated things since they had now cross-referenced the records with his memories, which was where things began to contradict themselves. At any rate, when it was realized that the constant speculation was leading no where, they decided to leave the subject alone and keep their minds focused on the future.
Arias came into view after nearly twenty clicks of traveling through the darkness of space shortly after the hyperdrive. Zach could see it come into view from the window. It was a light purple glowing celestial body, slightly larger in size than Ichthios, but it sent the same kind of chills down Zach's spine at the very sight of it. Its view blew him away. The lights of the metropolitan planet below shined brightly from its surface as the Taxicruise drew in closer and traveled smoothly through its atmosphere. This craft must be outfitted to land on planets without much trouble, Zach thought, as he nearly shivered when he remembered the violent blood-rushing entry into Ichthios when he first arrived.
"We should probably be heading to the deck now," Doctor Stihl instructed as he led the way out of the private room and back down the corridor towards the elevator lift. Zach walked by, looking out of the window curiously at the beautifully lit purple clouds, which were traced with a bright orange lining, similar to the silver lining of an earthly cloud. The cityscape was covered with towering skyscrapers as far as the eye could see, seemingly binded together by a tangling string of winding highways lit up by white orbs that zoomed across them. In the distance, however, he could see one single building that went far beyond the concept of what most imagine when hearing the term "skyscraper." Zach had never seen a single structure of this size before; when the ship was entering the atmosphere, he thought it was a trick of the eye but now he could see it - The building stretched out into space. It had no definite shape; it seemed to just be a uniquely designed architectual masterpiece, but the mere size of it, the towering astronomical mass of its entire structure was larger than anything Zach had witnessed before in his life. If a building like this existed on Earth and was built in New York City, it would be visible from Los Angeles. That was how immensely colossal this marvel was as it towered over the entire planet, as magnificent in sight as the uniquely colored clouds that trailed around it.
"That's the Ollerus Monolith," Soter stated, sensing Zach's astonishment at the sight of the building. "Named after the Shade that founded the Unity of Stars, Ollerus, but we usually just call it the Monolith."
"Half-Light, Half-Dark Alfimese. They're rare; usually a Light and Dark courting is forbidden in most families and the probability of the two types being able to concieve a child are very low, but when it does happen, its pretty much a miracle. There's an urban legend about Shades that say that when one is born, they are destined to grow up to perform revolutionary feats. Each and every one. And so far, that legend seems to be true, I mean one of them created the government that we live in today. Every other Shade I know has gone on to change the North Circuit in some way. Never knew of one that didn't. Anyway, that's the capital building, headquarters of Star Crest, current home of Tome Knightgrief and his family, and our current destination."
Zach followed Doctor Stihl and Soter down the corridor to the elevator that took them back down to the first level of the Taxicruise where they accompanied the crowd of miscellaneous alien beings out onto the platform of their newest destination.
"Come," Doctor Stihl beckoned. "We have to get around quick before people start recognizing you. There are a lot of people in Asphidire that know Zach English personally and it could get messy if they try to reconnect."
"Right," Zach muttered, staring up into the violet sky and scoping his eyes across the land that the Taxicruise platform stood on. "Is that where we are right now? Asphidire."
"Yep, the capital city of Arias," Soter answered, as they took a flight of stairs down to the street below, which was even more diverse than the interior of the Taxicruise that was taking off in the distance. Some of the alien creatures that weren't on the Taxicruise populated this part of the city; the Golems he witnessed on the projection stomped their heavy feet across the street as they passed him gruffly; a few fairly attractive silver-skinned girls passing on the street eyed him seductively (At first Zach wasn't sure what species the girls were as he didn't remember them from the projection but came to the conclusion that they must be angels or "Aves" as Doctor Stihl called them, but with their wings retracted). As he passed, he could hear conversations amongst them; he could understand the majority of it, but some of it went over his head, as most were speaking Agnathan, which seemed to be like English in this new world as the dominant language spoken by most, but many of the aliens walking the streets around him spoke in their native language. He couldn't help but notice that there were a lot of similarities to this world and his homeworld; with the notable exception being the large variety of individuals who were making use of small tablet-like devices that they slide their fingers across and tapped delicately, the saucer-like projectors many of them owned that were similar to the one Doctor Stihl displayed earlier, and the screens with impressive visuals that flashed and slid across the surface of the window of each of the skyscrapers they passed on the street, almost like the pixels of a television monitor or the TV ads of Timed Square in New York, except they were on almost every building. Other than that there were street vendors, rugged looking aliens lying by the side of the buildings who looked like they were homeless, and even performers making use of strange technological set-ups that Zach guessed were supposed to be instruments by the crowd standing around them watching, even though they made little sound. This place was like the New York City of the North Circuit.
