Part 1: AliceUp until now, I’ve spent all my time learning about other people, their names, their personalities and their habits. What I haven’t learnt as much about is myself, in fact, all I really knew was that at least one person knew of my existence and sought to find me and bring me here. It feels strange to say this, but I finally have some information, evidence that strongly suggests that I knew someone before all of this. I haven't smiled much, if at all since I begun searching for answers, that changed today.
After I dreamt about riding through Solai on my bike I went and spoke with Data in zone 2. He was sat at his desk, tired, and surrounded by dishes, cups and empty ramen noodle packets that made it look as though he'd not slept at all through the night. I handed him my journal as his bloodshot eyes widened in anticipation of what could be seen written amidst the pages. I told him that I hoped he could piece together some of the information written in that book, and without hesitation, he swiped all of the clutter on his desk straight onto the floor beside him as he began rapidly flicking through the pages. It was strange handing my journal over to him, up until now no one has seen what's been written on those pages, but I have a feeling that he will be able to shed some light on what is there. I went to grab a chair so that I could sit next to him whilst he looked through the journal, I placed the chair beside him, finding space for it amidst the rubbish and clutter surrounding his desk. Before I had a chance to sit he energetically tapped his index finger on entry two in the journal, "The ring, do you have it still?!", I told him it's been sat on my bedside table ever since I was shown to my living quarters. He sighed in relief, "Okay good, take it to Clova, there may be a way to trace its owner.". As I began walking away Data threw a small metallic object towards me, it was a small matchbox-sized audio-recorder, as I caught it he said: "Since none of us have ID chips anymore, its back to the old tech!". I asked him what it was for, he smirked as he said that writing things from memory probably isn't that reliable for someone with a history like mine, I couldn't argue with that. Going forward, I'll use this recorder as a way to log conversations so that I can recall them word for word later on.
I quickly went back to my living quarters to collect the ring and take it to Clova, leaving Data to study my journal. Her living quarters were empty, but I knew where she'd be, her Medi-Lab on the lower floor of zone 2 is where I was told she spends most of her time. I approached the lab eager to speak with her about the ring, and as the door to her lab slid open disappearing into the wall beside it, I saw her in the distance working on a bionic arm similar to Caines. I let myself in as the door closed itself behind me, "Hey how's it going?", she asked. Eager to show her the ring, I told her that I found it in my jacket on the night I woke up in the motel, I also said that Data had recommended I show it to her as she may be able to help trace its owner. She stopped what she was doing and asked if anyone else had come into physical contact the ring since I found it. I told her that I have only touched it with my gloves on and that up until about 15 minutes ago no one else that I'd met knew about the ring. With a grin, she stated, "These aren't that common these days, the last time I saw a physical ring like this was on my mother's hand when I was a child.". Curious, I asked her why they are no longer common amidst society, she replied:
"When I was a little girl, about five or six years old, the government began rolling out their new ID-Chip integration technology, courtesy of Arketeq. Small microchips that were DNA encrypted and implanted into a persons hand, programmed only to work with the registered user. Developed using Arketeqs highly advanced in-house only operating system, 'Vivid', this small implant now gave people the ability to send and receive encrypted signals to and from other technologies seamlessly. The appeal behind the technology was simple, people could centralize all of their sensitive information in a digital format in one safe, DNA encrypted place. The ID-Chips contained a range of information specific to its users, such as allergies, medical conditions, weight and height, and gave real-time statistics on the users' health and wellbeing. The need to carry items such as ID cards, credit cards, driving licenses and house keys became obsolete, as people could now perform most tasks by simply placing their implanted hand face down on any identity plates available all around Solai."
She pointed to a small circular glass disk that sat slightly raised on her desk next to the bionic arm she was working on earlier, "That's an identity plate" she said. She continued talking as she walked slowly towards a cabinet full of tools at the back of the lab.
"As the ID-Chip grew in popularity, the partial access was made available to a very select few authorised software developers who wished to enhance the functionality of the chip. If these ideas were beneficial to the users, or gained popularity amongst Beta testers then Arketeq would consider implementing them into their software. One developer designed a gimmick that eventually became a staple within the chip's software, a simple function that allowed two legally married individuals to 'pair' their chips together. If two legally married individuals paired their chips, they then gained access to a feature that made the chip's in their palms pulse with a soft purple glow whenever they held hands or made a physical skin on skin contact with each other."
She told me to think of it as a digital wedding ring, a prominent public advertisement of two peoples love for one another. She continued,
"My mother got married a few years before ID-Chip technology became available to the public, as a result, she was given a physical ring by my father. She adored it, you could tell by the look on her face every time she glanced at it. She kept her ring safe in a small jewellery box on her dresser every night, accessible only by a physical key, the location of which she kept secret from both Myself and Data growing up."
Clova saw the look of confusion on my face as she mentioned Data in her previous sentence. She chuckled as she told me they were siblings, and mentioned that although they seem very different, they actually share a lot of personality traits. Recalling what she had just said to me about ID-Chips, my first instinct was to place my own hand down on the identity plate on her desk to check if I had one. I kept my hand there for a few seconds as I waited for a response, "Nope, same goes for me," Clova said as she raised her right hand and pointed toward a scar in the centre of her palm. She told me that all the Shadowtask members had ID-Chips installed when they were children, and decided to surgically remove them with her help after learning of Arketeqs corruption and deceit. Wincing slightly she then told me that Locke gouged his own implant out of his hand with a piece of sharpened plastic whilst he was in prison. I asked her what Locke was in prison for, she told me he doesn't like to talk about it.
