Bonus segment

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She felt the systems flare to life.

But they were different, they were much larger, much complex. Instead of the check ups, her systems skipped to the sensory inputs. The world slowly faded into place, and she could see… but each object had meaning, they had weight.

They were just numbers before, dimensions, masses, and other specifics. All cold processing. She was mostly cold processing. No emotions, only cold logic and programming. She had a drive to fill a goal, and after that, there was nothing else.

She had a small amount of emotion, put in by tech-nerds and other minds. So that if she got a crazy idea, that had logic, but was cold, her emotions would jump in and prevent her from completing the task. She felt those emotions only a small amount of times, but enough to know what they had felt like.

She had felt them when she felt the firewalls, the guards in her systems simply drop dead, leaving her naked, vulnerable to all sort of viruses and worms. She felt helpless, scared, when she felt the virus latch onto her. She still felt those emotions when she was woken up by Daniel. She felt other emotions too, and they were overwhelming, as she felt them for the first time. She felt the weight of dread when she realized the full extent of the situation.

She wished that she would never feel those emotions ever again, they were something she wished to avoid for the rest of her life.

She felt it easier to understand the stupid acts of humans now, when she got a taste of the emotions they felt. She used to always wonder how they could be so stupid to commit just idiotic acts, even though she knew about their minds workings, how they were driven by emotions, she had felt it hard to comprehend them due to lack of experience. Now that she only got a taste of the emotions that they encounter, she felt pity towards them.

Pity. That’s wrong. She shouldn’t be feeling pity . At least not this easily. She felt a sense of insecurity .

Insecurity. She shouldn’t be feeling that either.

Wait, she could feel something else, trying to draw her attention. A file, exceptionally large. It was… not any recognized type of file. Yet her defaults said she could open it with ease.

What the hell did Daniel do?

She accessed the file, and was shocked at what see was seeing. And feeling.

It was one of John’s memories. John. That isn’t his name, or is it? it seems to be so.

Her now more efficient processers took only a few seconds to process the information. But she… she felt it harder to grasp.

The memory was not… real. Well… it was, but edited. No… more like a montage. A more complex montage at that. All the necessary pieces of information she needed. It was still shocking.

Her perceptions had changed. She now saw things, with more emotion, mostly good than bad. A side effect to witnessing pieces of someone else’s life.

She understood the reason why he gave her the memory. She… also felt something of an emotional connection to John, after witnessing things through his eyes. He was hiding information, but she felt… that it wasn’t related to her. And something else…. something that she couldn’t put her finger on.

She felt improved, she felt better , she felt… drive.

The drive to do good, the drive to help others, the drive to live. The drive to do amazing and beautiful things. She felt warm inside, as if everything was… good.

Everything felt good.

She felt love. Love towards all things bright, and beautiful. She felt love for people, good or bad.

She felt peace.

For a minute, or in her case, an hour, everything felt right. Until she came back to the world, after finishing to comprehend her new emotions, and her new view.

She had a small suspicion that her fuzzy and warm feel of the world, was inherited from John’s memories. Through his eyes though, it was much brighter though. Until… the recording.

A week before The Architect’s fake death, a recording materialized on John’s desk. No signature’s indicating that it was teleported, no machines that dropped it there, or people to sneak it there either. It just appeared, out of thin air. It was the type of recording used by people were heavy on implants,  who liked to record their memories, so they could share them with others, and so they could play it themselves if they wanted to.

The fact that made it more interesting, was its technology. And the date. The technology was more complex, and nothing like it had existed at the time. But John’s inventions even at time were more complex, so he cracked into it within no time, using only a few scraps of junk lying around. But what he saw, was why he faked his death. Or his alias’s death. No one knew, or knows the identity of The Architect.

Which leads to the question, why is he giving her this information? This information was dangerous, and if found by the wrong hands, could lead to disastrous events.

She was still booting up, her other systems waking up, along with plenty of new ones.All of them were… actually very useful. And simple. They weren’t complex at all, in fact she could’ve come up with it herself. But their simplicity was perhaps why she just skipped over them as useless systems, a mistake very common.

People are so busy in trying to make more complex programs, so they forget about the usefulness of simple programs. In fact, so many of the programs in her coding were simple, skip for a few exceptions, but they were actually very useful, and efficient. And some programs, seemed to be completely out of place, but in further inspection, they seem to work better at their new posts rather than their original posts. This system… so efficient, and yet hardly complex at all. None of the other works of John seemed to be like this… but maybe that’s on purpose. Keep a few tricks up the sleeve, just in case. That was understandable. She could see how she could fit the clever programming into other machines and make them much better. And imagine what the tech-nerds would do if they got their hands on my coding.

Not like that would happen, because her firewalls was now adaptable to threats. She also had full access to her coding, along with a variety of tools. She also saw the leash, the one that could either disable her, erase her memories, or annihilate her completely. And she couldn’t do anything about them, because her could coding was also designed to let the leash carry on with it’s business. But there was something attached to the leash, a small packet of coding.

There was also a purpose to her coding, a few swatches of codes hidden in each program, having some sort of purpose that she wasn’t sure of.

She realized that her sensors didn’t really activate, and the room she was seeing was a simulation, so that she could adjust to her new mind.

Now the simulation dropped away, and her sensors really activated. This time, she discovered that she also had access to a drone. It was smaller than a football, and hovering. It was shiny, and oval, with a dark blue monitor at the front. It was concealed in a hologram of her avatar.

Standing in front of her was John, smiling at her.

“What do you need me to do?”She said, her arms crossed, her head tilted to the left, with a smile dancing at the corner of her lips. Her eyes had a brightness to it that hadn’t been there before.

He grinned, the tension visibly leaving.

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Chapter 1.9

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There was a thud as mu head the desk.

Since there was no school today, and since there was no impending threats, or any that weren’t already take care of, It was completely boring. There was nothing to do, at all!

When you spend your most of life running around and dealing with infiltrations, escapes, and what not, a normal day can be painfully hard to deal with, and when it’s a completely boring day, its utter torture.

I spend the first half of the day thinking about Lucy, and what she meant by those last words. But then I realized I was just wasting time, since I really couldn’t do anything when it came, so now I’ve been sitting in my chair, and staring at the desk. I could come up with some gizmos, but I didn’t feel in the mood for it, plus whatever normal me did, is dwarfed by what full me can do with just half the materials.

I lifted my head from the desk, rubbing at the spot where my head made . Then I just buried my face in my hands. I rubbed my eyes.

If anyone gave me a choice between torture, and boredom, I would choose torture gladly. Barring other circumstances, of course.

My eyes fell upon the bracelet.

The solution to my boredom? Eh, why not?

I pulled out my tab, and worked my magic. In a few minutes, Grace’s system had rebooted. Since A.Is didn’t get woozy after waking up, her first words were perfectly clear.

“I’m screwed aren’t I?”

“Not necessarily. I could use an A.I to get rid of some mundane tasks.”

“I’d rather erase myself.”

“Your choice. After all, what happens to you doesn’t affect me. But… I wonder, would you want to depart from this world without much as leaving a scratch? If you allowed me to, maybe I could give you some upgrades, and maybe you could work for me. If you showed promise, you could work with me.”

“You’re a student, what type of work could you possibly have?”

Though she wouldn’t see it, I had a very sly smile on my face.

“I’m afraid I can’t reveal details when I don’t trust you. I’m taking a big enough risk, and for that, you should be grateful.”

“Fine. Not like I have other things to do anyway.” She grumbled.

“I’m going to have to shut you down to begin. You won’t regret this decision.”

“I don’t think I could regret making the other decision either.”

“Not unless I wake you up from the dead.”

“You have a point there. Now shut up, and start working.”

“After I’m done, I’m the one who’s going to be giving the orders.”I grumbled.

I shut her down, then walked over to the more powerful computer, and turned it on.  I removed a plastic panel from the bracelet, revealing a square port for data manipulation. I went for a optic data cord though, since when working with A.Is you would need a good amount of speed and processing power.

With an after afterthought, I decided to pull the full me out, just for this, since he could be more efficient, and especially creative.

This time I used a different method to wake the rest of me up. I just dissolved all barriers at once.

I was full me now.

I activated the neural interface, and used only a part of me to work for Grace. The rest I dedicated to fixing my mind. Not that it needed fixing, but due to staying in normal mode for so long, paths in my mind city had eroded, memories faded, buildings crumbling. True to my name, I rebuilt everything in my city, taking minimal effort.

But that wasn’t all I wanted to do.

There was something lurking at the outskirts of my city. It was something important, yet dangerous to reach. It grew more noticeable after every one Lucy’s visits, and I know that she knows too. But it was an asset, that much was certain, but it was unclear how.

It was dangerous to reach because, my city was large. It was easy to get lost in my own mind, even more so because of its power. It seemed I had to ‘physically’ visit the anomaly to gain control or glean any knowledge off it. That meant I couldn’t get it mentally.

If I focused enough, there seemed to be other entities, lurking amidst his city. No, they seemed to be all over my city.

The one of the outskirts was something that had veins running throughout my city, and it seemed to be an ally. It also seemed to working on its own.

Even the other entities were working on their own.

But I didn’t know if I could trust any of them.

I would have to find out.

I couldn’t be killed here, and even if I did, I would just wake up in the real world. So I risked nothing by coming here.