"I can't help but notice," Zach said as he continued surveying his surroundings. "Besides a few minor details, a lot of this bares resemblance to some of the culture and stuff on Earth."
"Yes, there's actually a reason for that," Doctor Stihl said, turning to Zach, as they made their way down the glowing streets of Asphidire, the sidewalks of which were crowded with beings that didn't pay him half as much attention as Zach was giving them. “There was an era in our history where the culture in the North Circuit was heavily influenced by Earth. We know it as the Terra Renaissance. It started a few thousand Earth centuries into the planet’s ‘experiment.’ The progression of the Earth-Human civilization was so unprecedented, that it impressed us to the point where the Unity of Stars wanted to have more hands-on interaction with the world that was literally blossoming right before us. That was what constituted our stamp on Earth’s history and human myth, while in turn we modeled much of our own civilization after what was being developed on Earth, so as both of our culture’s progressed, they developed in similar directions.”
“So I'm guessing by the way you started that, you guys don't share cultures with us anymore?” Zach asked curiously as they continued on.
Doctor Stihl shrugged uncertainly. “We’ve ran into some snags a few times that caused us to abandon the route of taking to the ways of Earth. Around the end of the Terra Renaissance, Alfheim had appointed their newest ruler, a Light Aflimese by the name of King Sinter Closs. I guess you could say he was somewhat...obsessed with the Terra Renaissance and modeled his life around Earth culture. He was what we call an Earthophile, only his obsession wasn't healthy. Before he inheirited his position as king, he had visited Earth more frequently than anyone else from the North Circuit. When he was appointed to his throne, he turned into a tyrant. He forced almost every single one of his Alfimese citizens, Light and Dark, into slavery, commanding them to forge and mass-produce a series of...”playthings” that he would then deliver to various young Earth-Humans annually, taking on the identity of a deceased religious figure by the name of Saint Nicholas. Anyone that didn’t comply to his demands or defied him were tortured and killed, with their families sharing the same fate.”
“What was the relevancy of killing their families?” Zach asked in horror.
“To prevent a potential uprising on their part. He terrorized his people for years, all in the name of the Earth-Humans he essentially worshipped. Ultimately, a rebel organization backed by the rest of the Unity of Stars began a regime against the Global Alfheim Army resulting in the 6th Galactic Civil War. Eventually, King Sinter was de-throned, tortured, and killed by a Dark Alfimese Militia group and soon after, the war ended. Unfortunately, with the chilling reminder of King Sinter’s actions, so did the Terra Renaissance. The majority of his legacy continues on to this day. Its strange though. The culture on Earth glorifies him at almost the level of a deity. For the Alfimese and the rest of the North Circuit...well...I guess you could say he's our equivalent to Earth's very own tyrant. What was his name?...Adolf Hitler?"
"Wow," Zach said with shock. So....Santa Claus was real, at least at some point in time. And for these people, he was basically a tyrannical monster who enslaved and killed his own people, while us "Earth-Humans" made him the mascot of our greatest holiday. One man's treasure is another man's torture, it seems. Zach shook his head and continued to follow the others along through the futuristic city streets. "So what happened after that?"
"While our cultures continued to develop in similar directions, we never truly continued associating ourselves with the Earth-Humans, especially after travel to Earth was made illegal to all but authorized personel several centuries ago, or in Earth's time, two centuries ago. When the planet's warring governments finally united to form the United Nations, we were obligated, as part of the experiment, which the Aves like to say they've given up on but still follow through procedures with, to make our presence known whenever the Earth-Humans unified under a single government."