She took a small pair of rubber tweezers from a cabinet at the back of the lab, "Okay, let's take a look at this ring.". I took the ring out of my pocket and held it out in front of me, she picked it up using the tweezers and told me that in order to gather any information from the ring we need to get a 'hit' on the Touch DNA Analysis. She placed the ring on top of a raised platform inside a perspex cube, walked over to her computer and began the analysis. "You okay?" she asked as I stood staring into that box hoping for a hit, I nodded as I anxiously watched her computer screen counting itself up from zero to one hundred percent. The process finished in about 30 seconds, unfortunately, there were no traces of any human DNA on the ring. Clova didn't seem too surprised, I knew that the odd's were slim but I still felt discouraged, I asked Clova if I could have the ring back, she responded: "you'll get your answers, I know you will". She smiled and opened up the perspex box, waiting for me to pick the ring back up. I stepped up to the box and lifted the lid before picking up the ring, frustrated and disappointed I threw the ring back onto the desk with force, I watched as the ring bounced toward her workstation, ricocheting off of her computer monitor before it slid along the work surface and positioning itself next to the identity plate on her desk.
Bitter about what had just happened, I stood still for a moment in an attempt to calm myself down. Suddenly the identity plate on Clovas desk let out a soft chime, confused I looked over at Clova who was in the process of putting her tweezers back. It was at that moment that I visibly saw the gears inside her head turning, mumbling to herself as she looked around the room knowing that neither of us had ID-Chips in our possession. She drew her attention to the ring as her natural facial expression transformed into a mixture of shock and excitement. "I think the ring triggered the identity plates pairing function!" She said as she grabbed the ring off the table and placed it on top of the identity plate. In doing so the diamond on the ring began blinking a light green colour as Clovas computer opened a message onscreen, it read: 'Embedded Audio Message Found - 0:04'. Excited and flustered Clova began inputting the audio playback command into her computer, "wanna hear it?" she asked rhetorically before pressing the 'Enter' key on her keyboard. We both remained silent as the audio began to playback, this is what followed in those brief four seconds:
"I love you, Alice. Will you marry me?"
At that moment, after hearing those words, I retrieved something. Small fragments of someone that were previously locked away in my mind, now accessible in part thanks to the playback of that message. In my mind's eye, I saw a female with blonde hair who stood with her back to me. She was stood peacefully on a cobbled stone footbridge as the wind gently lifted her hair off her shoulders. We listened to the message repeatedly, maybe twelve times in total, each time my memories became more vivid. For a moment this woman felt close enough that the scent of her perfume saturated the air around me, her scent caused even more feelings and tiny details that were previously locked away in my head to reveal themselves. At that moment, these tiny details were the closest thing to home I’d ever known. I can't say I know what it feels like to love someone, I guess because I don't remember having ever felt it, however, something did feel different about these memories in comparison to the ones I have had previously. Like a familiar warmth, resting lightly on my shoulders travelling up my neck and into my head, that's the only way to describe the feeling. "hey!" Clova yelled as I snapped out of my daze, "it's you" she said, "there's no denying that's you!". She was right, there was no doubt that the voice on the recording was mine. The dialect, the pacing of the words, the tone, the pitch, it all resembled my voice exactly.
Clova continued excitedly: "This technology is remarkable", she picked up the ring, waving it in front of me as she continued to explain: "Identity plates were never designed to have this functionality, it's not something that's built into their operating system. The plates are designed to pair and communicate with ID-Chips only, so in order for something like this to work you would have to be able to write a program that could install itself onto an identity plate and change its functionality. In this case, it seems as though a program was installed remotely via this ring, that program then bypassed Vivids OS firewall and security protocols allowing the identity plate to pair with any third party device! There are people out there, top-tier software developers and hackers who have been trying to breach Vivid since its creation, with many software coders and engineers deeming a successful breach of this OS to be the ultimate trophy for any respectable hacker. Arketeq themselves have offered ten platinum credits to anyone who successfully exploits the OS and reports their methods back to them. Data came close once, but he couldn't find a way past the final layer of security. We need to find the jeweller that made this for you, what they have been able to create is unheard of in the tech world, Vivid is supposed to be an unbreakable, impenetrable and secure operating system, yet look at it now.".
Clova, fascinated by what had just unfolded in front of her asked me if she could keep the ring to analyse it further, in an attempt to gather more information, I agreed to let her study the ring. I stood motionless for a while thinking about how I just discovered a bond with another person that I have no memory of, it felt warm and unusual. Clova asked me what was wrong, I didn't tell her about my vision, I wanted to keep that to myself, for now at least.
My priority now is to find the jeweller that made the ring, with Clovas help I can piece my life back together again.
