Chapter III

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The nine identical rooms were placed side by side and intercommunicating. Made almost entirely out of metal and that strange white material, and inside of them there were a king-size bed, a big screen, personalized music speakers, steel couches with some cushions, white wardrobes, single bathrooms and sliding doors with tinted glass that could be blocked using a touchscreen keypad.
All the rooms were connected to the main part of that place, the big central living room – which had big couches, a huge screen, and fridge-like looking machine that was full of food. There was no kitchen.

They were in the living room now, sitting on those couches that formed a half square.
-Quite minimalistic, these rooms.- Said Vladimir ironically, looking around. -We need leather couches.-
-I think we should already be grateful if we have these cushions, Ray.- Replied Viktoria, leaning backwards. Meanwhile Gabriel entered the living room with some sort of box in his hands.
-What you got there?-
-Pills, Veronica.-
-Pills?- Cesar Miguel turned around quick, looking at him.
-Wise sent some soldiers to bring them here. We have to give them to Daisuke as soon as he wakes up, they’ll keep him quite for the rest of the day. The day we need to convince him he has no reason to be afraid… However, those guys talk a hundred miles an hour with their medical mumbo-jumbo, and I couldn’t understand shit. What I did understand is that these magic pills make it easier to convince him of things..
-”Mumbo jumbo”? Why didn’t they tell us anything? I should have gone out there for the pills.-
-Believe me Leòn, you would’ve understood way more, you’re right. Never heard anything like that, medicine here is some otherworldly stuff.-
-Can’t wait to find out more about it…- Whispered Cesar Miguel, observing the white pills that Gabriel was showing him. -What do we do now?-
-We’re going to his room now- Charlotte stood up and everybody followed. They entered his room and tried to wake him up like they would have done with a little child.

Shadows.
That’s the only thing he saw before closing his eyes again.
He felt exhausted, but didn’t understand why. He didn’t remember anything, at least to a certain extent. They were talking about the complexity of the structure, which had been expanded through the years and... the depth.

He opened his eyes now and tried to screamed and stand up, but suddenly a hand grabbed his nose and he felt something being forced into his mouth, and without even giving him a chance to understand what was happening someone covered his mouth with another hand.
He started salivating, so he swallowed and tried to scream again, but those hands were wouldn’t let go. After a few seconds he was free, trying to breath in as much air as he could while looking around.
There were eight people around him now. -What happened? Get me out of here.- He was shook.
-How long does it take to kick in? What if I just gave him poison?-
-WHAT!?- Screamed Daisuke, flailing and trying to pull away Veronica, who just shove the medicine in his mouth.
-Shhh don’t worry... Everything’s alright. We just gave you medicine against claustrophobia.- Raymond was whispering, his voice was soft and deep. Daisuke looked puzzled.
-You serious? They invented something like that?-
-Yes, sure.-
He saw Cesar Miguel stepping forward to say something, but then he stopped. Had he had enough mental clarity to look down and notice Veronica stepping on the doctor’s feet with all her weight, he would have noticed they were lying, but now he was feeling dizzy. -Tell him it’s true…- She whispered, clenching his teeth while speaking.
-Is this for real, Leòn? Is there claustrophobia medicine?-
-Yes…- hesitant. -Absolutely true. They were under study, but here they managed to develop them. They dull anxiety, allow you to rationalize your thoughts… maybe I’ll explain you how they work on the brain, when we have the chance to.-
-That would be nice of you… Thanks.-
-What’s for sure is that you’re a monster, Veronica! Couldn’t you wait a little before giving it to him?- It sounded like Vladimir was scolding her, but he was amused.
-Shh shut up!- Whispered her, giving him a pat on the back.

