Chapter Four: No More Worlds to Conquer

Every part of the Central building was largely the same in color and nature. Smooth, gray hallways led to smooth, black rooms. There were plenty of stairwells, but I chose the elevator. It was a seamless ride from the meeting rooms on Level 30, down to Level 12.

At least Level 12 had windows. At the end of the hallway was a narrow view out on the city. It wasn’t particularly scenic from this angle, but I thought it was impressive in its own way. I looked down into a deep crevasse between two buildings, an alleyway filled with a jumble of fire escapes.

          No building in the Settlement had windows above the 25th floor. There was a good reason for that, too. When our ancestors had built the city, they hadn’t wanted to look over the wall. I guess it was just too depressing for them to have to see the scorched earth, the wasteland that they’d ruined. A total climate disaster had left no green anywhere. No trees. No forests. No fertile land able to produce crops. It was why we’d resorted to growing food in labs. Every job in the Settlement was necessary for the survival of the human race. We had to be completely self-sufficient— a closed system, as it were— while we waited for the Earth to heal herself.

          I came to door 200. I had never thought seriously about working for DYNTEC before, and was already growing nervous again after my initial relief. The organization was all about saving the world, and stopping crime, and all that. Those were high stakes. High stakes, big guns, cool tech. The name stood for “Dynamic National Technologies, Incorporated”, though for most people it had long ceased to be an acronym.

          And I was… well… lame. Not exactly badass. Maybe even a bit of a wimp. Hopefully they’d just assign me to a desk or something. Nice and comfortable, in a back corner. But no, that would defeat the purpose of keeping me moving, wouldn’t it? There was no chance of that. My hand started to shake as I prepared to scan my Biometric.

          The door opened.

          A man was waiting on the other side to greet me.

          “Hi there,” he said. “You must be Alex. I’m Cam.”

          Cam was tall; a good head taller than me, and had a scraggly blonde beard. I could tell that he probably worked out. He was wearing something similar to a black track suit and had a smile that was a notch more sincere than the Administrator’s, though laced with something that might have been irony.

          “Nice to meet you,” I said.

          “Come on in,” he invited me. I followed him. The ceilings were higher here, and running florescent lights hung in irregular configurations that were probably somebody’s idea of art.

          I wondered what part of DYNTEC we were in. Headquarters? Unlikely.

          “Welcome to the Level-one gym and training center for DYNTEC,” said Cam, answering my unspoken question. “If you’re wondering where the gym equipment is, that’s on the 11th floor. You’ll probably have to spend a few weeks here before you’re ready to go on to any assignments.” He looked me over with a critical eye. “You don’t seem too excited to be here.”

          “Just nervous,” I said. It was true.

          “Don’t be,” said Cam. “You got promoted to DYNTEC. You’re already more powerful than 99% of the population.” This seemed to amuse him. He took a seat in a rounded, plush chair by the wall. There were two others nearby. “Think of me as your friend.”

          He must have seen my skeptical look because he said, “I love welcoming new recruits, doing orientation, and all that. It’s my favorite job because I get to be lazy and sit in the cushy chairs.” He leaned his neck back on the pillow and put his feet up on the coffee table. “Why don’t you sit?”

          I sat delicately on the edge of the seat.

          “So why did they send you to DYNTEC?” Cam asked me.

          I felt my tongue clamming up. “I… I asked for reassignment from the food labs.”

          “Oh, yeah. That’s one way to get in, I suppose.”

          My curiosity welled up a little, but I was too timid to ask.

          “The other way,” said Cam, who evidently loved to talk about himself, “Is the way I got in.”

          “How did you get in?” I indulged him. Perhaps I could loosen up just a little bit around this guy.

“Oh, you know. Usual story. Flunked out of school as a teenager – didn’t have much of a head for numbers or memorization. The Administrators caught me exploring around the off-limits parts of the sublevels. I was trouble, but without any real Detractive purposes. Just enough trouble to be useful. They offered me the choice between juvie and working for DYNTEC. I chose to work for DYNTEC.”

          “Nice,” I said, not sure what else to say.

“All right, Alex,” said Cam, getting up. “Come on with me and I guess I’ll show you around the downstairs.” He got up and I followed him to the far end of the long room. “That’s an interesting name. You were named after a man, did you know that?

