Thank you for reading these. I do this for you. I apologise for this chapter being short. I've decided that I'm going to take this one slow so it may take a while to get to any major TG elements. Also someone told me that I should finish my stories so I may go back to do just that - finish my older stories. I hope you enjoy these stories. Remember, the absolute best part is knowing what people think so review and comment. Thank you, and enjoy!
"I'm sorry, what?" Heather asks and I can tell we're all in the same perplexed boat.
"Are you serious?" I ask not sure how to feel about all this. "Why us? What are were going to be doing exactly?"
"We've been vetting this planet since it was discovered. Long range scans suggest that it is conducive for human survival but we need more detailed information. We've sent a number of probes to gather that information but numerous atmospheric factors prevent us from getting any usable information back"
She pauses, scanning our faces.
"In short" she continues "The probes have the information we need but there is too much interference and white noise to retrieve that information. Your mission would be to find those probes and bring them back"
"We do that and we're free to go?" Aziz ask skeptically.
"Well not exactly" Caitlyn replied "We plan to begin colonization efforts as soon as we're sure what the planet holds. At that point, the six of you will be the leading experts on the planet. We will require you to provide valuable counsel during that time. But you will be workers of the U.S government and you will be free citizens on Gaia."
I instantly recognize how amazing an opportunity this is but I don't trust it. Life doesn't give you anything without a catch.
"Why us?" I ask
"There are still too many unknowns." She says without missing a beat. The whole thing almost feels rehearsed. "Like what the different gravity and heat might do to your bodies. We can't send our astronauts with the limited information and number of unknowns."
"What are the risks?" I ask again looking this beautiful gift horse in it's mouth.
I expect her to grow impatient but she doesn't seem to. She smiles.
""Just about the same as living on any rainforest on this planet. The water can be drunk after standard purification techniques. You will be leaving with a year's worth of food and provisions for a mission that can be completed in a week. It is a routine search and rescue op" She replies.
The group seems to be pondering this but no one says a word.
"What is wrong with you people? I know men and women who would do this for nothing in return" Will says.
"I don't trust you suits and I don't trust this" Aziz tells Will.
"I'm in" I say and everybody turns to me. Caitlyn smiles.
She places a hand on her case, it makes a familiar beep and opens. She pulls out a tablet and hands it to me.
"Any other takers?" She asks
"You're going to kill us if we don't accept, won't you?" John asks.
She smiles. "Don't be ridiculous. But rehabilitation does fail"
"Noted" John says "Fuck it, give it here"
She smiles and hands him one.
"I'm down" The big guy says in his deep voice after which a tab is passed to him.
The entire room is looking at Heather and Aziz now.
"Fucking suits." She doesn't say anything else and makes an open palm gesture.
Aziz runs his fingers through his hair. "Don't make it seem like we have a choice." He does the same open palm gesture and the last is passed to him.
At this point, I'm pressing my palm on the outline of the final page. Not long after, everyone has done the same.
After we'd all returned the tablets, Caitlyn speaks.
"I'm glad you see the reason in this. I know how you feel about us out there. But I assure you, you have nothing to worry about"
My father had said that all suits only cared about themselves. The relationship between the zones was a real issue. The enmity from low to high and the indifference from high to low. It wasn't long before citizens started getting kidnapped when they visited a lower zone. That only worsened the situation. That said, I trust Caitlyn. For some reason.
"Well, what now?" John asks.
Will stands and nods to Caitlyn as he leaves the room.
"Now you get taken to your new home" She says finally
We are led down the corridor, through a door and greeted by the lobby of a building. I'm not sure if it's the same path I'd taken earlier but it has the same marble floor. There are people. Lots of them. Guards, suits, children.
"Are you excited to see the pathfinder kids?" A woman accompanying a group of children asks loudly.
"Yes!' the children chorus.
They are all very clean. All wearing what I assume to be a school uniform. It is a plain grey and white outfit with a solid high neck and pants. The girls are wearing dresses in the same colours.
"If you're good, one day you parents will take you on a trip in the amazing spaceship" The woman says cheerfully. "Are you going to be good?"
"Yes!" They chorus.
I remember when I was that age. I attended a free school in the low zone and dreamed of flying far far away. It's funny how things work out.
"Keep moving" One of the guards says alerting me that I'd stopped. The kids walk past me and I keep moving.
The sun is blinding when we finally leave the building. I don't know what the time is but I know it's early morning. The facility is even more beautiful in person. It goes on farther than I can see. Trees span the horizon and you can't even begin to understand how amazing that is. There are other large buildings just like this one and even more people out here than inside. People of all ages and races. Some kids who I think are younger than I am are playing hover-tag nearby. It's really something.
"No fucking way, the 2038 Exigen L?" Heather's voice snaps me out of my mind as she runs to the large fancy car that's just rolled up.
Before long she's all over the car, fawning over it.
"Step away from the vehicle!" One guard yells as both raise their guns.
Caitlyn walks over to the guard and gently pushes the gun down.
"There's no need for that. These people aren't criminals" She turns to the rest of us "Not anymore"
The guards stand down and reassume their positions.
"Please, this way" She says as she walks towards the car. We follow.
She walks over to the driver's door and stands.
"Primary user identification confirmed, Caitlyn Alcove" A woman's voice emerges from the car. Everyone should recognize the voice. It's Alexa. Amazon's AI that's a part of everyone's life. Well, almost everyone.
The driver's door makes a low sound as it raises vertically. Caitlyn steps in and says something I don't pick up.
The passenger door mimics the first and the back doors slide open to reveal a limo style lounge seat.