Meanwhile Jake approached him. -Look… the thing is this: we’re at I don’t know how many kilometers underground, and the surface is hostile. I promise you we will get out of here, and that this medicine will help you overcome your fear, but you got to think about the fact that there’s fresh air coming from outside, and the machinery that pumps in that air have been working for a century. The spaces are quite huge, also. So everything’s alright, okay?-
Viktoria took his hand and looked him in the eyes. -You stay calm. Just that. They’re right, this is the best of all possible places, and we’re safe.-
Now Raymond was sitting near him as well. -Yeah. And you know, I used to be claustrophobic too… Think rationally, and you will feel better.- He spoke slowly, articulating every word and looking him right in the eyes.
Daisuke kept nodding. The dizziness was gone, but as soon as he heard their words he accepted the as true without even understanding why.
-Do you want some water?- Asked Jake. He nodded and the man brought him a glass full of it, so he drank and smiled.
-Thanks guys…- He sighed. -I’m sorry if I caused you trouble with these people. How did the meeting go after I passed out?-
-Let’s say that we went through a brief rough moment, so they sent us here and told us to be back in a few hours.- Vladimir was smiling.
-I see... What about this room?-
-They’re ours.- Said Jake. -We have pretty much every comfort, even closets full of clothes. They must have some very specific profiles about us, given that every one has different clothes, according to his or her taste. I like it.-
They should give us uniforms. You know, the “Risen Ones” thing.- Everybody laughed, and Gabriel looked at them. He was annoyed but couldn’t hold back a smile. -Listen, I’m dead serious!-
-Yeah, imagine! Now let’s go change our clothes. Come on, move that black ass of yours, they’re waiting for us.- Daisuke stood up and patted him on the back while everybody laughed. 
-Look who’s talking, the passing-out yellow man! But yeah, let’s get going dude.- He turned around and started walking, but then he stopped and turned to Daisuke again. -But not because you told me to! I want to go!-

The group laughed again.
They parted ways briefly, and half an hour later they all were starting to go outside, freshly showered and ready to go. Jake was wearing black loafers, a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt and a black blazer.
-Who do you think you are, Don Johnson in Miami Vice? Come on dude!- Vladimir came out with a Ramones black t-shirt and a leather jacket worn over a pair of old jeans and white shoes.-
-Watch your words, fanboy. Nobody listened to the Ramones.- Jake was laughing.
-Hey, slow down my friend, the Ramones are the best to ever do it! We’re gonna have a fight here. Touch me everything, but not the Ramones.-
They heard a loud laughter coming from out of one of the rooms. –“Touch me everything but not the Ramones”, that’s what I call a suspicious sentence, colleague!- Now Gabriel was approaching them. The other two were looking at him in shock, eyes wide open.
-Yes Snoop Dogg, what up brotha?- Replied Vladimir, and Jake leaned against the wall, laughing like he never had done before.
-Yeah, keep fucking with me, you pussy.- Then he looked at Jake. -And you, what’s so funny? Are you going to a wedding?- What Gabriel was wearing was a blue sweater at least a size bigger, with a huge “THUG LIFE” printed on it in a graffiti-style font. He also had a white cap… worn backwards.
-Pussy? Dude, if there’s anything that’s not weak in this world and in the past one, it is for sure a pussy. Call Vladimir what he is: a dick.- They all laughed themselves to tears. -Anyway, tell me one thing: did they call the police on you at the job interview because they thought you were gonna rob them?-
Then they heard another voice.
-Jesus! I think they hate you, Gabriel!- Said Daisuke while approaching them.
-Who? Why should anyone hate me?-
-Just look at the clothes they gave you!- He laughed and made the other two laugh again.
-Talking too much, mama’s boy. Look at you, the perfect preppy wearing that pink shirt tucked inside those pants, which by the way are so tight they’re choking your dick!- Gabriel put his hands around his own neck, sticking his tongue out and mimicking someone choking, and now they all cracked up together.
-At least we have one normal guy, look at Ray!- Vladimir pointed at him and the others turned around. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved shirt.
-What’s going on guys? Why did nobody told me it was carnival?-
-Damn, I was wondering the same thing.- Leòn was laying a hand on Ray’s shoulder and smiling while looking at the other guys.
-You’re flawless, Mr. Doctor, looking like a model.- Daisuke was sniggering. Cesar Miguel had on him a light blue shirt with a dark, silver-striped tie. The shirt was tucked in a pair of elegant pants, and he wore black loafers.
-Look who’s joining the party.- Whispered Jake suddenly, and all of them turned around.
-Jesus Christ! Sexier than the Charlie’s Angels.- Said Vladimir.
-WOW!- Was the only sound coming out of the others’ mouth, proving that male hormones work as they always do even after being cooled down for a century.

