Isaac slid down the slick leather of the stranger’s craft. The kind that creaks and squeals any time a movement is made. It was like climbing into the cockpit of a hovering prism, both in the architecture and the interior rainbow of lights. Isaac had never seen anything so spectacular. It was as if the full spectrum had made itself tangible and began embracing him.
The dash of the vehicle reminded him of the control stations in the Cultivator’s office. Buttons and knobs, each one surely serving a purpose to keep this hunk of metal off of the ground. Capacitor control switches, magnetic field generators, and diode assistors. Isaac didn’t know what any of it meant and wasn’t sure if he wanted to know. He shut the door, committed to his decision.
The craft hovered a foot off of the ground. Down in the bellows of that Cloud City. The Upper Echelon members sat somewhere up there among the many lit rooms among the many buildings. The skyways, hundreds of feet above, bustled with traffic. More traffic than usual it seemed.
The hooded stranger sat in silence for a moment as if he were waiting on Isaac to talk first.
“The Mole sent me.”
Isaac snapped out of his admiration of the vehicle and refocused himself.
“He only wanted me to make sure you weren’t in any trouble.” The man flicked some switches on his dash and the car’s hum went up in octaves. “I can bring you back to The Byways, if that’s what you want.”
“I’m not going back.” Isaac stared out of the passenger side window.
“You won’t last long up here, man. Eventually, you’ll get found out.”
“I’m here to finish what we started. We’ve come too far and lost too much.” Isaac antsily brushed the sleeves of his jacket. “We’ve lost too many people.”
“Well, I’m not gonna drag you back. Just my advice.” The stranger turned a knob and monitored the change on the control screen before lifting off. “We’ll be seen if we’re down here too long. I can take you where you want to go.”
“The Drip is tonight. That’s where I’m headed.”
The interior of the car seemed to be rhythmically illuminated by the building lights as they passed. Now flying at the level of the skyway, the city seemed more alive than ever before. The people seemed happy there. Cars went every which way and crowds migrated down the floating sidewalks of the city.
Restaurants sat on every corner, and skyscrapers full of hundreds of businesses each sat between them. Isaac felt resentment and envy at the same time. While people lived in squalor down in The Byways, up there it seemed like the world was perfect. Nothing else mattered when you were in a place like that. Out of sight, out of mind. But it wasn’t out of mind or sight of The Upper Echelon. Daybreak had made sure of that.
The stranger swooped in and out of the different levels of skyway like there were no restrictions. They were now soaring at the third level. Isaac watched the two below. They looked like lit up ants marching single file.
The hum and purr lessened as the vehicle slowed until it sat idling. Floods of people filed into the gala that was The Upper Echelon Drip. Isaac had been to a Drip before, but only a subdistricts version. This was The Drip that all other Drip’s aspired to be. High level political officials and celebrities attended only this specific location.
The venue was dead center of a one-hundred story building. The third level of the skyway sat at the fiftieth floor of this particular piece of architecture.
Isaac opened the door of the hovercar, ready to enter.
“What exactly are you planning on doing in there?” The stranger asked.
“I don’t know.” Isaac shook his head. “But I am going to take any opportunity that presents itself to me.” He slid his hood over his head and stepped out onto the damp, floating sidewalk.
In an instant he was swallowed by the crowds flooding into the building. He turned to look, but the stranger had already gone.
Isaac followed the status quo of inching towards the entryway like everyone around him were all part of a single cell. The people in front of him would step forward, then Isaac, then the people behind him and so forth. A blob of blood hungry individuals waiting for the prick of the chrome.
Once inside, the order of the events weren’t unlike what he had already experienced with Leech. He came in, got his blood bag, and found a seat somewhere in the gala. Only this time he was clearly out of place. Eyes were already on him as soon as he walked in the door. He had hoped that people would soon forget after they drip.
Even still, Isaac found a seat off in the corner where he could sit and wait for an opportunity to be seized. He sat off to the side of a stage where numerous cameras pointed to televise the event. Maybe there would be a musical guest, but most certainly there would be a speaker. He hoped it would be The Crest.
As the last bit of people entered, the doors were shut and Sentinels were posted at the doors. He had not seen this kind of security at the first Drip he attended.
Everywhere around him people were plugging themselves up to the bags like power cords into an outlet. The act was so nonchalant that it was disturbing. Isaac thought that he would be used to it by now, but it had been awhile since he had seen anyone hooked up to a blood bag. Other than for legitimate health reasons, at least.
He wondered how the crops were doing back at the clinic. Which made him think about Noah. Which made him think about Naomi. He had hoped that it would all be worth it and she would understand.
The drinks and food were flowing now and no one batted an eye at Isaac’s presence. A waitress came by, pushing her blood bag right along with her, and offered Isaac refreshments. He took a little sandwich with a toothpick through it and a glass of water.
The sandwich was inhaled in one bite, hardly even chewed, and the water was gone in two gulps.
A woman made her way to the stage. Her dress doubled the amount of personal space required to keep a normal person comfortable. It might as well have been one of those Victorian era dresses, it wasn’t but it might as well have been. The thing was visualized inertia. When the woman moved, it followed a step behind her. When she stopped, it stopped a moment later.
Her hair was unlike her dress. The sheer blonde streaks lay flat on her head and dangled just above her shoulders. So thin, when she turned her head the strands sliced the air like a knife.
Isaac didn’t think the woman was a part of The Upper Echelon, but here in this place it was hard to tell. You could’ve told him that everyone there was part of The UE and he wouldn’t have doubted it.
The room fizzled down to a quiet whisper. The sound of her heels knocking on the stage alerted the crowd to her presence. Isaac figured maybe this was his opportunity. Possibly the only one that would present itself that night. The lights on the cameras flicked on, only making him more sure that he had to take advantage of this moment.
“Ladies and Gentleman!” Her amplified voice echoed throughout the ballroom. “A night, six months in the making! I’m so glad that I can be a part of this night with you.”
Isaac hesitated for a moment, but he knew what he had to do.
He pulled the Sentinel firearm from his pants and hopped up onto the stage. He had already grabbed the woman from behind before her she had time to know he was there. Her hair raked the air as Isaac used her as a human shield. His gun’s muzzle leaving imprints on her temple, though he meant her no harm.
The crowd gasped and called for the guards.
“Take me to him! Take me to The Crest!” Isaac yelled with frightening anger. He could see his reflection in the lens of the video cameras and he was shocked by what he saw. A rage that he didn’t know existed inside of him. The ability to endanger others that he never wanted to be realized, but to him it was justified.
The Sentinels that were posted at the door mere seconds ago had Isaac down on his knees and in restraints. The blonde woman ran off stage and hysterically fell into a man’s arms. Isaac wanted to tell her he was sorry. Maybe she had no part in The Upper Echelon’s ideals or wrongdoings. But then why would she be here? He asked himself.
After that, all feelings of guilt fled.