For reasons that are utterly known (to someone, I’m sure), the city of Rix was completely off-limits. Nobody had been allowed in that place for the last five years. It was guarded more thoroughly than any place since Fort Knox. Thing is, after the gold there was stolen, it was understood that no security if fool-proof. Kudos to the team who did that. It went down in history. As did they because, to this day, no one knows who they are. Not only did a team steal the biggest amount of gold in the world, but they got away with it. The sheer levels of balls that must take is beyond comprehension.
Rix was started as the first city of its kind. A self-sustaining, totally green floating paradise. It would be a test for what could be done on other planets. No need for any outside help. Clean energy sources included wind, solar, and using the motion of the ocean to power turbines underneath the city. Their food would be grown there in greenhouses that required no soil. New breeds of plants were developed for this. The water could be harvested from the ocean, with a method of replenishing as much of what they took as possible. In other words, the impact to the oceans would be negligible. They would also pump out a lot of clean air. There was even a plan to take the garbage floating around the ocean and have some special system to break it to down to its chemical basics. Ahead of its time is the nice thing.
People were signing up all over the place to be a part of this. With promises of universal health care and a living wage, people from all walks of life were putting in applications. There was one catch – you had to live in that place and were unable to travel off the city. In other words, once you go there, you go for life. Unlimited contact with people outside of the city, but you were stuck there. You could send money to family outside of Rix, if you wanted to. So it was a good place to start over. There was even supposed to be a thriving tourism industry. However, what people didn’t know was how much of the city was blocked off. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
All the major tech companies were all over this. Every company that wanted to prove that they were the best was investing in this. It was a supranational structure. It was to sit in international waters, with no oversight from any government. There was to be a formal committee that answered to various national groups, but that was supposed to be in a situation where action that affected outside nations or required assistance from any country was required. In other words, these people answered to no one. A libertarian paradise, am I right? Well, not entirely.
This place quickly became known as something of a police state. There were cameras almost everywhere. Aside from houses and bathrooms (though there was some questioning as to whether cameras were in the bathrooms after a certain video was leaked), cameras were watching everything. There were supposed to be law enforcement agents all over the place. There were no cars there. All travel was done via a massive public transportation network. All cargo was controlled. What came off the island was some of the greatest explosions of technology the world had ever known. Tech that seemed years ahead of its time. People were so happy to see this that they didn’t seem to notice or care about the parts of the city that were getting increasingly unsettling. People are stupid, after all. Give them a newer and better phone and the idiot millennials and their children (Generation Zero. Named so because of the lack of population growth that followed a worldwide outbreak of a disease that killed over half of all the world’s offspring) are putty in our hands.
For a time, things were amazing. Tourism was bustling, as the city was continually evolving. New tech was integrated seamlessly there. Anyone who wanted to know what the cutting edge was went there when they had their Expo. The Rix Expo was the hottest ticket that had ever been. From there, we had solar technology that put what we had been using to shame. We could now grow food in humid places simply by harvesting the water in the air via a system that actually worked. Jungles were regrowing as old farms were being replaced by cheap and more productive alternatives. Brazil took full advantage of this. It’s why their economy is third in the world right now. After the US food production died and the Dust Bowl came back, Brazil took center stage.
A golden age appeared to have come to humanity. One where we could be turning back the clock of our environmental damage. Hell, people wanted to take the ideas from Rix and apply them to space colonies or colonies on Mars. EUSP (European Union Space Program) and CASE (Canadian Aeronautics and Space Exploration) were working to see who could get their first. Even the Russians got in on the fun. After years of fearing the worst, humanity thought that they were going to rise again.
Then Rix went silent. In one day, the city went dark. All signals coming from there had been cut off. Transportation was cut off. Nothing went in or out. It all happened so suddenly. A commission was started to investigation. The EU and Japanese navy (Japan grew the most because of the tech from Rix. They had been one of the principle funding nation), along with the CANS (Canadian Allied Nation States) fleet went to investigate. Whatever they found there, it has never seen the light of day. The Rix Report, which was commissioned by the UN, was almost-immediately buried. No copies were ever released. A version which a hacker got out was so redacted that you couldn’t make out more than a few sentences here and there. It was insane. People wondered what they had found. But nothing was forthcoming. At all.
