To call this area different from the New Tokyo that I was used to would be an understatement. No- it wouldn’t be fitting at all.
“Follow me, and don’t stray too far lest you want to be in big trouble. Also, wrap this around your leg.” Aria stated, handing me a black cloth that was large enough to cover my entire leg.
I wasn’t sure whether the trouble that I would theoretically be in would be due to her reprimanding me if I didn’t capitulate to being kept on a short leash or because there was danger in the area. If I had to guess it was a mixture of both.
After crossing through the surreal crimson portal that Aria opened up with her robotic arm, we were teleported into a junkyard. Dump trucks and excavators with the brand name “Reaver” were rolling around, shooting steam from their muzzles that polluted the air around us and made the sense of smell around the junkyard that much more pungent.
On this side of the world, wherever we were anyways, it was night- as opposed to my New Tokyo. The sky was a red-crimson color and the wind was blowing strongly enough to carry small red particles around that would hit your body as you walked against the direction of the air flow. The small particles felt like small sand grains hitting your skin. Even though it wasn’t painful, it was noticeable enough for you to constantly feel light taps on your body.
Aria kept leading the way with her head high and her chest up. I looked at the dump trucks and excavators that were around us but couldn’t notice the workers that were operating them as the windows were tinted black. I found it strange that they hadn’t noticed us and told us to leave- or if they had noticed us that they hadn’t bothered telling us anything. Seeing teenagers in a junkyard isn’t exactly something that a worker would expect to see every day.
Both the red-colored moon and the white-colored moon that I knew from back in New Tokyo - Alpha and Omega, were both shining in the sky, each one in their full moon phase. They seemed larger than usual, and for some reason more menacing.
The moonlight shone down on us, and with the aid of the industrial lights illuminating the junkyard, I was able to notice something in front of us. A kid, who couldn't have been more than eight, with a complexion smeared with dirt, was sitting in a lotus position. He was a couple of paces in front of us. Eyes drooping, as if he was trying hard not to fall asleep, he sported an exhausted mein. He looked up at us, opening his eyes slightly wider than they were before, but soon returned to his original expression, unimpressed by the world around him.
Aria walked past him as if ignoring his very presence. As I got close enough to him to notice him in full detail, I saw that one of his legs was a robotic prosthetic.
I was appalled.
Giggles and uproar were soon heard in our vicinity. I looked towards the source, and noticed that three kids were running about chasing each other. One of them was holding a robotic arm, and the other kids seemed to find it amusing to chase him. Just like the kid that was sitting with his legs crossed, the three kids had some sort of modification to their bodies. Noticing the arm that they were using as a sort of play thing, I was made aware of something that was around me this whole time.
The junkyard was littered with robotic prosthetics of all kinds.
“It’s quite appalling isn’t it?” Aria asked.
That was the exact word that I was thinking of to describe this situation.
“Hey Aria, shouldn’t we… uh, you know, help those kids? Or at least talk to them?”
“Oh, help them with what? You do know that they are used to living here right? To them, this is their New Tokyo.”
I remained quiet at her stoic response.
We approached a gate with thin wired mesh, one side of which had a gaping hole - probably the same hole that the kids used to get inside the scrap yard.
“If that made you uncomfortable, then I suggest that you brace yourself because I can’t guarantee that it will get any better than this.”
Traversing through the gate revealed the path to an area lined with warehouses. Even though the warehouses were completely open, the darkness of the night lit up only with the occasional industrial light and the two moon’s light gave the impression as if the warehouses were devoid of any content. It seemed as if they were just there for the purposes of looking desolate.
A couple of minutes of us walking in silence led us to a town. The only real indicator that it was indeed a town was the relatively large amount of dwellings that seemed more akin to a collection of hovels than actual houses. The wind blew more red particles in my direction, somehow emphasizing how vacuous the town seemed. It was almost as if it was a ghost town. But something told me that that wasn’t the case.
“Why is this town so quiet?” I asked as we continued to traverse its main pathway.
“Well it’s a squalid town that is outside of the vicinity of the urban center. As a general rule, there isn’t much activity at night in the 3rd caste unless we are dealing with the nightlife district near the urban center.”
“Sure, but this seems too quiet. Almost as if it’s -”
“A ghost town?” Aria broke in
Suddenly, as if having teleported there, we saw the shadow of a man with fedora standing a couple of meters away from us.
“It’s probably best if we take refuge for now.” Aria said suddenly, taking a quick turn.
I wasn’t sure if her response was due to the man that was a couple of paces in front of us or if it was because of something else.
