Arthur’s cold eyes were calculating as he looked around the room. He was sitting in a conference room of a beautiful skyrise that seemed to have come out straight out of a movie. Robot assistants, floating furniture, automated workers, and incredible glass windows with a view to the bustling metropolis below. It was the pinnacle of the golden age of technology.
Sitting next to him, the three leaders of humanity below were staring at a black-haired woman with a haughty look, sitting on a hovering seat in front of them. The woman wore a black suit, clearly in a formal attire belonging to a company setting. Behind her, three human-sized automatons stood. Made of silver metal and standing completely still, they reminded Arthur of a specific movie about killer robots. The automatons wore suits and looked straight ahead, but he had seen them move like ordinary humans when he entered the room.
“I will ask again. Are you willing to make an alliance with Kallipolis and clear the Zones below?”
The woman opened her mouth, directing herself to the four people sitting in front of her. Looking like complete misfits, the armor-wearing, beast-fur-covered warriors in front of her remained silent at her question.
‘What the hell am I even doing here?’
How had he been allowed to take part in such a high-level meeting? When he asked to come along, he had never expected both Olivia and Alexander to agree. He had been sucking up to both of them, hoping to get closer so he could use them to his benefit, but he’d never expected that they would make him take on such heavy responsibilities. From the moment he entered the building with them, he was immediately seen as one of humanity’s leaders. In his perspective, it was the worst-case scenario. The last thing he wanted was to stand out.
‘Well, at least it will be easier for Liam to find me.’
On the other hand, standing out would mean that word of mouth about him would spread faster. That way, whoever was looking for him would achieve their goal much faster. Clenching his fists, Arthur tried to calm his excited heart. Things had gone off the rails, but his main goal of finding Liam stayed strong.
In the meantime, the four other people in the room were locked in a staring contest. Smilingly, Alexander was the first to break the ice.
“Young lady, I’m sorry. I’m afraid my brain is getting too old. I cannot understand what you stand to gain from this transaction.”
Even though his smile reached his eyes, they were wary. Olivia and Mikhail settled for making the room temperature fluctuate rapidly between freezing and boiling, making Arthur extremely uncomfortable.
The woman in front of them harrumphed, not paying any heed to Alexander’s increasingly cold expression. It was because she was qualified to do so.
“We’re planning on exploring and conquering the Zones below either way. I’d rather not have to deal with your people while we do it. In exchange, as stated before, the full extent of the services in Kallipolis will be available to you.”
The grizzled man rubbed his beard, traces of mirth in the corner of his eyes. Arthur did not allow himself to be deluded into thinking the man was a playful fool. He knew he was calculating the possible gains and losses of such an agreement, as well as how much of Kallipolis’ forces he could single-handedly take on.
After a few moments that seemed to be stretched into an eternity, Alexander smiled. It was a warm smile.
“Very well. It’s not worth fighting over something like that. I agree, on one condition: our people will also be allowed to keep exploring the areas below.”
The woman narrowed her eyes, thinking for a while before hesitatingly nodding her head. Alexander stood up, his armor slightly shaking as he did.
“Then it’s decided.”
The sitting woman’s face slid into an empty smiled as she also rose to her feet, looking at the tall man with a gaze that seemed to tell him he was beneath her.
“You are now citizens of Kallipolis. Please, do not allow me to keep you. My assistants will see you out.”
The black-haired woman left the room as the three automatons behind her immediately started moving, a robotic, emotionless voice echoing out from the one in the middle as a happy face appeared on the black visor that was its visage.
“This way, dear citizens!”
A few minutes later, on the elevator riding down the skyscraper, Arthur felt off. It was as if something had just happened, but he couldn’t quite put it into words. It was a feeling of danger, but one he did not know where it was coming from.
“You’ve sensed it as well, huh? I knew we were right to take you with us.”
A deep voice reached his ears. Looking around, he realized the three leaders of humanity were looking directly at him.
‘This could be dangerous.’
Laying on a hospital bed, Liam thought to himself. Around him were several machines he couldn’t identify the outline of, and more worryingly, the whole time he had been tended to by robots. The automatons spoke to him and examined his injuries as a human would, but it all felt… Cold. There was none of the warmth belonging to human interaction. It was, as expected, mechanical and robotic. Emotionless.
A robot entered the room dressed in a nurse’s outfit. The visor that was its face showed a cartoonish crying expression. Shaking its head, the robot signed that there was nothing they could do. Liam’s injuries were too old and too severe. Standing up, he wasn’t disappointed. It was as he expected. Even if the robots could indeed heal him, it was unlikely that they would do so. He wasn’t one of the city’s “residents”, after all.
Walking through the hospital’s hallways, Liam could detect several humans nearby. Most were laying in the hospital beds like he was, the majority of them dressed in what seemed to be leather armor. They were humans from below.
The hospital was immense. Its endless corridors and rooms mixed together to create a maze, one that Liam had little hope of escaping without his senses. Thankfully, he was being led by the hand by the same automaton, trudging past many more robots in doctor and nurse clothing.
As they reached the entrance, the robot signed something Liam couldn’t understand in the air and then left. Not knowing whether it would be back or not, Liam decided to simply leave the hospital. Stepping outside, his body was immediately assaulted by the vibrations caused by loud sounds, as well as from the enormous amount of Aura signatures. He presumed there were tens of thousands of people walking to and fro in front of him. It seemed like most of humanity had been sent to this place.
Liam unconsciously narrowed his eyes. He couldn’t feel the robots around him. It was natural, as they weren’t alive and did not possess Aura, but that also made them undetectable to his Aura Sense unless he diffused his Aura in the air and used it to grasp the outline of the surrounding environment.
There he stood, at the edge of what seemed to be a great number of people, leaving a hospital run by mysterious and possibly hostile robotic entities. Under such conditions, he was supposed to find two people among billions. He also couldn’t communicate with ordinary people unless they used a telepath, which meant that he couldn’t go around asking for information.
‘What the hell do I do?’
Liam felt lost. He had run out of options. At that moment, he felt someone start to approach him from the side. Tightening the grip around his spear, he started circulating his Aura and readied himself. The nearby robots all turned to him, also readying themselves.
‘Is fighting not allowed?’
It made sense. This place should also have its laws and enforcers, similar to Earth’s past civilization. It seemed like the robots all acted as police officers if the need arose. He felt like he had deepened his understanding of who was truly in control of this Tutorial Zone.
<Please, good sir. I’m not here to fight you.>
A voice entered his mind. It was one he didn’t recognize. He assumed it belonged to the man who had walked up to him.
‘Who are you?’
<I’m here to help you as your interpreter. I will help you navigate the streets of Kallipolis, as well as help you communicate and find your accommodations. You can think of me as a private helper.>
‘Who sent you?’
<People with abilities similar to mine are automatically assigned to those with physical impairments – like yourself – by the leadership of our city. This is done so that none are alienated from experiencing the joys our great metropolis has to offer.>
Feeling like the man was truly hyping up this Zone, Liam started to develop a curiosity towards its workings. However, he first needed to complete his objective.
‘I’m looking for someone. Is there a place which can assist me on this?’
<Ah, yes, of course. You aren’t the first one looking for loved ones. In fact, almost all of us had to go looking for people at some point. Kallipolis offers wireless connection and free cellphone devices to all its residents, but since you are unable to use them due to your physical limitations, we will first head to the center of our city, where we can access the common database. Allow me to lead you.>
The man then grabbed his arm, walking towards the masses of walking people in front of them.
After a while, they seemed to step into a vehicle, which drove away with them inside.