          I shook my head. “So what?” Most names in the Settlement were gender neutral.

          “So what?” Cam laughed. “I like you already. The man you were named after conquered the world. That’s your new job.”

          Now he was saying confusing things. “My job?”

          “Well, our job. DYNTEC’s job. The world was a lot smaller in Alexander’s day, of course. But years ago, we ran into the same problem he did.”

          “What’s that?” I clasped my hands behind my back politely.

          “No more worlds to conquer.”

          “I thought DYNTEC was supposed to save the world,” I said.

          “Sometimes you have to conquer things to save them,” said Cam. “If you don’t think so, you’re naïve.”

          Well, I wasn’t naïve. I knew you needed control over something to manage it properly. I’d just never heard it put that way before.

          We came to a wide set of stairs, and started to descend. I still hadn’t seen any DYNTEC employees except Cam.

          “We can say more or less what we want here,” said Cam, as if reading my thoughts, ironically. “The only people who can monitor our profiles and the logs for DYNTEC rooms are the Administrators. And they hardly give a damn about social graces as far as we’re concerned. By the way—has anyone ever told you you’re very pretty?”

          I reddened, mildly offended. Comments on physical appearance, especially positive ones, were simply not made in the Settlement, except as a form of sexual advance.

          “Screw off,” I said.

          He just laughed.

          “I’ll report you.”

          “Try. I just told you they don’t care here. Anyway, don’t worry. I don’t mean it.”

That made me even more irritated, for some reason.

“You should try it. Saying something edgy. It’s fun.”

I wanted to simply clam up, but he was giving me such an odd choice. “No.” I crossed my arms.

“Good!” He grinned. “That’s good. I like no. No is edgy. You’ll have to learn how to say no around here.” The grin fell to a smirk. “More on that later.”

We had reached the bottom of the stairs.

There was a hallway there, with doorways and various stairs branching off it, and I realized that most of levels 10-14 must be accessible to DYNTEC employees only. Their largest headquarters was only a block away in the West Central district, but they still had a decent office space in the Central tower. The windows here showed mostly the sides of other buildings, since we were well below the standard height limit. Still, off in the distance, I could see the brown edge of the Wall just above eye level. The sky was a pale gray.

Cam led me aside into a room that was open to the hall with a large tile doorway. The room was octagonally shaped and had a mix of black and white paneling. There was a single swiveling chair in the center, fixed to the ground. Around it was a semicircular arrangement of desks and monitors.

“The first part of your initiation,” said Cam, “is that I need to reprogram your Biometric to give you the proper security clearance. Normally we’d do background checks first, but the Administrators have already done extensive background checks on you, and they said you’re clean.”

“So I’ve been told.” I chewed my lips, feeling as though I was hiding something. What was it the Administrator had said? Clean as humanly possible—but nobody’s perfect. In retrospect, it was more worrisome. She must have found some kind of dirt on my Profile she had simply chosen to ignore.

“Sit,” said Cam.

I sat in the curved plastic chair.

He grabbed my hand—I tensed. He was touching me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been touched by anyone. Surely it had happened by accident, in a narrow hallway or something. But this was different.

          He took hold of my wrist and flipped it palm-side up, where the Biometric was implanted. “Activate it,” he said.

          I tapped my middle finger to my palm. The tiny part of the Biometric that ran close to my skin lit up with a pinprick of bright blue light. The nearby monitor registered it and booted up, displaying my Profile.

Cam picked up a small device from the desk that looked a bit like a barcode scanner and held it close to my wrist. “Don’t move,” he said. “You have to stay within range while it calibrates.”

Then he activated his own Biometric, linked it to a second touchscreen, and started swiping and tapping through screens for an onboarding process.

          It only took a few minutes. He put the scanner back where it came from and I withdrew my hand.

“There. Now you can come into this building on your own. You can also enter any civilian dwelling, backdoor any civilian’s Profile, and check out Level-one approved weaponry.”

          I could…? Now? Already? I couldn’t have been more bemused if he’d casually told me I had been granted super-strength and the ability to turn invisible. I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh yeah baby.” He grinned. “We’re gonna get you some firearms training.”

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