They were walking in line, Charlotte in the middle had a white, skin-tight shirt tucked inside a black skirt, and she was wearing a pair of high heels. Her wavy chestnut brown hair was flawless, and her green eyes were looking straight at the guys. She had little make up on her.
Veronicas was by her right side, wearing sneakers, discolored jeans and a basic black t-shirt- She didn’t have any make up on, but she wore earrings, a necklace, a golden bracelet on the left wrist and two thin ones on the right one.
Viktoria was walking at their left, pure and simple if not for a barely noticeable trace of eyeliner. She was wearing a black tracksuit and sneakers of the same color. No earrings nor bracelets, and her long red ponytail was swinging with every step she took.
For some reason, it was her the one to catch the most attention from the men in front of them.
-Gentlemen, I can understand your position, but I think it is time to go.- Charlotte’s voice was cheerful.
-And, above all, make sure you close those jaws of yours. Looks like they’re about to fall down.- Viktoria smiled, Veronica winked and they started walking without waiting for them, so they were forced to almost run to reach them.
-Try to understand, colleagues, we haven’t seen a woman for a century!- Uttered dr. Leòn, and they laughed together.
-That’s what they all say. Clowns.- Veronica and the other two women cracked up.


The met the fake Special Forces halfway, and they escorted them to the Management offices. They went inside, and the Ministers welcomed them with a big smile.
-Ah, you look wonderful.- Said Keaton, and the others nodded.
-Are you feeling better, mr. Miyamoto?-
-Yes, thank you. And thanks for the pills, Dr. Wise.-
-You’re welcome.- The old man was smiling, observing them while they sat down. The only one that still was standing up was Raymond.
-Ministers, I am very sorry for what happened.- He said. -Is your arm doing better?- He asked the man he attacked a few hour earlier.
-Don’t worry, anyone would have reacted like you did, in your shoes. And it is very positive that you stood up for your team. Now sit down, Blake.-
Ray nodded and sat down, while Daisuke looked at them, puzzled, but nobody told him anything.
-Well, I don’t remember what I was saying before you left.-
-The expansion of the underground structure of Area 51, President.-
-Right. The expansion of the Ecosystem. It was a process that took almost fifty years, but we did it. Now let’s talk about the practical aspects: here they used to study alien technology. Results up until 2015 were depressing, to say the least, but the contact with the Visitors changed things. All the files with their instructions on how to advance our technology are still here, and in the century you spent sleeping we used most of those files with fruitful results. As you already know, that’s one of your goals here, and that’s when these people around me come into play… each one of them is in charge of a section. Ministers, the floors is yours.-
-As you know, my name’s Robert Wise. In charge of the Progress Section, and that means every file, every operator and every researcher of both alien and terrestrial technology is under my responsibility. Charlotte, Viktoria and Daisuke and Gabriel will come with me, and all of you can turn to me if you want to find out more about the things you might have missed in the last century. But do it all together: I hate repeating things twice, imagine how would I feel about nine.-
They all nodded.
-I am Jonathan Keller, head of the Strategical-Military Section. For obvious reasons, I will need McGregor, Blake and Romanov with me.- The one talking was the man whose arm was almost broken by Raymond.
-First of all, I am very happy to see you are more at ease, Risen Ones. My name is Klaus Richter, I take care of the Cultural and Demographic Section of the Ecosystem, and with me will be coming mrs…- He went silent for a while, like he was confused. -…Buonarroti, sure.- Then he sat down again, sighing, as if he had just gone through a huge effort.
-I’m Shaila Sen, I take care of the Medicine Section, last but absolutely not least. A key section, I’d say. I studied dr. Leòn’s profile, and want to tell you I’m honored to work with you. There’s a lot of work to do, a whole century to update you about… But I’m quite confident there won’t be any issues.- She was a dark skinned woman, with a few beauty marks on her cheekbones and very little wrinkle on her face. Very articulate in her talking, and with a weird inflexion none of them could identify.
The started to stand up, but Keaton stopped them.

