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Dr. Greene winced as a crash rocked the hull. It felt as though they had landed. With eyes still wet from the soul-crushing epiphany of his own lost world, Jim shadowed Ivy through a cascading network of thick, spiraling cables and wires. Like feral mice in the walls of a huge mechanized abandoned house. Passing by vents Greene caught glimpses of rooms filled with what seemed like small children with their eyes glued to flashing screens. Other rooms contained robotic repair equipment, some had what seemed to be incubation tubes. They leaped and crawled for what felt like miles before reaching an opening that led to an airlock... a way out.
Just as James was about to hop out, Ivy pulled him back in. Over 40 men in shining jet black metallic suits marched through the airlock, heavily armed with glowing red goggles. Their march was meticulously synchronized, each step simultaneous. They had a single antenna protruding from each of their helmets. This was the face of the militarized future.
"Keep your head down," Ivy whispered. "If they see you, you're juiced."
James glared at her and she glared back, coldly. Something told him he didn't want to know what she meant by that.
After about 15 other different crawlspaces and a massive flexible cargo passage way, they had arrived under the bustling surface of Solar City. One of the most immediately noticeable things about the underbelly of the city was the amount of non-stop activity, primarily the countless mostly-human workers that moved mechanically as the duo slipped by unnoticed. "It's A Small World" played over and over again in the back of Jim's mind as they passed row after row of human machines. They manufactured all kinds of things, some worked in offices, most of them spread across the endless sweatshop of a ghetto... all who resided in Solar City were in constant static motion.
"They're juiced... each and every one of them," she said as they ascended from the depths of the underground district in the glass elevator. The doctor was extremely exhausted, otherwise he would've been trembling from the magnitude of indoctrination it must've taken to control them.
"What do you mean when you say 'juiced'?" he boldly asked.
"All in due time."
The Emperor sat draped in gilded satin, his fiberglass skin enveloped in static as he slowly opened his narrow eyes. Next to him, his son, the imminent heir to his interstellar Solar Empire. He wore an indigo and crimson cape, a shining image of galactic royalty. Although it was widely known of the power and influence of the Emperor, his son was already becoming the new face of the Solar Empire.
"Sun, we are expecting visitors. Why not greet them proper?" the Emperor needn't even move his larynx to communicate his thoughts to his son. Telepathy was a trait achieved with the Divine Genetic Code that the two shared with lineage: an Alkaphiran artifact supplanted into their DNA, giving them augmented genes along with various other certain abilities. One could say that was the source of their omnipotence among most of the galaxy.
"Yes father." Sun existed to carry out the remainder of his father's legacy. Being extremely obedient for a 17-year-old, many of the Imperial Youth looked up to him. He was much more organic than his mechanized father. The Emperor was visibly obsessed with extending his lifespan, thus his lack of public (and in most cases even private) appearance. There was an air of unrest in the Warring States because of this, but until recently the Solar Union had kept them under control.
As Sun walked by, in the vents just under his feet Ivy shadowed him. His hair was long and dark and waved back and forth as he paced the corridor. Dr. Greene soon entered.
"Welcome, Dr. Greene." Sun bowed traditionally, James awkwardly bowed back.
"I take it you've been expecting me?" Greene said as they walked toward the throne room.
"You would be surprised what we can expect." said Sun as they passed an array of translucent monitors and sensors. It was becoming more and more obvious that this was a planned setup.
"Before you ask any more questions, you need to speak with the other last known survivor from planet Earth..." Sun said as he guided Greene through the entryway to his father.
The entire room glowed a deep, rich gold. Amber light lingered across the walls like a layer of golden smoke.
The Emperor and Dr. Greene stared at each other for about a minute. Every bone in Greene's body wanted to attack the being, but an electro-magnetic force held him still. As he looked forward with gritted teeth, a screen with the face of a man identical to Sun, only older looked back at him. Its eyes darted across his figure, picking up each and every micro-movement with pinpoint accuracy. James began to ponder if there were even any humanity left in this situation.
"I understand you wish to harm me, Doctor." the cold, mechanical voice shed its tones across the room. They penetrated the mind so that even those who were deaf could hear them. Greene began to sweat in silence as he strained.
