The Final Six Days: Chapter 1
The follow is an excerpt from The Final Six Days, book 1 of the Time Crossers series. It is available now on Amazon.
Day 1 — December 26
Sand. Lots of very cold sand. As the flakes torment his skin like particles of ice, he sits up to dust off what he can. He looks toward the distant sun, but it provides little comfort from the cold. He glances at his rusty brown and black jacket, then his black boots and worn black pants. He stands up to scan his surroundings, observing the sagebrush, desert flowers, and the other diverse species of cacti. A smoothed dirt trail sprawls outward, curving through the vastness of the desert. He is unsure of where he is, but even more importantly, who he is.
He urges himself to figure this out. From this higher vantage point he has a full view of a strange city. A random array of colorful square and curved structures, towers, and wheels sit perfectly clumped in the center of the vast valley. Surrounding the center is an endless mix of green and brown terraformed land, made up of tiny dwellings and buildings. But none of these observations can provide him with any clue.
Around his wrist he discovers a large, black circular piece affixed to a strap, displaying 8:23. After staring in wonderment, he determines it is some type of chronometer, a useful timekeeping device. He then searches his garments, finding a foldable, stiff fabric enclosure. He studies the ten, paper-based documents within it, imprinted with the words “Federal Reserve Note.” Decorated with the head of a man, and containing the number 100, he quickly deduces it is some kind of currency. He continues searching, but fails to find any document confirming his name or identity.
He realizes the only thing to do at this moment is to venture out. This winding dirt path may lead him to a clue to his origins. He follows it with trepidation, careful to avoid an ambush. Even without any past memory, his instincts tell him this has served him well before. But as he walks along the path, there is nothing of note, no enemy soldiers, nor any friendly acquaintances to greet him.
He approaches what appears to be the edge of the city. The terminus of this dirt path leads into a much larger, smooth tarred one. Situated right along this new path is a small outpost, possibly a trading station of some kind. Finally, signs of civilization. Perhaps someone will recognize him and help him remember things.
The sign reads “Mini Mart.” As he steps through the automated door, he is amazed at the quantity of supplies, rations, and refreshments. An older man watches him from behind the counter with a quiet curiosity. He is gray, bearded, and slender, and appears to be the merchant.
“Hello, friend,” the merchant calls out. “How can I help you this morning?”
“Friend?” he responds, somewhat startled. The man speaks with such a peculiar dialect. Why is he calling him “friend”? Is this his name, or just an expression? He stays quiet, hoping the older merchant will reveal more. Instead, the man smiles and tends to another customer.
He then notices the interesting holographic display, projected from a large rectangular box mounted on the ceiling, and situated behind the merchant. Emerging in the three-dimensional projection is the image of a female, accompanied by the sound of her voice. It appears she is giving a briefing, a report of her findings on her latest mission. He barely understands her manner of speaking, the linguistics are unique, but not foreign. As she transitions to her next report, he becomes intrigued at the sudden importance she projects in her tone.
“The world waits anxiously. Speaking from Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA Administrator Clay Alder held a press conference earlier this morning, assuring the public the Asteroid Defense System has been mobilized and is ready to destroy asteroid 2009 WZ104, commonly known as Icedragon. Others remain skeptical that the ADS can fully neutralize the asteroid threat. There are reports of families throughout the country taking shelter in remote mountains, some heading to Canada or Mexico as they prepare for the worst. Authorities are pleading with the public to remain calm.”
As he studies the hologram with profound interest, the older merchant glances back at him before turning a dire eye at the hologram, looking on with disgust.
“I’m sick of all this fear mongering over an asteroid. Trying to scare away visitors. Millions of those things in the sky. Let the government do its job and blow the thing up!” The man exhales a sigh of relief.
“So friend, you must be a tourist. Heading to the Strip?”
The Strip? He pauses to try to understand. This must be the name of the center of the valley with all the clustered, colorful structures. Surely that’s why people would travel here. That must be the center of all commerce and government in this land. But what exactly is this land?
“The Strip? Is that the place with all the colorful buildings?”
“Yeah,” the merchant snaps back. “You realize you are in Las Vegas, right?”
“Oh, yes. Las Vegas. The Strip. That’s where I’m headed,” he retorts back. “How do I get there?”
The merchant smiles at his unusual demeanor. “There’s a train depot down the road there. Runs every hour or so. I can sell you a ticket now if you’d like. It’s thirty dollars.”