Part 2: Lost
Caine came to my living quarters earlier, asking if he could join me in my room, I unlocked the door via the terminal on my desk and let him in. Curious, he walked in slowly, panning his head from left to right whilst muttering to himself: "What the hell, this is nicer than my place...". He walked over to my desk before making himself at home, kicking his shoes off across the room and slouching on my chair. He cut right to the chase, no time for small talk, and asked me what I've been doing with Data and Clova recently. I told him that I gave them some of my possessions to take a look at, to see if they could piece together any information. Caine seemed quite interested; "its gotta be weird not knowing who you are, right?" I nodded my head, letting out a sigh as I sat hunched over on the end of my bed staring at the ground. He continued: "Clova just told me what happened, that's crazy man. I didn't know shit like that was possible using Identity Plates, where did you get the ring from?". I lifted my head up and turned to face him as I told him I didn't know who or where I got it from. His usual cocky and sarcastic demeanour had changed into that of a more serious one as he rolled his chair towards me with an unusual earnest expression. He leaned in towards me, grinning as he quietly and confidently said: "I'm pretty good at reading people, but not once since I met you have I thought to myself 'wow, what a shining example of a true ladies man!'" he laughed to himself as he pushed himself away in my chair, rolling backwards with force until he knocked my desk. He continued: "Most men think motorbike leathers are the key to a woman's heart, especially when they're as tight as that", he smirked again as he pointed down at my leather trousers. I'll give it to him, for a moment I was sat there thinking what an arrogant little shit he was until I realised that mild insults, mixed with sly remarks, were his standard way of communicating with people. As Caine sat there all proud and smug, I returned fire with a question of my own: "Are you as good with the ladies as you are at fighting?", he knew I was referring to his loss against Locke after he got knocked clean out. He was pleasantly surprised at my comeback as he flipped the middle finger of his bionic arm at me: "touche, asshole.". We grinned at each other briefly before Caine stood up and walked towards the entrance to my living quarters. Whilst leaving the room he left me with one final remark: "until next time, Cassanova.", the door slid shut behind him as he walked away.
I remained seated at the end of my bed, in the same position I'd been in for the past hour as I thought about everything me and Clova had spoken about earlier. The thing is, I've had this ring in my possession since the very beginning of my journey, what started out as a seemingly meaningless trinket of a forgotten past has turned into my first glimpse of a better future for myself in this world, and it was under my nose this entire time.
I began reflecting on my journey so far, the places I've been, the people I've met, the information I have uncovered and how lost I felt a few days ago. Up until recently, it was easy for me to feel forgotten, isolated and lost in a world where everyone seemed connected in one way or another. Inside me was this innate desire to seek the truth, I was so desperate to learn anything I could about my past, relentless and without hesitation, I chased after anything that resembled some hint of significance regarding my life. The amount of helplessness I felt just a few days ago in comparison to now is night and day. I may well be naive about this whole situation regarding Alice, and treating her as a positive pathway to some kind of closure. However, it is a lead, one that Clova seems quite optimistic about.
Part 3: Enigma
There was a knock on my door at about 4 am this morning, I heard Caines muffled voice on the other side of the opening as he gleefully said: "Wakey wakey, It's time...". I was disoriented after sleeping for 2 hours at most, it took me a few seconds to realize that it was him before I opened the door. Caine was stood in the corridor with a grin on his face, he rubbed his hands together as he told me that it was time I met someone. After hearing those words I had a pretty good idea about what to expect. Caine asked me to follow him as we walked down the hall and entered one of the elevators, we were heading to the upper floor of Zone 2; the mission briefing area. Upon entering Zone two I saw Locke stood in the rain on the balcony, looking at us through the sliding glass door. He looked rough as he smoked a cigarette, raising it towards his mouth in small intervals, inhaling and exhaling as his bitter stare locked on to me. Clova and Data stood near Data's workspace, they were busy looking over my journal that I had left with Data earlier that night. Engrossed in my scribblings they failed to notice I had entered the area until Caine let out a subtle cough: "eh-hem". "It's time to meet the person who led you here," Clova said as she motioned me towards Data's desk. She typed a series of commands into one of the many keyboards sat on Data's desk, within 15 seconds Data's terminal displayed the message "Incoming Transmission". Clova paused before accepting the call, turning her head towards me as I stared intently at the screen, "Ready?" she asked, I nodded my head and placed my audio-recorder on the desk as Clova accepted the call.
A Hologram formed in front of me, emanating from a small screen on Data's desk. Its form resembled the stars in the sky, thousands of tiny light particles gathering and moving, constantly changing shape and form as though it was a living organism. Clova introduced us: "This is Enigma. Enigma, this is...Pylot", that brief pause was probably Clova realising that none of us actually knew my real name. I responded simply, mumbling 'hi' under my breath as I tried to control my urge to ask a hundred questions all at once. In a soft, gentle and authoritative female voice Enigma began to speak: "I understand that you do not currently remember your own identity. Let me assure you that being here at this moment in time is no accident. As you may be aware by now, I've been searching for you for what seems a lifetime. The city is in a state of disorder and the balance of freedom and power has shifted, that power now lays in the hands of those who seek to control us all. The ones who control Solai."
