08 Apr Introduction to Nudov Pt. 1
GLORIA FISCHER RUSHED THROUGH THE MASSIVE CROWD TOWARD THE BIG revolving doors of the Mellifera Building. Both sidewalks were overflowing with excited onlookers waiting for *him.*
Today was the annual Sihtaso Celebration Day parade. Gloria did not want a repeat of last month, when she had been late for the Sihtaso Appreciation Day parade.
Her dog Morty’s battery had run out, and she hadn’t been able to find the replacement. By the time she found out her grandson Elon had used it to power his Nike X33 Rocket sneakers and made him fly to the store to get her a new battery for Morty, Gloria missed seeing Sihtaso come through her district, District 49. She was determined not to miss him again.
The Sihtaso parades reminded Gloria of the parades for the Pope in the Old World. The Pope used to ride down the street on a float, smiling and waving to the adoring crowd. Except the Pope had to be in a bulletproof-glass box for safety. That wasn’t necessary in Nudov.
There was no crime in Nudov. The Peace Force showed up to direct traffic for parades or other such non-crime-fighting activities, but that was the only semblance of the cops-and-criminals dynamics from the Old World.
Occasionally Gloria’s grandson Elon showed her videos on his watch of a costumed superhero fighting armed villains that he thought were real. She always smiled and feigned interest. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was watching make-believe movies.
The superhero from Elon’s videos reminded Gloria of Santa Claus in the Old World. They tried to keep Santa alive in children’s minds for as long as possible, until the kids figured out Santa wasn’t real.
In Nudov, Santa *was* real. In a manner of speaking, anyway. The District 49 DAO had voted to fund the Santa Claus Project, which hired an actor to be Santa, converted a Tesla Fly convertible into a sleigh, and attached AI animatronic reindeer to the front of it. All the DAO members sent their gift lists with the appropriate amount of $TASO to the project team, who bought the gifts for Santa (real name Jeffrey Lipschitz) to deliver. It was delicious fun, and it removed all the anxiety and subterfuge around keeping Santa real in the minds of the children.
Gloria hurried across the empty lobby of the Mellifera Building and into the empty elevator. She entered into the keypad 2-2-5-3 and ENTER to take her to the 2,253rd floor. It did not surprise her that the elevator was empty. Normally it would be full, but today everyone and their uncle was at the parade.
Just before the elevator doors closed shut, an arm in a blue suit jacket jutted in between the doors. It was so fast and sudden that Gloria jumped and yelped in surprise.
The doors reopened and a tall man in a blue suit stepped into the elevator. The first thing Gloria noticed was the man’s eyes. They were wild, with almost a feral quality to them, full of intensity and restrained anger.
The next thing Gloria noticed was the man’s facial hair. It looked like he had just shaved off his beard hastily without a mirror. His hair was slicked back, but as he turned his back to Gloria to face the keypad, she noticed his uneven haircut. Had this man just shaved his beard and cut his own hair? Gloria wondered. Bizarre.
The wild-eyed man stepped up close to the keypad so Gloria couldn’t see the display and pressed keys on the keypad. She recognized four number beeps, but the fifth beep caught her attention. Gloria expected to hear the ENTER button beep, but instead she distinctly heard the CANCEL button beep.
As the elevator began its climb, Gloria wondered why the wild-eyed man had canceled the floor number and not entered another. Did he not want her to know that he was going to the same floor as her? Was he following her? This was getting stranger and scarier by the second.
Luckily the elevator ride to the 2,253rd floor was only two minutes, eight seconds. It used to take that long to get to the 15th floor of buildings in the Old World.
When the elevator doors opened, the wild-eyed man turned up his palm and motioned for Gloria to exit first.
She hesitated, not sure if she wanted to turn her back to him.
The wild-eyed man smiled, as if to comfort her, but his wolf-like smile had the opposite effect.
“They’re expecting me,” Gloria blurted out as if to warn him, and burst out of the elevator, clutching her purse tightly.
Gloria’s Old World instincts had kicked in. She hadn’t clutched her purse or been scared of physical harm since The Great Migration to Nudov.
As she hurried down the hallway, Gloria called out the numbers on each door, “Two, two, five, three…eleven,” her voice getting louder with each digit, “Two, two, five, three…twelve.”
Gloria felt the wild-eyed man slowly gaining on her and preparing to pounce. This was her last chance. She had to act, now.
Gloria saw her destination Apis Cold Storage and ran toward it.
She burst into the office and slammed the door behind her.
A line of customers and half-a-dozen office workers all turned and looked at Gloria in shock.