The concept of a train sounds familiar to him. A mode of transportation, he instinctively recalls. He pulls out the enclosure, hoping the currency inside is indeed one of these so-called “dollars.” He pulls one of the hundred-dollar bills and hands it to the merchant. After receiving the correct change, he thanks the merchant and swiftly heads for the exit.
His chronometer indicates the time of 9:01. He follows the road as the merchant instructed. He quickly learns to stay on the side, as large, shiny-wheeled speeders emerge in random continuousness, some at high speeds and unwilling to slow down for any person or creature. He marvels at the efficient, interwoven patterns of these roads, neatly engineered for harmonious travel. He gazes as the speeders decelerate and stop while other, intersecting ones speed through without incident.
As he gets near, he discovers the only thing that could be the train depot. A minimal steel-framed shelter covers the track and passenger loading platform. The platform itself is encased by a gate framed with some type of flexible glass. The gate contains an opening where passengers hold some type of card to a scanner, and others using their timepiece, but all receiving a green light indicating their admittance into the platform area. Simple enough.
He walks through, holding the ticket card to the scanner and getting the green light. Along the platform is a large, single steel track, with about four or five meters of clearance on each side. He peeks at his chronometer as it now reads 9:22. Observing that several people are waiting, he deduces that the train should be arriving shortly.
The train finally arrives at 9:31. It is an interesting looking one at that, with curved sidewalls, possibly for aesthetics. There is a head on each end, designed to move either forward or backward along the track. The doors on the opposing loading platform allow the remaining passengers to exit. Immediately after, the ones on his side finally open. He carefully finds an inconspicuous seat toward the back, ideal for observing the other passengers and studying their customs and rituals.
Minutes into the ride, he watches the quiet patience of the passengers. He also perceives the different styles of clothing. A darker-toned woman, clothed in a gray and dark brown uniform, appears to be traveling to report for duty at a dining establishment. Another man is wearing a black hat, possibly made from the hide of an ox or steer. Most just sit or stand in blissful meditation as the landscape scrolls through the windows, as the train draws closer to the center of the valley.
In the quiet, he attempts to diagnose his condition. Amnesia perhaps? But in most cases amnesia is temporary. Even if severe, why can’t he recall anything before this morning? Why do some things feel familiar, like riding a train, and others feel foreign, like these clothes? Perhaps the answers are in the city center. For now, he will need to rely solely on his intuition and intellect.
A holographic message suddenly interrupts the serenity of the train. It projects from the ceiling and along the edges on both sides of the train car. The message shows several women dressed seductively, all dancing to highly oscillating, energetic music, while several well-dressed men stare and admire them. A man’s voice narrates, “Find yourself. Find yourself at the Vyxx, The Strip’s hottest dance club. The Vyxx, located inside the Metropolitan Resort.”
Find yourself? Maybe this is just what I need, he tells himself. At this Vyxx socializing club could be an intimation to his origins. At worst, this is a serendipitous message intended for him to hear at this very moment in time. His instincts remind him he comes from a world where they don’t believe much in chance or luck. He had been trained to pick up on such cues, no matter how faint.
As the train nears close to this “Strip” as they call it, he wonders what stop would be ideal for him to disembark. He has noticed already when the train reaches peak velocity after a stop, an automated voice will announce the next one, synchronized to a hologram showing the destination’s surroundings for visual confirmation. As he waits for this moment after the most recent stop, the voice announces, “The Fashion Shopping District.”
Shopping? Perhaps they mean an assemblage of merchants. He concludes that this could be a useful place to explore. He will need new clothes if he is to make his way to this Vyxx and cohere with its patrons.
Passing through the train’s exit platform doors, he walks through to a connecting underground tunnel. Others walking in the opposite direction carry bags with goods and merchandise. As he emerges from the tunnel, he awes of its size and depth. It is a large hangar of some sort, its ceiling engineered with skylights for natural light. It houses hundreds of merchants offering diverse goods. He is fascinated at such an efficient arrangement.
It doesn’t take long for him to spot a clothing merchant matching his tastes. Inside, he finds rows of finely tailored garments, suitable for socializing in the club-like atmosphere. A young and friendly man approaches, a willowy man who exhibits this style of clothing they are selling. He sports a unique style of hair, long and spiky and featuring multiple colors.