"But I seek you for needs I cannot myself achieve."
A puzzled look befell Jim's reddening face. It was like being choked by nothing, being force-fed an order that he ultimately did not wish to obey. The pain increased the more Greene struggled to be free from it.
"Do we understand and have a mutual agreement to achieve this?"
Suddenly a burst of images and thoughts erupted into the Doctor's HUD, which until recently hadn't worked throughout the palace. He began to understand what he must do, and slowly the electromagnetic grip began to wane. He relaxed his muscles and looked to the ground, forgetting the repulsive sight before him. Why had he held the urge to react so violently?
"Good. I will leave you to your assignment. If you comply, you will be greatly rewarded. If you don't..."
Sun approached Jim from behind and placed his heavy hand on Greene's shoulder. His arm was completely bionic, comprised of circuits, cogs and glowing hydraulic tubes.
"-you'll either be recycled, or juiced like the rest of them." Sun finished his father's sentence.
Then, there was black. Darkness faded in, and the rest of the universe faded out...
He was dreaming again, this time there was no control.
There was a sky, but it's motion was so rapid, like watching a movie being fast-forwarded. All he could hear was a humming sound, like the binaural beats he would listen to in his lab. Then he remembered he had a lab. Then he remembered Earth.
Whiplashing into and back out of consciousness, he caught a glimpse of a blinding light as he gasped for air.
It was beautiful, the trees, the lakes, the endless ocean...
Another violent bellow of air flooded in and out of his chest as this time he could make out blurry faces.
A sunset on the beach was always his favorite. Watching the sun melt into the waves of the sea...
Convulsions shook his eyes back open. He was shaking now, there was no going back to his fantasy of returning home. There was no palace, or Emperor, or Ivy... The silent, fucked up reality of the future awaited him as he coughed and awoke to the blinding light again. Nobody stood around him this time. His mind felt like a CD that skipped as he moved, like pieces of his very own existence were missing. He rubbed his head, which ached from the intensity and disorientation of his current situation.
Did he get juiced?
He sat up, tugging cords that were attached to his body. He struggled and pulled them off. He couldn't have died, he was in the future. Anything was possible. Grasping at the air as he walked from the room's blinding light, he bumped into a door. It had no knob. He tried pushing it, then banging on it, then pushing some more. Then he slid down to the bottom of it, peeking under it. Nothing but more door, meaning the room had to be air tight. He looked for a vent, but the whole room was illuminated with such intensity that it made it hard to see much else but white. There was a hospital bed, some medical machines, and...
He found it.
Pressing up against the wall, he discovered the slickness of glass. Pushing his finger up to it, he found out that it had to be a two-way mirror... but under the guise of a wall. Was he going crazy?
The lights went out. Only the two way wall remained illuminated. It was now a screen. It displayed coordinates, relaying a path across the Milky Way. It made several stops, many were not at planets, but artificial space stations. The stars' names appeared where each station was to be found.
James shook his head, looking down at his hands. They had holes in them from the unseen medical procedure.
An unfamiliar chemical compound appeared on the screen, then it morphed into a rotating double helix. Next appeared a picture of Aristotle, Archimedes, Galileo Galilei, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and finally Dr. James Ian Greene himself.
He scoffed at the obvious flattery as he crossed his arms.
An image of Ivy showed on the screen. She was badly bruised, apparently beaten. Tears immediately erupted and spilled from Greene's eyes.
A caption appeared below her image:
COMPLETE YOUR OBJECTIVE
He fell to his knees. There was no reason for any of this, he couldn't make sense of-
The door opened, and two guards clad in white lifted him up. They were much like the militant ones, but instead of being heavily armed, they were only heavily armored. They carried him effortlessly to a shower. He then dressed in a spandex-like suit that resembled a type of Kevlar chain mail. Realizing that he no longer required carrying, they escorted him down a long corridor into a ship.
Immediately his HUD began to reboot, but this time with what seemed like upgraded graphics and applications. A message popped up:
DO NOT DISAPPOINT
He leaned forward as the ship prepared to take off.
The feeling of the ship's controls felt natural to Jim as he zipped rapidly into space, toward OST-9; the Warring States' most sought-after distribution hub of the NeT.