Sweat streamed down her face, running her makeup. Gloria realized they thought she was crazy. She wanted to yell out, I’m not crazy! The man, the man out there is crazy! But that would make her look even crazier.
Instead Gloria slinked to the back of the line, in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Everyone in the office resumed what they were doing.
Even though she had already found the handkerchief she was looking for, Gloria kept rummaging in her purse. She didn’t want to look into those wild eyes again.
Gloria sensed the wild-eyed man get in line behind her and tensed up.
As she waited in line, Gloria wiped the sweat off of her face with her handkerchief. She could feel the wild-eyed man shifting, eyeing everyone and everything in the place, which just made her more and more nervous.
By the time Gloria reached the front desk, she felt like she was going to have a heart attack. The clerk greeted her, “Welcome to Apis Cold Storage. How can I help you?”
Gloria was so flustered, she forgot why she was there. “I.. uh..,” Gloria stammered.
“Would you like to make a deposit, withdrawal–“
“Withdrawal,” Gloria said, which wasn’t actually correct. She was there to recover her seed phrase, which she had carelessly misplaced. Or maybe Elon had “borrowed” that too. But Gloria was desperate to get away from the wild-eyed man.
“Lean down and look in.” The clerk pointed at the retina scan device on the counter.
After Gloria’s retina scan confirmed her identity, the clerk motioned to a row of booths behind her. “Number six. Have a seat, and someone will be in to help you in a moment.”
Gloria hurried around the big front desk.
Gloria froze. His voice sounded just like she imagined it would. Low-pitched and gruff. Like a growl.
Maybe the wild-eyed man wasn’t talking to her. Maybe he was talking to the clerk.
Gloria took another two steps.
“Excuse me, Ma’am.”
Gloria looked back at the clerk to see why she wasn’t answering the wild-eyed man.
But the clerk was staring at her, wondering the same thing about Gloria. Blast. He’s talking to me.
Trying to appear casual, Gloria turned back to face the wild-eyed man.
He held up Gloria’s handkerchief. “You dropped this.”
Keep it was what she wanted to say. Gloria didn’t want to go anywhere near the wild-eyed man. But not only was the handkerchief monogrammed with her initials, it was also soaked with her sweat. Everyone else in the office would think she was uncivilized if she didn’t retrieve the handkerchief.
Gloria forced a polite grin and gingerly walked back to the wild-eyed man. She extended her hand. “Thank you.”
The wild-eyed man placed the handkerchief in Gloria’s hand.
Gloria exhaled in relief and turned to walk away. But she couldn’t–
The wild-eyed man was holding her hand, squeezing tighter and tighter. Then he yanked hard, pulling Gloria toward him.
“Everybody freak out, this is a robbery!” the wild-eyed man shouted as he put Gloria in a headlock.
Everyone in the office stared blankly at the wild-eyed man. There was no crime in Nudov. It was as if he had shouted something in gibberish.
The wild-eyed man pulled out a gun from his belt and explained, “If you don’t give me all the crypto in the vault, I will kill all of you with this gun!”
Now they got it. The employees scrambled to pull all the printouts of crypto wallets off of the shelves in the vault onto carts and wheel them out.
The wild-eyed man held Gloria tight, his arm around her throat.
She had been mugged several times when she was younger in the Old World. Just keep quiet and give him what he wants. That was what you’re supposed to do in a robbery; she remembered being taught that by the policeman who spoke at her high school assembly in 10th grade.
“Scream,” the wild-eyed man snarled in Gloria’s ear.
“Huh?” She was confused.
“Scream!” he growled, “Now!”
Gloria screamed weakly.
She screamed louder.
The wild-eyed man pointed his gun at the people in line. “All of you. Scream!”
As the people in line screamed like low-rate actors auditioning for a horror movie, the wild-eyed man looked around like he was expecting something to happen as a result of the screaming.
The wild-eyed man glanced at his watch. “Shit!”
He released Gloria but pointed his gun at her. “Don’t move.”
The wild-eyed man kept his gun pointed at Gloria as he backed up to one of the carts full of printouts. He pulled out a lighter with his free hand and lit a stack of pages on fire.
Soon flames engulfed the whole cart and jumped to the second cart.
Everybody in the office was panicking now.
The man grabbed Gloria again and pointed his gun at the workers. “Scream! Loud!”
Now everybody was screaming, and the fire was spreading across the office.
Gloria was getting lightheaded; she felt on the verge of fainting. This is crazier than anything I’ve ever seen, even in a movie. What else could possibly happen?
Suddenly, there was a thunderous explosion as something big crashed through the floor-to-ceiling windows from outside.