-Risen Ones.- He got their attention, and they turned around. -We’re not done yet. You will go to your posts tomorrow, so there’s other things I need to address before you go.-
-We’re going straight to the mission, aren’t we?- Asked Daisuke, sitting down ad smiling, but all of them started to feel way less at ease now.
-What about postponing this one? I mean… well, we already heard a lot today.- Gabriel was smiling as well, but when he noticed the general mood he snorted and sat down. He felt anxious now.
-Start singing little birdy, for I want to hear your voice-y- Said Jake, and for a brief moment everyone smiled… but they smiled out of fear. They were having cold sweats. Time seemed to have slowed down, and Keaton was standing there, looking at them with a cryptic look on his face. 
-You’re not ready.- He said all of a sudden, and they felt like they wanted to sink through the floor.
-Hard truth. We know it, okay? No need to dwell on it.- Complained Vladimir.
-Turns out, there is the need, mr. Romanov. And I’m now saying you’re not ready to take on the mission… You’re not even ready to hear about it.- Added Keller, harsh, and the nine looked at each other, sighing.
-Perfect. Now, while you decide when we’re ready, we’re going away, if you don’t mind.- Jake stood but, but a soldier laid both hand on his shoulders from behind him and forced him to sit down.
-Okay, okay. But I wish you had an idea of how bad I want to punch you in the face sometimes.- He held his hands up opened and looked at Keaton. -Now I sit down, but don’t stand there just staring at us. Please. What do you want to tell us?-
-Instructions.- He said, sighing.
-About what?- Now it was Charlotte talking. Her voice was low, hesitant, and Maynard Keaton ignored the question and started talking.
-As you heard from our Ministers, each one of you has been “assigned”. Know that these sections are located in different Levels of the Ecosystem. It is a immense, interconnected surface, and the civilians are free to enter and observe as long as they don’t disturb. The same goes for reporters. And I’m warning you, all they will want is to talk about you and talk to you. Do what you can.- He paused, sighed and looked at Keller, who stood up:
-As for your daily routine, you’ll wake up every morning at 6 am and then you’ll go to Level 5, the one used for physical activity. Same situation there regarding civilians. In the screens of your rooms you will find your respective workout plans. The base for all of you will be some running and strength training: we need you strong, agile and durable. We need you to be at the top of your physical abilities. The training will go on under the responsibility of your teammate Raymond Blake, who will teach you everything you need to know about hand-to-hand combat.
-At this point it should be noon, and you will eat the meals you find in your accommodations. Make sure you eat those meals and no other ones, as they have been studied specifically for you. After lunch, you have an hour rest before starting again under the guidance of Commander McGregor, who will teach you about firearms and the tactical aspects of warfare. For further information about war, you’re on your own: people here have lived without any form of violence for a century, and we don’t want that to change.
-Furthermore, you have a complete firing range at your disposal, as well as paint and rubber bullets, together with weapons from the twentieth and twenty first centuries. This training will last two hours, and I will be always available for whatever you might need. Wise, your turn.-

-You must also be at your best when it comes to mental performance. The mind is everything.- The old man coughed against the sleeve of his white coat, took a deep breath and looked at them with his blue eyes.
-For this reason, you will have interviews with psychologists for half an hour each after the military training, and with three doctors at a time. These three specialists are the same ones who will update dr. Buonarroti and who will also be in front of you during a group sessions during the rest of the day, on Saturday.-
-After the sessions, each one goes with the assigned Minister as we said moments ago, and you will stay there until 8 pm, and only after that you will be allowed into your accommodations. During the first months you will have little to no time, as after all I said you will have to study, research and exchange information with the team: should one of you die out there, the others can’t just stand there without knowing what to do.-

Keaton ran a hand through his grey hair, stood up and looked at them.
-I will continuously receive updates about every single one of you, and I promise you I will make the time to read them. Your progress will be strictly registered, and you might face tests.-
-Another thing: there’s no room for hostility among you, the world does not work like that anymore. You started this off on the right foot, but you come from a century where things were much different anyway: you are not single, independent individuals. You are the inner workings of a machine, the organs of a body. Your life, if you care about it, are tied to one another, and if you don’t… well, you better start now, because the life of the few people left in this rotten planet are on you.-
Everyone nodded and kept quiet. Then Keaton went on.
-I couldn’t care less if you party by night, if you don’t sleep, if you want to listen to music, play videogames or try new clothes. I expect you to be fully operational every morning, as if you slept great. Each one has devices filled with the music she or he liked before the hibernation, same pattern you saw with your clothes. Like all the other inhabitants of the Ecosystem, the screen in your living room has access to the complete list of the movies made in the last two centuries. We want you to be active, but comfortable as well.- 

Now Wise addressed them again. -There’s no deadline, rely on your horse sense for that. Our data will tell us when you will be physically ready, but until the moment you are ready here…- He tapped his temple with two fingers. -…you better stay here. However, when you are ready, we will take stock of the situation and the practical preparation for your departure will begin with all the technical aspects you will deal with working as if you were one. And then we’ll unveil the plan, but only when you are ready.-
-You will find the bag with the necessary equipment on your beds.- Said Shaila Sen, and they nodded.
-Last thing… Make sure people see you when you can. Be kind, make them feel safe.- Now it was Richter talking, and he was observing his own nails.

-Any questions?-
No one answered.

-Free to go, now.-

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