A novel, unexpected sense of amazement takes over—quickly followed by a healthy dose of nervous apprehension. My mood instantly switches and, suddenly, I’m marveling at all around me, my eyes darting left and right over the vast stretch of land that extends far beyond their line of vision.

 

Holy hell…

 

This. Compound. Is. Insane.

 

High-rise after high-rise after high-rise interspersed over a vast, enclosed terrain.

 

Talk about a gated community.

 

Only the gate feels like it’s a thousand miles away from the actual residence.

 

“This way, ma’am,” Edgar gestures to the closest solitary building ahead, soaring over us like an eagle would dust mites. The hauling truck is parked closer to the entrance, and the movers are already starting to unload. As we approach, there’s already someone waiting at the front.

 

A remarkably tall, lean man receives us, the seemingly-genetic specks of salt in his mostly peppered hair and close-shaved beard both enhancing and contrasting with his youthful appearance.

 

He nods in acknowledgment. “Miss Myers, I presume?”

 

“Yes, that’s me,” I return.

 

“My name is Henry Douglas,” he introduces himself, extending his hand. “I’m the Head Residential Manager. Mr. Zane has informed me of your recent transfer. We’ve been expecting you.”

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Henry,” I say, shaking it. “And ‘Connie’ is fine.”

 

“The pleasure’s all mine, Connie,” he smiles. “You’re welcome to call me Hank. Most people do. And welcome to the Core complex.”

 

My eyes keep darting to his suit, seamlessly pressed cuts of beige and charcoal all tied together by the chrome plate lining his breast pocket, bearing his aforementioned name and position. He’s impeccable from head to toe. On a weekend. Even the way he speaks has this refined quality to it despite the casualness of the conversation.

 

Hell, this entire place is teeming with an overt sense of aptness and precision. And, it might just be me, but there’s also this subtle, kind of elitist…vibe I’m getting. I don’t know. The air feels somewhat…rigid. It’s almost…too flawless.

 

“I’ll be taking my leave now, Miss Myers,” Edgar announces.

 

“Thank you so much, Edgar,” I smile, appreciative.

He returns it, bowing with the same formality he did earlier. “I will see you on Monday morning. Have a wonderful weekend, ma’am.”

 

He departs with admirable grace, his agility defying his seniority as he returns to the SUV, leaving me in the care of my new managing landlord.

 

“All right, let’s show you to your apartment,” Hank says. “Please follow me.”

 

I walk in after him, getting promptly registered at the AI-integrated reception with a speed and efficiency that I can’t help note is the complete and exact opposite of Earth Cap’s.

 

“This is your access and security pass,” he hands me a brand new, shiny card with unique perforations as we walk up to an elevator—the kind I’ve never seen before.

 

“This is a transporter,” he explains. “A dual-axis elevator that moves both vertically and horizontally. Mr. Zane designed it himself.”

 

My eyebrows bounce up my forehead, both shocked and impressed that such a thing exists but more so at the mention of the name of the individual responsible for its existence.

 

My gaze drifts between the distinct lift and Hank, the surprise clear on my face. “Mr. Zane did?”

 

He smiles, as if he’s used to seeing my reaction. “Mr. Zane is much more than just an energy mogul.”

 

Right. It’s not enough that he looks like a god and has more money than one. He has to be a bloody brainiac, too.

 

We step inside the so-called transporter, my eyes flicking about in anticipation, waiting for what happens next. Hank reaches for an integrated touchscreen pad to the right and some sort of fingerprint scan commences, signaled by an accompanying beep.

 

“West Wing, fourth floor,” he states.

 

The doors promptly slide shut, sealing us in the wide, metallic enclosure. Suddenly, I feel nervous, sliding my hands in my pockets to veil the stress of being locked inside something I’ve never even heard of before.

 

And before I can fully brace myself, it starts moving.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but what follows is the furthest thing from anything I could have.

 

The sensation is…indescribable.

 

A strange weightlessness. Like free-falling, but not quite. Floating but with your feet still on the ground.

 

It’s fairly brief, though. In just a matter of seconds, the touchscreen pad beeps again and the floating sensation disappears as the transporter comes to a stop. Its doors slide open and Hank gestures for me to go ahead. I step out, perhaps a little too eagerly, into a vast, airy lounge. Paper-white space furnished with pieces of monochromatic upholstery, carefully interspersed against a backdrop of primness and silence.

 

Talk about putting the decor in decorum.

 

“There are three main sections of employee housing at the headquarters,” he says. “As I said downstairs, this is the Core complex. The Crust and Mantle complexes are located about four and two miles north of here, respectively.”

 

Holy crap, there are two more of these?

 

I arch my brow, finding it a bit peculiar that, for all his apparent genius, Mr. Zane chose to name residential buildings after the layers of the Earth. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised considering he earns his living drilling through it.

 

“This way,” Hank directs. I follow him down a wide corridor, passing a handful of doors before arriving at the very last one.

 

414.

 

“This is yours,” he says, handing me a plastic card embossed with numbers and a security chip. “This is your code. You can activate your lock both manually and via the residence app which you will be prompted to download as soon as you log in to the complex’s Wi-Fi.” He computes the digits into a keyless, touchscreen door lock for demonstration. A confirmation beep sounds along with a cobalt blue light, followed by a vertical, upward slide of the door. I raise my brows, intrigued by the unexpected novelty but also curious as to how much electricity all these advanced, mechanized appliances require on a daily basis just to keep running.