"But the UN isn't a government. Its an organization of governments brought together for neutral ground, so they could prevent a third World War, or so they say."
"This is true, but the Aves figured it was the closest they'd ever get. Anyway, for years the UN has been aware of our existence, although we've never disclosed more information than needed. They aren't aware of their purpose as an experiment or anything about our way of life, only that there is exterrestrial life in the galaxy separate from their own. We have offered some of our services to them ever since, providing assistance."
"In what way?"
"Well, the most drastic way is what you see here right now. The similarities you see weren't just caused by the Terra Renaissance. Some of our ideals, inventions, and what have you, we offered to the people of Earth. A lot of what you see there originated here. That is one of the main reasons why our societies are so similar."
"Oh okay," Zach said with understanding. "So you wouldn't happen to know about any, oh I don't know...secret societies or totalitarian shadow groups running things behind the scenes on our planet, would you?"
Doctor Stihl laughed. "Not that we are aware of, Mr. English."
"Yeah," Soter said, turning back with a smile. "Your government just sucks."
Zach shook his head dismally as he walked on. "Wow. Figures. Hey, where are we headed anyway? That Monolith thing looks pretty far away, I hope we're not walking the entire way there."
"No, we aren't. Actually, we need to pay a visit somewhere very quickly before we head to the Monolith."
"And where's that?"
"The Bank." After a few minutes of walking and endless staring on Zach's part, they had finally made their way to entrance of one of the many skyscrapers that were ahead of their path. The doors to the building slid back and Zach followed the two inside of what looked a lot more like a hospital than a Bank. The inhabitants of this place wore nurse-like uniforms, except they were made of a different kind of material than the kind of clothing on Earth. In fact, that was one thing Zach had picked up on with all of the clothing from this planet. All of it was made out of a different unique kind of fabric from anything he was used to seeing on Earth. Even his own jumpsuit was unlike any kind of spandex or elastic he'd seen before. It was hard to describe; there were many different kinds but some resembled the kinds of clothing from Earth while others looked more like naturally more solid earthly materials like plastic or aluminum, except they were soft, flexible, and unusually comfortable. It was strange, but that term lost its relevancy from the moment he saw that ship fly in from the clouds back home.
Walking through the lobby/waiting area, Doctor Stihl walked to the front desk of whom Zach guessed was the receptionist. She was what they called Alfimese but she was one of the Dark ones, with long silky black hair to her shoulders, unnaturally pale skin and deep red eyes. When she looked up at them and smiled, her long fangs were easily visible but her features were pretty much flawless by human standards.
"Stay close to us," Soter whispered to him as they approached the desk and Zach obeyed, staying within three feet of them.
"Hi, how can I help you?" she asked with an accent that resembled something British.
"Yes, we have a peculiar predicament in the works," Doctor Stihl said, looking back at Zach briefly. "Can we please speak with your head specialist for a moment?"
"Yes, sure," the receptionist said, addressing what looked to be a more advanced version of one of those desktop computers rich people were able to afford back on Earth. Its screen was almost transparent with the exception of several colorful symbols and shapes that danced around over her fingers as she simultaneously operated the touch screen and a keyboard down by her desk. Zach watched in amazement, as if she were juggling five sets of bowling balls at once and after a while she stopped and the screen's contents all changed to the same color, blue. "She's ready to see you now."
"Thank you," Doctor Stihl said with gratitude but instead of heading through either of the doors on both sides of the receptionist's desk, the two simply stood there in front of the receptionists and didn't move. Zach was forced to do the same, awkwardly staring at the receptionist as she seemingly went back to her work. As she did so, he could see her looking past the two in front of him and she eyed him curiously. With a quick movement, she ran the tip of her tongue across the right side of her lip and smiled at him. Before he got the chance to analyze the movement, he felt a sudden sharp shift under him that nearly through him from his feet and suddenly, he, Soter, and Doctor Stihl were being wisked away through the door on the right and to another part of the building by the moving floor. As he'd seen when he walked in, the floor had been tiled like it would have been in an Earthly building, except the tiles were about five feet even, width and height, in a perfect square. Zach had barely noticed it, believing it to be another one of the many things Earth-Humans had borrowed from the North Circuit or vice versa, but now the same square on the floor that they had been standing on in front of the desk was moving swiftly down the hall, carrying them through. Now he realized why Soter had told him to stay close.
