Hacking the Sun

 

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Prologue

Under the morning rays of a New York sun, traffic is still terrible. But energy propagates around every corner of the bustling streets. Just a restless Tuesday, grind to grind, coffee to coffee, and hot dog to hot dog. People eventually learn to get along with the stipulations of one sun rise and the next.

New York Post, Premature Elation read the cover. In one bench or another, typical politicians whose unflattering faces told better tales than the information within. Then posters here and there - on corners, fronts, and apartment sides. Everywhere, paperback letters shouting warnings. But the news was not a concern to the street artist; not to the performer, not the demo distributor, or entrepreneur, and not the morning jogger.

Man’s elation to the terror of the morning workday – smiles. Sometimes their distribution is scarce, despite the homeless man on the corner of Greenwich and Fulton promoting them with a cardboard sign. Alas the prerogative of a weekday, even sunny ones, is to keep moving.

So he kept moving, contemplating, second-guessing, watching through his thick sun-glasses the day-to-day minutia coursing the city’s veins. “Watch the road!” He can only just hear the exclamation outside his headphones. Thus, turns his attention left toward the street and finds the middle finger sticking outside the taxi window.

Muffled vehicle engines, ghostly faces under urban boughs. He passed the whites and reds of cement and brick, in the direction of the tallest building he could find, past another tall building. Another squirrel would pass his gaze, past the solemn building with arches for windows and a cross in the center. Greenery gathered before his gaze, until he reached the wet squares of New York City’s most recent memorial.

Among the solemn souls already visiting the park—venturing through bushes, meditating throughout concrete—one heeded his phone’s screen along the black edge of inscribed names. A young Caucasian student in a green hoodie, regular jeans, and wearing glasses patrolled the compressed square pools. His smartphone seemed to maneuver him, guiding his eager steps, so much so that he failed to heed the impending trench coat coming his way. “Ah!” he suddenly yelped, stumbling, but grabbing the edge of the pool to avoid falling. Quickly recovering, he faced the unheeded stranger

The stranger, a tall man in a white trench coat, stood upright and seemingly unfazed. His hands automatically reverted to the rim of his thick-sunglasses as they reverted to the student in his hoodie. With a meager expression, the student turned in response to their collision. Automatically, his gaze fell on the thick sunglasses and large headphones over a beanie worn; pale skin in the vestiges of his clothing. “Apologies!” the stranger expounded.

“That may have been my fault,” the student replied apologetically, scratching his head before returning to his phone. “Damn! Almost had that Squirtle.”

“No matter. It may be that I could have avoided you, if my thoughts would only return to what they were.”

The student looked up from his phone, having caught an air of remorse in the stranger’s voice despite his invisible expression. Placing the device in his pocket, he looked back at the names inscribed in marble, before turning pack to the older stranger. “Did you lose someone? If you did, I’m sorry.”

But the stranger shook his head. “These are not the names clouding my thoughts.

“Just out for a stroll? Me too.”

“I do wish it were but a simple stroll…” and the strange man’s eyes swept the ground. But quickly, his focus leaned on the student. “Excuse us. Questions, they keep stirring around my mind. Can I confide in a stranger like yourself to answer just a few?”

The student shrugged, “I guess. I got some time before classes.”

“You attend an academy?” inquired the stranger, stepping closer.

“Yea, I go to University,” answered the student, eyeing his strangeness.

“Which one?”

“Columbia.”

“One of the good ones, yes?”

“Heh! You aren’t from around here, are you?”

“It is, as they say, a long store. We should sit down.”

Both of them paced backwards a few feet, to one of many benches flanked by white oaks. Thus, awkwardly seating themselves in view of the black square, they felt the cool November breeze. The strange man wasted no time. “Do you think the planet is in a fair state?” he questioned.

Wincing, the student replied, “Kinda depends.”

“Because you do not know? Or because it is a question that cannot be answered?”

“I mean…Could be better. But it could always be better, right? It’s a really broad question”

And the stranger looked away, twiddling his thumbs in silence to himself. “I suppose you are right.” Then he returned his eager attention. “What of these posters around the city? Could your election improving things?”

The student cynically scoffed, a white smile painting his face. But a few seconds into the question, the smile faded, and his demeanor retreated into sobriety. “I-” he hesitated. “Things aren’t looking good. And I can’t really explain how it ended up that way. Maybe if you asked a Political Science Major.” Looking over to the stranger’s lap, he noticed his gloved thumbs still twiddling, and his knees minutely trembling. “Are you okay, man?”

“Yes!” he wobbled. “I’ve just been without my, umm... Something once calmed me.”

“A medication?”

“Yes! A medication! For the past few months, I have been without this medication, and I don’t perceive anything as I once did.”

An emphatic look then dropped from the student to the stranger. “So that’s why-”—he coughed—“Why go without your medication?”

“I’ve been here for too long. I injected all of it. And there is no more.”

“You try a pharmacy?”

“I know it does not exist here. Only where I’m from.”

“Well, you can Amazon that stuff. Or something. What’s it called?”

“Hmm?”

“The name of the medication?”

But the stranger sighed obliviously, losing himself in thought while veering his tinted gaze to the sky. After collecting his vision of the sun, he stood from their bench, meeting the student’s gaze one last time. “What is your name?” he asked.