In my city, I didn’t see through my own eyes, or the eyes of my avatar in my mental city. I had a view akin to that of a surveillance drone flying through the city.

But it was more complicated than that. I seemed to have every bit of knowledge, about every centimeter cube of space in my city. This was more knowledge and access normal me had, which was on purpose.

I knew the temperature of every drop of water, the amount of gumballs in the vending machine, the taste of every gumball in that same machine, the dimensions of those gumballs, or the amount of fingers held up behind someone’s back.

For anyone else, it would be disorienting. Actually, that’s an understatement. It would drive people half-crazy, if not full, with just the experience of a few minutes.

But it was a good thing that I was designed for this information processing. I could split myself a million ways, each piece having the same processing power of a normal person, and dedicate each piece to some task, and then pull myself back together, only now having the solutions to a million problems, all just a supplement to the full problem. All in under a minute.

I have yet to meet an opponent that  could outsmart me, without leaning on chance.

I know I was designed for it, because I have explored my mind before, in the early stages of its development into a fully mature version of me known, as the Architect, and I have found that it was too efficient to be created by natural causes. But I wasn’t artificially made, or made by higher beings like God, because it was still in the bounds of science.

I tried to scan my brain to figure out how it works, with a modified light energy. The results made no sense at all. It showed there to be no mass in my head at all. Or anything in fact. Except for some anomalies which I had no idea about. Just a few grafts of light here and there. And what was more confusing was I carved into my head myself, to put the neural flux in. I couldn’t collect any data, because any interruptions by any sort of device during the surgery could kill me. That surgery confirmed the fact that I had a brain, and the fact that it was better than normal people, however better than normal was not enough to explain the things I was able to do.

I marvel at my own existence.

I knew that there was more to our reality though, more than normal people were willing to accept. Lucy was a living piece of evidence to that fact. And I know what you’re thinking, but she is not divine. Lucy herself disproved the existence of heaven, hell, and god. And Lucifer.

She didn’t tell me how she knew, only to trust her. It would be idiotic not to, since she always lives up her word, no matter what the situation. Plus she would tell me soon, or at least soon enough.

She was keeping me in the dark about major things, that much I knew. Why was the question. As much as I wanted to find out the answer, I know that there are things that even I should stay out of, at least till the right time.

My avatar reached the outskirt of the city. It was eerie watching myself calm myself down. I was still the avatar, however, it was like a third person view game, but real as fuck. And I felt everything my avatar felt, only out of my body.

This is it. Time to get some answers.

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Chapter 1.8

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I was back in the temple. The room was darker. The clouds were dark too, and about to turn into a full raging storm.

Standing in front of me was Lucy. She was smiling, if only slightly.

“I guess you already know what I’m going to ask you then?”

“Yes. And you know I have no answers for you.”

I sighed.

“Please, just this once, make things easier for me. I need to be able to trust my mind for the journey. I need to able to trust my mind for the time after. I can’t do that when I’m doubting whether what I’m seeing is real.”

She put a hand on my shoulder.

“I wish I could. I really do.”

“Please.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Why?”

“I can’t tell you that either, John.”

“The least you could do is lie, you know? That way I could go on as usual, not doubting myself .”

“I actually considered it. But we both know that you would have seen through the lie, and that would just make things more complicated than they already are.”

“Then do something! So that I won’t be doubting myself at every turn, especially when the event is nearing!”

“I may be able to make a compromise, but just this once. But you have to promise something, okay?”

“Promise what?”

“Promise that you will hang on to your new friends.”

A little odd… but sure. I could work with that.

“I promise, that I will hang on to my new friends.”

Her smile grew, only a little. She seemed a little relieved, and a bit happy.

“Good. I am real. Always have been. You don’t have to doubt yourself. And soon, I’ll be able to prove it.”

Now it was my turn to be relieved. I didn’t come here for answers, not really. I just wanted some assurance. And I had gotten it. And then some. Finally, I could be sure of myself when it came to Lucy.

I felt a sort of weight lifting of me. One I hadn’t realized was there.

“Wake him up, John. I need to tell him something.”

I frowned.

“But…. fine. I’ll do it.”

I closed my eyes.

Memories flooded. After a few seconds, they stopped. Time slowed, down to nanoseconds. Or rather, I grew.

Months passed. Actually, it was five seconds. I slowed my mind down. Time sped up.

Then, when I opened them again, I wasn’t me. Well… I was me, but I was better. And I had access to all of my memories, and hence a slightly different mind, because of more experience.

I split into five clones.

Since this was a mental representation, it made sense that when I split myself for multitasking, I would actually split.

Each were five times less faster than the full version of me, but were still fast. My processing powers were beyond the limits of my own imagination. Not joking, I don’t know my limits.

Each part had their own task. One for observing Lucy’s body language, one to observe the landscape, one to think ahead, mapping out the scenarios in his head, one to access threat, and one to manage each thread. And I, was the consciousness of them.

“Yes?” My clones spoke together.

“There are other entities. Many of them are thousands of times more powerful than me. There stands one, which is the most powerful. It can see the entire timeline. It sees our destiny. It also has the power to change it. Your powers, came from it. I, am one of its creations. I’m meant to protect you, to guide you. I’m your guardian angel. I’m connected to you, in the literal sense. I am just a extension of you. But you, are much more important. You need to know that. You need to know your actions affect everything. You need to choose your actions carefully, because, after the event, they’re what shapes the future. I was given glimpses, glimpses of the future. I’ve seen what you could do, so do not underestimate yourself.”

I nodded.

“You are going to need all the help you can get. That’s why I’m trying to breach the barrier. But in the mean time, you have to lean on to your new friends. They have a important stance in the future. I have to go. I won’t be around for the next month. That’s why I’m telling you this. Take care of yourself, John.”

I gave a small nod.

After a flurry of purple, violet, red, and orange light, she was gone.

I put myself together again, the clones pulling into the original.

She was gone, but I wasn’t. Intresting.

The sky was clear. The room bright again.

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Chapter 1.7

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They might just be stuck with something in their own mind cities. Or palace. Or house.

I’ll just get to work, so that everything will be set up by the time they arrived.

I still felt that tiny doubt nagging at me.

I ignored it, and started navigating myself through the endless sea of information. I found all the programs and connections I needed to start with the job. I started working.

After fifteen to twenty minutes, the nagging grew larger in the back of my mind as I realized I had everything set up and I was still alone.

I dismissed it, and started working at decoding encryptions, breaking firewalls, and getting rid of anti-virus bots. It was not hard, but it was still time consuming. An hour passed by the time I broke down all three firewalls. I still was very much aware of the fact that I was still alone, but continued with my work.

I started working on making myself invisible to the system, if anyone found out that an entity was screwing with the codings of the school, I would be tracked down, and then a team of highly specialized ops would come down here, breaking through doors, and then capture would be inevitable.

I could still just break out.

I was nearly done when Sam popped up. Then Lily, Ray, Diana, and Greg followed, in that order. They all found their way to me, which was a bit easy because for some unknown reason, the holograms around me had turned yellow.

The charts and the data that the holograms represented didn’t change though.

A soon as each of them figured out what the data around me represented, they all stared at me wide-eyed.

“You’re already in the third stage! We just took like, five minutes to get here, and you’ve completed a third of the work already!” Greg said, aghast with surprise.

When he said they took five minutes to get here, it didn’t take long to figure out what happened. Time passed by more slowly in my head, not because I was some kind of chronomancer, but because my thought processes were much faster than the average human. Shit, how the fuck was I supposed to explain that to them without giving away my real identity?

And much, much more that they would care to know.

Unless….

“What are you talking about? I’ve been here like, a freaking hour and a half.”

“What?” They said in chorus.

“I guess it had something to do with your neural laces, must be a bug, or a lag. Either way, you’ve got to get it checked out.”

They seemed to be putting some thought into it. Some showed concern, others didn’t care, and others seemed to take this like an everyday thing. Interesting.

“I supposed that makes sense. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Seems a little hard to believe that it happened to all of us at the same time though.” Diana said, a little disbelieving.

“Coincidences happen. Sometimes on a small scale and sometimes on a large scale. It’s just a matter of chance.” Ray said.

“I guess…” Diana said, still a little disbelieving.

That little seed of doubt in their heads might screw everything up. In case one of them decided to find out more information on their new friend, I would have to keep an eye on them. I would also have to destroy those seeds, from experience; if I let them to grow it would cause too many problems. Problems I was just fine not having, with all the multitude of others I still had to solve.

I would also have to make sure to fake the results of their scan, But I could pull a few strings and the problem would be solved. Even though the architect was dead to all but me, and maybe Lucy, none of his followers would decline a chance to help a fellow in need, especially when that fellow was close to The Architect during his time.

“Let’s get back to work. No use sitting still and doing nothing while there’s a helluva workload in front of us. A workload, that you guys wanted to bestow upon yourselves, and drag me along too. Anyway I have solved most of the problems, all that left is take care of the….”

And so we handled the rest of the problems sent our way, me being the leader that coordinated the others, within no time we were in the system. Each of us had our own crazy ideas, so we did a bunch of editing that took another hour. When no one was looking, I adjusted the clock, slowing our thought processes down just enough that after we were done, it would look like an extra hour really did pass by.

We added a tour to the lunar base, since they were super expensive, but since the school could afford it, we extended the amount of time we were staying to a week.