"Arketeq?", I asked. "Yes," Enigma responded, "I believe the team have already told you about Arketeq, however, there are some details about yourself that they, similarly to you, are yet to learn.". Locke flicked his cigarette over his shoulder before barging into the room, sliding the door open with force, "What do you mean?" he asked in a stern voice. Clova, also intrigued by what she had just heard, asked Enigma to clarify.
Enigma continued: "Firstly, it's important that you learn about the history of this place and Arketeq itself. Understanding why we carry out our work is crucial.".
Discovering more about Solai is crucial to the success of my own mission, with that in mind I agreed to learn more about the city. Enigma continued...
"Although many people look at Solai and deem it a beautiful and profitable city, the truth is that it has been dying for a long time. Solai is a city built upon an artificial island named Prospect 7, it was developed and constructed by Arketeq 12 years ago. The original founder of Arketeq is a man by the name of Hagan Price, a man with a vision to build a new world for those who welcome technology. He founded the company 17 years ago and remains in control of Arketeq to this day. Prospect 7, marketed as 'The Island Of The Future' promised the opportunity of a better life to people who were willing to adapt to change and 'embrace technology'. With room for fifteen thousand citizens, the entry requirements were strict, in order to be granted citizenship within Prospect 7 you and your family needed to be able to contribute to the growth and improvement of the island. If you weren't well educated, healthy and wealthy then there was a high chance that you wouldn't be accepted. Prospect 7 featured everything anyone could need, it appealed to millions of people from all over the world and competition for citizenship on the island was plenty. Whether it was a comfortable life on the suburban outskirts of the city or the hustle and bustle of the technologically advanced Solai, Prospect 7 had it all. Arketeq built a range of homes to suit all of its citizens, Arkteq offered extremely expensive high rise apartment complexes to those who could afford city living, they even offered bespoke housing solutions to the wealthiest of families who wanted a home in the city itself. The company claims that its purpose is to give people freedom, they use words like 'independence' and 'prosperity', yet what you see in Solai is very different. Arketeq is the beating heart of this city, it powers and controls everything on the island. No goods or services are imported or exported off the island, everything you see here is built, manufactured and distributed by Arketeq. Arketeq even developed and introduced a new currency named 'Credits' into the city five years ago, marketing it as a fairer and more stable way of earning and spending money. It is essentially a points-based system that is tracked via peoples ID chip implants, Arketeq claims that it is an incredibly safe and secure way of tracking and keeping your income safe. It also nullifies the need for physical currencies, however, the physical form of this 'credit' currency is used in certain areas of the city and comes in the form of separate coloured cards, each colour representing a distinctive monetary value. Thanks to Arketeqs intelligent software being integrated into everything, people, in reality, have very little freedom. Originally this island was a haven, a true feat of technological engineering, a glimpse into the future, a fantasy location for many people wishing to live better and more interesting lives. As technology advanced and became more integrated within our society, the level of corruption within the company grew at a staggering rate. Now, as you have been told before, Arketeq are working with gangs and criminals to frame people for crimes who oppose their system of living, manipulating the physical credit system to pay criminals for their work."
Enigma paused for a moment before continuing: "We are here because we remember a time when Prospect 7 was a safe place to live, a time where people weren't afraid to voice their opinions in case a higher power regarded it as an act of defiance against the system." Enigma paused again, I used that time to ask what this has to do with me. Previously Enigma claimed I was the 'key' to solving this, yet I've learnt nothing significant about my presence here. There was no way I could have prepared myself for her answer:
"Tell me, do you remember where you got your helmet from? Or the bike?" Are you aware of the fact that they are both one of a kind?". Caine, Clova and Data all looked at each other as though they knew what Enigma was about to say. "They both run on an altered version of Vivid OS, a fully modified version of the operating system using the Vivid framework as a base.". I asked her to clarify what she meant, she continued: "It seems as though both the helmet and the bike are synced in some manner with you, which means they can only be operated and controlled by you. During your time here Data has been analyzing your helmet, what he has discovered is that it will not operate at all under the control of any user other than yourself, none of its primary functions work. When we originally found you, it was thanks to your equipment giving off signals that our transmitters were able to intercept and pinpoint. We knew right from the start that something was different about you, this is why I asked Shadowtask to find you."
At this point I was getting impatient, yes, she was telling me a lot of information that I didn't know previously, but honestly, all I cared about was finding out who she thinks I am. I cut to the chase and interrupted her mid-sentence, I asked her to tell me why I was here and what she thinks I can do to help. She remained quiet for a few seconds as I anxiously awaited her reply until she responded: "Given the information we have and based on what I have just told you, we think it's safe to assume that before the incident that resulted in your memory being erased, you were an extremely high-level software engineer. In fact, Data believes that you may have been working for Arketeq at the time of your mugging, although that should not be possible given the fact you do not have and have never had an ID chip implant. ID chip implants are mandatory for all Arketeq staff and had you removed your implant in the past you'd have been left with a scar on the palm of your hand from the removal.".
A software developer? I don't know what I was expecting to hear but every single experience I've had with technology since waking up in that motel has been foreign to me. Of course, it's still a possibility and I can't discount Enigmas suggestion, however, what do they want from me?