“It’s Adam,” he answered.

“Adam from Columbia. I wish you grace on your path. And hope what comes next only befits your aspirations.”

“I appreciate that!” Adam enthused, extending his arm. “What’s your name?”

The stranger stared at Adam’s hand suspiciously, at first. “Mik’ ael,” he answered, then shook his hand.

“Mick Al,” he tried enunciating, “Nice meeting you.”

“And you.”

Amicably, they parted ways, one departing the memorial and one sauntering into the city’s tallest building nearby.

 

 

 “See forever.” Darkness in the elevator rising up the skyscraper. After a long ascent, hundreds of years had passed before Mik’ ael’s eyes. A winding screen had depicted the relatively brief history of this part of the city. Something about seeing the towers disappear on-screen had made him nervous, lament almost.

Now he was in que, alongside the same group of people who accompanied his elevator ride upward. They were environed by shadows and light painting their room a dark blue, flanked by bright tapestries of New York City that illuminated every step on the path towards See Forever Theater.

Being nervous was not going to help him or anyone else. He knew that. “It’s the right thing,” he mentally repeated over and over again. Then the blackness came undone, the dark walls rising, rising on all sides, and the sun beaming through and through every surrounding window. In all his time, he never recounted anything so mesmerizing. New York City’s morning glory reigned nowhere more apparent than it did this high inside One World Trade Center.

A stream of emotions flooded him alongside the sun light. Its careening morning melody gravitated him towards the windows as he stared across The Hudson. For this, he had to calm his breath. Everyone else diffused throughout the room, taking pictures, utilizing their tablets, posing alongside the grand view. Contrarily, he stared, simply stared and loaded everything he perceived into memory. How to proceed from here, however, that question heaved his heart.

Rebounding from his long inhalation of the city, he looked down, away from everything but the floor. Sighing a long and sorrowful sigh, he would eventually return his gaze. Only a few clouds in the sky made it seem rather empty. “I wonder how events would have transpired.” Finally, he removed his glasses and beheld New York’s Jewel through his unadulterated gaze; he had bright yellow Irises. He removed his head phones, followed by his beanie, letting his long, tapered ears hear without hindrance. Just a figment of his reflection shown on the window, a pale complexion unlike any human.

***

 

After the large elevator reached the bottom floor, a man in a suit and his entourage tread a series of imperative hallways toward a steel set of double doors at the end. In its center, The Great Seal of the United States illuminated by a single light, just like the berets of its two military guardsmen. They stand aside after saluting the approaching center staff member, then insert keys to unlock and open the seal as he sets foot inside.

Presented before the V.I.P. entourage lies a dimly lit room of sundry monitors, and plenty of computer desks operated by uniformed personnel. Awaiting on the other side stands a man just past middle age, wizened, and a determined look about his graying complexion. He extends his four-star uniform’s blue sleeve, greeting the suit in the middle of the entourage. “Secretary Carter.”

The suit, another grey-haired man of wise years, met his greeter’s handshake; he carried a natural squint in his eyes above toned cheek bones pointing directly at the blue uniform he humbly acknowledged. “David,” he coolly returned. “There was something you needed me to see.”

“Yes, sir. More than that, I think you’ll want to.” Chief of Staff member, David Goldfein, led Secretary Carter across the immediate balcony, and down the stairs toward the busy floor of Air Force fatigues. Almost everyone’s attention lay on the overhead monitors spanning across the dark wall, if not their computer screens. And the array of monitors relayed various photo-stills of outer space.

“China provided the earliest reports, but around roughly 0600 hours, NASA recorded several astronomical anomalies traveling past Saturn’s rings at uniform acceleration.”

Secretary Carter stopped halfway down the stairway. “Anomalies? Where are they headed?”

Chief Goldfein halted at the base of the stairs, bracing the secretary with his sober countenance. “As you can see,”—gesturing towards the skipping monitors—“they disappeared from Saturn’s orbit after ten minutes. The president is being briefed in the White House, and I suspect he may cancel today’s rally.”

The Secretary stared at the monitors, attempting to register the blips by Saturn’s asteroids and elsewhere. But he needed to see more before succumbing to awe. “So where are they now?” he questioned, stepping onto ground level.

 “They have been in constant displacement, and fast,” replied the chief. They stepped to the foremost row of operational terminals, settling between a pair of subordinates with nametags reading ‘Alba’ and ‘Rita.’

Chief Goldfein pointed to Saturn’s rings. “Magnify.”

“Sir!” confirmed Rita. Nearly a dozen distinct shadows, cylindrical in shape, appeared floating over Saturn’s orbit. But the satellite’s distance was too great to find any nuance concerning their individual surface structures.

“Switch to four hours ago…” Clicking hands brought new images on the monitors, six pf them displaying Jupiter’s cloudy surface. And against its illuminated, rotund image there returned several floating husks—more prevalent to the eyes this time but still distant. “Two hours ago.” Mars’s red surface came onscreen, again serving the backdrop to a cadre of floating vessels. Each time, the satellite images rendered the anomalies more distinct. “Thirty minutes.”