The floating tile passed several other aliens on other floating tiles zipping past them in a kind of indoor courtyard/cafeteria area that was located farther inside of the building. Several of them nearly collided with each other but when they were within a certain distance both tiles went into separate directions, as if they had been designed to not cross paths with each other. Even with its sharp movements and quick speed, the ride was graceful and Zach no longer felt like he was about to lose his balance with each turn. Just a couple of inches above them, Zach could see that there was an adjacent tile hanging above them like a mini ceiling, only it was transparent and Zach figured it was what was generating whatever kind of scientific phenomenon that made this possible.
As with the lobby of the building and the room inside of the Taxicruise, this courtyard-like area was being lit up by several floating orbs placed in rows along the ceiling. He almost hadn't noticed them, as they lit up the room like any light on Earth would, but the sun-like spheres that hung suspended several feet from the ground and a few inches from the ceiling still fascinated him in some way each time he spotted them.
"They definitely don't have these sliding tile things back on Earth," Zach said, slightly annoyed that he hadn't been warned before departure.
"Oh that's right, they don't," Soter said, just as the tile stopped in place and the three of them were lifted quickly to another level of the building, like an elevator except they were on the next floor in just a split second. "I remember the Parliament offering the concept as part of their technological contributions. Maybe the Earth-Humans weren't able to figure out how to make it work without the use of Tenalite."
"I'm guessing that's an important ingredient to this type of stuff?"
"Very important," Doctor Stihl explained. "About as important as your 'electricity.' It works just about the same, except electricity is a physical phenomenon that humans managed to harness in versatile ways, another one of the things that impressed our society. Tenalite is a mineral mined out of the caves of the planet, Nix, which is basically the planet's only reason for being apart of the North Circuit, other than general colonization. There are no sentient beings from that planet, only wildlife. Anyway, its essentially a mineral that when combined with electrolytes in any form, mostly gas when used for general purposes like this lightlift we're on or the bulbs you see by the ceiling, can bring power to whatever is manufactured to be powered by it, which is nearly every technological device in the North Circuit."
"I didn't know you could make electrolytes into a gas. Its always harmful acid when its used in batteries on Earth."
"Yes, humans haven't quite figured out how to harness electrolytes just yet."
"You said Tenalite is a mineral though? From that planet, Nix?"
"Can it be found on any other planet?"
"Not really? Not that we are aware of."
"So then its a non-renewable resource. You could eventually run out one day, right?"
"This is true, but Nix is a very large planet and has many many caves that have still yet to be explored, even with so much Tenalite that has already mined out. The Unity of Stars doesn't seem to think we'll reach our limit any time soon."
"Sounds like what people from Earth have been saying about fossil fuels. You guys have any alternatives?"
"A few, nothing concrete," Doctor Stihl said, turning to him. "You shouldn't worry yourself about these affairs though, Zachary, we have everything under control. Believe me, our society has been in existence for billions of years, we aren't new at this. We have had our fair share of highly dependent resource shortages and we've always found a way to compensate. We are adaptable."
"Whatever you say," Zach shrugged. "On an unrelated note, one thing I've noticed since we got here, I've been receiving a lot of looks from these people."
"You mentioned that before," Soter said. "Its the clothes."
"I'm talking about of the female variety. I would have never gotten the kind of looks that they give me here from the women on Earth."
"Ah yes," Doctor Stihl said with a chuckle. "Did that woman at the desk lip at you?"
"That's where she rubs the side of her lip with her tongue. Its essentially the same as your human eye blinking thing."
"Oh, winking? Yeah, she did. I've been getting looks like that since we got to the city."