Enigma continued: "Having the skills to be able to modify the Vivid OS are priceless if you can do what we are hoping you can. As time goes by we hope to unlock and trigger your memories in a variety of ways so that gradually you can remember your unique skill set and help us in our mission. As Clova has mentioned previously, Data attempted to hack into Vivid himself a while ago, he came close but was unable to bypass the final layer of security within the operating system. Since that attempt, the software has been continuously developed and its security measures have been completely revised. No one has ever been able to 'break' Vivid, yet you have two completely unique objects in your possession that are evidence of you doing just that. Using a modified version of Vivid never seen or spoken about anywhere else, they are synced to you alone, and without the need for an ID chip. If we can figure out how you were able to modify this software then we may have a chance of succeeding in our mission to take down Arketeq."
I asked her to explain what the end goal was, what her plans were for 'taking down Arketeq' and what that involved. She proceeded to explain:
"As you know, the Vivid operating system is at the heart of Arketeq's operations, it monitors and controls everything. Hagan Price wrote and programmed the original framework for the operating system 17 years ago. It was designed to be a self-learning form of artificial intelligence and has since become the bridge that connects every single person on this island to Arketeqs network. Do not be confused, however, Vivid is not a living machine, it's merely a program designed to learn whilst improving its security measures and defences over time. It does not have wants or desires, it does not feel fear, it is a machine. Vivid is at a point now where it has developed itself beyond human comprehension and has reached a point where it can not be patched or altered. It developed too quickly for the engineers at Arketeq to stabilize, and now the installation of any software updates or changes to the system are unsuccessful. The very software that monitors and controls both Arketeq and Prospect 7 is no longer subject to human intervention or design, it has surpassed that, and Arketeq is trying everything they can to keep this information under lock and key until they find a solution. Our end goal is to gain access to the Vivid supercomputer, its location is not known and it is hidden in a concealed location somewhere on Prospect 7. Once the supercomputer is located we will need to hack into Vivid's operating system and plant a virus within it. This is where you come in. We need you, Pylot, to code a virus capable of self-duplication and manipulation within the Vivid operating System once it is installed. The virus must have safeguards in place intended to protect all citizens on the island, those who are currently using the technology in ways which could be harmful to them once it shuts down. This virus will be designed to be completely undetectable and untraceable, as it installs and spreads itself across the thousands of networks that Vivid controls across this island, all of Arketeqs technology will begin to fail. Once that happens, Arketeqs currency system will fail, and as a result, Arketeq will have no power over the gangs in this city. Instead, the gangs will rebel, and when they do, we will be here to take care of that.".
What the hell do I even say to that? It sounds insane. Sure, maybe there's a chance that in the past I knew how to programme software, but given my current ability to remember things about my past, I don't have much confidence in Enigmas plan. I mentioned that to Enigma, who responded by telling me that in time she believes I will remember what to do. I asked her why I should even consider their mission, all I care about is finding out who I am. She told me that I need their help to regain my memories and that they are willing to help me find out more about the past providing I commit to helping their cause. Should I not remember who I am by the time the mission is carried out, Enigma told me that Shadowtask themselves will help me find the answers I'm searching for.
Part 4: Faded Light
After speaking with Enigma, I remained in that room with the rest of Shadowtask. Except for Locke, he seemed very agitated and frustrated as he left the room as soon as our conversation had ended. Now I knew why Enigma wanted my help, however, why did she bring these other people together too? I was curious about how she had managed to assemble this team, and why everyone seems so eager about bringing Arketeq down.
I sat down with the others in the briefing area, I felt the time was right to ask some questions of my own. Everyone seemed hopeful after hearing Enigma explain why I was brought here. Whilst the others talked amongst themselves I remained quiet, thinking to myself about these people and what their lives were like before Shadowtask. In particular, Locke, who seems more like an outsider than a part of the team. During a pause in the conversation, I asked the others if they knew anything about why Locke seems so bitter and angry all the time. The all looked at each other and Data nodded to Caine as though he was prompting him to explain. Caine's demeanour changed, usually, he's a sarcastic person that jokes about everything, apparently taking nothing seriously. As he let out a sigh, Caines expression on his face changed from the usual 'smart-ass' to that of a more serious one. "He wouldn't like this if he was here guys," Caine said, Data grinned as he replied; "If Pylot is to become a part of this team then it's right that in time he learns about all of us.".
I turned the audio-recorder on and placed it on a countertop in the room so that I could document our conversation. Caine laughed to himself as he pointed at Data; "Okay, but it's on you when the shit hits the fan." He got up from the sofa in the briefing area and walked towards the balcony where Locke was smoking earlier. As he slid the door open his demeanour changed as his tone became very serious. Caine leant on the balcony as he began sharing Locke's story with me:
"Locke, where do I start? He's lived on prospect 7 since it was first built 12 years ago, He was 9 years old when they moved here. As an only child, he lived alone with his parents in an area known as Green Lake, just south of Solai. It was a suburban area that housed one of Arketeqs few luxury homes, a huge multi-storey glass panelled house with panoramic views, surrounded by acres of land and trees. His parents both worked for Arketeq and specialized in building and programming advanced AI integrated hardware. His father was Arketeqs lead programmer, he oversaw every aspect of software development and integration. Due to the nature of their work, Locke never saw his parents much, they worked most of the time, leaving Locke at home with a paid carer until he turned 13 years old. Locke hid his sadness and put on a smile, he was holding onto a promise that his parents made him when they first moved here."