Military forces were used to quarantine the city. An official statement is that no travel is allowed to or from the now-dark city. It was the ultimate secret. One that so many nations were working hard to keep. It was obvious that the key information was known only by the highest levels of government. The media used every trick in the book to try and get out of soldiers and government members what the truth about Rix had been. They got nothing. Because everyone knew nothing. Only Presidents, Prime Ministers, Admirals, and Generals know the truth. Then the media tried to get the people who were part of the team who had gone into the city to talk to them. A dead end. Of the team of ten who had gone in, three were committed to mental hospitals not long after. One committed suicide. The rest refused to say anything. The ONLY quote that was released about what was found on Rix is this –
What I saw there will never leave me. I’ll get old and die, and it will still be there. That’s all I’ll say about it.
The man broke down sobbing not long after. Of course, the families of those who had been there were demanding more. But they were stonewalled. There were lawsuits. Several companies and governments were sued to an extreme. The city had had a population of 3 million. All of the cases were settled out of court. Sometimes you’d have family members chartering ships to try and force their way in to get to the people they loved. One woman was so desperate to find her wife that she crashed her ship into the city, hoping to be able to brute force her way inside. Bad move. This city was built to withstand hurricanes that would level coastal cities. It was built with a kind of incomplete dome over the top. The sides were the ultimate fortress. The woman’s boat sank, and she died. As did the crew.
The military now guards the perimeter of the city. A non-stop patrol of warships. Any vessel that tries to get through is detained. In the worst case, destroyed. It’s a worldwide coalition. The first of its kind. Even Russia, a nation that has always seemed eager to be a contrarian was involved. CANS was the dominate member, considering that they have the largest military in the world. But Japan was eager to help.
The big question – why had no one attempted to go back to the city? What had happened there? What was in the Rix Report? It did exist. Somewhere. There was a database that was supposedly under lock and key. No one could access it on a system that could have external access. It was in the vault at a base in an undisclosed location. The only people with access are those at the top level of government. There are no troops who protect the location. It’s all done via an automated system. This level of secrecy is unheard of, which makes people believe that whatever was found in Rix is beyond a matter of national security. It must be something of global risk.
None of that mattered to me. I wasn’t there to learn the truth. I wasn’t there to try and steal tech, as so many others had tried before. I was there to find my father. He had gone there to try and start over after the divorce with mom. Now, he was one of the many people who had been declared Missing in Rix. Mom raised a fuss. She sued. Honestly, I think it was to get child support, but I wasn’t brave enough to say that to her face.
I needed to find my father, and to know what happened to him here. Why had the city gone dark so quickly? What had happened? Who was left? These questions were at the back of my mind every step of what got me here. Me, and the love of my life. We were here to learn the truth. If he was still alive, I was bringing him home. No matter what happened. If I died, so be it. It was worth it for that.
My team and I had spent months studying everything about the pattern of the naval blockade around Rix. They kept out about 5000 meters from the city. They didn’t have much need of patrol boats, as they could just use radar and sonar to identify any incoming vessels. Some people had tried to sneak in with small personal submersible devices. Didn’t work. Any approach was guarded very carefully. Larger warships would be guarding the approach from further out. All shipping lanes in the region were watched. It was a good defense. So odd that it was done to keep people from this place. Whatever was in the Rix Report, it was clearly worth all these nations that had always hated each other coming together.
The plan was simple – we would have to use the disguise of actual flotsam to mask our approach. What we would do is ride the currents, attached to a hollow log. From there. There was one that went right past the city. It was how they gained power, after all. At least one of the ways. We had downloaded the schematics for the city. There was a maintenance tube outside one of the turbines. We would exit the log once we were close, and then swim to the port. It had taken almost all the money we had, but Emily and I were able to procure an access key. It was a chip that had to be implanted within the skin. Both of us got one. The access was rudimentary. We would have to find a way to upgrade our access once inside. We knew what to look for. Since we figured that the tech we got from them was stuff they used, we knew how we could upgrade our access. It would require visiting an administration building of some kind. All things we’d have to learn once we got inside. Our schematics would get us in, but the rest was up to us.
