Drake's Sword Part Six

Slice of Home

City 5 was a lot different from the ground, especially when you had the freedom to go anywhere. Drake had no problem keeping the Town Center in sight, since it was one of the five tallest buildings he had seen so far. The others were two or three stories at the most.

Apartment buildings, town houses, and small stores lined the streets nearest the Center. With the absence of Chinese and Italian restaurants though it almost made Drake homesick for Manhattan. There were a few bars, an optometrist’s office, and the occasional bookshop. But where were the pet shops and the convenience stores?

Down Harris Ave Drake passed a Catholic church and a daycare with a playground. A group of children played tag near the jungle gym. Next to the daycare there was a library with large glass windows revealing the lobby on the bottom floor, and the rows of books on the second.

In huge concrete lettering were the words: City 5 Public Library, est. 2234.

Not interested in reading at the moment, Drake thought he’d try to find the arcade they’d passed on the way in. After getting directions from a few friendly locals Drake found himself walking among the aisles of video games. And he soon discovered that Sherry wasn’t kidding when she said they were ancient.

Pacman, Mrs. Pacman, Centipede, Asteroids, Pole Position, Area 51…it was like walking through a museum. There were a few skill games like ski ball and the crane, all of which had to be more than two hundred years old. It was a wonder they still worked.

“New in town?”

Drake looked up and saw a guy who looked about his age, with pale skin, wavy black hair and blue eyes.

“How could you tell?” He asked.

“I see that same forlorn look in every newcomer’s eyes when they see the arcade.” The guy explained, smiling sympathetically. “You must have some pretty cool games back in the Sol System.”

“Oh yeah. Let me put it this way, there’s a legal limit on how long you can play the holographic games because they’re so real that some people actually get addicted to them.”

“Yikes. Well we don’t have anything that advanced, but no one’s playing LA Street War. We could blast bots for twenty minutes.” the guy held out his hand. “I’m Spade.”

“Drake.”

Spade led Drake to one of the virtual reality systems. At least these were more recent than the arcade games, if only by a century and a half. The system comprised of a round barrier with a gate, two feet of padding, and helmets and gloves, which allowed the person to interact with the game.

Drake and Spade handed their cards to the attendant who deducted the necessary amount and handed them the helmets and gloves.

“You’re allowed twenty minutes of play. If you get motion sickness or anything like that just remove the helmet and step off the platform. The force field generators are a little faulty so try not to lean against anything even if it look solid in the game.”

The gloves and the helmet were a little heavier than the interactive modules used in Earth games, and the gaming platform was so small Drake couldn’t tell how anyone could play an interactive shooter with so little space to move. The helmet had a monochrome visor that covered the entire face, which made him feel as though he were in a dark closet.

Inside the platform Drake and Spade waited as the game loaded. Then, the darkness changed into a digitally represented version of mid twenty-first century Los Angeles. Fires raged around him and crashed vehicles littered the streets. Buildings stood nearby with smashed windows and unintelligible graphiti. Police sirens, screaming, and other background noises blended together. The colors were impressive but the images still lacked the realism of modern holographics. Still, if this was the best this arcade had to offer, Drake couldn’t complain.

“Sweet.”

He picked up the rifle, not expecting to actually feel it in his hands, but the force field generator simulated the weight of the weapon surprising him again. Spade was standing next to him. Only instead of a curly dark haired kid there was a bald, overly muscular biker wearing a leather jacket and pants. Drake noticed he also had a somewhat exaggerated physique; only he was dressed in torn jeans and a filthy white t-shirt.

Drake wanted to comment on the game designer’s lack of creativity but the sound of bullets whizzed past his ears. He looked up and noticed several armed men rushing towards him. Drake and Spade ducked behind separate vehicles as they fired back.

It was a standard first person shooter with very little plot. The game revolved around four city blocks and about seven of the various buildings, which contained hidden weapons, power ups and more enemies. Drake found knives, grenades, pipe bombs, and he discovered that common items like bed sheets and office chairs could be used to kill someone as well.

Though it was an old game Drake appreciated the rush of adrenaline, and just before it got tedious twenty minutes was up.

“Not too bad,” He said sincerely. “Works up an appetite though doesn’t it?”

“That’s pretty much why I play.” Spade admitted. He was reading the final score as it was displayed on a digital reader above the arena. “Damn, fifty-three kills in twenty minutes. You beat my score by two.”

“What can I say, I’m an expert at shooters.”

“You and me have something in common. There’s a restaurant on Colby Street that makes a pretty good cheeseburger, care to join me?”

“Absolutely.”

After returning their equipment they left the arcade just as the afternoon rush began. Hover vehicles lined the streets and people began to clutter the sidewalks.

“Man, it doesn’t even feel like lunchtime,” Drake remarked. “Wish I knew what time it was in Manhattan.”

“Jet lag getting to you?”

“Only on the interplanetary scale.” Drake shielded his eyes as he glanced at the twin suns. “I’m just glad my bed in the Temp Wing wasn’t facing the sun or I’d have been pissed. ‘Scuse my language.”

“Don’t worry about it. My parents and I actually lived in Hades before it got too bad down there. It’s not a huge time change but from the southern hemisphere the suns and moons are positioned differently. It’s completely bizarre.”

“Who gets sent to Hades?”

“Mostly the people with severe mental disorders. Like anti-social personality disorder, bi-polar, and schizophrenia. It’s sad really. The people of City 3 are caught in the center of it all, trying to help as many as they can, but it’s no easier for them than it is up here.”

Drake, who once had a childhood friend with bi-polar disorder, was a little annoyed. “Unbelievable. Take some person who can barely function on their own planet, set them down in the middle of dangerous ground and see what happens. I have the feeling we were better off getting sent here.”

