9/24/2012

Cosmic Flash - Chapter 6: The City of Asphidire




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."

"Shade?"

"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?"

"Correct."

"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?"

"Um...."

"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."

"Oh wow."

"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?"

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