"Yes, Humans are still often viewed as exotic by many residents of the North Circuit, particular the ones with darker skin despite the end of the Terra Renaissance. Mostly because they are born with healthy genetics. Its quite common to see many humans involved in inter-species courtship, but it doesn't compare to the Honarians."
"The red-skinned guys?"
"Yes, very few females can resist their charm. They are an all-male race; they reproduce asexually, but they are perfectly capable of bearing children with women of any species. And they do, very frequently. The child born of the women they impregnate are always born of the mother's species, they don't take on any characteristics of the Honarian except for healthy genes. Honarians have superior genes to any other sentient species in the North Circuit, which is what makes them so appealing to females."
"A lot of men feel threatened by the Honarians," Soter added. "I remember reading about an Angrefian President many years ago who tried to declare war against the Honarians because one of them stole his wife from him. Men don't usually like to befriend them either because they are also naturally competitive, which means competing for a lady's affection and/or having your lady friend stolen with relative ease is bound to happen."
"Ouch. Sounds like its hard to be a man in these parts." It made sense that in this part of the galaxy, sex appeal was determined by how good your genes are. If you can produce healthy and good-looking babies, you're considered attractive. But I definitely don't want kids, Zach thought to himself. So I guess that means I'm not going to be getting laid any time soon.
"Not if you're an Honarian. But enough of the chit chat, gentlemen. Wouldn't want to be caught discussing these kinds of affairs around Kizni." The lightlift as Doctor Stihl called it, stopped in front of a single door in a random hallway several floors above the first level they'd entered from. Doctor Stihl tapped on the door lightly and waited but there was no response. He knocked once again, this time with more force but still, no one answered. After a while, he put his left hand over a small black circle approximately the size of a tennis ball located on the right side of the door, where the handle would normally be, only slightly higher on the door's surface. When the Doctor's hand grazed over it, the circle lit up a light green and then the doctor closed his hand into a fist and brought it from his right side to his left, causing the door to slide open. Instantly, the air was filled with the sound of screaming and when the three walked into the dark room before them, they could see why.
The room was lit up by a single green dimly lit orb in the corner, shining over two figures. One was dressed in a labcoat covered in green liquid with a sleak futuristic helmet over its head and the other was lying on what looked to be a transparent table that was elevated from the ground and currently had his arm detached from his body. He was one of those reptilian-like aliens, Zach noticed, what Doctor Stihl called an Angrefian. He was the one screaming. The green liquid covering the figure standing over him was the Angrefian's blood, which was leaking profusely from the wound, almost to the point where it was spraying onto the cybernetic doctor. The doctor had the Angrefian's actual arm in one of its hands but had a device that resembled a futuristic-looking welding torch in the other and it looked like it was attempting to reattach said arm to the Angrefian with the device. When the arm was in place, the doctor pulled the trigger on the welding torch-like device and a blue laser shot from it, caressing the surface of the Angrefian's shoulder. The Angrefian screamed even louder, its reptilian fangs and split tongue flailing through the air in pain. As it did, more green liquid oozed from the alien's shoulder seeping out over the doctor's hand.
"Come on, keep it steady, Otizel," the doctor said with a metallic but feminine voice. She was forced to take her hand off of the Angrefian's arm and placed it on his chest to stop him from shaking. She pressed her body against the arm to keep it in place but the green blood shooting from it caused it to slip from place and fall onto the floor. "Voldammit, Otizel!"
The doctor turned and grabbed a small remote-like device lying on a separate table behind her, pressing something on it that brought the orb in the corner into full light.
"The more you fuss, the more blood comes from the wound," the doctor said, but with an almost American accent. "You have to keep the flow steady by calming yourself. You only need to excreet enough to harden the Bard so it will stay on, you excreet too much and it just slides off, you exto."
"I'm sorry, but I haven't exactly gotten my arm reattached to my body before, so you'll have to forgive me," Otizel, the Angrefian said gruffly, his accent close to German.
"Do you want your arm back or not?"
Otizel sighed. "I do."