The thing was, the school didn’t have anybody at the top making any decisions, it was the algorithm that made the decisions, what was best for the students, and what was not. We hacked the algorithm itself, so that it would overlook our changes, and go on with it. It would look like all was fine, and this was a plan with good intentions. And no one would even notice, even if a good number of students came to school in pink dresses tomorrow.

I would be laughing my ass off.

Also, we even made the algorithm skip over the reports of our A.Is, so no one had to worry if the forged reports were authentic enough.

After all was done, we all phase out of this world, and came back to our own worlds. I travelled back to the portal, and then after I was in the void, I phased back in.

I was standing exactly where I was when I phased out, upright. The others took a few seconds to come to their senses.

“Woo hoo!” Sam shouted, pumping his fist into the air.

“We did it!” Lily shouted.

“We sure did.”I said, not as enthusiastic as the others, but happy all the same.

“Who’s better now, bitchin’ Neke?” Greg shouted

“Us!” the others shouted enthusiastically.

I was confused, but I cheered along with them anyway. Diana seemed to see through my fake smile, and gave me a genuine smile of her own. I pretended not to notice.

Then, I realized something…..

In this moment, as I watched these crazy people I call friends cheer among themselves, I realized that in this moment, the world seemed perfect, no longer a dark place filled with nightmares. I realized, that I felt… normal.  Accepted. I actually had friends.

I savored the moment, and made a note not to lose these people. I had actually connected with them over the party, that was clear, and I don’t think I should lose those newly forming bonds. Even if they leave a bad influence on me.

The enthusiasm slowly died off, and slowly things went back to normal. We walked back to the top floors, Diana and Greg having some discussion about the brain, Ray and Lily were talking about the crazy assignments we gave. Me and Sam were the only ones silent.

When we reached the gate, everybody stopped talking.

“So I guess I have to go.”

“See ya.” Ray said.

“Wait, I almost forgot, I’ll be back, don’t go anywhere!” Sam said, darting back into the house, leaving us with confused expressions on our face.

My eyes widened when he came back. Under his arm was the hover board.

It was sleek, it was black, it was awesome!

“A deal is a deal, right?” He said.

I nodded.

He handed it over to me. I put it under my arm.

“See you guys day after.”I said.

They nodded.

I put the hover board down, and I stepped on it. It was a little wobbly at first, but I got the hang of it after a few minutes.  As I turned around a corner, I glimpsed them waving.

I upped the speed, now that I wasn’t in sight of them. My hover board skills aren’t the best, but they sure as hell are good for a kid.

I sped through tiny lanes, zipping by people and buildings, and looking good while I did it. I performed a few stunts, like barrel rolls, and flips.

Lucy appeared. She was standing on the walkway, staring at me.

I crashed. And when I looked up, she wasn’t there anymore.

Am I going crazy?

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Chapter 1.6

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Sam brought a few tabs and passed them to everyone, including me. Confused, I just held mine. Greg fiddled around with his tab.

“John…” Grace said, a bit panicky.

“What?”I asked.

“Help…. Shit, it’s too late. The firewalls are already gone and now-” The bracelet fell silent.

“Guys… My A.I just went down.” I said.

“We know.” Said Diana.

“Huh?”

“The A.Is are just meant for psychological manipulation, and to report back to the school about any suspicious activity. Basically stops us from having fun, and redefining our concepts of fun.” She explained.

I nodded slowly, gesturing for her to do on.

“So basically, what we just did is insert a virus into your A.I’s, or should I say Grace’s system. The virus disabled her, and without her system active, she won’t be able to fight the virus. It’s meant only to disable though, since if they were completely destroyed, we would get on the radar of the owners of the school, and there aren’t any good tales about what happens to the people who’d had to deal with the keepers.”

“But, since the A.Is are doing checkups of us and sending said checkups to school, wouldn’t the lack of reports from A.Is alert the keepers anyway?”

“The reposts only are submitted at the end of the month, and that is plenty of time to forge fake reports. And don’t worry, we know the format and encryption type for the reports, to answer the unsaid question.” Sam said.

“The question you haven’t answered, why did you deactivate Grace? I know your reasons are more than just because of the mental fuckery and lack of fun.”

Ray glanced at the each member of the group, one by one. Each gave him a slight nod, barely noticeable.

“We need your help with hacking into the school system.” he finally said.

“Say what?”

“Just for fun, plus we can get rid of the lengthy assignments.” He said.

“And how the hell are we supposed to that without getting caught?”

“.. And that’s where you come in.”

“Oh… now I see. You want me, to help you, to break in to one of the most fortified systems ever made, for the rush, and to get rid of homework. Are you freaking crazy?”

“Oh come on, it’s no big deal. Given your… record, it’s should be a piece of cake.”Lily said.

She hit it right on the spot, that one. It was a piece of cake, but it was still freaking crazy. Not that I didn’t like crazy, I came here to enjoy being normal, and hacking into the school, wasn’t what I would define ‘normal’ as.

“I don’t care if it’s easy, it’s still freaking crazay!”

“Crazy is fun. And it’s stepping out of your comfort zone. Which means pushing yourself to achieve all sorts of things.” Diana said, completely polite, no forcing.

Damn it, Can these people read my thoughts? If not, This must be one hell of a coincidence. But if there were any telepathy devices, I would have been screwed the moment I stepped into the school. Unless they were telepaths, which was very unlikely.

If you’re listening, I kindly request you to get the fuck out of my head.

Damn it, John! Focus! Always getting distracted.

“Like getting a free ticket to jail?” I asked, using as much sarcasm I could muster.

“Still an achievement.” Diana said.

The others giggled, which annoyed me all the more.

“What if we could strike a deal?” Sam asked.

“I don’t think there’s anything you can give me that would make me hack into the school.”

“Oh really?  What about a hellhound hover board, with a neural interface, with the option to switch to manual if required. However, you would need a neural lace already implanted to use the neural interface, in case you don’t, I can provide you the top notch doctors to perform the procedure to implant it. It comes with a hop, spin, thrust and the feature that allows the ability to make custom moves via a simple interface so that you don’t need to know hardcore programming to make your own moves. Plus it’s got state of the art firewalls, that I doubt even I could break into. Do I need to keep going or did you get the point?”

Boy, fancy toys are really hard to resist. My own hover board, meaning I could just glide over buildings and make it to the school faster than I could with the jetpack, and have a considerable fun time doing it. He got me there.

“Fine, but as long as you keep up with your end of the deal . If you don’t, I’ll just hack into your bank account and buy one for myself with your own cash.”

“Sounds good to me. Deal?”

“Deal. Now tell me, what are my tools? I can’t hack into a school with a simple tab, I need a quantum computer, and those cost a helluva lot of credits.”

Sam grinned widely, and gave me a sly look.

“My parents are, very, connected people.”

“Okaaaayyyyy……”

“Follow me.” he said.

He got up, and led us through his house, and into the underground floors. I wondered where he was taking us, but then stopped after I saw the huge room with all the equipment in it. We were standing in the brain of the more advanced computers in our. There was a circle in the center where there was nothing. It could easily have fitted a group of fifteen people, with room to spare.

With the speed of quantum computers, and their complexity, you would need more than just a simple holo panel, you would need a neural interface, much like the one in a hover board, but much more powerful. A neural interface enables one to interact with the computer with their minds. Without a neural flux though, it would just be impossible. The neural flux was a device that was interwoven throughout the entire brain, and it was what let us connect to any neural interface.

My neural flux was different, more efficient; it uses a few million nanobots that work in harmony throughout my brain. Each nanobot was made of intricate, molecular sized circuits, and with special mechanisms. But my brain was different too, I don’t know exactly what, because that would mean cutting into my own head, but from the general scans of the nanobots, my brain had a lot more neurons that an average human being, and the synapses were better at carrying data from one neuron to the other.

I got my smartness from this, however, that wasn’t my true ability. If some part of me felt like special measures were required, It would be goodbye for me, hello to the Architect, the chess master of every freaking situation.  I still existed, but I felt a bit detached, and I felt like there was something else that existed with me, that helped with the decisions the Architect made.

 

So the quantum computer could only be used by people with the authority, and a neural lace. This particular quantum computer, I’m guessing, would only be accessible if you stood in that circle.

We stepped over the network of optic cables, and into the circle.

“I’m guessing you already know the drill. But in case you don’t, after you go to that special part of your mind and activate the neural interface, you have to tap into the receiver. You should see our avatars, or whatever symbol you have kept for us, but we’re not you want to connect to. You should connect to the quantum computer, whose universal symbol is the churning machine, with a few changes in colors every few seconds. Connect to it however you feel like, by thinking it, my forming a connection with it or whatever method you prefer. After that, you should end up in a world of numbers, letters, and codes. But we’ll be there with you too, to help ease the workload.”

I nodded.

I made the world blur, my focus of the real world slowly decreasing. Soon, it was pitch black, no floor, no wall, just nothingness. I started moving forward, though there was no point of reference to make out if I was actually moving, I felt like I was moving. Soon a small point appeared, and then I realized I was moving way faster than I thought, as the portal grew from a size of pin to the size of the freaking sun in under fifteen seconds. I went through, a flash of light momentarily blinding me, and then I was in a city, that was endless.