Heather is the first in and she is immediately sprawled over a section of the chairs. "I could get used to this" she says relaxing.
I can't help feeling like a cow being fattened up for slaughter. I say nothing as I get in and neither does anyone else.
When all the doors are closed, the female voice comes on again "Set destination"
"Home" Caitlyn says simply.
There is a chime as the car slowly accelerates.
The journey 'home' eye opening. The houses, the cars parked outside those houses. The people driving those cars. It feels like a different planet.
We eventually come across a CNN broadcast in the sky. There isn't any audio but I can make out the headlines.
"Over 7 million Americans estimated living illegally in Canada"
"North-South Korea merger falls apart after shooting"
"Third bombing in 4 months leaves 17 dead"
'Everything is going to shit' I think as the broadcast fades into the distance.
Not long after that, we're at our destination. It's surprising how fast we can travel when the roads are clear. That's not a luxury we have anymore.
We exit the car and walk up to a door where Caitlyn is waiting for us.
"Welcome to your new home. I hope you don't mind living together. You will be for the duration of your training" Caitlyn says
No one says a word. We're all still standing in awe of our 'new home'. Even John our soon-to-be resident high class citizen is entranced. It is a large and exquisite building, and as criminals, you understand why we wouldn't be expecting this.
"Primary user Identification confirmed, Caitlyn Alcove" The familiar voice comes from the door as it clicks open.
I don't know what I had been expecting but the interior is very minimalist. The entire decor is either white, grey or black. There is a long white couch that spans the living room but breaks apart at two points to provide entry. There is a coffee table in the middle and a Wallpaper TV on the far wall.
"There are three rooms downstairs and four upstairs. They're all the same so take your pick" Caitlyn started and we all turned to her "Mr. Ness will be staying here with you"
I turned to him "I don't imagine you're too happy about that"
"I'm not" he replies "But I have a job to do. And it stands to reason that I at least try to know my crew better"
"You're coming with us?" I ask surprised.
"There's going to be a full briefing tomorrow." Caitlyn says "Don't worry about that. This mission doesn't have a lot of time so after today, you might not have any more free time. I suggest you enjoy it. Get settled in"
"Can we leave the house?" Heather asks.
"After you're fitted with trackers tomorrow, yes. Stay put today"
"Trackers?" Heather asks again.
"They're nanites. You won't even know they're there. You should be careful however, you stray too far, and they're programmed to explode."
She scans our faces "You shouldn't worry. Unless you're thinking about escaping, you really have nothing to worry about."
"Hello" I hear the familiar voice as I step into the room.
I don't reply. I am used to dealing with the invasive Alexa on my phone and computer but talking to your house is a different experience.
"You are now in setup mode" There's the voice again "What would you like me to call you?"
"Uh Daniel's fine." I pause "Actually scratch that, Dany"
"Noted. What would you like to call me?"
"Leave as default"
"Noted. You can change any of my default home settings on your computer. Would you like a smart home tutorial?"
"Would you like to change your privacy settings?"
"Would you like to turn off microphone?"
"Sorry, the option to turn off microphone is currently disabled by primary user. Would you like to turn off camera?"
So much for not being a criminal.
"Camera turned off. Would you like to hear our terms and conditions?"
"Do you agree to our terms and conditions?"
There is a loud chime. "Welcome to smart home"
I realise I've been standing just after the door the entire time. I take my first step scanning the room. It's empty except for the large bed, the table which doubles as a computer and the large wardrobe which I recognize from the news. It features a 3D printer, clothes are bought off the computer and the clothes are printed instantly
I sit on the bed not believing the day I've had. 12 hours ago, I sat in a rehabilitation cage. After sitting there for a few minutes, I feel I need a shower.
After playing "warmer, cooler" with Alexa for nearly 30 minutes, I exit the bathroom feeling refreshed. I have a towel around my waist. I walk up to the large wardrobe.
"Show mirror" I say.
The large wardrobe reveals a mirror. Following all this stuff on YouTube has paid off. I wonder if the others are finding these so easy to maneuver. I almost forget about the shitty world outside. Would I want the world to change if this was my life?
I've always been small but I feel tinier standing there. My soft features mocking me. "Don't worry hunny, I was a late bloomer too" I remember mum saying, not seeing the error in comparing the two of us.
I bring the towel up to my chest and instantly hate myself. I return the towel to my waist.
"Open wardrobe" The mirror disappears and the wardrobe slides open.
"You currently have zero outfits." Alexa says "Would you like to buy some?"
"I don't have any money" I reply for some reason
"You have one thousand dollars in your account"
"Close wardrobe" I say smiling.
I take a seat in front of the table and place my hand on it.
The table hums to life.
"Secondary user identification confirmed, Daniel Fahey" The room voice says.
The 'Welcome, Dany' on the table is replaced by 'Pick a category. Male, Female, Unisex'
I touch 'Female' out of curiosity
'Shop by Product' appears on the screen followed by 'Accessories, Blouses and Purses, Blouses and Shirts, Coats and Jackets, Dresses...'
I touch the 'Go Back' button and click 'Male'
When the categories showed up, I realize I didn't want to wear suits or button up shirts or baggy trousers or anything like that... not if I have the choice so I touch the 'Go Back' button again and click 'Unisex'.
The sudden humming of the wardrobe alerted me that the jeans, white tee, cardigan and sandals had begun printing.
"17 minutes, 31 seconds until printing is complete. What item would you like to print first?"
"Briefs" I say as I make a mental note to do this before a bath.
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