Rain streaked down the windows of Simone’s sedan as she sped through the early morning streets of southern San Francisco, back towards work. She huffed and her caramel face darkened with a scowl, irritated by this odd situation.
“We need you to come back in, tonight.”
2:17 AM. She squinted in disbelief when she saw the time on her phone. “Why? What is it that it can’t wait until the sun rises?”
“It’s an emergency and we need your skills. Be here within the hour.”
So, here she was, pulling into her parking spot with only a meager ho-bath to pass for cleaning. Her reflection in the rear view mirror didn’t betray her, though. Her tightly coiled black hair shook over her shoulders and back, threatening to obscure her wide brown eyes and full cheekbones. She wiped excess oil off her rounded nose, rubbed lip balm over her full pouty lips, and winked at herself. Out she stepped, looking anything but professional in the skinny blue jeans containing the subtle jiggle of her thighs and hips as her flats beat the concrete. A graphic white tee stretched across her ample belly as she dug for her ID.
The automatic doors parted for her and she greeted the desk woman with a polite “Hello!” Despite her unwillingness to be here she was never one to take it out on others.
After affixing the badge on her hip in the elevator, she wondered what warranted such haste. Confidence in her abilities as a psychologist and biotechnologist aside, she hesitated to imagine how terrible the situation could be. Simone was one of the few people in the company who had a psychology degree and, like the others, she only utilized it when other employees needed in-house therapy; those sessions were few and far between, her company’s HR department being as involved and well run as it was. Hopefully nobody has imploded and started making suicide bomb threats or something, she mused, half joking. Seriously, please don’t let that be it.
The elevator doors slid open and there was Everett—another psychologist in the company— standing in the hallway, peeking curiously into a room with a large window. What looked to be a metal box with straps and a handle attached leaned on the adjacent wall. He caught sight of her and waved her over, face brightening.
“They called you, too?” As he asked his hazel eyes took in the words on her top. “I guess ‘Shit could be worse’,” he puffed, quoting her shirt as he raked his hands through his blonde hair. “Did they tell you what happened, though? I was with my girlfriend for the first time in weeks…”
“No, they just—”
At that moment, Claire exited the room they were standing by and walked briskly over to them, her usual long black bob pulled into a haphazard ponytail. Simone assumed that she was the one who’d made the call that had drawn her from her cozy bed, Claire being the floor supervisor and all. “Okay, guys, thanks for coming. What I’m about to say is a bit… outlandish, but bear with me—wait, James and Ferric aren’t here yet.” As if summoned, they appeared, hustling out of the elevator, both of their brown hair disheveled and tired faces looking hassled. “Alright, listen up… I found these guys in my neighborhood, coming from the direction of Mountain View on horseback, with these…” she held up the box of metal by the straps.
Simone, James and Ferric each took a quick glance into the room and counted 10 people, each dressed in a tan cropped jacket, white trousers, knee-high boots, and a harness that crisscrossed up the thighs and torso. There were grey metal boxes lying around the room; two for each person, minus the one in Claire’s hand. They all bore the same white and blue winged emblem on their jackets. Some of them looked quite young.
“They must be LARPers,” reasoned James.
“At one o’clock in the fucking morning?!” Claire whispered.
“Yeah, most LARPing is near the Bay anyway,” chimed in Ferric. “Pretty far to go from Mountain View on horseback.”
“Even if they were, guys, what were they LARPing?” Simone asked. “I watch a shit-ton of anime, I’ve never seen their outfits!”
“That’s not all, they didn’t say they were cosplayers–or whatever,” Clair said hastily before Ferric could interrupt. “They said they were from a place enclosed by circular walls, and when people go outside the walls they get eaten by giants. AND they fight these man-eating giants.”
All was silent except for a clicking sound in the distance as everybody processed what Claire had said. “Are they European?” asked Everett.
“The fuck, Everett?” Claire said as everybody turned to Everett with looks that clearly said “what is wrong with you?”
“That’s racist, man,” accusation in Ferric’s grey eyes. Simone side-eyed him visibly.
“What? I’m not racist! I—” Everett began.
“Simone, was that racist? You’re black, you know when something is racist,” James said.
“Damnit! I’m not the only person of color here! Claire’s Asian.”
James was about to consult Claire when she cut over him. “I give two shits if it’s racist or not right now! We’re talking about these people!”
“LARPing can get pretty intense,” Ferric said. Simone wondered what he did in his spare time.
“They’re not LARPers, man,” said Simone.
“I don’t think so either. Look at this.” Claire took the metal box by the handle protruding from it and unsheathed a long blade.
“This is probably foil or someth—AHHH!” James’ assessment was cut short as he placed a finger on the sharp edge and drew back with a bloody gash on it.
“See? Not LARPers. Also, I swear that one of the guys was knocked out with scars on his face and missing a hand. Now he’s fine; not a scratch on him.” Claire looked like she found her own words ridiculous.