Gloria thought a plane had just crashed into the building. But she turned to see it was a person. Where had she seen this figure dressed in black with that horrid mask covering his face? It was the superhero her grandson had shown her videos of. Make-believe movies, she had thought. What was his name again? Something with a V. Vee…Vay…Vay-Vay man. That was it.
The wild-eyed man sighed in relief. “Finally.”
The last thing Gloria saw before she lost consciousness was the masked figure aka Vèvèman throwing what looked like a ball of yellow lightning straight at her.
WHEN GLORIA CAME TO, SHE WAS STILL BEING HELD BY THE WILD-EYED MAN.
The entire office was on fire, but she didn’t see anyone. Everyone had left. Everyone but her.
Gloria saw someone climb to his feet behind the check-in desk. It was the wild-eyed man.
Wait a second. If the wild-eyed man is over there, then who is holding me? Gloria was able to turn her head enough to see Veveman’s mask in her periphery.
Seeing that Gloria was awake, Vèvèman released and guided her behind him, so that his body shielded her from the wild-eyed man.
Vèvèman pulled back his yellow boomerang and prepared to throw–
The wild-eyed man put up his hands. “Wait.”
The wild-eyed man’s watch beeped. He jerked his arm in front of his face to look at his watch. “Shit!” He hurriedly pressed a few buttons on his watch and… disappeared into thin air.
Gloria blinked a few times. He was gone.
The fire was raging in between her and the door. No escape.
Vèvèman pulled what looked like a handful of ashes out of a sachet on his belt. He dropped the ashes deliberately on the floor in the shape of a symbol Gloria had never seen.
Vèvèman approached the cowering Gloria and hugged her to his chest. He whispered in her ear, “No scared.” His accent sounded vaguely French. It seemed hard for him to talk, like he had to push the words out; they came out in a raspy whisper. “No scared.”
In his powerful arms, Gloria did not feel scared anymore. She felt safe. Gloria felt safe with Vèvèman.
And then he threw her out the window.
As she plummeted toward the street from the 2,253rd floor, Gloria looked up at the pure blue sky with no clouds.
She remembered when she was a young girl in the Old World, laying down with her friends in her backyard, spotting shapes in the clouds. “Heart!” “Elephant!” “Toaster!”
Gloria missed clouds – there were never any in Nudov – and she missed her childhood friends. None of them had survived the Red Rain and made it to Nudov.
As she flew down, Gloria accepted her impending death. She had had a long life, longer than she would have had in the Old World – 105 years.
Dropping toward the ground below, Gloria felt at peace as she stared up at the pure blue sky. The sky tore open, like a piece of fabric ripping.
Gloria thought it must be heaven preparing to welcome her. Was Nudovian heaven different than the Old World heaven? She hoped not. She wanted to see her friends again.
Something flew through the hole in the sky, streaking down toward Gloria at tremendous speed, way faster than she was falling. It was nearly translucent, but she could see something.
Gloria suddenly felt as if she had landed on a big pillow. She realized she wasn’t falling anymore. The translucent thing was surrounding her and suspending her in midair.
Here we go. But instead of bringing Gloria up to heaven, the translucent pillow brought her back down to the ground in the alley next to the Mellifera Building, behind the crowd gathered on the street.
Gloria expected people to point and gather round, but no one seemed to notice her floating to the ground. Had she hallucinated the whole thing? Or did nobody notice cause all of their eyes were focused on him.
In the Old World, Gloria had seen the Pope parades. She had been to the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. She had watched with her husband many sports teams’ championship parades. None of them held a candle to a Sihtaso parade.
This man had saved humanity from guaranteed extinction, he had built them a paradise to live in, and he had halted the aging process.
In the Old World, religious people had felt this way about God. But that was built on faith. Sihtaso’s miracles had actually been witnessed firsthand. He was the people’s savior, and they loved him.
Oh no. I don’t want to miss him again. Gloria hurried out of the alley and joined the crowd just in time to see Sihtaso’s float drive by.
As the float passed, Sihtaso turned his head and seemed to look directly at Gloria.
Gloria had just survived a violent robbery and being thrown out of a 2,253rd floor window. It had been a terrifying and traumatic experience.
But as she looked into Sihtaso’s kind, loving eyes and saw his warm smile, Gloria felt completely safe, and everything was right and good in the world.
Rafael is an award-winning filmmaker turned NFT Project Writer and Advisor. After 10 years in the film industry in Los Angeles, California, Rafael now creates captivating and expansive storylines for NFT projects that have characters and/or games, comics, graphic novels, TV shows, and/or movies.