As the timeworn car wove its way up the winding slope, the young man looked at the ragged mountain ranges above him. Far ahead, built on an isolated snowy plateau, an enormous brick-walled fortress seemed to float over the clouds. To any onlooker, the fortress exuded a magical air, as though separating heaven and earth.
This sanctuary would be his final rendezvous point. That is, if he trusted his gut feel to follow to the letter the escape plan mysteriously etched in his mind. He should be on the way to the safe haven where he could at least find more information about himself and the world he’s currently living in.
“Will they be expecting me?” the young man thought, wondering how they would react. “Or will I just stir up another hornet’s nest?”
He drove the inconspicuous getaway car all the way from the train station until he finally reached the mountaintop. At the strikingly grand yet empty driveway, he saw a man. Behind this man stood eight armed humanoid robots.
The perfectly groomed old man wore a suit and a tie, the typical butler’s uniform. The robots, meanwhile, stood eerily still, as if eagerly waiting to pounce on their prey at any given moment.
“May I ask this kind gentleman to state the purpose of his visit?” As he left the car, the young man heard an old man’s stern voice. The cold mountain air seeped through his bones as soon as he stepped out. He shivered slightly despite his warm clothing.
The young man just stood there and stared at the butler with a face devoid of expression, not knowing how to respond. Although he seemed to recognize the old man’s face, he couldn’t pinpoint exactly where he’d seen him. He appeared to have just awakened a few hours ago, his memories still fuzzy.
“State the… purpose… of your visit.” The butler’s voice cut in and out as his figure flickered like some sort of computer glitch.
“Hmm… an AI?” The young man realized in an instant that this “human” butler talking to him all this time was merely a hologram. Somehow, this high-tech augmented-reality kind of security added to his already escalating curiosity. “So what is this place exactly?”
So many questions with little to non-existent answers. The hunger to know who he was, where he came from, why he killed the stranger, and why his instincts led him to this mountain-top sanctuary, felt so strong. He perceived his craving to find out to be as intense as someone stranded in the desert or floating at sea after a shipwreck needs water.
He then blatantly ignored the flickering virtual projection right in front of him and walked straight towards the side of the entrance. Without delay, he positioned his body in front of the scanner as he saw it in his memory flashback. He then heard a reverberating clicking sound.
“It worked,” the young man sighed, feeling a sense of relief, as the door opened. The memory fragment had only led him up to this point. Anything beyond this huge metallic gate he expected to be riddled in mystery. He had absolutely no clue as to what was in store for him inside.
“Oh, it is you. Welcome back to Shangri-la, Bogeyman!” The old man suddenly appeared from thin air. The young man found these odd-sounding names stranger than the hologram’s sudden reappearance.
The machine’s friendly demeanor within the temple premises posed quite a contrast to his imposing behavior at the entrance. This could only be due to the young man’s successful body scan. The humanoid robots, meanwhile, stayed still right outside the temple, weapons armed, though no longer appearing as hostile as before.
“How was your mission?” The virtual butler quickly asked the young man. “Did you pick up the parts that I ordered?”
“Bogeyman,” the young man thought over and over, silently in his mind, ignoring the virtual projection’s questions.
“Is that my name?” He tried to recall anything from his consciousness. Despite sifting through his memories, his mind drew a blank. The name didn’t ring a bell at all.
“Bogeyman? Shangri-la? Mission? Parts?” Suppressing the urge to know the truth, the paranoid young man simply shook his head, keeping his thoughts to himself, unsure if he could trust the AI and the organization behind it.
He eyed his destination with the avid interest of a newcomer. The brick and stone castle sat atop a plateau.
The young man started walking along a single wide road. He turned a deaf ear to the hologram’s non-stop nagging. The virtual butler went on and on about machine parts that the young man had absolutely no clue what for or why he had to get them.
He shifted his gaze to the two gigantic statues guarding the main wooden door. One statue held the grip of a sword, its blade pointing downward. The other gripped the shaft of a spear, its sharpened end pointing upwards. Both artifacts wore medieval body armor and carried shields with their other hands.
He read the words engraved in the body armor worn by the two statues. “Defenders of the realm. Paragon’s last hope.” What a joke!
“This is way too barbaric and old school!” the young man thought, though a bit baffled by his inner mockery of what he perceived to be a totally obsolete symbolism.
“So the Bogeyman screws up yet again!” The young man stood still, surprised to see another man coming out of the castle’s antique mahogany door.
A towering figure with long silky hair, wearing an intricately designed white robe, slowly walked towards him. The approaching man kept his hands behind his back.
“Ironic, isn’t it? ” The other man smirked condescendingly. “You seemed to be more than capable enough to do complicated jobs. Yet, here you are, faltering at this one simple job!” He spoke with his pale face exuding an air of arrogance.
“More like forget-me-man!” The butler, closely following the young man, sarcastically told the newcomer, unaware of the rising tension between the two men. “Will you be going out for a new mission?”
“Give me your car keys!” The other man ignored both the young man’s expressionless face and the butler’s whining. “Watch me clean up your mess!”
The young man sensed a threatening aura emanating from the stranger. He simply stood there with a deadpan expression on his face.
He threw the keys at the stranger nonchalantly. The young man pretended to do it without a thought. But deep down, he felt extremely curious.
Both men continued walking as if nothing had happened. They sort of just crossed each other’s path for a moment. The young man headed towards the castle’s main door while the pompous man walked towards the driveway.
“Can you at least bring the parts that I ordered when you come back?” The virtual projection shouted indignantly. “This guy here forgot about it. I really need them to fix my projection in the driveway!”
The young man left the virtual butler behind him. As he reached the door, the hologram appeared out of thin air.
“By the way, the Headmaster is urgently looking for you!”