 

Hank gestures for me to enter. “I hope the accommodations are satisfactory. All your belongings are being brought up as we speak. They should be here momentarily.”

 

“Thank you so much,” I smile.

 

Finally, he hands me the contact for the general front desk as well as his personal line. “Someone from the main office should be in touch with you either today or tomorrow. Everything else will be coordinated between your team and HQ on Monday. If there’s anything else you need, please let me know. In the meantime, make yourself at home.”

 

 With a courtesy nod, he steps away, disappearing from sight as the door slides closed behind him.

 

My attention goes back to the new, vast space around me; a completely furnished, roomy loft that I can’t even start to dream of affording.

 

I walk over to a breathtaking cluster of floor-to-ceiling windows to my right, overseeing a fittingly spectacular view of buildings of varying length and size seamlessly interspersed with vivid greenery, like a physical microcosm of San Francisco. Remarkable architecture in the midst of splendid nature; beautiful and balanced, in perfect equilibrium.

 

I have to admit, I’m surprised. Pleasantly so. Especially for a company as ‘old-moneyed’ and traditional as Zanergy. Not quite the blocky, concrete bureaucracy I pictured on the way here.

 

I scan the rest of the floor, pacing across the entire expanse and back again before wandering into the bathroom and kitchen. I have to do a double take when I spot a Jacuzzi tub in the former.

 

Good God, what sort of company houses its employees like high-level diplomats?

 

I finally make my way to the bedroom upstairs and almost, quite literally, drool at the sight of the king-sized bed.

 

Oh, sweet baby Jesus…

 

Across from it hangs a large, flat screen TV akin to the one down in the living area. I most likely won’t be making a lot of use out of either of them. I suppose they’re convenient to have, though somewhat overkill.

 

But, gosh, I really hope I don’t get used to this. That I don’t inadvertently end up internalizing this man’s wealth. In spite of my minimalist lifestyle, I can already tell I’ll miss this apartment when I leave. Downsizing is always much harder than upgrading, after all—even for the most frugal of people.

 

It’s a good thing I won’t be here for that long.

 

Besides, getting sucked into a world you clearly don’t belong in can only leave you delusional at best.

 

After a thorough inspection, thankfully, nothing seems to be made of leather or fur. I don’t spot any signs of hardwood, either. Still, the color scheme is a bit…cold. Lifeless. Not at all cozy. Steel and glass sprinkled with hard, grey marble and paper-white tile pretty much sums it up. I wish it were a little homelier. Warmer. But I can deal. It’s only for ten weeks, anyway.

 

The movers have my belongings brought up as promised, and a couple of hours later, I’m completely unpacked, my clothes hanging in the closet almost laughably, taking up only a tiny fraction of the available space. Even so, I’m tempted to take a picture and send it to Michaela. She’ll totally drool over it.

 

As soon as the thought forms, my phone rings. I grab it, subduing a chuckle when I see my cousin’s name on the screen.

 

Speak of the devil.

 

“Hey,” I chime, putting it on speaker befittingly.

 

“Hey, yourself,” Michaela’s voice comes through, slightly higher pitched than usual, laced with excitement. “Are you there, already? I saw your note.”

 

“Yeah,” I nod as if she can see me. “I got here a couple of hours ago. Just finished unpacking. The closet is insane, by the way.”

 

Ugh,” she groans dramatically. “I haven’t even seen it yet but I just know I’m going to be jealous.”

 

“If it’s any consolation, I can only use it for two and a half months. Besides,” I chuckle as my eyes glance back at it, “it looks super sad with the amount of stuff I have in it.”

 

Now it’s Michaela’s turn to chuckle. “Don’t you mean, the amount of stuff you don’t have in it?”

 

“Whatever,” I snort.

 

“Anyways,” she continues, “I also wanted to tell you that I got a call from someone at Zanergy.”

 

My brows furrow. “Really? About what?”

 

“Basically, they told me that they were going to cover our entire rent for the next three months while you’re there. So, you don’t have to worry about sending in your half while you’re there.”

 

“Oh,” is all I can offer, surprised by this new information. No one told me anything about any extra lodging compensation. Not even any one at Earth Cap.

Michaela and I talk a bit more, and she ends the conversation by telling me not to send any pictures of the closet.

 

“I want to see the place in person for the first time.”

 

I both welcome and abhor the idea of my cousin visiting me at my new job site only because I know how she is. She’ll probably end up flirting with every single guy—and girl—she comes across without a second thought. And I’ll be the one who has to face any potential backlash and embarrassment for it at both Zanergy and Earth Capital. But I suppose I’ll deal with that problem when the time arrives. Besides, with the way security is set up here, I have to find out how visitation even works around these parts to begin with.

 

Not long after Michaela hangs up, I get a call from Sam, pretty much just checking in to see if my move went smoothly. The call is brief, more like a report than an actual conversation. After meeting him, I don’t find the man himself that intimidating, but I do think his super-focus and slight obsession with this account is. Though, I suppose I can’t blame him. If this is what the common residential area looks like, I can only imagine how the main office does. While a part of me is curious to find out, that curiosity is paired with a heavy dose of skepticism.

 

Earth Cap politics and luxury apartments aside, as a wildlife environmentalist, I’m still technically in enemy territory—even if it does look like a five-star resort hotel.

 

***

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THIS MAKES ME FEEL...
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