“How can I help you today, my bro-him?” the smiling merchant inquires with a soft yet firm tone.
“Is this attire suitable for a club such as the Vyxx?” he questions back, holding up a selection of charcoal gray dress pants and a cream-colored collared shirt.
The man exudes a curious laugh. “Hahaha… sure, my man. But let me help you fine-tune your choices.”
After some trial and error on the sizing and matching, he makes his purchase, insisting on keeping the new clothing on. This is perfect, he thinks, but at a cost. Three hundred and fifty of these dollars? He asserts to himself that he will need to conserve what remaining currency he has for more urgent circumstances.
Craving sustenance, he wanders around until he finds an eatery. He muses at the various meal options, unfamiliar with most of what he sees. But it doesn’t take long for him to find and choose his meal: a vegetarian rice bowl. This perfectly balanced meal has a taste of strange spices, but is optimally nourishing. After gobbling it all up, he checks the time, now 13:12. There are only a few hours left before nightfall, when the Vyxx opens.
He ventures outside, following the signs to the Strip. He discovers that the Strip is, in fact, a road. The large road is congested with various sizes and types of speeders, attempting to move in both directions.
The signs along the Strip indicate the Metropolitan resort is a couple kilometers down the road heading south. This will provide him with a nice long walk to pass the time and take in the sights, and further explore the customs of the populace. After all, he doesn’t want to sound foolish in a critical moment.
Nightfall comes. He had been so busy walking in and out of various buildings, studying the other folks, listening to their linguistics, and memorizing their customs, that he failed to keep pace with the time. This city is a center of entertainment, not government as he had first thought. People gather here to enjoy each other. Many of them are tourists like himself. He feels much less like a foreigner, and more confident in his conversing abilities. Perhaps he’ll encounter others of different cultures in this Vyxx establishment, and perfectly acclimate.
He enters the Metropolitan resort, where the Vyxx is located. The ambiance is dark and edgy, with dark marble floors interwoven with dark purple and gray carpeting. The walls and ceilings are adorned with bright fluorescent, crystalized patterns. It’s like being in a tall, well-lit cave with perfectly placed stalactites. The effect of the interior seems to play tricks with the mind, meshing light and dark throughout the prodigious layout, daring you to enter without scaring you away.
He heads into the restroom to perform one final check, putting the final touches on his fashioning style, while ensuring minimal resemblance to the images from the train hologram. Hair, shirt, cleanliness, all are of importance. He observes himself in the mirror: dark hair, medium height, and a slight stubble of a beard. He studies himself for a moment, hoping it will jar his memory, but he still cannot ascertain his name or identity. He then checks his timepiece once more, it reading 20:15. Now is the moment.
As he approaches the Vyxx entrance, he spots a couple of very large fellows guarding the entryway. They are incredibly well coordinated in their grooming and dress. They both take a look, scanning his appearance for confirmation to adherence to an appearance code, just as he predicted. It takes a second or two, but they wave him through.
He heads inside and is immediately blasted by rapid, ear-splitting beats thumping from the speakers in the ceiling. He quickly navigates the swarm of twentysomethings to reach the large square bar in the center of the club. As he seeks a perfect vantage point for surveying cues, he fixates himself on one of the open seats on the far side of the bar.
Within moments, a scruffy, large man approaches toting multiple silver neck chains around his neck, and who appears to be the keeper of the bar. His skin is decorated with assorted, irregular art, some of it glimmering as if electricity runs through it.
“Friend, what are you having?” the male barkeep demands, seemingly lacking in patience. There’s that calling again, Friend.
“Have we met before?” he replies, staring back at the barkeep in a hopeful daze.
“Not sure. I see a million like you in here every night,” the barkeep shoots back, his tone deepening as his patience wears thin.
“Fair enough. Let me have one of those.” He points to a dark, copper colored foamy beverage in a large thick, conically shaped glass, held by another visitor a few seats down.
The barkeeper shouts a command, then a protruding robotic arm prepares the beverage by pouring it out of an iron faucet, carefully minimizing the foam. The barkeep returns promptly, demanding payment in the form of thirty dollars. He slips the barkeeper the desired currency and proceeds to sip the drink. Wow, strong! Powerful, bitter, and cold. Even without a memory, he cannot find any familiarity with such a beverage.