Each image had jarred the Secretary’s expression by deep increments, now utterly flooring him with the latest satellite imagery of Earth’s moon. Thus, filled by every ostensible vexation, the floor of personnel accompanied him with dropped jaws, their collective attention infallibly borne against every feature on the monitors.

 Larger constructs of imagination appeared per screen, just over the moon’s craggy surface. More evident than before was their composition; they were not asteroids, an analysis pervasive across the room. Chief Goldfein awaited Secretary Carter’s processing of the images before proceeding. And awakening from his stunned vexation, the secretary stammered, “That was thirty minutes ago?”

By now, the screens exhibited a conjunction of images detailing Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and the moon. “I assessed as much, but had to be certain,” resumed the chief. “After checking with NASA, these are in fact the exact same aberrations recorded across our solar system. And they hold firm on their stance that no space rock is capable of this level of acceleration. In conjunction with external measurements, their constancy of shape, then there can be no doubt...”

“They’re already here, aren’t they…”

Chief Goldfein, Rita, Alba, and majority personnel planted their disquieted stares on the Secretary of Defense. The entire room was silent. Until, Goldfein stepped just within earshot. “China, Russia, and the EU have already mobilized. Our atmosphere will be breached within the hour…Norad is on standby.”

Secretary Carter let out a long deep breathe, his eyes fixated on strange crafts ominously afloat over the moon’s surface. “The pistol is cocked…”

***

Back at One World Trade Center, Mik’ ael garnered one last look beyond the screen, his final overlook of New York City below noon. Brief recollections of a starry sky accompanied his gaze, recollections unhindered by sun and light pollution. It was a nuanced place without a horizon, the facet of a limitless space. He contemplated the northernmost pole to the southernmost, he debated his lot in life and on the planet before peering toward the future. So his eyes rose to the sky, slave to anticipation of a presence already weighing on his shoulders. Then he checked his watch, viewing the red light and jargon text flashing in his eyes. Reluctant as he felt in his disposition, he reached into his coat pocket to reveal a plastic firearm.

From where he stood, he pulled the trigger and ejected a transparent substance onto the window panes. As the liquid made contact with the glass, it dematerialized everything it touched, to the point where the glass quickly melted and oozed its way down the floor.

A middle-aged woman noticed thin smoke rise from where Mik’ael was standing, then noted the strange triggered object with which his hand sprayed the liquid. Off-put, swiftly succumbing to terror, she screamed, “Someone stop him!” This immediately hooked the room’s attention. Everyone present for the tour stopped and watched with contemplative horror; people in close proximity backed away; the woman yelped in tears, embracing the old man next to her as tower security sprinted forward.

Two suit-and-tie security guards stop before Mik ‘ael, hands out with their pistols pointed down. “Sir!” one of them called. At first, they were unsure how to process his peculiar facial features. Their squinting and scowling achieved them no explanation, but one of them proceeded. “Sir, I’m going to need you to back away from the window, put down your weapon, and get on your knees with your hands up.”

“It’s not a weapon,” Mik’ ael’ humbly replied. “Just a tool.”

The security and people present watched utterly rattled as a gaping hole manifested on the screen window. The glass itself collapsed on the floor as a viscous material, emanating smoke beside the stranger’s feet. It blew over them with the rushing wind that entered the room, through the hole, and chilled their flushed faces. As a result, the panic level grew.

By this point both security guards were pointing their Glock barrels directly at Mik’ ael’s head. “Sir! This is your last warning!” A warning slightly muffled by pervading wind.

Nothing changed. Mik’ ael was stepping outside the window cavity when the foremost guard fired his weapon. The loud bang of ammunition leaving the barrel led everyone to jump; hands over their ears, their instinctive ducking was accompanied by screams. They were all stunned and just as equally horrified.

But when the ringing stopped, only the wind remained. And people anxiously opened their eyes to the sight of Mik’ ael standing by the window, completely unharmed and comporting a casual mug. Awe defined the guards’ gaze as he continued outside and set his feet on thin air. He appeared to be floating, prostrating himself upright against the New York City backdrop. His gaze veered from the frightened group of people and, again, he observed the magnificent sprawl in its entirety. This time, he floated a ways back to get a view of it and One World Trade Center, rotating his view three-sixty degrees. Complete awe filled his temporary grin as the wind stroked his scalp. Again, it was not his plan to be enraptured by the view; he simply fell victim.

But he was no less awed than the people who witnessed him; people who took pictures from the high room and from behind the new hole in the window. While beaming, they eventually noticed his boots and the strange wave they emitted underneath. Something about them kept him afloat, unless he was performing a magic trick.

As mesmerized as Mik’ ael was in his levitational musing, a beep and blue light from his smartwatch brought him back to the real world. He was dismayed, his thoughts suddenly falling silent as he stared down at the strange letters on his screen. But when his conscience found its voice, he remembered what he had to do.

Solemn, sober, prepared, Mik’ ael’s eyes upturned to the sea of sky. His boots carried him farther up to the skyscraper’s spire, gravitating to its peak in anticipation of what came next.

Dauntingly elevated, he acquired a vantage of the whole world. Mik’ ael had reached the stakes of the great skyscraper’s beacon, grabbing onto the metal and staring down the enormous length of steel. His legs remained free, swooning in the air by his dallying. Helicopter rotors sounded in the wind, nearing, loudening. Lifting his gaze, he noted more choppers beginning to circle nearby. A new noise gathered in his hearing; not the wind, not the helicopters: jet engines. Aircraft soaring around the city’s airspace, looming at eye level so that he witnessed their wings deftly navigate the horizon.