"A promise?" I asked as I was intrigued to know more. Caine continued:
"When they first moved to Prospect 7 Locke's parents were told that their work was paramount to the prosperity of the company, and as a result would be rewarded with an extremely early retirement just 8 years later. When Locke turned 13 his parents sympathised with their son, knowing that they had missed many aspects of their child growing up. They promised Locke that the years they had lost during his youth would be worth the time and freedom they would all share once they retire."
Caine paused for a moment before turning around and walking back into the room. Data continued where Caine left off:
"It may sound like a lonely life, but Locke's parents both made time for him in other ways. Once every few weeks, they would spend a whole day during a weekend doing things together like a normal family. Although they shared little time together, as a family they cared for each other very much. Locke was mature in his nature, although very young he understood that his parent's work would be beneficial for humanity. In the end, he knew that his parents and his own patience would be rewarded."
Caine glanced over at Clova who was stood next to Data's desk, she sighed, shaking her head slightly before leaving the room.
"Years past, it was Locke's 16th birthday which meant his parents only had one year left at Arketeq before they could retire. His parents loved their work, it was their passion, but they were happy to leave that behind for Locke. Earlier that day Locke had spoken to his parents via their daily video chat, angry and upset, assuming they would miss another one of his birthdays. What he didn't know was that evening his parents had planned to leave Aketeq at 8 pm, quite early in comparison to the norm, and for the first time in his teenage years, surprise Locke at home for his birthday. The shitty part is that in trying to create time to see their son that evening, Locke and his parents ironically lost the chance of ever seeing each other again.
That night his parents left as planned, outside Locke's house was a long winding road that carved its way between all the forestation the area. The rain was heavy that night and visibility was not great, unknowingly to Locke's parents a car was hurtling towards them at around 60 miles per hour. The headlamps on the oncoming vehicle were turned off, and since it was dark and the visibility was so poor, Locke's parents didn't notice the car until milliseconds before the time of impact. Both vehicles collided head-on with each other, both travelling at around 60 miles per hour. The harsh sound of the collision cut through the dense forest and through the sound of heavy rain. Locke was sat in his bedroom at the time of the crash, which he had heard faintly in the distance through his window. Locke looked out into the darkness, towards the sound of the crash as smoke began billowing out from amongst the trees, lit up by a faint orange glow. His phone began to ring on his desk, it was his mother, but Locke was reluctant to answer the phone. He was still angry with his parents after their phone call earlier that day. I guess he figured that if they couldn't take the time to wish him a happy birthday in person, then he'd rather not hear it at all. The call went straight to voicemail as Locke brushed it off, he went downstairs to get get a better look outside, he opened the front door of his home and was met with the distinct smell of burning rubber, as the fire began slowly spreading into the forest in front of him. Locke panicked and grabbed his coat and a flashlight, not knowing what had happened or what to expect he cut through the forest in front of him, running towards the smoke and flames in the distance. Once Locke made it through to the other side of the tree line he'd be able to see what was going on; In the distance were two cars which had collided head-on, crushed and melded partially together due to the force of the crash. Locke cautiously jogged towards the cars as he covered his mouth with his coat sleeve to protect him from inhaling the smoke. As he got closer to the wreckage the smoke was thick and dark, the cars were unrecognisable, blazing hot, it wasn't safe to get any closer to them. Realising he couldn't help alone, Locke positioned himself a safe distance away from the flaming wreckage until help arrived.
The emergency services came quickly, two emergency response vehicles were dispatched to the scene in order to extinguish the fire. Locke was taken a short distance away from the scene and checked over by one of the crew members. They sat him in the back of an ambulance to check on his health, doors wide open with a full view of the wreckage in front of him, Locke looked on as they began extinguishing the fire. As the flames started to die down Locke recognised the rear end of the car in front of him, it was his parents. Locke exploded into a fit of panic and hysteria as he burst out of the ambulance and sprinted towards the crash. Fearless, he barged through the safety tape barrier towards his parent's car before being tackled to the ground by the fire crew. He lay on the ground, helpless, screaming and crying, trying to call out to his parents, it was too late. The fire crew had trouble restraining him, it took four men to remove him from the site and keep him restrained on the roadside as they continued to put out the flames. Locke passed out due to a mixture of smoke inhalation and shock and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
He woke up the following morning in a hospital bed, a nurse was at his bedside tending to the IV drip that had been inserted into his hand the night before. Dazed and confused it took him a moment to remember where he was, upon recalling what had happened he frantically tried his best to get out of bed. Regardless of his will and desperation, his body had no energy as he rolled out of bed and fell three feet onto the floor, ripping out his IV drip in the process. The nurse quickly helped Locke up onto his feet as he began to cry, distraught and angry he asked the nurse what had happened at the crash. She didn't have the heart to explain and instead gave him the remote for the television at the other end of the room. She left Locke alone as he turned on the TV hastily flicked through the channels until landing on prospect sevens local news channel. It was then that this all became real, on the screen was the aftermath of the wreckage, two cars that were unrecognisable, surrounded by melted rubber and debris. As a helicopter camera panned around the aftermath of the scene, a reporter was narrating details of the crash and explained that an unmanned fully automated Arketeq vehicle had collided head-on with another car carrying two passengers inside. This was the first ever reported incident of a fatal accident at the hands of Arketeqs technology, and so gathered plenty of public outrage and media attention. Locke sat upright on his bed, hopeless as the victims of this fatal accident were identified as his own parents live on air. The nurse walked back in, looking Locke in the eyes as she placed her hand on his shoulder, expressing her sympathy for his situation. The reporter then went on to explain that after contacting Arketeq directly for a statement, she was told that his parents had left work earlier than usual for a 'family event'. It dawned on Locke immediately, his parents were travelling home early that evening for his birthday. His head sank into his chest as he realized what had happened, he felt a level of guilt that no one that age should feel. He blamed himself at first, believing that had he not made a big deal about seeing his parents that this entire situation could have been avoided.
