Bright light hit my eyes… It seemed like I had been sitting at home just recently and trying to translate an article that I had been working on. I had gone to sleep, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of a street! More precisely, I had found myself in the middle of the very street in which I had worked five years ago when I was a student... What was that squeal? It sounded like tires grinding against the asphalt. Light, screeching tires… Is that a car coming directly toward me?
I jumped back, but the car still hit me, although not as badly as it would’ve had I stayed in place. I managed to remain standing. I wondered why that psycho had been driving so fast. Was he not paying attention to pedestrians at all? Wait, it could’ve been my fault. I must’ve zoned out and somehow ended up in the middle of the intersection.
“Are you a complete idiot?” asked a voice with an unfamiliar accent. The door of a car with tinted windows, the make of which was unfamiliar to me, opened. Perhaps its driver wasn’t a local. Not that that would excuse my behavior.
“I’m sorry.” I could forgive him calling me an idiot, but I would defend myself if he didn’t calm down, or if he started a fight. I really wanted to take a swing at somebody, and maybe even get hit myself. It would hurt, but that would pass. It wasn’t like I was made of glass. That would, at least for a while, break up this monotony that had already started to plague me.
“Oh, he’s sorry! You humans are such strange beings!” At that moment, I finally got my shit together and noticed the taxi sign on the roof of the car. “What about the battery deterioration caused by the sharp maneuvers I had to make? And my nerves! And my wife who’s waiting at home, worried about me?” shouted the taxi driver.
I listened to the list of troubles that had befallen him, but it all seemed so unimportant to me. What if this wasn’t real? Maybe I was just dreaming? How else could I explain the fact that there was a 6’6, blue-skinned man standing in front of me, whose wide nostrils made his nose look more like a pig’s snout than an ordinary human nose?
“Ten credits and we can part ways civilly.” The unusual taxi driver unexpectedly finished his speech and stared at me.
“I don’t understand...” I raised my hands and rubbed my eyes, hoping that this would help me wake up.
“If you don’t want to do this the easy way, fine, I’ll act according to law.”
He pulled out his phone, which looked rather weird in his hands, and made a call. After just a couple of minutes, two patrol police cars appeared at the scene. Fortunately, ordinary-looking humans came out of them. For some reason, they, unlike me, didn’t find what was happening strange at all. What’s going on here?
“I’ve uploaded the information about the incident and my certified statement to the city server,” my blue-skinned hallucination greeted them. Maybe I’m just imagining this whole thing?
“Then we’ll take the offender with us. The compensation fee will be sent to you after we’ve analyzed the situation, within the regulated time limits.” Even if I was imagining things, it would be better if I didn’t show it. I really didn’t need any additional troubles; I was already in over my head.
In the meantime, the conversations ended. I was carefully placed in the backseat of the police car, and we set off. Now, having come to my senses a little, I realized that the car wasn’t exactly flying, but sort of floating. But it moved quickly, smoothly, and seemed very real. No, something weird must be going on around me. I have to try to figure it out. I should be casual about it, there’s no need to openly show my interest or ignorance.
“And who was that?” I said as calmly as I could.
“The blue-skinned one?”
So, my question wasn’t an unusual one.
I nodded in response. The policemen seemed rather relaxed now. They couldn’t be seen from the outside. Maybe they would tell me something useful.
“He’s an ordinary Velly migrant. They send them to the new worlds to maintain the infrastructure. The salary is mediocre, but, this has its benefits. Every now and again a psycho like you appears.”
“A Velly migrant?”
“Are you kidding? Or are you high?” The policeman inspected me with some kind of device, and sighed in disappointment.
It looked like I wasn’t high, which was good. However, the fact that everything that was going on was normal for everyone except me was really bad. But there was nothing I could do about it. Any additional questions would only bring me more unnecessary trouble.
“Sam, we’ve received information about our offender.”
“What does it say? Have the charges been confirmed?”