Finally, he rose to the peak of New York City’s tallest building, peeking at the sky for what was to come. More jet aircraft were already scrambling in the air, environing him with the screech of burning fuel. Then, they came.

The first one eclipsed the sun, a behemoth of a craft literally engulfing Brooklyn in shadow and extending into Queens. Panic, wonder, fear, all aspects of the unknown’s arrival.

And the sky darkened further, the second arriving just above Mik’ ael and One World Trade center. A solid, opaque mass looming antithetical to the sun in its descent. A foreboding sight of magnificence, awe, and omnipresence subjugating the heavens. And Mik’ ael beheld their descent overtaking Earth’s sun, manifesting into its last light.

Removing his watch, Mik’ ael stared down the overhead behemoth. Holding the device upward, his bitterness suddenly prevailed on his face when a grand resonance suddenly discharged from the ship. A chaotic dance of wind, turbines, and echoes thus fondled him mid-air, never once removing his relentless gaze against the dark mass. “I have what you wanted!”

Echoes, silence, muffling, a frightened city morphing into Pandemonium. Mik’ ael stared at the ship as if awaiting a response. Tense, clenching his teeth, a rage accompanied the dauntlessness behind his sun-colored eyes. “I HAVE WHAT YOU WANTED! SHOW ME WHAT YOUR WORD MEANS, XYNOCEPHLES, AND DO AS YOU PROMISED!” 

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Chapter 1 Dreams of yet Another Retro Geek

This is not the end...

There is this song that keeps playing over and over again, an audio piece she was hesitant to listen to. It collapsed into this strange conjunction of somber and lifelessness, and no—not in any clever representation of the latter. One does not mesh well with the other, so it's just a sound that came as a crime against harmony. This is not the end. Repeating lyric, three keys playing into her eardrums: This is not the end. But it is the end, she thinks to herself, the end of you. "Babel," she says; a beep sounds from her wrist. "Play Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics." And then comes the electronic beat, that sequenced synth bass line: 

Sweet Dreams are made of this

Who am I to disagree

I travel the world and the seven seas

Everybody's looking for something    

 

She listens to the synchronous drum and notes as she stares over the skyline from a sixteen story complex. A view beholden to its fair share of sky scrapers, flying cars just passing them by in the rising summer sun. Hovering lanes on different altitudes separated by luminescent lights that appear as little more than blue dots guiding every vehicle's steering. The morning light ascends on top of them and the many top-floor domes - transparent bio-domes for every building: "The best views of the 'modern' city offered by the 'modern' city." Yet they can't seem to stick out more than the ginormous Pepsi billboard on the side of the nearest skyscraper. All that blue and red,and white; all that red, white, and blue. 

 

Some of them want to use you

Some of them want to get used by you

Some of them want to abuse you

Some of them want to be abused...

 

But the bio-domes are reserved for greener pasture persons. Where Jessica's sitting, it's just a regular roof that happens to have stairs leading to it. Despite this fact, she never bothered to use the stairs. That would be pointless.

She simply sat featly on the precipice of the old-fashioned concrete while city sounds came to and fro. Alas, she heard the door several yards behind her slide open—at which point she looked at the device on her wrist: 9:30 AM. "Predictable," she says. 

"Hey!" the security guard growled, "you're not supposed to be up here!" And she lip syncs with him as he bellows his sentence

Then she looks back, sees an average Joe in a grey jumpsuit with a black, armored vest and matching gear around his arms and legs. Across his utility belt: a smoke grenade and what are undoubtedly cartridges for the stun gun on his right holster. A typical sight. So Jessica stood in reaction to the guard and looked him in the eye; he definitely seemed adamant about her not being on the roof. That grey hat with a shield on it, it emanated an aura of imagined authority that leered at her with its meaninglessness. "I'm a rebel, so it's okay," she told him.

At the first, the guard saw the back of a head with semi-long hair reaching just past the neck. As he took a step forward, he better beheld the delinquent image before him: fitted black pants creasing near the bottom; a pair of shoes outer-soled with some type of metal—mismatched in color - one was black-orange-white, the other black-blue-white. Greyscale, striped cotton gauntlets covered her arms; they stopped at her elbows and led up to her black T-Shirt with three rows of green numbers emblazoned in the center: 010000010 01100001 01100100, followed by the image of a cross-armed robot. And over that, she wore a red polymer vest with buttoned pockets. But the last thing the guard saw were her sun-grazed hazel eyes underneath a pair of goggles with thick aviator lenses under her black bangs; those goggles reflected his upset image. "I'm a rebel, so it's okay," he heard her say.

All the while she was holding a small board in her hand, a flat surface gadget not exceeding the width of her shoulders. "McFly," she said, and the board extended several inches as if by command, after which she let go and it hovered in place before her feet. So when the guard advanced, she simply set both feet on the board; it floated her whole body over the roof's ledge after she cracked a smile at the jogging guard and completely dove off.