James tried to stem the blood flow with his shirt. “Are you sure? Were you high when you saw this?”
“No! I know it sounds ridiculous, but they all seem so….”
“Sane?” Simone finished for her. “Psychosis’ll do that to ya.”
“So you called us to do evaluations on them? Why not just hand them over to the police so they can be evaluated? They could be crazy cultists or something!” Everett was beside himself.
“Physicals, too,” Claire looked at Everett and James, who were both psychiatrists. “and I didn’t take them to the police because if I was lost and confused in a strange place I would not want to be handed over to people who would just lock me away in a mad house.”
Simone poked her head back into the window and observed their patients, of a sort. They were mostly talking amongst themselves, expressions calm but wary. One of them, a short young man with a buzz cut was crouched in front of the flat screen clicking the power button repeatedly while a taller auburn haired girl stood over him in awe as she gnawed on a piece of beef jerky; a blonde guy lankier than either of them stood propped against the wall with his long face in a slightly disinterested expression. Another trio of teens lined the sofa, one small, blonde and male–talking animatedly–; another male of average height and dark haired with intense teal eyes; the other a girl with black hair and delicate features faintly reminiscent of Japanese heritage. On the sofa directly across from the window there sat three adults who looked to be around her own age. A brown haired person with goggles on seemed extremely excited, speaking in an unbroken stream while a younger blonde man stood silently behind their side of the sofa like a sentry. The man sitting next to them was tall and blonde with what Simone could only describe as “fabulous eyebrows”, clear blue eyes, and missing half an arm. The last man was almost the shortest of the group. His raven black hair neatly parted into an undercut and his face was absolutely blank. His heavily lidded eyes swept the room critically and the furrow on his brow deepened for a moment. I like his face . . . Simone thought idly. Notions like that were not unusual for her; she’d mentally defiled half the men she saw since middle school.
Claire led them into the room and began explaining to their guests what they’d be doing. Simone looked at them up close and tried to cement their faces in her mind. It was soon apparent to her that as she took them in, they were doing the same to her with expressions ranging from respectful interest to frantic curiosity. As Claire went on, they listened to her but their eyes shifted back to Simone again and again. She fought the urge to cover herself and wondered if she had a booger in her nose. I should’ve picked a different shirt. This was going to be a long day.
This was shit.
They were in this confusing place with no idea how to get back to Wall Maria. This world was loud, and smelled strange. There were no walls enclosing anyone here, and, going off what the Claire woman had said, no Titans. A place this size was bound to have a government as shitty and corrupt as theirs was before they made that brat, Historia, queen. How long would she remain queen with the Survey Corps’ Commander Erwin gone? How long would the people inside the walls last before Titans broke through the wall and turned every last human in to shit? How long before someone in this damned place found out about Eren and tried to dissect him? Would they also cut open Mikasa and himself? They had no way of knowing if these people were deceiving them to do just that. These people… that other woman…
Simone was her name. Levi had never seen anyone like her. Her skin was extremely tan. Her body was plump and curved, especially at the hips. And her hair—her hair… it astounded him the most; a huge mass of tiny spirals that bounced when she walked. She would’ve definitely gotten kidnapped and sold to someone extremely wealthy inside the walls.
But they were not inside the walls. Apparently they were in Silicon Valley–whatever the hell that was–surrounded by buildings that would tower over the Colossal Titan and metal carriages moving several times faster than horses. Everywhere he looked there were glowing screens projecting words or images or sounds of their own volition, it seemed.
As “James” and “Everett” wrapped devices around their forearms in a wide room with lots of machines, Simone questioned them and clicked endlessly on a device similar to a typewriter, but with a lit screen attached.
“Could you all give me your names?” Erwin Smith, Levi Ackerman, Zoe Hange, Moblit Berner, Armin Arlert, Mikasa Ackerman, Eren Yeager, Jean Kirschstein, Sasha Blouse, Connie Springer. “Oh, are you guys related?” Simone asked himself and Mikasa.
“We… think so,” Levi answered.
Simone’s tan face showed her confusion. “There are many things we don’t know about where we come from, thanks to the Titan threat,” Erwin offered. Simone hummed contemplatively and continued her questionnaire. They probably don’t believe us, Levi thought.
Hange began to counter-question their hosts about the machinery they were using and why. Levi simply watched what they did and listened, wondering how advanced their weapons were if this was what they used for simple exams. After they were poked and prodded they were made to do light exercise while wires were stuck to their bodies. These exercises were nothing to Levi, and he turned over their situation in his mind while he ran on the so-called treadmill. What brought us here? What if it was on purpose? If it was, who did it? And why—*BAM* Claire burst through the door and panted, “NASA is here!”
“What? NASA!?” Simone repeated with disbelief.
“Why?” asked Everett.
“They’re asking to look around. They’re outside right now,” Clair panted through heavy breaths.
