North Side - A fond farewell


On the last day of the tour I found myself having breakfast alone with Larry. Gabrielle couldn't find her appetite since returning from the New East Side the day before.

When she finally emerged in the lobby, she was packed and ready to leave. Larry reminded her that her flight would take off in the evening. "I still have a district left to see," she replied. "I must honor Philippe by finishing what we started."

Larry offered to have someone take her luggage to the airport, but since all she had left after the bus broke down in Ghost Town was a backpack, she preferred to keep her luggage with her while we explore the North Side.

And so the three of us, with Gabrielle in the middle, walked down the lobby of the Crimson Majestic towards the streets of Con City for one last time. The receptionist behind us saw the opportunity and quickly ran to join us from the left. Larry unceremoniously grabbed him by the shoulder with but one hand and pushed him against the wall for ruining the moment.




*



Of all the districts of Con City, the North Side is the one with the most hotels. The reason for this is that this district hosts the Con City International Airport in its northwest corner. Since many transit passengers suffer from the continuous delays of arriving flights which more often than not make them miss their connections, hotel rooms are in high demand around the airport. For this reason the area immediately bordering the airport is exclusively dedicated to accommodate transit passengers in ridiculously expensive five star hotels. Currently twenty-nine hotels stand in this area and two others are scheduled to start building soon, aiming to make the Con City International Airport the most convenient airport at which to miss your flight.

The rest of the North Side district is very much business oriented. New and modern piers along the riverbank handle cargo ship traffic from upriver. Various businesses have offices scattered all over the district, the most famous of which is arguably Conspiracy Computing. As the parent company of ConSoft LLC and ConComp Electronics, Conspiracy Computing generates ridiculous revenue each year. ConSoft develops business software and computer games, such as the video game adaption of the famous documentary Koala Hunting. The bigger chunk of the income, however, comes from ConComp Electronics.

ConComp sells the cheapest laptop computers in the world. In recent years the advent of touchscreen mobile computers such as smart phones and tablets has sent the laptop business into a decline. Yet ConComp manages to stay afloat buy pushing the price of its laptops across the border most manufacturers never would: the zero level. By setting their price tag as a negative number, the company essentially pays its customers on top of giving them the laptops for free. This ingenious tactic allows ConComp to sell millions of laptops in Con County alone, every year. The secret of the company's success is the paid customer support, the monthly fee of which is twice the manufacturing cost of the laptop. Every customer of ConComp subscribes to the customer support due to ConComp laptops' tendency to develop new hardware faults every two to six weeks.




*



We got off the subway just a couple of blocks south of the Conspiracy Computing offices. The streets in the vicinity were uncommonly abandoned, as if people were subconsciously afraid to go anywhere near the building. We ended up walking past the unimpressive four-story building without even noticing it until we were across the street. Larry asked Gabrielle if she wanted to go back for a tour, but she shrugged as if to say she couldn't see what all the fuss was about, and simply kept walking.

A couple of blocks later we ran across another four-story building, but a much more impressive one. It was painted white and two large billboards advertised its purpose on the roof. They each showed the face a smiling man and a woman, both with immaculately smooth skin and perfect teeth. The sign beneath the billboards said, "Carver's Cosmetics".

It was a private plastic surgery clinic owned and operated by Doctor Roman Carver, Con City's most famous plastic surgeon. The walls of the ground floor were all made of glass (in stark contrast to the floors above ground level which did not even have windows) which gave us a good view to the three dozen or so prospective patients waiting to be seen.

"Is this how the rich of Con City spend their money?" Gabrielle asked. Larry nodded and gave a disapproving shake of his head at the same time. Oddly enough, Gabrielle did not seem confused by this gesture.

Before we could have moved on, a woman walked out of the clinic, speaking to someone over the cellphone. When she saw us she hung up and walked over to us, giving Gabrielle's face a thorough look.

"Good grief, you are ugly," the woman said after a minute of staring. "Look at those eyes, those cheeks, ugh. How do you bear that sight every morning?"

She shook her head and dug into her purse. She removed a small white business card and held it up to Gabrielle.