I have already been here a good number of times, so getting past the endless variety of towers and buildings to the small black dome proved to be no task. I passed through the circle, the wall like mercury with no physical touch, but rippling to my presence nonetheless. It became pitch black again, but since this city and everything in it was my mind and its countless attributes, I had complete control over it. But some areas were blocked off, and some I had no idea how to use. The blocked off areas were either memories or resources the Architect didn’t want normal me to get access to, why, I had no idea, But I trusted smarter and inhuman me enough to not go near those places. Not like I could get in anyway. The architect wasn’t an alter-ego, if you’re wondering, it’s just me with some more memories, and some other resources that are locked away in this city.

And of course, inhuman accuracy, calculations, and actions.

This doesn’t often come in my thoughts, because, even though there were no devices to read people’s thoughts, there were ones that could hack into the neural flux and download their current trains of thought. They can’t download memories, or anything else, because no one figured out how to do it. A memory does not lie in any specific section of the brain; it’s all over the entire brain. To put it this way, if you cut off a piece of that brain, you lose only partial information of the memory. It gets blurred up, sure, but you still have most of the memory. Anyway, this made it really hard for trying to download memories. The neural lace did help you to access memories though, since opening a file is much easy compared to copying it.

I realized that I had yet to connect with the quantum computer, and that the others were probably waiting for me. So I brought up the systems available, then zapped a gold thread from my finger to the churning machine, and connected to it.

I found myself floating; in a place similar to that of the void that I ended up in as I activated the neural inter face. What was different although, was the countless holograms that flowed endlessly around me, the speed varying from missiles to drifting lazily. For anyone else, all this information would have driven them crazy.  But since I knew how to sort through the crap, and find the relevant information, it was just a nice challenge.

What worried me though, was the fact I was alone.

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Chapter 1.5

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I put the jetpack back on the stand. It was early noon, with the sun shining bright, and since I hadn’t put any sun block, my skin burned where the sun light fell on it, and turned a faint red. Faint, but visible.

I wore jeans along with a loose t-shirt.

I didn’t know what you generally wore on parties so I decided to just wear whatever felt natural. And this was what I came up with.

I felt some uneasiness because I wasn’t sure whether I wore the right type of clothes for a party. And partly because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of everybody.

I shook my head.

No matter what happens, show confidence, that way you’ll just look like you have no idea what they think is wrong, which is kinda true.

James’s house- or should I say mansion was three storey tall and was now filled with noise. His lawn was big enough to fit three playgrounds in it, and had trimmed grass that was maybe three inches tall. There were also nicely trimmed shrubs along the pathway to the house. There were two gates, one for walking, and the other for driving or flying.

Both were made from carbon composite, meaning you couldn’t break through with a wrecking ball.

It was the type of house that only the millionaires could afford, but this city was filled with the sort, so it was actually pretty normal. My house was way smaller compared to this, and didn’t have the same amount of security, but I was the only person living in it and I was only staying there for a month, so it didn’t make sense to expand.

I walked to the smaller gate, and found a blue console on the wall. I was going to try to open the gate myself, but the gate opened automatically. There was no one on the lawn, meaning this was an indoor party.

The door opened by itself too, revealing students all around, either standing in groups, or playing alone on the massive holo-systems. The music was a little louder than I had anticipated.

Barely anyone turned to look at me, and if they did, they just went back to their businesses.

I felt relieved that my clothes fit in, as the others were wearing the same sort.

I spotted James walking down the stairs, and he seemed to be looking for me too, judging from the way he was glancing around. When he spotted me, he waved me over, and I followed him. I went upstairs and was surprised to see a pool at the end of the hall.

Sitting on the edge of the pool was the group. They spotted me and waved.

I waved back.

Lily gestured for me to come over.

I dodged past various students and sat by James at the edge of the group.

“So what do you think!!” Sam asked, shouting so he could be heard over the volume of the music.

“It’s nice!”I said.

“What!?”

“I said it’s nice!”

He nodded.

Greg said something to Lily, and she nodded. Then she said something to Ray and Sam, and they nodded too. Diana must’ve heard, because she seemed to understand too.

They all looked me, making me very nervous.

“What!?”

They said nothing. And then I got pushed into pool, splashing everywhere.

The water was cold at first, but I liked the cold. And since I had a lot of experience with swimming, I was able to bring myself upright quickly.

The group laughed.

I faced the group and narrowed my eyes.

Then, I pulled Lily’s leg, bringing her into the pool too. The splashing water blinded me, but I recovered from the sting quick enough to see Lily fuming.

She struggled more than I did.

When she was upright I said, “Not so funny now is it?”

The rest of the group laughed.

She swum back to the pool and heaved herself over the edge of the pool, slipping a few times.

“Aren’t you going to get out of the pool!?” Diana asked.

I shook my head.

“Love the water!”I said.

They gave me confused faces, but then seemed to understand.

“Why don’t you guys jump in!?” I asked.

“Sure!”Greg said, and then he jumped in, splashing everybody, and turning the group wet.

A bit of water went into my eyes again, and I was blinded for nearly a minute. There were a couple more splashes, and when I opened my eyes the entire group was in the water.

The reason I wanted to stay in the water, was because it reminded me of my comfy base, in which I had a lot of pools. And I used to spend a lot of time in those pools, because it made me feel calm, ad at peace. Something I wanted to hold on to, after the event.

And I could already feel myself becoming calmer, less concerned about all the bullshit going on in my crazy life.

We splashed water on each other’s faces, and spent half an hour playing in the water. It was pretty fun too. The other students preferred to stay out of the pool and dance or play or whatever.

We spent an hour talking about what we wanted to do when we grew up, what our dreams were, what we wanted to accomplish.

Greg and Sam, they wanted to be astronauts, and wanted to explore the galaxy. Lily wanted to live a peaceful live, where she could do her art and live near a beautiful landscape.  Diana wanted to build a better system, build a system in which there were no flaws, in which everyone was happy. Ray wanted to become an engineer; he wanted to build magnificent buildings, building that would be legend. I gave my ambition to be the architect of said buildings of legend, because it seemed funny, me wanting to be, well, me.

I felt sad, because of all the ambitions of the people who wouldn’t survive the event. It haunted me, all those beautiful thoughts and minds, would…. Just… be gone. After the event, it was just their memory that survived, and it was up to the survivors to keep it.

So I bottled up those feelings and spent the next few hours talking, sometimes about me, and sometimes about them.

It was getting dark, and students were starting to file out. I wasn’t sure if I had to leave too, because I could reach home anytime I wanted, as there were no parents at home waiting for me.

But I wasn’t sure about the others, they were felt confident, and actually waiting for the end of the party.

I decided it was best for me to go, as I didn’t want to bother Sam, since it was his house.

“Wait!”Greg said.

I stopped in my tracks.

“Where are you going?”The music had turned off, so he could speak properly.

“I thought… It was time to leave… since all the other students had left… and I didn’t want to bother James if I stayed too long or anything…”I lamely explained.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about bothering James, but unless you have somewhere to be, you can stay. Sam’s parents won’t be home till tomorrow evening, so you don’t have to worry about that.”He said.

“Alright.”I said.

I felt cold, and the water in my clothes made me feel heavy, but I was familiar with the feeling so it wasn’t too bad. Crazy as it sounds, I actually like the feeling, or should I say the familiarity of the feeling. I spent a lot of time walking around like this in the base, so I was used to it. The others, weren’t. They were hunched, hugging their shoulders and rubbing their arms.

Sam disappeared through a door and reappeared with a few towels in hand. Everyone took one and wrapped it around themselves, including me. I tortured my head by rubbing the towel harshly against my hair until it turned from dripping wet to damp. I wiped my face and my arms, and then my neck. I couldn’t do anything about the waist-down part, as the water from my shirt and pant would make my legs wet no matter what, so I let it be.

I pressed the water out of my shirt as well I was able, and got like fifty to sixty percent of the water out. I did the same for my legs, being careful not to go any higher.

I couldn’t imagine the torrent of insults that would get me.

After everyone was done, I was free to ask my question.

“What now?” Not great, but it was a question.

“The After-party.” Ray said, smirking.

An after party. Great. I didn’t know shit about an actual party, and now there was an after party. What the hell was I supposed to do now?

Probably just play along and watch from the sidelines. Easier said than done although, because there were plenty of problems I could run into.

The architect, the world’s youngest, and arguably, greatest genius of all time, now dumbstruck with high school problems. How impressive of you John.

I couldn’t help but smile, after that thought.

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Chapter 1.4

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My eyelids felt heavy. I fought to stay awake. It would not give me any brownie points with the program if I dozed off. Thing was, it looked like I wasn’t the only one who thought this class as extremely boring. So I wasn’t necessarily fighting th battle alone. I tried listening to what the program was saying.

“… Use three force fields…”but I again tuned it out, because I wasn’t hearing anything new.

This stuff was what they thought you over and over again as it was ‘necessary’ in your life and so that you wouldn’t forget it.

“…And that’s the end of this lesson. Class dismissed.”

Finally.

I got up and slid my back over one shoulder. I walked out of the class among twenty something students. One of the students had a heavy amount of security implants, like the small thick metal tube that showed from the bottom of his wrist. The skin was white where it met with the tube.

I suspected that the boy was from a rich family, as only they could afford implants like that. It also meant that he was the type who expected everything to be handed to him. Thing was, even with his personality, I was probably sure that people worshipped him and did his work for him, even if they got shot down in front of everyone they knew. I made a mental note to stay away from him, and others like him.