Partygoers continue to stream into the club, bringing it close to peak capacity. The music intensifies, as the endless rhythmic pops and bangs combined with energetic melodic lines produce sound waves that are nearly visible. The bar seating is completely full, with many others standing around vying for a spot. He assures himself that this fortunate seat positioning is a possible harbinger of events to come. With that, he reminds himself to stay vigilant.
Off toward the back is a sprawled floor of color-pulsating tiles, some transitioning from luminous to reflective, allowing the large cluster of dancers to see themselves from their feet. Many sport see-through tops made of some kind of molded polymer, some with neon-like lighting. The women dance in harmonic lock-step, rubbing their barely covered breasts through their plastic tops on each other and the men. He watches with intrigue as heat and sweat emit from their bodies like neutrons reaching criticality, enough to make him cringe. This must be a local custom, orchestrated movements to high pulsing music, inducing seduction from its participants. Perhaps a sophisticated form of mate calling. This “dancing,” as they call it here, is in no way a formidable challenge to the body’s kinetic abilities, nor a higher form of fine art he would appreciate.
Beginning to feel unstimulated, he turns to face the other side of the club, looking for another ritual to analyze. In that moment he finds himself locked into her wondrous eyes, beautiful and brown. Her lustrous, smooth and straight flowing hair is dark like the midnight sky. From her luscious lips, her smile radiates like the new morning sun. She wears a dark red dress, tight enough to capture the endless curves of her body, accentuating her breasts. It’s an interesting choice to maximize her total feminine embodiment. Her face, her body, her presence, all of it is a convergence of perfection.
She walks over and stands right next to him, giving him a moment of fluster, something rare in him. She is not the tallest woman here, perhaps just a few centimeters shorter than he, but her leaning posture puts her at eye level with him. She shouts her order toward the barkeep with currency in hand. A moment or two passes before she returns a second gaze. The intensity of their stares compels her to finally speak.
“Enjoying the night?” she asks, smiling at his boyish charm.
“I’m not entirely sure,” he replies, feeling too stunned to come up with something witty.
She laughs at the unusual reply; it’s not the usual small talk norm. She feels a spark, a strange attraction to him at each glance at his smile. Perhaps he is someone familiar, from a past life maybe, but she’s not sure. He has a spiritual glow, something she feels is uncommon in most men.
“So do you have a name?” she inquires.
His mind freezes in the moment realizing he doesn’t know who he is. He is a stranger to even himself. If he has a name he better come up with it quick, but that won’t happen. Instantly, the perfect name pops into his mind. It’s not an accident he’s heard it spoken all day long. There’s a uniqueness to it, possibly silly, but it captures his spirit. He may not know who he is, but he knows what he is.
“Friend,” he confidently responds.
“Friend?” she confusingly asks. “Your name is Friend?” She hopes not to offend him but she is intrigued by such an unusual name. She extends her hand. “I’m Cassandra. People call me Cassie most of the time.”
He hopes he can continue this conversation enough not to scare her away. She is beautiful. Intensely, stunningly beautiful. It’s not just her appearance alone, but her voice, her demeanor, her sense of esteem.
“We have a table over there.” She points toward a sequence of chairs and small table arrangements. “If you don’t find the enjoyment you seek, come join us,” she says, walking away while gracing him with a final smile.
An invitation to join her? This must be some sort of test, to see how interested he is. He doesn’t care; he can barely contain his glee. He is gladly willing to give up this great bar seat that others are coveting. He follows her, drawn to her intoxicating vibe. His thoughts are racing as frantically as his heartbeat.
Most of his peripheral vision momentarily blurs as he approaches her table. She stands up and introduces her friends. First is Alaina, shorter, more slender, blonde hair with gold streaks, cute and quirky. Next is Alaina’s boyfriend Wyatt, tall, muscular, seemingly self-absorbed. He gives Friend a slight nod. Alaina and Wyatt soon excuse themselves and make way for the dance floor.
“So where you from?” she asks, wanting to know more from the handsome stranger.
This is their culture, endless inquisitions into one’s origins, a depth-first traversal of a person’s identity. What can I say? he wonders. Even if he knows the names of places, he wouldn’t be able to describe them. Creating a well of deceit to bury himself is not a custom for which he is aware, nor willing to partake. He has to fess up, he honestly has no clue.
“Can I tell you something?” Friend attempts to explain. “I honestly don’t know.”