"Then you have to cooperate. Take five, I've got business." The Angrefian stood up from the suspended transparent table and walked to the other side of the operation room, sitting on a bench at the side of the wall as if he were taking a breather from a round of basketball. He no longer seemed to be in pain, even though his left arm was missing (which had stopped bleeding) and he casually sat back out of the way. Doctor Stihl addressed the other doctor, who pressed a button on her electronic helmet, causing it to receed back into a small arch on the back of her neck. She revealed herself to be a mature-looking Light Alfimese with glowing light green skin, radiant blue eyes and lucious silk white hair tied into a bun behind her head, but with two long strands trailing down by the side of her temples. Her ears were also very large and pointy, sticking up almost to the top of her head. "What do you want, Stihl?"
"Hello to you too, Kizni," Doctor Stihl greeted. "Zachary, this is Doctor Kizni Halos, Head Specialist of the Arias Circuit Points Bank."
"Zach English? He's the one who saved whatshisface and then fell off the grid, right?" Doctor Kizni asked with attitude. "Yeah, I've got a bone to pick with you. Should have let the trashhole die."
"Can we please leave your political preference out of this, Kizni"-
"What does he need, 'cause I'm busy," Doctor Kizni asked, annoyed. She looked kind of young, but by her mannerisms and demeanor, she looked like she had several more years under her belt than it appeared. Zach didn't know the exact life span or aging process of the Alfimese, but seeing as she looked like she might be in her early to mid thirties by human standard, she just might be older than he thought.
"We have a peculiar incident, actually. We don't know what to make of it."
"Well spit it out, what is it?"
"He's missing a scanner brand."
"What? How did-"
"We don't know," Soter answered. "We just need him to have another one administered so he can have access to his account."
"Well that should be a breeze, as long as he remembers his pin."
Doctor Stihl and Soter exchanged looks and then looked back at Zach, who shrugged. Doctor Kizni looked between the two of them, puzzled.
"Where the fuck has he been?"
"That's not important. Do you think we can get access to his account without his pin?"
"Not likely. But you can probably get authorization for him to access his Memory Log. Maybe he can find it in there. The most I can do right now is replace the brand."
"All right, that'll do. Follow us, Zach."
Doctor Kizni removed her green blood-covered lab coat and replaced it with another one hanging up in the corner of the room as the group migrated into one adjacent to the one they were in currently. As Zach followed the others, he looked back at the Angrefian who lounged back by the side of the room. He had been staring at him relentlessly since he sat down. When Zach looked back at him, Otizel smiled, but with a humorless gaze and shook his head before looking away. Zach decided to ignore him and followed the others into another room identical to the last. He leaned up to Doctor Stihl.
"What exactly is going on here?"
"Here in the North Circuit our currency is determined by a Point System," Doctor Stihl explained. "When you're born, you are branded with a Scanner Brand on your right arm, which when scanned under a CPA or 'Circuit Point Automator,' will allow you access to your personal account. Well, when you're of adult age at least, which is when you're given your own pin number to access it without the need of your parents."
"Right, and I don't know my pin number, so I can't get to it," Zach followed up.
"Exactly. Basically 1 point is the equivalent to the US Dollar back on Earth. You can choose to donate points to others through authorized account transfers, which is done in general currency exchange, you know, like if you owe someone or they owe you. You are also awarded points for general employment."
"Right, so that's how you get paid, I get it. So why does this place seem like more of a hospital than a bank?"
"Because our currency system is dependent a lot on a biological standpoint; you can't access your account unless the system is sure its you. On top of that, ever since it was put into commission many centuries ago, there have been problems with criminal dismemberment as a means of gaining access to someone else's account or identity theft, as you saw in the other room there."
"All right, come here, English," Doctor Kizni beckoned as he stepped forward into the room. He didn't know exactly where to go at first, figuring maybe he should sit on the floating transparent table in the center but when she turned around with a small square-shaped device in her hand and walked to him, all he needed to do was stand there. Doctor Kizni reached for his right arm aggressively, pulled back the sleeve of his jumpsuit to his bicep and put the square device over the fold of his elbow. There was a button on the top end of the device and when Kizni tapped it lightly, Zach felt a sharp pain surge through his arm. His veins protruded from it and he cried out in pain before it finally stopped and the doctor pulled the device from it, revealing the same symbol that had been on Soter's arm when he unlocked the door to the private room back on the Taxicruise. It was a simple diamond with a small circle in the center and lines stemming from it to each corner of the figure. "Quit your crying. Its only going to remain valid for six hours and thirty clicks before it registers that its fabricated. You need to verify its authenticity by logging into your account and entering your pin as soon as possible."