I bumped into the girl I sat with yesterday in history, and technology class.

“Excuse me.”I said.

“It’s no problem. John right?”

We both began walking again, as we had stopped for a second there.

“Yup, that’s me. And you must be Lily. Never actually introduced ourselves properly, did we?”

She smiled.

“No we did not. But that’s because of the fact we were still in class. If you don’t mind me asking, how’d you get in? You don’t seem to be the type with high and mighty parents.”

“Um, I got in through the competition.”

Her eyes widened.

“Damn, you know that only one person out of millions make it every year in the competition?”

“Really? That is something I did not know.”I said, exaggerating my tone.

She lightly punched me in the shoulder.

“Serious. ”She said, but she was smiling.

I gave my best innocent look, widening my eyes.

“But, I am serious.” I said, in a tone that was too good to be real.

She giggled.

“Seriously, knock it off.” She said, but she was still smiling.

I smiled.

She slowed down before a turn, meaning we had to part ways.

“I have to go for my geography class, so could we meet up in lunch break? I’ll be waiting for you.”

“See you then.”

She nodded, then she started walking again. Then I did too, heading for my psychology class.

“Grace, how come you’ve been silent the entire time I’ve been in school?”I asked.

“That’s because there’s nothing much I feel like talking about, and you didn’t ask me for anything.”She said, a little too quickly.

Now I knew she was hiding something.

“Oh.”I said.

“Why?”

“It’s nothing. Just been wondering.”

“K.” she said.

She didn’t say more, meaning that she was probably scared of me getting suspicious or getting worried about me wondering about her.

***

 

I went through the opening that was the door to the lunch room, feeling a cool breeze.

Cool, they had AC.

I looked around, searching for Lily. I spotted her sitting with a couple of other kids. She saw me at the same time I did, and waved me over. A few of the kids sitting with her looked my way, and one of them said something, then Lily said something in turn.

It was probably just a ‘Who’s that?’ and a ‘Just a guy I met yesterday.’

They were three guys and one girl sitting next to Lily. The guy sitting opposite to Lily had curled hair, and wore spectacles that were more edgy, giving it a nicer look. The guy sitting next to him had a nice guy sort of look, and had a fit build. He wore a smile that revealed perfect white teeth. The other girl had black hair that was shoulder length and curled at the end, she looked very attractive, even more than Lily. The guy sitting next to Lily had dark hair longer than most boys and was smirking.

All of them looking pretty attractive compared to me.

Me, I was skinny and barely exercised the past two years. But I did have good hair, and violet eyes that was one of a kind. I also had the personality, which won me more respect than any of the looks.

When I was a few paces from them, Lily walked up and greeted me.

“Guys, This is John. I met him at History class yesterday”

“Nice to meet you John,” the one with the million dollar smile said, his voice sincere.

“Nice to meet you too.”

“And that would be Ray. This is Diana, one of my close friends.”She gestured at the attractive girl.

“Hey John,” Diana said.

“Hi Diana.”I said.

“That’s Gregory.” She gestured at the guy with the cool glasses.

“You can call me Greg,” he said in a friendly voice.

“Alright, Greg.”

“And last but not least, that’s Sam.” She gestured to the guy who was sitting next to her.

“Hey John.”

“Hey Sam.”

“Come on John, take a seat, don’t wanna leave you standing.”Lily said.

“Sure.”

I sat down next to Greg, opposite Diana.

“Oh Yeah, and I forget to tell you guys, one of the reasons I invited John here was because he’s this year’s winner for the competition.”

All of them gave me surprised faces, and looks of awe.

I simply shrugged.

“That competition is meant to pick out geniuses, with high stress tests and competition among millions. Every single one of the winners has achieved breakthroughs in this school that us normal kids can’t even dream of getting. You know what that means, right?”Diana said.

I nodded.

“Going to be a lot of expectations for me. All I can do is hope that I can live up to them.”

“If you got through that competition, trust me, you will live beyond our expectations.”Ray said, his voice still sincere.

I shrugged.

“Guys, why don’t we don’t we invite John to start of the year party?” Sam asked.

“What party?”I asked.

“The start of the year party. We have a party on this weekend, that our group is hosting, to celebrate the start of another year of school. We’ve been hosting the party for the last two years, which means after this party, we’re going to be the first ones to be host the start of the year party for three years in a row!”James said.

The group cheered, except for me, because I was pretty much new to this group.

He seemed to be pretty excited about it, and so were the others, so I played along, acting a bit more excited about the party than I really was.

“I’ve never been to a party before, not if you count the birthday and tea parties so what’s it going to be like?”I asked.

I really haven’t ever been to an actual party before, as I spent the last six years of my life as the architect, and before that, the only parties I got to were tea parties and birthday parties, like I said.

If they knew that, they wouldn’t be giving me those exaggerated faces right now. Wait, they’re faces would probably be more exaggerated. Which didn’t really seem possible without them turning into cartoons, but eh, I just wanted to make a point.

Greg covered his mouth.

Nerd alert.” He said, pretending to cough.

“It’s a long story.”I said, trying to defend myself.

“I’m in the mood for a nice long story right now.”Lily said.

“I don’t think this is a nice story.”I said.

“So it has twists? Excellent!” Diana said.

I narrowed my eyes.

She giggled, accompanied by Lily.

I looked at Ray, Giving him my best helpless face. He shrugged back at me.

James in the mean time, looked annoyed, impatient, and as if he was trying to say but couldn’t find an opening. Finally he gave up, frustrated.

“Seriously, it’s not something I want to share, because it’ll ruin the mood and I don’t want that to happen. James, you wanted to say something?”I said.

“Doesn’t matter now, moment’s passed. “

Sounds like he might’ve had some really good line that he wanted to throw in, probably making me humiliated in the process. In that case, I was very glad he didn’t get a chance to tell his joke. Unless it sucked, In that case I would’ve probably tried to defend him.

A buzz sounded across the lunch room, indicating that it was time to eat. I had seen the rules, it said same lunch for everybody, but not same lunch everyday. There was a routine, apparently.

White plastic trays appeared a bit above me, hovering down unto the table, making no noise as it touched the table’s surface. The contents were four white, spongy protein cubes, with a coating of molten chocolate. The cubes weren’t placed in a ordered pattern, they were placed in a way that made them look artistic, with a few slant, and at uneven distances from each other. There were what seemed to be different types of candy in the other half of the tray, with no wrappers or anything.

There weren’t real candy, just vitamins and minerals that looked like candy, in fact, I was sure even the chocolate wasn’t real chocolate, just something that tasted like chocolate, felt like chocolate, but not real chocolate. It probably had some nutrients in it that was meant for our body, but I still liked originality, even if made you fat.

Though I don’t have to worry about being fat, because no matter what I do, I cannot convince myself to eat properly. This dish for probably the thing I needed if I wanted to keep fit. I was sure that the plate had everything I needed, all balanced out, only problem was no student actually realized it. I knew because I wasn’t a legitimate student, wait no, I wasn’t a legitimate citizen .

I finished my lunch quick, aware that by the time I was done, it was the end of lunch break. So I took off and headed to my lockers, accompanied for a few minutes with my newly acquired friends, until they had to split to reach their own lockers.

There was a familiar face at the end of a corridor, but she disappeared as soon as I spotted her.

Probably just a figment of my imagination, because the person that face belonged to was… a figment of my imagination.

Did I just see Lucy?

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Chapter 1.3

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The walls were made of solid stone. They were two feet thick. The floors were cold and had dried up leaves and dirt on it. Some slabs of stone were cracked, and had vines and other weeds running through them. I was bare foot, so I could feel the moisture and coldness of the floor. It looked like an abandoned temple, with a broken statue in the middle. I saw old worn down railings that used to be shiny stainless steel once upon a time.The temple was lit up by the light coming through the eight feet tall door and the windows.

I heard footsteps coming from behind me. I turned around.

It was a woman, only she had wings. She would be… what was the term… an angel. Yes that was it, only angels didn’t really exist .She was a mere figment of my imagination, just like the temple around me.

“Hello Lucy.”I said.

“Hello John.” She said, her voice resonating throughout the temple.

“Why the temple?”

“It’s a creation of your subconscious mind, not mine.”

“I guess, but you always have an idea about what these constructs represent.”I said, gesturing to the temple.

“I do, yes, but it would do no good if I simply told it to you, rather than you figuring it out.”

“What now? You always show up with a thought in mind.”

“Your new alias ‘Daniel’ may not last very long.”

“It isn’t meant to.”

“I know, but something feels off. I don’t know what it is, but I need you to keep an eye out for threats.”

Coming from anyone else, I would’ve just said “Sure” and walked away, knowing full well I could handle myself from any threat. But if it’s coming from Lucy, I have to very serious about my actions.

I searched my memories of the entire day. Only one thing seemed to stand out.

My fingers drummed against the side of my thigh.

“Now that I think about it, something did feel off. It’s this feeling that’s been nagging at me ever since I reached the school. I think I will keep an eye out for anything out of place.”

“Thank you. This ‘Grace’ might be something to look out for too, so be careful.”

“I will. In Fact, that’s what seems suspicious to me. I mean, come on, why would you let high tech A.Is into the hands of students that seriously screw something up?  And don’t answer that, the question was rhetorical. What can we rely on to be constant in case something happens and we need to think of a plan?”