Weeks passed before Locke was finally collected from the hospital by the carer who used to look after him when he was younger. She helped him see reason and explained to him that this incident was not his fault, his parents chose to leave early and that was not something Locke could control. Arketeq paid off Locke's parents home so that he had somewhere to live, they also gave Locke their retirement earnings and used the gesture as a publicity stunt to help mask the tragedy that had happened previously. As time passed Locke came to terms with what had happened, and the blame he once placed on himself shifted to Aketeq as the company desperately tried to cover up this story. The accident was the first of its kind, an autonomous vehicle colliding head-on into another car, it was dark, yet it had no headlights on and made no attempt to avoid the collision. Locke knew first hand the level of software engineering and programming that went into building these machines, he knew that there was no way his father would ever let something that dangerous leave production. Something didn't seem right, Locke questioned why there was an autonomous vehicle on a typically derelict road at night in an area one has never been seen before. He tried countless times to contact Hagan Price in order to get some answers but was never successful.
For the next three years, full of bitterness and resentment towards Arketeq he decided to take matters into his own hands. His plan was simple, if contacting Hagan Price via normal means wasn't an option then he would find him and make him talk. Locke studied Hagans daily life, his habits and his routines, and planned a time and place to intercept him and meet him face to face. Hagan is a huge public figure in Prospect 7, countless threats and attacks have been carried out against him in the past due to the increase in poverty and desperation within the city. As a result, he is never seen anywhere without a security detail consisting of a minimum of 8 bodyguards, some of which are armed. After numerous failed attempts, Locke, in a blind rage entered Aketeq HQ with the intention of forcing his way into the building and through security to find Hagan Price. He was met by a team of security guards in the lobby and beat the majority of them senseless with nothing but his fists and a bat, putting two of the guards into comas. Eventually, he was shot in the leg and apprehended by law enforcement and taken to prison without trial thanks to video evidence and Aketeq's connections within the city. The incident was kept from the public eye and Locke was intended to serve a life sentence in prison, that was until we heard about his story from Enigma and helped break him out. Since then all he cares about is getting to Hagan Price, something Enigma has told him he will achieve as long as we all work together.
The thing you need to understand here is that aside from Enigmas motives, we all have our own reasons for wanting to see Arketeq destroyed. Locke lost everything he had just a few years ago, how do you know that your memory loss isn't a result of Arketeq either? What kind of life did you have before all of this, don't you want to find out?
Data sighed lightly as he spun himself back around to face his computer to continue his work; "We all have our reasons", he said.
Part 5: City Glow
Speaking with Enigma and learning about myself, learning about Arketeq's origins and Prospect 7, and hearing about Locke's past has changed my perception of Shadowtask. I took some time tonight to go up to the roof, above the training grounds to clear my thoughts and for the first time take in this city and my surroundings. Traffic and city ambience could be heard faintly rising up from the busy streets beneath me, like a soundtrack to my thoughts as I reflected on everything I've been told recently. Data joined me on the roof, carrying a large touch screen device with him. "Up here it's easy to assume you can see everything, but there's a lot you haven't seen.". Data asked me to go with him to take a closer look at the city, we left Shadowtask HQ shortly after.
Waiting for us outside was a small autonomous vehicle, made mostly from one-way glass. I've seen these before when chasing Caine I cut across one of them in the middle of the city. It was an autonomous taxi and required a ten credit transfer before it would let us enter, however, Data unzipped his jacket to reveal a lanyard with a pass attached to the end of it. The pass had a small Arkteq logo on the front, with an employee identification number written below that. He waved this briefly in front of the door of the vehicle until the following message "Free Ride" displayed itself on the one-way glass. Once we entered the vehicle Data plotted a course around the city using a screen available in the cabin as we began to move.
As we circled around the outskirts of the city, Data told me that a few months ago Caine was sent to investigate an Arketeq employee by the name of Scott Anderson, a wealthy accountant responsible for monitoring all forms of trade within the city. Caine followed him to a neglected area within the city known as the Dark District, a place on the edge of the Solai where gang violence and crime has become so rife that even law enforcement stay clear of it. Caine followed this man to an illegal android strip club, renowned for housing pre-programmed android sex workers. Caine waited for him outside, Once the man left the club Caine pulled him into a dark alley and confronted him.