“Yes, he’s been sentenced. His reputation has been lowered by two, and there’s a twenty-credit fine.”
I was listening and taking mental notes. I would definitely find out what had happened, but for now, I had to make sure not to get into even more trouble. So, everyone here had some kind of reputation which was, judging by the policeman’s voice, much more important than the credits. By the way, they charged me double. The taxi driver had requested only ten credits. Had he been trying to do me a favor?
“Well, did he have enough money on his account to pay the fine?” The policemen continued their conversation without paying any attention to me, and I must admit that I was a little taken aback by them talking about a detainee like that while they were present.
“Yes. What’s more, a corporate lawyer from RosEnergy took his case. Not only do we have to let him go, but we also have to take him home.”
“Geez, and why does this wimp deserve such an honor? RosEnergy lawyers don’t work with just anyone.”
RosEnergy seemed to be a state-owned energy corporation. And I was inclined to agree with them — why would I be granted such an honor?
“According to our documents, he’s a level two battery, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s a valuable employee; the company is making sure that he doesn’t miss a workday.”
“Wow!” Both policemen looked at me through the rearview mirror, and I could see respect in their eyes.
A battery? Level two? I really wanted to ask them a couple of questions but I stayed silent, knowing that that wouldn’t end well. They can take me home in silence, and then I’ll deal with everything else myself. I hoped that the Internet was still a thing in this world of flying machines and blue-skinned people. I believed that I didn’t need anything else except the web.
Having moved closer to the window, I began to look around, paying attention to all sorts of things that were unusual to me; there was an obscene amount of them. A group of blue-skinned people was walking down the street, talking about something. If it weren’t for the color of their skin and the pig snouts, they wouldn’t be distinguishable from ordinary teenagers. I saw one more leaving a night club. Unlike the taxi driver and that clique, he had a perfectly normal nose; small and neat. He looked somehow better off than they did. He had a suit, a shiny watch on his wrist, and an expensive car that was obviously waiting for him.
Thinking about the difference between them, I continued looking out the window. Advertising posters caught my attention this time. One of them was of a man, smiling, dipping his hands into a container full of yellow liquid.
Being a battery isn’t a shame! Discharge the energy for the good of your home planet!
There was another unusual one depicting a spaceship that was flying away from the familiar blue ball. It had a slogan written in gorgeous golden letters at the bottom.
The Velly Empire is grateful to Earth for its contribution to the energy supply.
What was happening? Were the blue-skinned ones aliens? But how could I have missed their appearance?
I spotted another poster.
Ninety-three percent of the inhabitants of the empire can accumulate energy. Don’t stop, develop your skills and become the pride of Velly!
The last poster had no pictures. Its simple, white background attracted my attention for two reasons: first, the name of the sponsor, RosEnergy, was written at the bottom, and according to the policemen, that was where I worked; the second being the entire battery and energy thing. They called me a level two battery, which meant that there was a level one battery, which also meant there was some sort of a ranking system for it. When did I become a battery?
“We’re here.” I had almost missed when we stopped and they politely opened the door for me, suggesting that I walk to my apartment.
Fortunately, my house hadn’t changed. I quickly said goodbye to my escort and hurried to my studio apartment. Where are my keys? Having found them, I quickly opened and closed the door.
I found myself in an unfamiliar place. The wallpaper and the stove were the same, and the coat rack was on the left, next to the mirror, as always, but everything else… A huge, 100-inch screen was hanging in front of something that was either a futuristic-looking bed or a dentist’s chair. Strange containers with a liquid similar to that from the poster stood on my table. What’s that projection display with a clock right above my old gas oven…? Why is it showing July? I remember it being September! And the year? Next year? What’s happening?
I could guess what I would discover, but I rushed to my laptop nonetheless and opened a couple of websites to check the date’s accuracy. The numbers that were on the kitchen clock were displayed everywhere. I didn’t know how it had happened, but I had managed to forget the entire previous year.