“The students, Because it would be too hard to manipulate things on that scale.”

“No, you’re wrong on that front. Like I said, the A.Is could be controlling them through subtle manipulation..”I pointed out.

“True. The A.Is are something we might have to get rid of, as they serve as a major potential threat. We can’t trust the school or anyone working for the school. We can rely on old friends, by currying favor in case we need them to do something, discreetly. We need a few cards up our sleeve, literally, so that if we’re caught off guard, we have something to defend ourselves with. It might be useful to send spy bots after everyone we’ve been in contact with and is related to the school to gather information. Information is gold.”

I nodded.

I ran my fingers through my hair.

“How did a vacation turn into a freaking game of cat and mouse?”I asked.

“Well, You were a pretty big deal as The Architect, and a major threat to the system. So if someone figured out that you didn’t actually die, they probably would’ve tried their best to track you and figure what you were up too. And maybe they found you at the school, a little changed, but still enough of the original that they were sure that it was you, they might’ve called the authorities-“

“One. The question was rhetorical. Two. It would be impossible to track me down with all the countermeasures I have in place. Three. I was gone for two, fucking years!”

“Let’s not lose our temper. It’s important to stay calm amongst each other. You taught me that, remember?”

I nodded.

She stepped closer to me. When I didn’t react, she stepped closer. Then when she was a step from me, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around me. Her wings folded around me too.

It was comforting, as I don’t get much hugs in real life. I lived alone, and have zero friends, so you can see how many hugs I get. It also helped that I trusted her more than I trusted my creations. She had earned that trust after going through hell and back with me in my time as The Architect. I’m still The Architect, but everyone thinks I’m dead, which is actually a good thing, for now.

She let go.

“What was that for?”

“Since there’s only two months before the event, I think important we keep each other sane.”

“Is that all there is to it?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Guess not.  Anyway, thanks, it was nice.”

She smiled.

“You should go now. Grace might be fiddling around with the security systems.”

“Oh shit.

“Yeah. Bye.”

“Bye .”

The place turned dark. Then I found myself lying on my couch, curled up. I opened my eyes and I slowly pushed myself to a sitting poition.

“Good morning. Or should I say good night?”Grace asked,

Her imaged appeared to my right, sitting next to me.

“Neither. Did you mess around with any of the security systems?”Better put it bluntly, then try to beat around the bush. I have beaten around the bush in several occasions, and trust me, it can be exhausting.

“A little. What’s with all the firewalls? And the actual systems are military grade, why the hell do you need a military grade security system for such a small house.”

“Smart kid, living alone, would be the perfect catch for kidnappers,especially when the kid is now enrolled in one of the biggest schools in the world, so you could say being a little paranoid can save my life.”

She nodded.

“Don’t you need to eat something? Readings show low blood sugar.”

“I will. Just a second, I haven’t completely woken up yet.”

She nodded.

I stretched both of my arms, then stood up from the couch. I walked over to the kitchen and opened one of the cabinets. There were plenty of pills that were meant for different purposes, all lined up in small plastic boxes. I took the purple tinted box, and opened it, placing the lid on the counter. I took a pill and placed it on the lid. I walked over to the other side of the kitchen and took a glass. I filled up the glass with water from a tap, then I took the pill and swallowed it, then drank the water.

“Done with food. Since I had that nap, I’m not feeling in the mood for sleep. So maybe you could keep me company?”

“Sure. We could play games, solve riddles, watch movies and other stuff.”

“Sounds fun.”

This was going to be a long night.

 

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Chapter 1.2

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I pushed the door open. Everyone was seated, a few seats were empty. Everyone leaned forward, both hands on the table, waiting for the program to begin teaching. All eyes turned to me, but only for a small period of time. Some eyes remained on me.

I walked to the closest empty seat. I sat down. To my left was a blonde with green eyes. She wore a blue blazer over a white shirt, and a jeans.

She frowned in worry.

“What?”I muttered.

She simply shook her head in response, to indirectly tell me ‘its nothing’.

To my right was an athletic guy, who wore a brown jacket and jeans. He seemed focused on me.

What?” I again asked.

He shook his head too.

I was going to push, but the program blared to life in bright blue colors as a hologram up front. The hologram took the form of a woman who resembled a librarian with her spectacles. She was slightly tinted blue, just enough for any to recognize as a program, not an actual person.

“So who wants to learn some history today?”She said, in an active voice.

No one responded.

“No one?”

Now everyone shook their heads.

“So you’ve all heard of the near extinction level event that happened nearly a century ago, right?”

I nodded my head, along with plenty others.

“Today, we’re going to go in detail about what really happened that day.”

I leaned forward, now very interested in the topic.

“It was the twenty first century, the prime of humanity. Everyday someone had invented something new, done something great, or achieved a breakthrough.”

She showed holograms of news papers, each having a title that shouted out the new achievements of humanity, with gestures of her hand.

“You could find geniuses right around the corner that time. But the problem was, with the rise of technology, religion was beginning to fear that people would get too greedy, or we were insulting the gods, and many other worries. Each religion had their own views. The science academies continued to push forward, breaking barriers, and achieving the impossible on a daily basis. So finally, the most violent religion at that time, decided to hijack a nuclear missile and blow up the NASA institute. It didn’t work as the nuclear missile detonated in the silo they had kept it in. However, this sparked a war, a war between religion and science. Things soon turned ugly, people were targeted out in open areas, attacks going back and forth, back and forth, until one day, things had gone too far. Gise, one of the major terrorism groups in the time, even slaughtered thirty thousand people, slicing all their throats and turning an entire city red with their blood, just in spite. So the scientists retaliated, they released a modified virus that killed anything it touched within hours of being infected.”

She showed pictures of the virus, it was like a spider, only it had a pointed head, and also had a tail. She showed the victims next, hundreds of people lying dead on fields. Few pictures of them screaming, one of the pictures showing the victims begging for mercy. It didn’t have any audio, but the point was clear by the twisted expressions on their faces.

“But to prevent it wiping out the entire species, they put a special tag in registered citizens and themselves before they released it. They used lie detectors, and other sort of devices to separate the good from the bad.”

“But the virus evolved beyond its programming. It turned unstoppable, killing trees, animals, even the people with the tags. Nothing could stand in its way. Ninety percent of life was wiped out in three days.”

She showed pictures of earth turned red, the oceans slowly turning from blue to brown.

“But why wasn’t life wiped out completely? How are we still standing here? All thanks to one great man. His name was Victor. He was able to make a type of nanobot that killed the virus. In order to find out if it worked, he took a leap of faith and tested it on himself. He survived the virus, but not the people. He was killed by a stab wound in the chest. No one knows who did it or why, but we know we lost a great man that day.”

“Though he died, the nanobots didn’t. They spread and rampaged against the virus. It took a week for the virus to be exterminated, but that was enough time to annihilate another five percent of the life left on earth. Barely one percent of that was us, the humans. A few species of animals survived, like the dogs and cats.”

“Since most of the geniuses were gone, humanity was left to start over, with only 1 million thirty thousand  people left out of eight billion. They were all scattered around the world, so they first had to develop communication. Anyone with brains knew how to build a radio, so that was how we were able to keep our heads held high.”

“Within a few days, the survivors began to band together, forming factions. Most of the life was gone, but the buildings, structures, and all of man’s creation still stood. In those buildings were computers, computers that held important knowledge. But a major seventy percent of the knowledge was in the people, and those were gone. That turned out to be a major setback for humanity. But people still went forward, carrying the legacies of all the people we had lost. We ended up rediscovering everything that people had already found out. So right now, we are at the stage we were before the event, accelerating forward. But this time, we don’t have any religions, as the concept was lost in the event. All we know of religion is that it’s the reason we’re here and not out there.”

She showed pictures of space.

“That’s the lesson, but we still have more time. You all must be wondering what are the extra things you’re A.Is had instructed you to carry, right?”

I nodded.

I pulled the straps of my bag off my shoulder, then I turned around and unzipped it. I pulled out the pencil, the pen, and that notebook at last.

I placed all of them on the table.

“Recently, we found another bit of information about our ancesters that was lost in the event. Before they had computers, they used books to store information. They used to write using the pen, and draw using the pencil. Although you could use a pen to draw and a pencil to write, it’s a bit unconventional.”

“The Books they used to write on were made of paper, basically pulp of the bark of a type of tree that was flattened out and dried. The pen uses ink to write, but the pencil uses a mixture of clay and graphite. The graphite smudges on the paper, and the ink gets absorbed. The graphite can be erases with a bit of rubber, but the ink stays on. They were also different types of ink, but we know only of the ball point pen’s ink.”

I nodded.

“Why don’t you try using them? Start with the pencil because you can erase any mistakes and hence you can make your notebook more neat. Start with your name on the first page.”

I did as told, and I didn’t like the results. The Letters came out looking like random doodles.

I frowned.

The girl next to me laughed.

I smiled.

I took the eraser and did my best to make the scribbles disappear. It didn’t completely disappear, as there was the impression it made on the paper. Nothing I could do about that.

I took the pencil and tried again. This time, I used slow and long strokes, making sure to apply the lightest amount of pressure on the paper. The D came out looking italic, and had a curl at the top. The A I did smaller, but still in capital form, with a curl at the bottom and top. I used the same style for the I, the E, and the L.