At first, the guard appeared stupefied, bending and peering over the ledge only to find the young woman riding the gravity board downward. Ninety degrees, she was angled ninety degrees while scaling down the building's length, and her board never touched the surface; it hovered directly parallel the building's windows as she leaned backward. Thus, in lieu of a teen splattering on the pavement, he received a humble wave good bye and a smile as she casually touched down.

***

Welcome to New Sumer, 'Eden' of the Anglo Alliance. That is what the giant billboard says before you enter the city, followed by a bunch of holographic images of people in white jumpsuits staring at a white series of buildings against the sun rise. Images of the like stand visible throughout the city. Jessica infallibly observes them, riding her gravity board across the streets.

Jessica - A peek into her e-card and one might swipe until they found the identification screen: Last Name: Leibzen; First Name: Jessica; Height: 180 cm; Address: 3254 Apple Mire, Suite 13 PD(Population Designation): S1867222; DOB: 03/05/2110; Occupation: Sustenance Delivery. Because 'food' or 'fast-food' delivery is too casual. Then you get the inevitably awkward square I.D. picture on the right. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a stone face, longer hair, and the thin white suit that passes for a school uniform. If it were a full body picture, it would show the accompanying red skirt; not because the aliens believe in gender roles, but because they find its implementation ingenious to telling humans apart despite the fact that the alien physiognomy is negligibly different from humans. Electronic billboards displayed the fact as plain as day.

In most corners of New Sumer, there are advertisement's generally showing screens of the aliens and humans side-by-side. There was one that preached the avoidance of burning carbon, then another about recycling properly, and still another as Jessica cruised by the smooth black streets. The most prevalent propaganda board came with a big font and voiceover: "Make 2129 another year testament to the success of Earth-Azarean relations. Be sure to report any suspicions persons to your local law enforcement," with that overly-chipper female voice and still-images of Azareans in padded outfits.

Azareans -  A completely odd species as far as earthlings were concerned. Yet what was 'odd,' to the typical human, was the aliens' lack of physical and behavioral discrepancies. They seemed, on average, more stoic than humans, sharper—whether or not a result of their stoic nature was a matter of some debate—and the ones seen so far always had light, unblemished skin. But aside from uniformity of light skin, they had pointy ears, making nerds everywhere wonder whether or not these spacefarers came from Middle-Earth, which would make no sense for various and obvious reasons. To take matters a step further, the aliens officially deny all affiliations to Tolkien. Nevertheless, people still take to calling them 'Space Elves' while prolific readers of fiction persistently trying communicating with them in Quenya. But that is how Jessica and kin determined, at a glance, the species behind the uniform - ear size and shape.

That's when Jessica past under a shaded sidewalk beneath a smooth-contoured skyscraper. She floated right past a man in a satin coat—contoured as a trench coat but thinner, noting his violet alien eyes. Azareans have brighter irises; moreover, the spectrum of Azarean eyes ranged into reds, oranges, yellows, and violets. Once again she contemplated the physiological reason for this characteristic, but it remained a mystery like most aspects of this species that technically ruled the planet. Perhaps it was to be expected.

After the skyscraper and violet eyes, Jessica's ride was nearly tripped up by an egg-shaped anomaly nearing the corner crosswalk. Looking back, she saw that it was one of many knee-high robots: white, shiny, and smooth little mechanical bodies floating along the streets. While active, their only semblance of facial expression was two bright green ovals on heads that were, basically, black monitors. Because of these little bots, there was clean pavement as far as the eye could see. Despite littering being hugely frowned upon, a 'recycle bot,' as they were so termed, could be found patrolling every city block. The smooth surfaces of their egg-like carapaces slid open to reveal small robotic arms that would lift any scanned litter along the streets before dispensing it into one of many properly labeled receptacles: Aluminum, glass, plastic, paper, carbon fiber, nuclear waste, and the list goes on with labels supplemented by color coding. Any trash that was of 'unknown' designation went into the black receptacle with a white sad face.

But the bots always got it right, and they had two additional arms, one that sprayed a liquid substance while the third—tipped by pink foamy material—wiped surfaces clean. So clean in fact that that is why Jessica nearly stumbled over one; their carapaces matched the pavement.

Hovering over to the next block, Jessica and her fellow pedestrians passed above incoming traffic through a bridge arcing above the street and reconnecting to the other side. Such bridges were prevalent throughout New Sumer and provided more convenience to people on the sidewalk than anyone else, while cars were still had to wait for the blue traffic light.

Proceeding over the crosswalk and down the less populated avenues, the last skyscraper proved, indeed, to be the last one. Jessica's trek took her down a street flanked by man-made terraces: Row after succeeding row of square housing with rotund posteriors. Starting at the ground level, each row of white houses would incrementally rise above the preceding row to fulfill a better view of the street and places below, then parsed with elevating stairs to form four by four clusters. A symmetrical setup only interrupted by one and two story markets: stores, humble restaurants, and cafes that placed all people's wants and needs within walking distance. Some of the recycle bots were present here as well, except there were also green ones; these were picking up fallen oak leaves and trimming the many sidewalk hedges. The greenery was direly essential to contrasting the white architecture.

Overhead traffic died down while street traffic was primarily comprised of hovering cyclists. Though not the fastest vehicles, the plastic bicycles were completely powered by the kinetic energy of pedaling, the wheels shaped like fan blades to supplement the solar power with wind.

