Meet Rose Adams, the master thief of East Village.......
I grope around in the wretched darkness.
Where the hell am I?
My heart rate’s going up like crazy. A sheen of sweat breaks on my upper lip, the back of my neck. I wipe away as much as I can, without putting down whatever I’m holding.
My metallic dress-armour moves too, creaking.
I run my fingers along the body of the object I’m holding. It’s long and sleek and has a stone fixed at one of its ends. Like a hammer.
Is that what I think it is? Do I smell gunfire on the air? Or is my fear of darkness playing with my ability to think straight?
I hold my nose into the air and sniff. I do smell gunfire. And it is coming closer.
Suddenly, it is like someone has thrown too much light on my surroundings. The glare blinds me for a second. As my eyes adjust, I gawk. The ground beneath me is rough and cracked. On my left is a pile of ammunition surrounded by soldiers keeping guard.
Are they guarding the ammunition?
On my right, is a two storied building and a few meters away, is a book, suspended just above a platform.
A closer look tells me, that it is not a useless book. It is glowing; it appears to give more light even than the sun’s last rays as they fall on it.
I myself am shrouded inside a transparent orb. One only I can see. For a moment, I don’t understand why I’m here.
A regulator’s voice booms in my earpiece.
“Welcome to the first level of your Cybernetic Reality, Miss Basil. Your mission is to take that book and escape without losing your life. The computers are hiding you right now, but the moment you step out of the Orb, you will be in plain sight of all soldiers. Your responses and brain waves are going to be recorded. You have five minutes to get the book. And the time starts now.”
A band on my wrist beeps, counting down from 5 minutes already.
I have to steal that book.
But how? All I have is the hammer. This can’t be that hard, can it? I’m not called the Master Thief back in my village for nothing.
If only I could get hold of a gun. But all of the ammunition is guarded. Even if I decided to knock one of the soldiers out and grab his/her gun, the others are bound to notice and shoot me.
I can’t knock bullets out of the air with a hammer.
Even the thought sounds lame.
One by one, I cross out the options. I cannot take the ammunition. I cannot approach my goal head on. It’d be a stupid thing to do. That leaves only the building.
There must be some reason the building is placed so close to the object I have to steal. After all, this is virtual reality.
I think of the reward. If I pull this off correctly, Paul, my stepdad won’t be able to threaten to starve my brother and sister. I won’t have to steal. He won’t be able to bully me into stealing for him ever again.
I know what I have to do. I turn away from the book. And step out of the Orb, running. Not towards the book, not towards the ammunition. Towards the building. I run in a zigzag line, just to be sure I don’t get shot. I don’t. The soldiers hardly notice me as I run towards the back entrance of the building.
The lights inside are all on. I look for an elevator. There isn’t one.
I take the stairs instead; two at a time, stopping at the first landing.
I check every room. All of them are empty. None of them have a rope. I desperately need a rope if I want to get my hands on that book. I check the second floor rooms too. No rope anywhere.
Suddenly, I remember the hammer. I left it on the first floor.
Time’s running out. The wristband beeps, showing only three minutes left.
I’m going to try something suicidal. But it’s the only plan I’ve got. I fetch the hammer and turn off the main electricity switch. I run my hand along the plain walls, trying to guess where the wires might be.
I can’t seem to guess. The wristband beeps again. 2 minutes more. I smash the hammer at the wall.
Nothing. Not even a crack. I try again. And again. The cement begins to peel away, revealing rows of wire.
A short burst of elation explodes in my chest. I manage to wrench away three wires from the entire room. If used together, they would be approximately the height of the building. They look strong enough.
I tie each of the three wires together so that they make a strong, long makeshift rope. I take the stairs to the topmost floor, and head towards the terrace.
There, like I expected is a long rod. It is used on the terraces of most building to receive radio signals. John and I used to play at hanging from it when we were little. It will be very useful right now.
I tie one end of the wire to the rod, the other around my waist. I walk to the edge of the terrace. The drop is giddying. I tug at the wires one last time to check if they can bear my weight, which isn’t much.
A million things could go wrong. The wires might snap, the rod might not support my weight, or it might just not be flexible enough. I could die. Then wake up and die again. My stupid brain is still telling me not to do this.
I glance at the wristband. 5 seconds left.
Then I jump.
I sweep through the air, and before the soldiers have time to react, the book is tucked safely in my arms.
I’m suspended a few feet when I come to a stop. Slowly, I untie myself and jump to the ground.
Now that I have the book; the soldiers, the building, the ammunition, all of it disintegrates in a million particles of dust and debris.
I open my eyes. Lights in the Operation Theatre have just been turned off. I sit up, my head spinning. There is a sharp pain in my left arm.
One of the doctors who inserted the CR chip inside me, helps me up. She’s a blond, like me, but her hair’s more greyish and much shorter. Her eyes dig into mine, like she wants to say something more than she has to.
“Your responses and the entire CR video has been recorded at the control base. They will assess your ability and the results shall be declared soon.” Her voice is mechanic and low, but I can read the surprise in her eyes.
“Take her outside Greg.” She orders the ward boy who brought me here, never taking her eyes off me. Greg leads me back to the waiting area.
I don’t care about the results. The only thing I care about is the reward money for participation in this contest, which is a $400. I have already planned what I’m going to do with that money. First off, I’m going to take John and Rebecca to a restaurant and just let them eat their fill. Rebecca is a sucker for the exotic dishes they offer at Greasy Marts. For John, I’m going to buy him a ‘cool new shirt’ and maybe send him to a movie with his friends.
I probably should forget about the CR for now, or I’m going to go nuts just figuring out how I’m going to use those $400.
“Excuse me.” I call out to the ward boy.
“Um, could you show me to the bathroom? I need to freshen up a bit.”
“Sure. This way.” He changes course and leads me in another direction. Here, the passages and rooms, all reek of detergent instead of that special odour I associate with hospitals. I’m not sure I like it.
The walls are empty and plain, like those in the CR building and the roof’s domed slightly.
He stops before a door with a sign marked ‘for ladies’.
I splash water over my face, once, twice. Then the tap turns off automatically. I sigh and look into the mirror.
A thin girl with wavy blond hair and light brown eyes stares back at me. I wish I looked more like mum. She was so beautiful. I don’t remember much about her, except for her laugh, the way it would make you think she was singing. Everything about her was beautiful. John and Rebecca were both too young to remember her. But I do.
Sometimes, when they pester me for the details of our mother, I turn on a song she used to love, on the player and dance to it, remembering every detail she taught me. It’s weird how little I remember of my mother than of her dance.
Every graceful move, it’s stored inside me forever.
Thinking of my mother, my eyes burn with tears of anger and regret. I could have saved her. If I wanted to.