Each of us used Bands. They were tech that could be attached to our arms. It had some really cool displays. Early holographic interface. We would have to keep them in our packs until we were inside. They would short otherwise. With the Bands, we wouldn’t need to constantly pull out a map or anything. To think, people used to rely on tablets. These things were cutting-edge. So expensive. The reality is that we had gone beyond bankrupt for this little expedition. We knew that we wanted to find our father. However, I knew that Em wanted to bust this story wide open. She wanted to tell the world about what had happened there. If it was so dangerous, then people needed to know. I admired her bravado, but I was less sure.
Our last night, we got together with the team. There were six of us. It was a sad night. We didn’t know what was going to happen. The lot of had drinks and talked long into the night about why we didn’t want superhero films to make a comeback. They had gotten so bad. It was good that they died when they did. If we had had to suffer more of that Avengers garbage, I honestly think that I would have lost my mind. The days of PC culture were ugly, but we moved past it. A lot of death taught people to value what they have. A drop in the population by a little under a billion due to old age had been a good teacher. I got to talking with Griffin (my oldest friend) about his idea to join the colonizing space effort. He had always wanted to go to space. I told him that if we come back with a big scoop, the lot of us will be rich beyond our wildest dreams.
That morning, at around 12:30 (local time), we set off for Rix. Our sea plane met up with a boat that was already at the rendezvous point. It was a tiny island, about 100 kilometers from the blockade. The boat had everything. We said our goodbyes, and got underway. The trip out was so quiet. We told the owner not to wait for us. If we had information, we’d be sending it via secure link via satellite. Also downloading it to a physical drive, just in case. Can’t be too careful with what we might find. Em wanted to be optimistic about finding our father. I wasn’t. I knew that if we did find him, he would likely be dead. It hurt, but it was true.
We got to the drop-off point. Suiting up, we checked to make sure we had everything. Our packs had basic supplies (first aid, food, water, our Bands, data drives, clothes, shoes, and tasers. We also had a couple knives between us. We couldn’t be too careful, given that we didn’t know what we would find). After getting into our wetsuits, we hobbled on to the back. The log was waiting. Em got in first. As I was looking to get inside, the owner looked at me.
“Last chance to back out.”
Securing the mask on my face, I checked the audio. “The last chance was years ago. I didn’t look back.”
Getting into the log, I felt the ship moving. The water was flowing through, but we were securely hooked inside. Kind of a surreal experience. Unnerving, too. I had had training on diving, but all that I had done had been in places where you could see the bottom. This was the open ocean we were in now. Nothing but endless abyss. Not gonna lie, that part scared me. The fear of the endless bottom. I’m sure there’s a name for that.
About an hour in, we felt the log get detached. Our calculation had been successful. We were riding the current. Now all we could do was wait. There was enough oxygen in these tanks for 12 hours of diving. We would only need six to get us within range. The wait seemed interminable. Especially since we could only talk when necessary. Otherwise we risked being heard by the blockade.
In truth, it took four hours for us to reach the city. Those hours sucked. Not only did I only have the inside of the log to look at (the alternative was the abyss outside), but a smaller boat came over to have a look. They stopped, and for a second I thought they might try and hook us. But they kept moving. The rumbling in my stomach was insane. But it was over now. We continued on. The sun was coming up. It would make us more noticeable, but by now we were well past the point where they would be looking for us. Inside the perimeter.
Then I saw it – the shadow of the city. The ominous shadow came out of the gloom like some kind of demon. There had been fish surrounding us. They cleared out as we got close. Time to ditch the log. I motioned for Em to head out the base, while I headed out the top. She knew the side of the city we were on, and motioned for me to follow her. The girl had always been better at having a sense of direction. More swimming in the gloom. Kept looking at the structure above. It was massive!
About twenty minutes of swimming, and the two of us reached our destination. The hatch was smaller than I had imagined. But I guess it was just for emergency use. There was still power! Em held up her arm. The hatch opened with a burst of bubbles. Inside was all black. The two of us swam in. When it closed, we were in darkness. Right as we were about to take out our flashlights on our belts, lights came on inside the space we were in. “Draining Water” a display showed. “Standby.”