Riding beside the cyclists, Jessica mused over how much faster she could go if she simply released her gravity board's inhibitors. But that would be illegal, she rememberedSo she kept pace with a pair of gents on their bikes until one of them, a dirty-blonde man of student stature, noticed her riding alone--so flashed a quick smile. He showed off teeth whiter than the pavement. That's when his front wheel impacted a hydrant and the poor cyclist lost his grip, back-flipping over his steer and landing on his back. Suppressing her urge to laugh out loud, Jessica stopped simply to observe his state. Fortunately for the cyclist, his collar-bound air bag inflated and he landed without injury.

Useful technology, the airbags, sophisticated. They inflate fully around the body to cushion any impact and fit within a waterproof collar. It was Jessica's moment to appreciate their apparent effectiveness. It is why she wore one herself.

At the end of the housing clusters, Jessica arrived at a corner complex to her right. Eight stories of blue windows surrounded by lush clusters of oaks. Just down that same sidewalk, a park where particular folk still played basketball.

She walked right past the identity detector at the front entrance, where there was a scanner instead of an actual door. "Good morning, Jessica!" exclaimed the male voice. "Welcome back!" 

Up the carbon fiber elevator to the fifth floor, she would exit and walk along the pink carpet corridor of white walls streaked with black, until she reached a sliding door with number 59 lighted next to it. Just an insertion of her e-card and the door slid open.

Inside was a small and square space with two tall and opposing plastic shelves for furniture; they flanked the window centered on the opposite wall. A violet-walled room dim with no lighting except what sunlight crept through the tinted window. A bed was attached to the shelf on the right: black sheets, clothing drawers beside. Above the bed, a rack with five of the same red, white, and green jumpsuit. The left shelves were row after row of black cases the uniform size of diskettes; five rows in all. Aside from the Stevie Nicks poster beside the sliding door, the room lacked for character.

Jessica's objective was the clothing rack. Punctually, she replaced her casual getup with the red, white, and green jumpsuit of a t-shirt top, and it automatically adjusted to her size by shrinking over her contours. Practically skin tight without the pockets. Topping it off was a green hat with black letters spelling "Tacquizza" over a yellow oval bearing a white chef's hat in the center. Then grabbing her board, she exited out the sliding door and out the complex.

"Thank for ordering from Tacquizza, where your satisfaction is ours." Jessica maintained her widest smile while reciting the delivery message. Not very wide. And the resident man in a white tank top seemed to ignore it while he scanned the carriers in her hand. He appeared in his forties, balding, and had hairy arms. "You got here fast, at least," he said in his raspy voice. Jessica then read the receipt on her tiny work tablet: "Eight tacos: four de carne asada, four el pastor, all with salsa and lettuce with a side of lemon."

"I didn't ask for lettuce," protested the resident.

"Yes, but it's mandatory," replied Jessica matter-of-factly. "Insurance reasons."

"No tip for you then!" He inserted his transparent card into Jessica's tablet, took the rectangular carrier from her hands, the door immediately sliding shut behind him.

"You're not supposed to tip me!" hollered Jessica.

"Thank you for ordering from Tacquizza, where your satisfaction is our satisfaction." A young-looking brunette woman holding a baby blankly stared at Jessica from the doorway. "Right! Right!" she ejaculated. "Be right back!" After the woman returned with her transparent card, Jessica read the receipt out loud. "Is the chicken farm raised?" the women then asked. Jessica's hazel eyes darted at the woman in disbelief, but she took a quiet breath and humbly replied, "They are whatever you want them to be, mam." The woman, of amicable demeanor, simply nodded and accepted the box carrier before sliding her card into the tablet.

"Thank you for ordering from Tacquizza, where your satisfaction is our-"

"I placed the order over thirty minutes ago!" stated the young student, a round fellow standing in the entrance to his dorm room. She noted that if he were any bigger, he would be illegal. That is a real thing; the Azareans placed weight restrictions on humanity a long time ago, because obesity reflects maltreatment of the self and aliens are all about that self-loving. Few exceptions exist, however; any uncontrollable medical problems for instance, provided they are properly diagnosed.

Keeping her cool, Jessica double-checked her tablet and found the record of when the order was placed. "Martin Haussman?" she asked.

"Yes!" the student vehemently confirmed.

On her screen she found the time the order was placed: 13:14. Four more seconds and the time would be 13:35. She then checked the screen on her wrist and witnessed as the minute struck from 13:34 to 13:35. Who taught you how to count? That is what she wanted to say. Rather, she politely corrected him and reminded him that he had to pay. Reluctantly, the student inserted his card into the tablet, mumbling something in German, to which Jessica replied, "Das ist unhöflich, Ruck." She handed him the carrier and exited.

Outside one of the terrace houses. "Food's here," she said, as the door slid open. On the other side stood a boy of about twelve: short-haired, tan complexion, thin, and wearing a white shirt with jagged letters in blue spelling 'Iron Coffin.' "Apa!" exclaimed the boy, looking to the side. A taller man, approximately in his thirties and wearing a yellow jumpsuit, stepped before the entry; his image was as an older version of the boy. "Hello!" he greeted with a slight accent. "What do I owe you?"