"This is Doctor Carver's business card," the woman said. "Give him a call and make an appointment. I'm afraid you won't get anything for two weeks, but if you can last that long without killing yourself over that ugly face you see in the mirror, he'll fix you up good. So hang in there, sister!"

Gabrielle slapped the woman. It was not a punch, it was not even a particularly forceful slap. A sexist individual would call it a "girlie" slap, that's how little impact it generated. For this reason none of us expected what happened after Gabrielle's palm connected with the woman's face.

The woman's head flipped sideways, turning perhaps an angle of forty-five degrees before it stopped as normal. Her nose, however, did not stop, and was launched by the momentum it had gained all the way to the glass wall of the clinic. It hit the glass with a wet sound and slipped down, leaving a yellow streak as it did so.

Gabrielle looked on in horror, while the woman ran after the nose, spewing furious curse words along the way. Her insults were not directed at Gabrielle, however, but at Doctor Carver. Once she collected her nose, she ran into the plastic surgery clinic screaming for a refund.

We turned away and walked down the street towards the final stop on our tour of Con City: the Space Agency.




*



The Con City Space Agency was founded in the wake of the Moon landing. Con City's Mayor at the time famously stated that "we can do better than that" and funded the establishment of a local space agency with the purpose of colonizing Mars within the next fifteen years. While this schedule has since been slightly altered, enthusiasm for the project has not died.

For this reason the Con City Space Agency is one of the best funded institutions in the city today. Several revolutionary projects have come out of the agency since it opened its doors, including the famous Heliopiercer mission which is due to launch soon. One of the agency's more recent undertakings was the construction of Ultra Brutus, a state-of-the-art space shuttle of the agency's own design.

Ultra Brutus is equipped with a powerful engine that can take it into orbit without the need for the traditional rocket booster method. The on-board nuclear reactor generates ten times as much power as the Con City Nuke Plant and enables Ultra Brutus to travel to Saturn, land on each of its moons, and then return home without needing to refuel.

While the Space Agency is quite happy with the engine, Ultra Brutus is still a work in progress due to the difficulties engineers face with the design of the living compartments. The new shuttle is designed for a crew of four with modern essentials such as an accessible toilet, a hot bath, a 209" plasma TV, a mini-golf course, a bowling alley, and a swimming pool.

The challenge faced by the engineering team is finding a way to make space for the oxygen tanks that would allow the crew to breathe for more than the currently available amount of time, which is twelve hours. At this time they have no idea how to make room inside the shuttle, but the team is hard at work trying to find a solution.




*



The office building of the Con City Space Agency is a suitably futuristic steel and glass building, shaped like a large flying saucer. We were greeted in the lobby by a secretary who offered us coffee. Within five minutes the very Director of the Con City Space Agency, Professor Jared Burns came down from his office at the topmost room of the flying saucer.

"Welcome, welcome! It is always an honor to get visitors, especially on such a momentous occasion," he said with a warm smile. "Come, follow me out the back. We will take my helicopter."

Gabrielle looked confused but Larry assured us that this was all prearranged by Reaper Travels and that we were in for a unique treat. We followed Professor Burns to the helipad behind the building where a small chopper bearing the logo of the Space Agency was waiting for us. A minute later we were airborne and heading northeast, towards the launch site of the Space Agency.

The launch site, known as the Con County Space Harbor, is located a good sixty miles outside the city limits, covering approximately two hundred square miles and boasting multiple launch pads. The helicopter made good time and we were at the launch site within forty minutes of takeoff.

Professor Burns escorted us to the control tower where a group of no less than twenty engineers were busy preparing for something important. We were led to the observation deck which afforded us a view to the launch pads.

Gabrielle's jaw dropped when she saw the massive spaceship. It was roughly shaped like a triangle, at least a hundred and fifty yards long, a hundred yards wide at the back, and fifty yards tall. It was painted completely white and adorned with the logo of the Space Agency.

"May I have everyone's attention," Professor Burns said into a microphone. "Thank you all for coming, especially our distinguished guests of the international media, to this momentous occasion. Within a few minutes, Ultra Brutus will commence her first ever test flight during which she will enter low Earth orbit and spend six hours there before returning. Get your cameras ready, and flood the internet with your recordings!"