She emits a quiet look, as if he is engaging her in a battle of wits. He is charming, but she is unwilling to tip her hand to his desire for a response, so she presses the silence, forcing him to divulge more.
“I woke up this morning with amnesia of some sort. I took a train here and bought these new clothes. I tried looking for clues, only finding this foldable enclosure with this paper currency. I observed a message saying I can find myself here, so here I am.”
She widens her eyes at his wallet. She helps him look through it, but she finds no form of identification, no credit cards, nothing but money. She urges him to put it away.
Over the next two hours, she does most of the talking. She is twenty-four years old. Her ancestry is a mix of Asian, Filipino and Chinese on her mother’s side, and various Caucasian ancestries on her father’s side. She comes from a land called California, a city named Los Angeles. She has the next week off from her work as a bartender, another word for barkeep as he now understands it. She loves her occupation, meeting people, earning good money, but yearns for more. She arrived today, her and her two friends, and plan on staying until the New Year’s Day holiday. Through her various connections, she has procured a room at this Metropolitan hotel, a room high up with a view of the Strip.
From his demeanor, she realizes he is being forthcoming and honest about what he’s telling her. She prides herself on her keen ability to read people, a skill she learned from tending bars in the past few years. She finds it attractive, a man with a strong intellect, but lost and in need of her help. It is a secret fetish, and to her detriment, has caused her to enter into some bad relationships with men who are beyond saving. Her friends tell her she has Nightingale syndrome. But trying to “find himself,” because of an advertisement, is cute. She finds herself being drawn into his world.
Her friends eventually return. Exhausted from dancing, drinking, and more dancing, they desire some relaxation. It doesn’t take long before they also inquire into Friend’s origin. Before he can answer, Cassie interjects, telling them he is from San Diego as she nods back at him. Not entirely comfortable with the idea of her being a proxy of deceit, he nevertheless decides to play along. She has a sharp wit, and that impresses him deeply.
The time crosses past midnight, and Cassie and her friends suggest a late night breakfast. The café on the other side of the hotel complex becomes the consensus choice. It’s a short walk across the casino floor.
As they walk in that direction, Friend soaks in the mystique of the games of chance that people play with their money. Something for him to explore, but he would need to solve the riddles of the game, breaking down the randomness they call luck into an analyzed pattern he can exploit. Otherwise, there is no point.
After they are seated the conversation starts out light-hearted, before the topic turns toward the asteroid. Alaina expresses her views to the group. “I saw on the news, some critics of NASA are calling them liars, saying that they cannot stop the asteroid. They are telling everyone to take cover in Mexico, or further south.”
Wyatt enjoys Alaina’s worries, and responds, “Baby, don’t you think they’ve thought of all this? Not just NASA, but China, the GSC? Don’t you think with all these asteroid mining companies they have safeguards in place? There are bad people out there, trying to profit from any crisis. These lies are being spread by the real estate industrial complex, all to try to get you to invest in timeshares in Mexico.”
Everyone laughs. Friend, not quite understanding the humor, laughs more at Alaina’s whimsical concerns, and at witnessing Wyatt’s ability to trivialize them.
“Friend, where are you staying?” Cassie asks, unable to resist the notion she can help him, despite the potential awkwardness. She assumes that if he is experiencing some sort of amnesia, he probably doesn’t have a place to stay.
He smiles. “I haven’t thought of that yet.”
Realizing the gravity of the situation, and the fact that there is a wintry cold outside, he retracts his smile. She bites her tongue, but can no longer resist the temptation to save him from his plight.
“Friend, you can stay with us for tonight,” she suggests.
Despite some subtle reservations from her friends, there is no debate. It’s clear she is in charge of this trip. After all, it was her idea, she arranged the hotel, and it’s her car they drove down here. Alaina does make an expression of concern, but Wyatt is more than pleased to have someone capture Cassie’s attention, having Alaina more to himself.
After the meal, he offers to pay. Cassie initially rebuffs him, but he insists. He is, after all, rooming with them for the night. He senses his upbringing is one of giving, and so it feels natural to reciprocate any generous gesture. They leave the restaurant, make their way to the elevator, and retire for the night.
Continue to Chapter 2…
The follow is an excerpt from The Final Six Days, book 1 of the Time Crossers series. It is available now on Amazon.medium.com