"Thirty solidus and seventeen centavos," she replied, slipping.

"Hablas español?" the man inquired energetically.

"Si reconozco español!"

"De qué tipo?"

"Puertorriqueño, y conozco un poco de España."

"Órale, jefa!"

"Ich spreche auch Deutsch. Beide sind nützlich."

"Calmate, jefa. Ya no sé lo que estás diciendo."

After an exchange of exclamations, the man paid without fuss and made one final comment on the deliciousness of the pizza before telling Jessica, "Que te vaya bien!"

"A ti tambien!"

The door closed between them. That was possibly all she needed to consider the day a 'good day' for deliveries. She surmised the current time was 15:47. Glancing at her wrist, she noted it was 15: 47. "Thank goodness for five-hour work days," she said. And descending down the terrace stairs, she put on her aviator goggles before peeking upward at the descending sun. "McFly." Her board extended, and on she hopped so that it could carry her around the next sidewalk corner, due east.

Traveling on a gravity board has always been made simple by the lack of physical barriers per housing cluster. No gates, no fences, only convenient railing systems for elderly and handicapped citizens. Of course 'grinding' on the rails is frowned upon, but doing so is usually optimal for getting from point A to point B. Pythagoras came to Jessica's mind, cruising down the round sidewalk encompassing a park of pines. If it were a square space, she would have to move horizontally, wait until the corner, and then shift direction; or haphazardly cross the group of kids currently scattered around the grass and playing on old-fashioned swing sets.

Fortunately, the Azareans have proven to be centric on concentric urban planning. Hence, she was going around the children in a steady arc and reaching the next apartment complex with minimal distance. Hence, New Sumer's sprawl is more a series of circular neighborhoods with taller buildings in the center circles. Hence why the Azareans praised the Parisians for being among the first to exemplify such urban planning—even though many would argue the French did not plan deliberately. Also, Azarean planning has proven a bit more precise. Modern communities accommodate larger populations per square mile than—say—pre-alien society.

They can accommodate more if they so choose, but they understand that humans are not sardines.

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Chapter 1 Finished

Pine Rim Hovels read the wooden sign that, for some reason, had green painted pines and a rising sun against its white letters. This apartment complex was just like Jessica's in that it required a scanner, yet she simply walked through it. "Welcome, guest of suite 31."

Lithely and with a grin, she frolicked down the floor's red carpet between ivory walls, still wearing her jumpsuit uniform and carrying another red, white, and green box carrier, down to the sliding room door with bright number 31 next to it. She pulled out a transparent card and inserted into the scanner slot just underneath.

The first piece furniture she sees is a sofa. On said sofa rested the back of a head of long white hair. The head turns, and there's the clean, wrinkling face of an older woman with a white smile. "Hey Jes," she greets warmly. Jessica raises her eyebrows and the carrier. "Heeeey Beth. I brought the usual. Without cheese and e'erything."

To the right of the sofa where Beth sat stood a large board of cabinets with drawers below and two sets of double doors big enough to contain a bed and facilitate a closet. In the center was an ottoman where there lay situated a holographic projector—a base instrument contouring to a cone in its center—projecting images which Beth was apparently watching. TNN read the bottom right of the image, then images of aliens in coats talking to humans in suits. Political news television, Jessica surmised.

She went ahead and placed the carrier on the counter to her left, a kitchen counter. A very small, circular space with the counter top on one side and stove counter top touching the wall with sliding cabinets underneath. But in lieu of a regular metal stove, there were four squares plainly outlined in a white surface, two by two, one holding a tin tea pot; Directly above that tea pot - a small exhaust hood.

Jessica went ahead and placed the carrier on the first counter top. Turning, she observed Beth slightly entranced by whatever was on the television: "...The New Pharaoh of Egypt recently held a conference with delegates from The Chinese Confederacy in order to renegotiate the budget for trans-national infrastructure. Namely..." But Beth broke away from watching the news to attend Jessica. "Jessie Jes," she said familiarly with her warm smile. "I prepared tea. Would you be fantastic and turn on the kiln? And have a seat when you're done!"

After turning one of four knobs at the kiln, Jessica took a seat on the single stool beside the sofa. "So how was your day?" Beth asked.

"Not bad!" replied Jessica.

"Anything new?"

"During deliveries? Nothing special or really worth mentioning. Some customers are cool, others in need of help. My average travel time rounded to thirteen minutes, with two-hundred and forty-seven officially on the job."

"Less than last time."

"Chya! But not by much considering the district stretches twenty miles in every direction. Tacquizza, being in the center, leaves a ten-mile radius every way."

"You travel that fast on your board?"

"Yea..."

"You need to be careful!"

"I got my airbag!" defended Jessica, pointing to her collar. "I have to be quick since customer interactions add a variable in every outing. My goal: make sure the interactions do not exceed delivery time."

"You're a dedicated worker."

"Well...I'm no half-asser."

Beth laughed softly. "People enjoy Tacquizza's tacos. Pizza's not bad either."

"Other places are stingy with the meat," Jessica started critically. "Customers like their el pastor but not ridiculously diced or in short quantities."

"That may be because Azareans aren't so amenable towards meat eating."