Gabrielle watched the ultramodern space shuttle in awe while Larry took out his cellphone and used its built-in camera to record the launch. The Professor put the microphone down and took a seat beside one of the engineers. The staff ordered the crew of Ultra Brutus to commence the full engine test. Three large circular outlets lit up at the back of Ultra Brutus. Two seconds later a violent explosion rocked the launch pad as one of the engines produced a tall column of flame.

The explosion tore huge chunks off the back left corner of the spacecraft, but otherwise left Ultra Brutus intact. A number of sharp metal bits were scattered away by the explosion. A few of them, including a nasty looking piece that almost had the shape of a rod, came straight towards the observation deck.

The metal shard shattered the window and went speeding towards where Gabrielle was sitting. She froze stiff, unable to take her eyes off the sudden destruction. Everything happened so fast there was nothing to be done. The large metal rod sped towards Gabrielle's seat and swept past her just three inches away, and impaled one of the engineers behind the observation desk to his seat.




*



Larry's mouth hung wide open as he saw how perfect his framing was for the recording of the burning space shuttle. He was so fixated on the screen of his cellphone that he didn't notice the approaching security guard who promptly confiscated his phone and deleted the video.

While medical personnel were tending to the injured engineer, who very much looked like he had minutes left to live, Professor Burns approached us and offered his regrets about what had transpired.

"Terribly sorry about this," he said. "Ultra Brutus is still an experimental space shuttle, and as you can see we have a few minor bugs to fix. But don't worry, only one of the engines went bust. The rest of the shuttle is fine. We'll fix it in a month or two and try again."

He pulled a five inch long metal shard out of an empty chair on the observation deck and handed it to Gabrielle. "Have a souvenir, Miss," he said.

Gabrielle absently sunk the tiny piece of the experimental spaceship into her purse and the Professor asked a security guard to escort us back to the helicopter. A few minutes later we were gone from the Con County Space Harbor and flying straight to the airport, as Gabrielle sat in the helicopter at the verge of tears.




*



The journey came full circle as we landed at Con City International and made our way into the terminal building. Gabrielle checked in to her flight and said her goodbyes. Since she was now the only passenger on the charter flight, the plane was given permission to take off at the next window of opportunity, which was due in twenty minutes. Having grown fond of my French colleague, I decided to stay and watch her plane take off from the lounge.

Larry went for a cheeseburger and joined me by the window after a long stint standing in the queue. He came just in time to watch Gabrielle's plane enter the runway. He took a bite of his cheeseburger, and a moment later the jet engines fired off.

The entire plane was then engulfed in flames and the shockwave from the explosion cracked the window of the lounge. Larry stopped chewing for a few seconds and stared at what remained of the charter flight, then finished chewing and swallowed. He packed the rest of the cheeseburger up and put it in his pocket.

"Well, zero survivors," Larry mused. "Again."

In response to my question whether this happens often on the tours of Reaper Travels, Larry said:

"No, just this tour, and all the ones before it."

Later the official press release of Con City Airlines stated that the reason for the airplane's engine failure was unknown and that a thorough investigation into its cause would take place to ensure such tragic accidents would never happen in the future. Excluding the date, the press release was word for word a carbon copy of the last seventy-nine press releases of Con City Airlines.




*



And so ended the great journey of the eleven brave souls who risked their lives and their sanity for the sake of adventure in the most dangerous plot of land in the known universe. As you must certainly agree, they found what they came for, and I for one am firmly convinced that if they lived this life again knowing where their path would lead, they would still choose to go on this tour of Con City and its surroundings. Though perhaps the second time around they would all at the very least invest in a body armor, an assault rifle, and a backpack full of ammunition.

In closing, allow me to reflect upon a well known phrase and its relevance to this tourist guide.

Don't panic!

These are the words used by one of the most famous tourist guides in the world as an introduction to the reader. The guide you currently hold in your hand, however, does not presume that you, dear reader, are prone to losing your nerve. Therefore, this guide deserves a different motto:

Abandon all hope, ye who enter Con City!

Comments