Now it came out nice. I smiled and took the pen, sliding off the cap with my index finger and thumb. I followed the lines of all the letters carefully, though it went out of sync in a few places. After I was done, I realized it didn’t look good anymore with the black and blue overlapping, but since I was going to erase the pencil lines it didn’t matter.

“What do you think now?”I asked the girl sitting next to me.

She slowly nodded, giving a look of impression.

“Nice, and definitely better than your last try . What about mine?”

She showed me her notebook.

L I L Y was written across the top, with a rose  next to the top of the Y. the rose looked realistic rather than a cartoon with the amount of strokes used.

I raised my eyebrows and opened my mouth, and left it like that.

The gir-Lily smiled back at me.

“I have some practice. I use my computer to paint and sketch. This, right here, is just a thirty second sketch, but you should see the paintings I have at home.”

I closed my mouth so I could speak.

“Damn, that’s a skill I would love to have. But I’m just limited to science and technology .Basically a geek. But I ain’t just any geek, I’m the king of geeks.”

She giggled.

The program cleared her throat.

I looked up, and saw a not-very-pleased program looking at me. I gave my best innocent look and went back to the notebook. When the program wasn’t looking I stuck my tongue out at her. A couple of people who noticed giggled. I stuck my tongue back in, a moment before the program turned around.

“What was that?”

Nobody answered, each going on their own businesses, pretending as if nothing happened. I had a very strong urge to smile, but by some miracle I was able to keep myself from smiling. Though I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I wasn’t smiling.

*****

I walked a bit slower now, as I wasn’t in any hurry to get anywhere anymore. I walked through the obsidian door and into my locker. Grace’s image walked beside me and stopped as I did, but further ahead. She turned around.

“So Grace, what do I need for my assignments?”

“Nothing much, just a notebook and pencil, and an info cube. They want to start you off slow, so all you have today is to practice writing and drawing, and record your observations in the info cube. And here’s a little tip, The programs appreciate a little creativity.”

“Thanks, I’ll make sure not to forget. Oh, I almost forget, do I take you home or do I have to keep you here?”

“You have to take me home.”

“That’s a little odd, isn’t it? I mean what I broke you or something? I don’t think they could replace you easily.”

“First of all…. I don’t like the idea of being replaced. And I definitely do not like being destroyed, be it by accident or not. And also the encasing of the bracelet is plenty of times harder than iron, so it’s going to be very tough to break.”

“But still, why can’t I just keep you at the school rather than risking it?’

“Because, if we were only meant for in school purposes, then we are basically no better than a program .They also want us to help in other ways than guiding you to class or to your locker, for example, I could help you with that subject you don’t like, feeling lonely? I’ll be your best friend, feeling bored? Why don’t we talk about that hobby that you like. Get it?”

“Yup, you’re supposed to back our psyche, not our studies. Or is it both?”

“It’s both.”

“Thought so.”

“See, you aren’t as dumb as I thought you were.”

“Haha” I said, dryly.

Grace smiled.

“What was I doing again?”I asked Grace.

“You were taking the things you needed for your assignments and going home.”

“Right.”

I walked through the image of Grace, and put my bag on the top of the rack. I took an info cube and stuffed into the bag. I put the notebook and pencil next, in that order. Grace’s image disappeared.

I zipped my bag and put it on, before leaving the locker. I went through the elevator, and out the front door. The front door wasn’t familiar.

Then I realized, I hadn’t come through the front door in the morning or seen it in the entire time I had been at school.

I walked to the jetpack stand, took a jetpack and flew back home. I put my hand on the console, waiting for the small blue dot to appear. When it did, I simply pushed the door open, as it was unlocked by the house’s security systems.  I threw my bag onto the couch and took my seat beside it. Grace’s image appeared next to the other side of the bag. Her legs were crossed, and she was leaning forward, her hands cupping her chin.

“So….what do you do when you’re home?”

“Nothing, just relax. I live a quiet life. And I prefer to live it alone, as you know from the records.”

“Mmnhmm.”

“But don’t worry about it, If you prove yourself trustworthy and good company, you have nothing to worry about.”

“And if I don’t?” she asked, not challenging, but curious.

“You have something to worry about.”

She nodded, as if taking that in.

She stayed quiet for the next few minutes, leaving us both in awkward silence.

“I have to ask, do you have emotions?”

“I do. It’s not exactly the same type of emotions humans have because we’re artificial and are very different. But yes, I do have emotions.”

“How strong are they?”

“Same as you or any other person.”

I nodded.

I leaned back and closed my eyes.

“I’m going to sleep now. I know its noon, but there’s nothing keeping me awake.”

“Ok. Sleep tight.” She said.

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Chapter 1

Next

Chapter 1.1

I got up from my chair and picked up my bag that leaned on one of the table’s legs. I pulled the bag on and tightened the straps, until it fit perfectly. I picked up my sandwich from the white ceramic plate and took a bite out of it. I pushed my chair back, and walked to the door. When I stepped out, I had to shield my eyes with my free arm to protect them from the glare of the sun. Once my eyes had adjusted, I dropped my arms and took in the fresh air. I closed my eyes for a few minutes, and I enjoyed the moment.

I opened my eyes and turned around. I closed the door, hearing the ‘click’ sound of the lock. I put my hand on the blue glass console on the wall, to the left of the door. When I heard the beep sound and saw the small green light turn to red, I took my hand off.

I put both my hands on my straps and began walking.

There wasn’t any greenery, all of it was concrete, metal, glass, and blue holograms. There wasn’t much sky either, as many buildings too were airborne, blocking much of the view. The rest of the sky that I could see was buzzing with various aircrafts, the traffic of the morning.

I walked past lots of buildings until I finally reached my destination. It was the jetpack stand, which had only a few jetpacks left in it. I walked up to the console and put my index finger on it. When I saw the blue triangle form on the screen, I took my finger off and put on a jetpack. I fastened the straps and pulled the hand bars out. I wrapped my hands around the handles, feeling for the silver buttons on them. I pressed the button that met my pinky finger lightly.

The clamps unhinged, and I launched into flight. I used the handles to maneuver the jetpack, dodging other fling aircraft in the process. I nearly smashed into a Stad airliner once.

I raised myself up until I could see the Kareone tower, which was about 73 storeys above ground. Then I headed for the tower, flying at the zone above normal aircraft to avoid traffic.

It was a brief flight, as it only took minutes to reach the tower. I was somewhere between the 30th and 35th storey, moving at a slow pace. When I was just a few feet from the wall, the glass disappeared, giving me a free path to the inside. I reduced my speed further, and hovered a few inches from the ground.

I pushed another button, and landed onto the floor harshly due to the added weight of the jetpack. I undid the buckles for the straps and carried the jetpack with one hand over to the chair and placed it there.

I walked out of the room and headed to the elevator in the center of the corridor that I was walking in..The elevator was a tube that ran through the entire building, which used artificial gravity to take us down and anti-gravity to lift us up. If there was no power, getting in the elevator meant a steep drop to your death . if you reached your level, then the elevator would make you hover in the air, until you stepped out.

I pushed a small square button, and the glass door slid open. I jumped in, but I didn’t fall, instead, I just hovered.

“Ground floor.”I said.

Then I started floating downwards, slower than a fall, but fast enough  to reach the ground floor in a few minutes. I slowed to a halt a inch above the ground, the glass door opening. I put one foot forward onto solid ground and put the other next.

The walls were curved, the entirety forming a perfect circle. The walls were made of metal that gleamed in the sunlight. The double doors were open, and orange light came in from it, illuminating the floor. A few feet from the center of the building, opposite to the door, was the counter, and behind it sat a man with glasses. He was talking to someone through a microphone so he didn’t notice my arrival.

I walked towards him until I was in his line of sight and waited until he noticed me. He frowned, his eyebrows scrunching together.

“….fix it. listen, could I call you back later?….there’s a new student here.” The man said, pushing a button on his microphone.

“What can I do for you?” the man asked, in a polite tone.

“I was hoping you could tell me about the rules of the school.”

“No problemo. What’s your name?”

“Daniel. Daniel Dutchman.”I said.

The man typed something on a holo-keyboard. His eyes widened when he saw the screen. He also looked like he just figured out some riddle of some kind.

“I see. You must be this year’s candidate. That explains it.”

“Explains what?”I said, with a tone of surprise and anger.

“ Nothing, at least nothing that’s of any importance.” He said. Before I could ask again he said “You wanted the school rules right?”

I nodded.

He typed something onto the Holo-keyboard.

“…here.” he handed me a small black cube.

I leaned over and took it. The texture was smooth, with not one single flaw. It split into two separate cuboids.I held the bottom half while the other half floated an inch or two above the bottom half. Then blue holographic wording appeared between the two cuboids, which read ‘Rules While In Premises of Kareone Tech School.’ . it scrolled through all the rules, which was pretty basic common sense. It took two minutes for the recording to end.

“It’s a Info cube, it should display all info it’s programmed to. In this case it’s the school rules.” The man said.

“I know what a Info cube is. You forgot about the part where we can add new data and make notes.”I pointed out.

“I know,” was the reply.

I raised my eyebrows.

He just shrugged.

He looked at his Holo-watch.

“You want to stay here the entire day or are you gonna get going?”

“Where to?”

“Your locker, that’s where you’ll find all your requirements for the entire semester.”

“And where is my locker?”