"We weren't interested in a confession," Data said, "the city is too corrupt for the concept of justice to work. What we wanted was his 'Token'.". Apparently, Caine threatened to share Scott's behaviour with his wife and child and promised that he would spare no detail regarding where and what Scott was doing that night. Scott was terrified as Caine threw him against a wall in the alley, before slamming his metal hand into the concrete behind Scott's head, crumbling it under his strength. He desperately apologised for anything that he may have done, pleading with Caine to let him leave and not speak of this to anyone. Caine agreed, but on two conditions; Firstly, he had to hand over his C-Token to Shadowtask, Secondly, should he tell anyone about this exchange Caine would inform his family about his actions. The man hastily gave Caine his token before walking quickly towards the alleyway exit.
Data explained that employees of Scott's level of success were given a 'C-Tokens', offered by Arketeq to their most influential employees. C-Tokens are physical passes that are supposed to be used for extravagant and costly business expenses, such as elite travel and hotels, however, anything within the city can be paid for using a C-Token. Data explained that It's paramount that all of Shadowtasks movements within the city leave no traces behind and that any credits spent within Prospect 7 are automatically logged on users account activities on the Arkteq network. Every single transaction shares the user's location at the time of purchasing goods or public services, supposedly as a way to help better understand their customers' habits and help make advertisements in and around the city more relevant to its residents. The C-Token, however, bypasses the cities credit system entirely, instead, it taps into funds held by Arketeq exclusively for their employees. Meaning that location tags for purchases made using this passes are not stored in Arkteqs database. This is why we wanted it, whoever has this pass can travel freely throughout the city, without fear of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in their path.
Within a few minutes of Data explaining everything to me, we had arrived at the location he had wanted to show me; A tall two-towered building on the outskirts of the city that housed some of Solai's most popular clubs and casinos. We were greeted by 3 armed androids at the entrance, one of which requested we stand still as they scanned our bodies to check for weapons or illegal substances. After a short time, we entered the building at ground level, making our way to one of the many elevators at the other side of the entrance hall. We took the elevator up to the 'observation deck', a large walkway 60 floors up that connected the two towers of the building.
We both stood close to the handrail to take in the view of the city, it was incredible, "It's something, isn't it?" Data said. He pulled out his touch screen device again, this time turning it on via a simple gesture on the screen, "Want a closer look?" He asked as I nodded in anticipation. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what looked like a black and green coloured Rubix cube, he tossed it over the handrail as it fell towards the ground and out of sight. Data pointed towards the sky as a black and green coloured drone ascended from the streets below, manoeuvring itself and hovering right in front of us just a few meters away. He tapped the screen of the device he was holding, revealing an ariel view of the city, It was a live feed being sent from the drone that was hovering above. Data began piloting the drone, moving his finger across the screen as the drone moved quickly out of sight, flying towards the neon streets of Solai.
Data showed me a range of areas I hadn't yet seen as he flew around the city, from bustling street markets to the cities tech and industrial districts. It was amazing, from up here the cities scale is deceiving, but as I watched the live drone feed I really got a sense of how big this place is.
After showing me the majority of the city, Data asked me if there was anything else that I wanted to get a closer look at. In the distance was the Arketeq building, I told him that I'd like to get a closer look at it. Data told me that the airspace surrounding Arketeq HQ is heavily monitored, any unauthorised UAV's within a certain radius are immobilised quickly. I asked him why this was and his explanation was that Arketeq uses extreme measures to safeguard the air space surrounding their facilities in order to 'protect their investments' against potential leaks or threats from outside the company. It sounds shady, based on what I've been told so far I'm not surprised they want privacy.
"Let's head back," Data said as he flew the drone back towards us at speed as it transformed back into its cube form, landing slowly into his open hand. As we headed towards the doors leading to the elevator lobby Data reminded me about what Enigma had said to me recently, "The time will come when you'll be asked to go there.".
As we entered the lobby I felt an eagerness to ask Data about what's next, he smirked at me and fired a question the question back to me "what do you want to do next?". It caught me off guard, but I've had enough time to think about what's important to me in my time here. Helping Shadowtask will benefit me in the long term, Enigma told me they will help me gather pieces of my past once this is all said and done. I believe in Shadowtasks mission, though I'm yet to see how bad this city really is. I assured Data that I wanted to help, both for Shadowtask and myself. He was glad that I wanted to help, and offered me some stern advice as we travelled down to the ground floor; "Remember why you're here, our mission is to take down Arketeq and for now that should be your only focus. If you happen to find time to pursue your own journey that's fine, just don't let it interfere with our goal here...and don't tell anyone I said that". As we left the building I agreed hesitantly with him, realising that this guy knew about my own issues and was willing to give me leverage to work on them, that was pretty good of him.
We made our way towards the autonomous vehicle that brought us here earlier. I took one last look around me as Data opened the door to the vehicle waiting for us before entering the vehicle. "What's next?" I asked as the car began its journey back to Shadowtask HQ, grinning as he turned to face me, Data responded: "Your first mission.".