“You think—you think it’s because of these guys?” James asked.
Claire nodded. “They look like agents. Like, from a movie, agents.”
Erwin approached their huddle, “Who is NASA? Why do you think they’re here because of us?”
“They’re a government organization, and they’ve never ever popped up like this,” Clair said to him. Erwin looked at his fellows and nodded.
Simone wondered what that meant as she and her colleagues followed Claire out of the gym, presumably to find a suitable place to hide the “Survey Corps” as they called themselves, I guess that is what they are… when five large suited men exited the elevator.
They all stopped speed walking and tried to look normal. “How may I help you gentlemen?” Claire said invitingly.
“We’re NASA personnel, looking for some items of ours that have been… misplaced,” the man speaking was tall, bald and nicely tanned like Mr. Clean—in Simone’s opinion at least— “Do you mind if we look around?” Mr. Clean had already motioned for his men to search.
“Why are you searching our facilities, Mr. …?” Simone asked.
“Brown. We’re searching all facilities in the areas surrounding our base, mam,” he said, holding out a warrant and badge to Claire while looking at Simone’s vulgar shirt and back to her face. She gave him a once-over with a cheeky smile even though she inwardly panicked at the sound of the other suits getting closer to the gym. Nononononononononooooo were her exact thoughts. She did not want to know what these dudes who were obviously not just NASA personnel would do to them if they knew too much.
Simone heard the gym door open and braced herself for the tranquilizer or pshh of a silenced pistol or many other unfortunate scenarios her frantic brain could produce but it never came. The door closed after a few seconds and they continued the search. Where had their crazies who now didn’t seem so deranged go?
“What are you doing at work this time of morning?” Mr. Clean asked.
Claire looked at her watch and exclaimed, “Its four already?! Damn, guys we got carried away with work! Good job team!” Go ahead and freeze-frame us all high fiving, Claire, that’ll really make him believe us, Simone thought sarcastically. Her manager was obviously terrible at lying to police.
“What were you working on?” Mr. Clean’s men had finished with this floor and were continuing on the higher levels.
“We can’t tell you that,” said Claire.
“Of course you can, I won’t tell.”
“Its top secret!” she insisted.
“As a government official with a warrant, I’m asking because of its value to our search,” Mr. Clean said with a smile that could disintegrate kitchen grime.
“It’s an affordable anti-inflammatory that people can take routinely to prevent eczema flare-ups before they happen, instead of having to go to a doctor for constant break-outs, if you must know. Claire doesn’t want to lose her job for leaking company projects, and neither do we,” Simone said smoothly. “So, I hope you were serious when you said you wouldn’t tell.”
“Hm. That sounds extremely convenient. I have eczema myself,” Mr. Clean eyed Simone appreciatively.
“So you’ll keep quiet?” Simone asked, daring to sound a little bolder than she felt.
He was about to reply when his earpiece lit up with sound. Whatever news he got must’ve been satisfying because he then smiled genuinely at Simone and said “I won’t tell a soul.” He pulled out a card and handed it to her. “Call me when it’s ready… or before.”
“About the medication, Mr. Brown?” Simone asked with raised brow. Sir, you were literally about to kill us, now you’re macking. We have orthopedic seats in the next room, please take one.
“Sure. It’s Jason, by the way. Have a nice day ladies, gentlemen…” The elevator doors opened behind him and he joined his associates. They went into one of the windowed rooms and watched until they saw the NASA agents drive away with a convoy of SUVs. Ferric audibly exhaled and slumped against the wall.
“Dude, are you okay?” asked Everett.
“Yeah, I’m good. I just got warrants,” he said, casually.
“For your arrest?” asked James, disbelief touching his brown eyes.
“Yea—” he stopped abruptly when he saw Claire stare at him, “… aaa-of course not. Another kind.”
This fool is a legit fugitive! Simone thought with mild amusement.
They found the gym completely emptied. “Where’d they go?” asked Claire as James approached the windows. “We left them here, how’d they get–”
Before she could finish, the Survey Corps drifted down from the top of the wall closest to the door Claire and her team had just re-entered. As each of them touched the ground, metal cords zipped from the ceiling into their boxes of metal that held several of the same type of sword-thing that had previously cut James. Looking at the wall, Simone could tell they must’ve dug the blades in as handholds.
“Holy shit, that was cool!” said Everett. Connie and Sasha tried to strike poses of appreciation, but looked mostly silly.
“How did you do that?” Claire asked them.
“Our 3D Maneuver Gear. It is how we fight the titans,” Erwin said.
“Oookaaay. We need to have a long talk before people get here for work in a few hours, but, first, you all need to shower and change.” Claire started towards the door.
“What’s a shower?” asked Hange.
Clair explained it to them and each was amazed except Hange, who seemed a little disappointed. Levi walked out the door first after Claire, saying, “Maybe this place isn’t so shitty.”