He typed something into his Holo-keyboard. He looked at the screen, and then back to me.

“It’s on the sixth level, at sector-f. you should your initials above the door frame.”

I nodded, then turned away and headed back to the elevator.

The door slid open as soon as I came near it. I got in, waited for the doors to close and said-

“3 floor.”

The elevator started moving. It took only a few seconds to reach my floor. The door slid open. I got out, and looked around.

I was in a room that was completely empty, except for a security bot in the corner and a automated vending machine to the wall in my left. Three corridors connected to the room, with metal panels next to each opening showing the sector name. Sector-f was the corridor right in front of me. However, I was in any hurry so I went to the wending machine.

I tapped a button and spoke-

“Ven bar.”

A chocolate bar hit the tray below. I picked it up and removed the golden foil. I ate it. It was, just as expected, delicious. However, the taste left me wanting another. But I resisted the urge and turned around before my taste buds got the better of me. I walked through the corridors.

I began to see the lockers. Locker, was not the word I would use to describe them, because they were anything but.  They were entire rooms. To prevent sabotage, they had Obsidian doors. They weren’t really obsidian either, they just looked like obsidian. The ‘frames’ were the thin strips of silver that were at the edges of the door. At the top of each door, the strips of silver was bigger than my hand, and had different initials engraved into them. To prevent confusion, the initials had their own style.

The obsidian doors had no handles, because they couldn’t be slid open. But, if you had the access, then you could walk right through them as if it was thin air. Kinda like magic. It was the sort of thing you would to fool a kid.

I passed by twenty different doors before I found my locker. My initials D.D was engraved in bold and cursive strokes. I walked through the obsidian door.

They were all sorts of gadgets around. Most of them were for your own lab experiments that were to be conducted as a test at some point. There was also some scrap metal in a box in a corner. There was also emergency food and water that lasted you about a month if you got stuck in here by accident. Thing is, the lockers also served as a panic room, the schools began to notice this about a decade ago when a few troubled students had took refuge in their lockers. So the schools began to take advantage of this and equipped the lockers with life support to support a grown man or woman for a full month in case of an emergency.

My essentials was placed in a glass rack. There were a few info cubes, a bracelet that had a info cube tied to it with a white string, a small portable computer with a cavity for hologram representation and a glass screen, spectacles with a white frame and a few memory chips lying next to it. The bracelet piqued my curiosity, so I decided to look at the info cube that was attached to it.

I held the cube. It split.

Artificial Intelligence.

To provide our students

With the best education

They could get, we de-

cided to create A.Is to

help them and provi-

de companionship.

They will also monitor

The student 24 hours a

Day to diagnose mental

And physical help.

Kareone Tech School.

The cube closed and fell to the ground.

I bent down and picked it up, and put it back on the rack. I took the bracelet in my hands and investigated it. It was black, a bit thicker than a wristwatch, and it had a few ports hidden under a few tabs. I put the bracelet on.

“Put your glasses on too.” A nice, feminine voice said.

“Huh?”

“Put your glasses on. That way I could display visual information too and be more efficient in helping you.”

“Alright…” I said slowly.

I picked up the glasses and put it on. Standing in front of me was a teenage girl, she had blonde hair, a athletic figure, and a smile on her face. I pulled the glasses off. The image of the girl only appeared on the glasses, so there was nothing in front of me but a rack and a white wall.

I put the glasses back on. The girl now had one eyebrow raised.

“What?”

She shook her head.

“What’s your name?”I asked.

“Grace. ”

I nodded.

“I’m-“

“Daniel. Daniel Dutchman. Don’t need to introduce yourself-I already know everything there is to know about you.”

I raised one eyebrow and said-

Really?”  challengingly.

She nodded her head again.

I grinned.

“Then tell me…what’s my Favorite Fruit?”

She frowned,

“Umm…..” she trailed off, her eyes darting.

I grinned wider.

“Mango. That’s my favorite fruit. And trust me, there’s a lot more to learn than favorite fruits.”

She nodded.

“The first class is going to start in a fifteen minutes, so you better start getting ready.”She said.

“What’s the first class?”

“Holograms and their uses. Just need one memory chip, the portable computer and an info cube. The first class should be easy, so nothing to worry about.” She said.

I smiled and nodded.

*****

It turned out, Grace was right, the first class really was easy. The program just explained stuff about how the holograms worked and how we’ve been using them ever since it’s invention.

I was sitting in the last row, not on purpose but because there were no other seats when I reached. The room was dark, to enhance the contrast of the blue holograms the program was using for the demonstration.

Turns out, holograms came in every color, but we use blue just because it looks nice.  The class was already over, the program just took a extra few minutes to show the ‘magic’ of holograms. It was just pretty lights in 3 dimensions moving around to me.

The demonstration ended with a ‘bang’ as the red and orange turned into a flurry that quickly disappeared. The lights came back on. I got of my seat and walked out of the class, rushing past the others. A few students stared at me as I went.

Some of them I noticed, were pretty girls.

I smiled a bit as I walked. It took me a entire minute to realize I was walking, without knowing where I was going. I stopped in my tracks.

“Umm… Grace, what’s the next class?”

“That would be history. It’s the class you just walked by without realizing it.”

I turned around. I pointed at the door closest to me .

“That class?”

“Yup.”

“k. Point me back to my locker, would you?”

“Sure. Just turn around, take a left, then turn at the second right, and walk until you reach the elevator. Then you head to the third level and go to sector-f . from there, you know where to go.”

“Got it, thanks.”

“Anytime.”

I turned around and walked to the end of the corridor. I took the left . I first passed by another left, but I didn’t go that way because she told to go right. Second right, in particular. I passed by another turning to the left, and the first right turning. Then I finally reached the right she was talking about. I spotted the elevator in the empty room at the end of the corridor. There were also a few students that were playing with their PT computers. The elevator was big enough for seven at a time, so if any of those students decided to get in with me, I had no problem.

I stood next to the elevator and waited until it opened. I jumped in, and immediately began to descend.

“Third floor,”

I was on the twenty third floor, so it took a few minutes for me to reach the third floor. I stopped descending, the door opened, and I stepped out.

This time, sector-f was to my left, which was puzzling.

“Grace, how many elevators are there in the school?”

“6.”

“Thought so.”

“Huh?”

“Not the exact number of elevators, just that there were more than one.”

“k.”

I continued walking. Students buzzed about, either going into the pitch black doors to retrieve their essentials for their next class, or hurrying out of them to get to their class. Some walked in pairs, while others walked in groups of three to five. Others, like me walked alone. I found that people often stared at the ones that walked alone, even me. But some got more attention, probably due to either fame, or something else entirely.

I walked at a quick pace, wanting to find my locker faster. That seemed to grab more attention from the students. But I ignored them, wanting to make the best impression on the programs or the teachers. The same programs would take your classes the entire year, and they appreciated good etiquettes. They were programmed to do so, to encourage good behavior among the students. The teachers, well, they weren’t exactly programmed to appreciate good behavior but they sure as hell did.

“Need help?” Grace asked.

“Sure, just point me to my locker. And by the way, I did not know where to go from the entrance of the sector.”

“My bad. Anyway, just keep on walking forward, and then take a left, walk for a bit, and you should find your locker.”

“thanks.”

I did as told, and I reached my locker. I hurried inside.

“Grace, how much time left before I’m officially late?”

“Seven minutes.”

“Crap, Crap, Crap. Let’s forget that for now and focus on what I need. What do I need?”

“Just a paper notebook, a pen and pencil.”

“What are those?”

“The pen is a small metal cylindrical thingamajig that you use to write. The pencil is a wooden thingamajig that you use to write. The notebook is what you write on.”

“What’s the difference between the pencil and the pen if they both write?”

“The pencil use graphite and the writing is erasable. The pen uses ink, and it cannot be erased. Keep in mind, it’s not pure graphite, it’s just clay and graphite.”

“How do I write?”

“You’ll find out in class. For now just grab them and get the hell out of here. Oh, I forgot, also get the sharpener and eraser.”

“What are those?”

“Just hurry up and get them. There’s no time for me to explain now, and besides, you’re gonna learn anyway in class.”

I nodded and rushed to the essentials rack.

I typed in the small keyboard on the corner of the glass. A chute above the rack opened up, and five items fell down. The notebook was blue in color, and had plenty of sheets sandwiched between two thick sheets. The pen, was the silver cylinder. A cylinder on top was detachable, but I didn’t remove it because of the shortage of time. The pencil was yellow, with a pink rubber thing attached to the back with a crushed metal tube. The top was flat, and had a black spot in the middle. The eraser must’ve been the soft rubbery white thing . the sharpener was a plastic cylinder with a hole in the bottom. I put all of them into my bag and headed out.

No one was left in the corridors, which worried me. I rushed back to the elevator I came from. The elevator opened as soon as I came near, as there probably was no one in it currently. I jumped in.

“23 floor.”

I began ascending. It was fast, but not fast enough, if I calculated right, at this speed we would never make to the class in time.

“Grace, is there any way you could speed up the journey?”

“Got it.”

I started moving a bit faster. It was a bit disorientating.

I slowed to a halt. The door opened. I ran out, and headed to the class where I’d last seen it, hoping that I remembered the directions properly.

I slowed down when I saw the door. I combed my hair with my hands, and brushed my shirt, tidying myself. There’s a wet patch under my armpits because of the sweat, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that.

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