We soon entered one of the larger looking hovels in the area, passing through its double doors. This was starting to feel like a western film. The Gloomy Prota and the Crazy Robotic Chick enter a bar. Had a nice ring to it… not.
The inside of the hovel revealed a scarcely dimmed room that couldn’t have been bigger than the inside of a family restaurant’s dining area. The room reeked of alcohol and some other scent which I couldn’t exactly identify, making it feel as if I was truly inside a pothouse. In the right corner of the room was a man wearing a poncho, robotic arm holding a large bottle of alcohol as if it was the only thing keeping the man upright on his chair- his face downcast, making me unable to see what he looked like. Two other intimidating looking men were gazing in our direction- as if we had to justify ourselves for merely entering. One of them had a robotic enhancement on his face, giving me a mild case of PTSD. It seemed like it wasn’t just young people that had robotic enhancements in this town.
“Try not to gaze at others for too long. Then again, as long as you are with me you’ll be fine. But don’t get me into any more trouble than I have to.”
We sat on the front bar- being the only two people there with the exception of a bartender who looked surprisingly normal compared to everyone else that was around. An elderly man in probably his late sixties, with wirey hair and thick gray brows welcomed us with a warm expression.
“Ah, Kanbaru-chan. Fancy seeing you here. What brings you here today?” asked the man in an amicable tone.
“I just had a meeting with the Vox.” she replied solemnly.
“I see, and who is this young man right over here? He scarcely looks like a member.” the man pointed out.
Not knowing how to justify me being here, I just remained quiet and tried not to let my inner state of awkwardness show on my demeanor.
“He’s just a helper.”
“Really, he looks like a pretty healthy boy if I’ve ever seen one.” the man stated with a tone that was surprisingly not skeptical sounding as compared to the implication of his statement.
“Healthy looking maybe, but he doesn't even have a Reaver modification. That’s why his left leg is covered.” she stated, pointing at my leg.
“Oh, I see, hehe. We aren’t dealing with just anyone then, hehe. My apologies. What is your name, young sir.”
“Isei.” I responded.
“Okay, Isei. So what will it be for the both of you?”
After Aria ordered something that eluded my understanding, perhaps because I didn’t know a single thing about drinking or because this other world had customs that I had no idea about, we sat in the front bar silently for a couple of moments.
“So, Isei. I think that by now you have gotten a decent understanding of what it is like here. I think it goes without saying why I would like to change the status quo.”
It wasn’t as if I didn’t understand what she was telling me. Sure, this place is clearly poverty stricken. Taking what she had told me earlier at face value then would mean that the citizens of my New Tokyo, the so-called 2nd caste, had no idea that this 3rd caste existed. Such a discrepancy in standards of living would make anyone with any sense wince at least a little. She wanted to bring it all to justice, how I didn’t know. I still felt like there were so many variables that were at play here that were beyond my understanding.
“Well, don’t you?” she asked, as if it was only the natural response to agree with her.
“I still have more questions. Why are there people living in poverty here? Why are there different castes in the first place- how did this all start and why doesn’t anyone from the place that I am from know that this is the way that these people live?”
At that, she started moving her glass in a circular motion, the liquor inside shifting as she did.
“Inequality is perception.” she replied.
“Huh?” was the only thing that I could say after that.
“Yeah, inequality is perception. Think about it. Who are the only people who are able to see the different castes based on what we have talked about?”
“Umm, you me and that cyborg…”
“Okay… and what do we all have in common? Remember that you used this to deduce the whole DIA thing?”
Suddenly, a lightbulb went off above my head.
“Are you talking about our neurochips?”
“Exactly. We all have neurochips that are defective in some way. Those neurochips control our perceptions, no , they are a part of our perceptions themselves. So when they stop working… we are able to see things that those that have “functional” neuro-chips can’t.”
“Hmmm, okay, I think I am following.”
“Inequality is perception, Isei. Think about it. Whether or not you are living a just life depends on what those around you are like. A life lived in squalor where everyone you know exists is just like that might as well be considered a just life. There is no such thing as better, after all. But if there are others that are living better than you are, and they are doing it through means that are arbitrary, that is unjust- to me.” Aria stated emphatically, as if she was telling someone that profoundly disagreed.
“Who is orchestrating all of this?”
Aria looked discouraged at my question.
“Truth is, I don’t know. We don’t know, actually. The group that I work with, The Vox, that is one of the many many things that we are trying to figure out. We have some leads, but nothing conclusive.”
Suddenly, the double doors opened. Aria and I instinctively turned around, making myself aware of how in such a desolate little pothouse, anyone entering it would garner the attention of everyone inside.
A man with a fedora entered the pothouse- the same man from before.
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