Then, the liquid inside was drained. “Re-pressurizing Interior.” A whistling noise that was more than a little deafening. “Cleared.” Another hatch opened in front of us. A series of lights came on flashing towards it. I guess that meant that we were supposed to go in. The two of us crawled inside and then came out into a much larger space. Time to change. Taking off the helmets was fun. It felt like it had glued on to my face. As I took the wetsuit off, I noticed just how freeing this space was. Em was shivering.
“Come here,” I told her.
She did as bidden, and I held her close. “You just wanted to hold me when I’m naked,” she giggled.
“That and stop you from going into shock. But hey, whatever floats your boat, am I right?”
She kissed me, very softly. So beautiful. Her hair was soaked, flowing down around her. If only the two of us could be like this on some island. Very Blue Lagoon, as it were. But that would have to wait. We both got dressed. We dried out our arms and then put the Bands on. I pulled up the display, to see where I was. The map showed that we were in Maintenance Section 421. No surprise there. We had done a rough estimate of where our father would be. Residential was a long ways away from us. It would require get on the tramway. Here’s hoping that we could make it work. But first, we had to get to Administration, to upgrade our clearance. Lots to do, but since no one was on board, we had plenty of time. I looked to Em, who just nodded. Her hair was in a ponytail now. Looking fly and ready to conquer the world. In the dark, I noticed her glowing eyes. They were fake, naturally. The girl was born blind. I knew her when she was little, unable to see. It had been such a hurdle to overcome. Some of the tech from this place gave her her eyes back. It was so eerie, in a way. The glowing eyes had scared the hell out of me more than once at night. The light went off when the eyelids closed. But more than once I had come down a hall, only to see those glowing eyes looking at me from a dark room. I swear, the girl was just fucking with me to do it.
We left the wetsuit stuff where it was. Assuming we succeeded, we wouldn’t need it. Once we got the information to our people, we would try and commandeer a boat out of here. Try and run the blockade. Not a great plan, but there it was. And if that failed, we’d send up a flare and they’d come in and take us. The damage would be done by then. The truth would be known.
Lights were coming on as we went down the corridor. The walls were white. It was off-putting. This place was so clean it squeaks. Literally! Em kept close. The Bands had a kind of rudimentary scanning tech embedded in them. We could get readings about all sorts of stuff. The biggest question that both of us had as we went through here – where were all the people? If they were dead, we should have seen bodies. The cameras this place was famous for saw every step we made. There were times, and I know this sounds paranoid, where I could have swore that they were watching us. It was so disconcerting.
All this clean space. Then, as we went down the hall, music came on! Scared both us. To go from such quiet to soft, gentle music playing. There was a voice that came on with it.
“To facilitate workplace cohesion, music will be played. Thank you, and have a good day.”
An automated signal? Looked at Em. She just shook her head.
We came out of the corridor into a much more open area. It was some kind of desk, where people would check in. Workers at the beginning of their shift? Uncertain. Right as we were going to really start to question it, that’s when I came upon the first major clue inside. On the front door, there was a flashing sign. It read –
Warning: this sector is locked down until further notice. Phenotoxin B detected inside.
Right as I was about to ask Emily what she thought, I saw the look on her face. It was one of sheer terror. Her eyes were looking at something. My gaze followed, until I realized what it was. The door was connected to a huge, open window. I saw lights outside. The warning signs that were like the one I saw. Was every place locked down? This was a problem. Then I looked down, and felt sick. Outside the window, there was a smear. It looked red, but grimy. Coagulated blood, maybe? I followed the smear down to where a body was laying on the floor. It had a face that had once been human. Now it was deformed to an extreme. Like it had been smashed with a hammer. Wait, that smear, it was following the face. Had their head been smashed into that? Whatever happened here, it was bad. For the first time since I started this did I realize that the two of us might be in real trouble. And now there was no way out. The only choice was to move forward.
What had I done?
Until next time, a quote,
“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” – Bran Stark, A Song of Ice and Fire