"O-Okay," Zach said nervously, rubbing the spot where his new scanner brand had been administered.
"You need to get authorization to access the Memory Log from Tome himself. When you get up there give him my regards, along with this." Doctor Kizni lifted her hand forming a circle with her middle finger and her thumb, then flicked it in his direction. Zach figured it was some kind of insulting gesture, probably the equivalent of giving the bird here. Doctor Stihl sighed.
"Still as charming as ever," Doctor Stihl said, shaking his head with a smile. "If I see your daughter Jeila at the Monolith, I'll be sure to let her know that you're doing well."
"Like she cares." Without another word, the group was out of the door and back on another lightlift that took them to the entrance of the bank and back out onto the streets of Asphidire.
"Well that was interesting," Zach said, still flexing the fold of his elbow. "Why does that lady hate Tome so much?"
"Like I said, his position is controversial," Doctor Stihl answered. "Not everyone is pleased with his leadership. I've met him, he's a very pleasant man, but many simply don't like him."
"Why is that? Can't just be because he's half-human, you said it yourself, people around here still like humans."
"You're right, its not his race that makes his reign an issue. We'll tell you the real reason later. Don't want it to influence any preconcieved notions before you meet him."
"Well from what I know from the supposed life I had on Earth, the more secrets you hide from me, the more suspicious I'm going to get. So that might just be counter-productive."
"Fair enough, Mr. English. But we'll take our chances. All you need to know for right now is that it has nothing to do with his character. He is a fine man."
"Whatever you say. So where are we headed now, that Monolith thingy?-"
"Zachary?!" Shouted a voice from across the street they walked along. Zach turned in the direction of it and spotted the first human being he'd seen since arriving in this part of the galaxy. "ZACHARY!" the woman screamed, sprinting through the crowd passing by and nearly colliding with a Dark Alfimese man on a futuristic motorcycle with hovering wheels on her way over. Zach looked back at Doctor Stihl and Soter, who watched in surprise but made no move to stop her or inform him of who it was calling his name and running at him. They almost looked like they were at a lost for what to do or say. When the woman approached, she ran into his arms and hugged him tightly, Zach not sure if he should hug back or stand there. He patted her lightly before she parted and looked at him with a large smile and eyes nearly on the verge of tears. "Oh my God, Zach, I can't believe its you!"
She was petite and her dark hair was very short, not even long enough to come down to ears yet. She looked Caucasian in her features but her skin was darkish, so he figured she'd be considered of Indian, Latino, or maybe even African descent if she were from Earth, even though she didn't really look like either of those. She just looked like a white woman with a harsh tan, despite still being attractive. Her accent had a Canadian edge to it. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Uh..." Zach stammered, looking over at the others, who were still clueless as to what to do. "I um..."
"Its me, Opera," she said, looking into his eyes and trying to jog his memory loose. "I know I cut my hair but I don't look that different, do I?"
"Let's go, Zach," Soter said quickly, leaning forward, grabbing Zach by the arm, and pulling him away. Zach looked back at the mysterious girl as Soter and Doctor Stihl hustled down the sidewalk and around the corner by another one of the skyscrapers.
"Hey wait! Zach!" She called after him but they were already out of earshot.
"Um...okay, who was that?" Zach asked curiously. Up ahead he could see that there was a row of several silver oval-shaped vehicles, which he assumed they would be hitching a ride in.
"That was um..." Soter started, turning back in the direction they left the woman in as if checking to see if she'd followed them. "How do I put this? We have this thing in the North Circuit that is kind of the equivalent to Earth's concept of marriage"-
"Wait, wait, wait." Zach stopped walking and stared at the two aliens in disbelief. "That woman was my wife?"