When people think about Milestone City there are certain images that come to mind; like new glass skyscrapers that rose from streets as old as the first colonies. People still talk about the corporate sector like it’s a new thing, like it hadn’t been there since before I was born. They’re also quick to remind you that the problems of the ‘old world’ are still hanging like an old smell; you know, street crime and all that.
“It’s dangerous at night,” my mom always told me; not that I had reason to be there after dark. Technically I was still a kid, too young for clubs, too young to hang out with the college crowd; best there was for Tanya and I were the department stores, and even then we’d only go a few times a year.
“Parking costs a goddamn fortune,” she complained, “and screw taking the bus.” She had a lot of horror stories about taking the bus; so we stayed married to the suburbs, because it wasn’t like we had anything better to do.
Where my science teacher, Mr. Drew, was taking me was a whole different experience. It was one thing to know that your hometown had some of the finest technical facilities in the country, but it was another thing to see them up close. The hybrid cars by the road, the geometric architecture and fresh laid grass looked like a world just born.
“Welcome to InfiniTech R&D,” Mr. Drew hummed, the taste of sentimentality in his tone; “where the future comes alive or some such.”
I stared to the tinted windows and projected what was going on behind them; teams of scientists manipulating robotic limbs, or researchers looming over petri dishes searching out an enzyme that targeted cancer cells. Who could say for sure except the few they let past the security gates; and on that day, me as well.
Mr. Drew handed me a security tag with a cord to hang around my neck. Underneath my name was large print reading ‘LEVEL 1 ACCESS.’
We stepped out of the car, giving me a better chance to look between him and the pyramid complex. “So, how is it you’re allowed in here?” I pressed.
“There’s a saying, I don’t know if you’ve heard it; ‘those who can’t do, teach.’ Well, this is what I couldn’t do before I became a teacher.”
“You regret becoming a teacher?”
He smiled. “Only when faced with a student who is determined not to learn. Come on, we’re expected.”
We moved passed the security screen and into the complex. The sun refracted through the angled glass and over the smooth, abstract shapes; sculptures of engineering artistry that sat as if they were in the open. Whoever designed the place was looking to impress, and I’m not going to lie, they were succeeding.
My fist balled in my hand; anything to release nervous energy. The first time I’d seen this “Teddy” guy he chewed me out. You know what they say about first impressions, right?
“So how come your partner’s still in the field and you’re not?”
Mr. Drew sighed as he searched for an answer. “Honestly, it’s because we’re two different people. Maybe if I hadn’t been so proud I could have still been an assistant. For Ted, it was always about the end result. So long as he was out there, searching for answers, doing what he felt was the important work, he’d do anything.”
Halfway down the hall we came to a room that might have been a broom closet save for the ‘KEEP OUT’ sign taped to the corners of the door. I was starting to get the impression that scientists were a temperamental bunch.
Mr. Drew pounded on the door. “Teddy, we’re here. Whatever you’re doing, stop it and talk to us; then we can get out of your hair.”
Yeah, that was filling me with confidence.
The door opened with a jerk, and from behind it the gaunt figure loomed and grimaced. I didn’t think it was possible, but he looked even more tired than the first time I’d seen him.
“You’re the little drag queen,” he stated. “I should have expected you’d change your appearance. Come, we need to talk, alone.”
Alone? I looked to Mr. Drew who waved it off; because he was harmless, right? No way would my teacher bring me to the lab of a Dr. Frankenstein type, especially after that talk about protecting his students. The guy was just a harmless old crank whose bark was worse than his bite.
He slammed the door behind me and lingered like a vulture, looking me up and down like I was on a slab. “I need you to tell me in your own words exactly what happened to you, and if anything has happened since.”
I saw past him into the closed off room. Table upon table was covered with metal and wires; and there was a smell like something had been burning. In the corner was a device that took up a lot of space, but had also been pulled apart and made into a makeshift work bench. “Is that a cat scan thingy?” I wondered aloud.
Teddy didn’t turn around. “It used to be an fMRI machine,” he muttered, “but I need you to focus. When the light hit I need to know what you saw.”
Where would I begin? The story ran over in my head; the light, Adrian, the car, flying under the bridge, not to mention the times I’d tested these powers since then. Every point ran to my tongue, eager to get out, but they tripped in trying to form a sentence.
Then I told him, “nothing.”
His eyes widened and his nostrils flared. “Don’t lie to me,” he hissed. “You were there at the zero point. It happened to you just like it happened to me. Now I demand to know, what did you see?”
I fell back against the wall. “N-nothing, I swear! I… I ran, and then someone grabbed me! They told me it was you! The next thing I know I’m lying in hospital and my mom was there and-!”
“And you really expect me to believe that.” He flashed his teeth, wide and grinding. “You were at the gate, boy. It took you inside and it pulled you apart and it put you back together, and now you’re standing here and telling me that you slept through the whole thing.”
I nodded somewhere between one and a million times until my head felt like it was rocking loose; however many times it took to convince him that I had no idea what he was talking about.
The scientist clicked his tongue and sharpened his gaze. “I’d like to run some tests…”
“No, I think that’ll be enough,” Mr. Drew said, and then poked his head inside the door. “Justin, come on. I’m sorry for putting you through this. Clearly coming here was a mistake.” He glared at the other man, letting the acid drip from his tone.
“This is important, Randall.”
“This is my student, Teddy.” He looked to me and held the door open. “I’m sorry this happened. Let’s get you home.”
I didn’t think twice before bolting outside and clinging to my arms. Funny, I don’t remember when I started shaking, or crying; not until I choked on what felt like my first breath.
Mr. Drew and I went back to the car and didn’t look back.
So much for getting answers.
To be continued…