I spent the next hour sitting and reading, going through article archives on a couple of websites. I was filling in gaps in my knowledge about what had happened during the ten months that were missing from my memory. There were both short and long reports on how Earth was conquered in one day, how we were given new technologies, and how those who were against it were punished. One after another, the old professions died out, and the majority of the population became batteries. This was one of the technologies that the Velly, the blue-faced aliens, had given us in hopes of uniting us with their civilization. As it turned out, a mysterious source in the center of the galaxy emitted strange types of cosmic energy and almost every living creature could collect it and release it. And its power was quite decent.
A level one battery could produce as much energy as a nuclear reactor after just a week of training. Level two batteries, that is, those who spent a lot of time training and were able to, like me, increase the efficiency of their body, could produce ten times more. Levels three and four were admitted to work on spaceships. They powered the anti-ship cannons, and even the main-caliber ones. Level five could power the main reactors of any civil vessel as well as the planetary shields. Levels six and up were military psychics who served the Velly army, suppressed rebellions, and urged planets to accept compromises.
Judging by the booklets scattered around me about various ships and star systems, I still wanted to go into space. I wanted to increase my battery level and then fly away to explore the universe. For that reason, I had training containers full of yellow liquid that should aid me in discharging energy. Why not? There are new worlds, new races, and new experiences. And even though a big chunk of my memory is missing, this idea sounds great.
Attention, residents! Close your windows and move away from them as far as possible! There’s a counter-intelligence operation underway in your area. For any questions about the compensation fee, you can contact the Velly Prefecture. Attention, residents…
Just as I had convinced myself that everything would be fine — well, if not now, then in the near future for sure — a mechanical voice pierced my ears, followed by the deafening sound of a distant explosion. Stay away from the windows? Hell no! Without losing any time, I got closer and observed the nearest building, over which black smoke had already begun to rise. What’s going on there?
A plane, or something similar to it, flew over the building, and three figures in black space suits jumped out onto the roof. Are they a part of Special Forces or what? They had no parachutes, nor any other special weapons; they just jumped onto the roof, rising from a cloud of soaring dust. However, there weren’t three of them, but four. Or was the fourth guy the reason why they came there? Damn, they’re too far, I can’t see anything. I tried to use my phone. I turned on the camera and pointed it at my target. That’s better… Huh, it has focus, zoom, and even slow-motion. A couple of years ago, even the military couldn’t dream of such technology, and today I had such a thing in my pocket.
In the meantime, the Special Forces trio and the stranger attacked each other. Shots were fired, followed by several explosions; I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. And then the whole building began to shake, threatening to collapse, but it remained standing, held in place by a huge energy field. I couldn’t resist rewinding the video and then watching it in slow motion. The trio was shooting at the fourth guy, who was repelling the bullets with his bare hands. And he wasn’t a blue-skinned — I wouldn’t be surprised if they were really capable of doing that — but an ordinary man. A pale-blue ray came out of his hands and, having gone through the defense of one of the guys, blew him up from the inside. The other two immediately wrapped themselves up in energy shields, but the man had no intention of attacking them. Instead, he threw some kind of a ball behind his back, and then caught a glider that rushed past the roof and flew away. And then came the explosion. The ball must’ve been a bomb designed to divert attention. And it worked. One of the armed guys, a blue-skinned, was forced to stay back on the roof and hold the building until all the residents were evacuated.
Having made sure that everything was over, I moved away from the window and fell onto my chair-bed, which was surprisingly comfortable, and probably the only positive thing that had happened to me so far. The future, in which I had unexpectedly found myself, turned out to be not the most peaceful place. And earlier, when I was reading about those high-level batteries, potential troubles seemed far, far away. Only now did I realize how close the danger really was.
Max, I remind you that you have to leave in ten minutes if you don’t want to be late for work.
The phone, on which the video kept playing on loop, flashed the notification that somebody, probably me, had previously entered. Work? Right, I’m a level two battery, I have to go and make a living. If only I knew how I was supposed to do that...