“A lot of people do after a while. Some of the newcomers that make it to City 5 like life here better than they did on Earth or any other planet.”

“Just off curiosity. What’s with giving the city’s numbers? You’ve got City 5 in Acheron and City 3 in Hades.”

They waited at the end of the Rockefeller Ave for the signal to let them cross.

“Well there were originally only five cities on Epsilon,” Spade explained. “If I remember anything I learned in history it’s that City 1 was in the center of Acheron, the first city built by the original colonists. City 2 was in New Moscow and City 4 was in Vanity. City 1 was taken over by the gangs about forty-years ago, when Earth first started sending the dangerous criminals here.”

“The area around City 5 doesn’t seem to be too dangerous. Aside from Ely and his gang that is, but the banderlats seem to be taking care of it.”

The restaurant was busy with the afternoon crowd. Drake noticed the large black lettering on the window, with a graphic of Earth underneath that read: Little Slice of Home. With round linoleum tables and booths with vinyl seating it almost reminded Drake of the nostalgia café’s that lined Manhattan’s streets. There was even a jukebox with a list of songs from the previous three and a half centuries.

“Well, fancy seeing you out and about.”

Drake looked over at one of the booths and saw Sherry and Trinity sitting across from each other. They were munching on fries and sipping on what looked like milk shakes.

“Are those actual…?” A bit astonished Drake turned to Sherry, Trinity, and then to Spade hoping they’d understand.

“They’re real,” Trinity confirmed with a grin. “The owner’s brother is a cargo ship pilot. He brings in beef, chicken, fish, milk, any thing we need here.”

“Thought you’d like this place.” Spade said, triumphantly. “It’s a big hit with newcomers.”

Sherry sent an awkward glance at Drake. He still wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to him but he muttered an equally awkward “hey” to feel polite.

“Where’s Raymond?” Trinity asked, cooling the tension before it got hot. “I bet he’d like this place.”

“Oh he’s playing chess with some kid back at the Town Center.” Drake tried to avoid looking at Sherry as he spoke. “The kid with the parasite in his neck.”

“Simon. That’s cool. He gets lonely up there sometimes. Do you want to sit-“

“Actually,” Sherry cut her off. “We were going to head down to the greenhouses, remember. They have some new specimens you wanted to take a look at…”

Trinity stared at her incredulously for a second. Then rolling her eyes she nodded.

“You guys can have the table,” she said, sending an apologetic look to Drake. “Nice seeing you again. Later Spade.”

A waitress came to clear and wipe down the table. Drake and Spade sat down, both avoiding looking at the girls as they paid their tab at the register and left. It wasn’t until they got the menus that Drake realized Spade was equally bothered.

“I take it you three go back.”

“Well, Sherry’s just a friend really,” Spade said nervously. “But I’ve been trying to get Trinity’s attention since the fifth grade. Every guy in our class would walk across jagged shards of glass for that girl and she turns them away every time. I know her mind’s mostly on her career, but, I guess I still sort of hope it’s on me once in a while.”

“I hear you there,” Drake responded with sympathy. “All day I’ve had the feeling that Sherry’s upset at me. I guess her mother gave her a pretty hard time.”

“What happened out there anyway? I only got partial details from my older brother.”

“How’d your brother know?”

“He’s one of the guards at the checkpoint. Said he drove you, Sherry and a smaller boy into the city. He also said you were carrying a white sword, which was what got my attention.”

Drake recounted the story. He tried to exaggerate Sherry’s actions somewhat so it wouldn’t sound like a “damsel in distress” situation. When he was done the waitress came over to take their orders.

“So what’s up with the sword?” Drake asked when she left. “One of the guys on the council said something about a legend, but Judge Gellar just sort of blew it off.”

“Well, it’s sort of an old colonial legend,” Spade began. “You’re probably familiar with the legend of King Arthur right?”

“Sword in the Stone, Merlin, Knights of the Round Table? Yeah, we had to read it in high school.”

“Well there’s a similar legend about one of the first colonists on Epsilon. His name wasn’t important, but the sword was. Pure white metal and found in a clump of dying roots.

“The story goes like this: Late at night a man and his family were working hard to complete their house. The man sent his eldest son out to the fields to get water from the lake. As the kid was getting the water he heard the cries of his family and discovered a limyet emerging from the woods nearby looking for food.

“Limyets are kind of like eight-foot tall velociraptors, only their scales are yellow.

“The family made it to the safety of their emergency shelter, but the boy was still too far off to do anything. If he ran for the home the limyet would get him, and if he shouted for help it would come chasing him. Then he looked down and noticed a sword beneath the dying roots, that he knew hadn’t been there before. Not sure what else he could do he retrieved the sword from the roots and used it to kill the limyet.”

“So sort of like King Arthur, only with roots instead of stones,” Drake summed up. “Any idea where the roots came from?”

“None. The next day they were completely gone, but the boy kept the sword until the day he died. According to the legend he was cremated and his ashes were buried along with the sword.”

“But this can’t be the same sword. I mean, sure the events are similar, but it could still be a coincidence.”

“Yeah, it’s only a legend after all.” Spade said.

They spent the next few minutes getting to know each other. Drake told Spade about Manhattan and the Appalachian Mountains where he took refuge from the Draft Police. Spade told Drake about the deadly hissers that lived in the swamps of Hades and how the temperature could get to a deadly one hundred degrees even in the winter.

When the food came Drake dug into his cheeseburger. Everything, from the bread, the onions, pickles, and the beef, right down to the ketchup and mustard was one hundred percent Earth grown. And best of all it didn’t have the pungent second hand taste of food carried over a thousand light years in a cargo ship’s stasis chamber.

“Definitely a slice of Earth,” He said after the first bite. “I think I know where I’ll be spending most of my free time now.”

***

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