"True, but Tacquizza is a family-owned entity that doesn't mistreat livestock as have prototypical corporate bodies. I believe their sophisticated and humane animal husbandry is why the Azareans willingly provide their livestock's diet, whatever it may be."

"So now you're looking into the bosses, hmm?"

"What are ya watching?" asked Jessica, finally pointing out the hologram.

"Television!"

Jessica smirked. "What is on the television?"

"That political stuff kids don't much care for, or adults for that matter."

"You gonna tell me what's playing?"

"World 'leaders' debating about who gets more water."

"Is water becoming scarce again?"

"No, they just want more of it."

"Ah."

"Then Russia keeps threatening to leave the World Union, for the seventeenth-thousandth time." Beth shook her head at Jessica. "The Azareans would never let them, but that doesn't stop them from saying they will."

"Way more childish than your great grandfather's time, right?"

Beth glanced at Jessica, then tapped the sofa cushion next to her as a gesture to sit. Jessica went ahead and sat in a pretzel beside her, taking off her colorful hat. "You spend quite a bit of time outside," she started. "Tell me. How often do you witness violence?"

Jessica rolled her eyes up and considered Beth' question briefly. "Almost never."

"My father told me things that he only learned from his father, and his father before that. Great Grandpapa..." Beth turned her whole body towards Jessica, brandishing the six-sided star on her necklace. "He was a passionate man in a time where passions were allocated to wealth. Except, his passion was for his people. During his time, people were killing one another because of skin color, 'race' they called it. People with sooo much money, so much money, could circumvent the law, break promises, and control political office without running for office."

Jessica listened with eyes like a lynx, intent upon Beth's every word. Her facial expression denoted seriousness and a measure of disbelief for what her elder spoke. It fascinated her all the same. "...But the worst weapon used against everyday people in twentieth and early twenty-first century. Remember what it was?"

"Epistemology," answered Jessica.

Beth somberly nodded. "So much money was invested into spreading misinformation that criminals found their place in government, wars occurred without cause or without people's notice—or worse, people thought there was a cause where none existed—and some were actually convinced that humans have no effect on climate."

"But that sounds so far-fetched!" Jessica hesitantly interrupted.

Beth shrugged. "I know it does. That's why I have trouble even saying it."

"So what did your great grandfather do?"

"He continued fighting against all of it until his very last breath. And he almost rose to a position where he could have made the most meaningful changes for the people he loved."

"That didn't happen, did it?"

More somberness from Beth' eyes. "This has become very gloomy. You shouldn't be putting up with an old woman's gloominess, Jes."

"Come one, Beth. I always want to know more. But that's the thing, I don't want to bother you too much."

"You most certainly do not bother me. Only every time you visit."

Jessica and Beth exchanged looks before bursting into simultaneous laughter.

Afterward, Jessica looked at her wrist. "Darn," she said, "I have to go."

"Oh, yea?"

"Yea..."

"Whelp, I won't keep you. Just be sure to stay safe!"

Jes put on her hat, grabbed her board, and made her way to the door. "See you."

"Guten nacht, Jes. And noches buenas... Did I get it?"

Jessica grinned. "Yep. And almost." The door slid open, and she was out.

Jessica reflected, standing outside the door to Beth's room. Every night was just the right amount of humor and life. Typically, it was all she needed.

***

"Welcome back, Jessica!" Back to her little room, room 59. First act: she slides her finger down on the white wall pad beneath the Stevie Nicks poster. "Autobots, roll out!" A tiny red light appears and quickly turns blue. All of a sudden, the entire room's furniture begins shifting. The bed carries upward and disappears into the hanger closet while both shelves begin sliding toward each other, to the center of the room. Very quickly, the room had transformed with alternate spaces.

To the left, where the shelf used to be, there now lay a single kiln counter-top, as well as a mannequin in the upper left corner outfitted with a blue Star Fleet uniform; then a black and white poster of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs back-to-back wearing sun-glasses—carrying iPhones like pistols - "Apple Inc. Saints" it read.

But to the right rested a completely new room feature: A round desk sticking out from the wall; it held a keyboard setup with a small mouse and black holographic projector with designs matching a very large and sleek desktop underneath. The desktop's design bore grooves colored black and blue, the blue color glowing like neon under the shadow wires linking upward through holes in the desk to connect the projector. Also, it bore stickers.

Along with the computer setup came a cascade of new characteristics. The desk came with a cushioned black chair that detached from the shelf as soon as the room transformed, one with wheels. On either side of the cone-shaped projector were two miniature models, one R2D2 on the right, and a BB-8 on the left. Rising in front of the projector and dominating the right wall was a large poster displaying white letters: R, W, B, Y, and four female silhouettes in colored backgrounds, red, white, dark grey, and yellow respectively.

Finally, the right shelf revealed a detachable screen of made of cloth-like material. Once Jessica extended the screen around the desktop, it revealed a bat symbol. Thus, she sat on the mobile chair. "Babel, on."

"Voice signature recognized," said the robotic male voice. Suddenly, several screens illuminated above the projector, three by three, each forming part of a whole to display the facial image of a certain breed of feline. "Good evening, Lynx."

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Chapter 2 The White Hat I Wear

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Chapter 3 Arch in My Covenant

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