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Ford Coplen

United States

Message to Readers

This is the first chapter of a novel I am writing. I have it divided into chapters so that there won't be so much to load. If you have any advice on how I could improve my introduction, I would appreciate it.

Cheating Mortality: Chapter 1

June 10, 2015

FREE WRITING

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Chapter 1: Do You LIke Apples?

You may think me to be a figment of imagination. I know because that is what I have seen in every other instance of your being. I am every bit as real as you are. Who am I? I am a traveler. I have traveled to every corner of the universe and every multiverse. I have seen beauty beyond comprehension and horror beyond imagination. And at the center of it? You humans. I have seen you all do wonderful things... and terrible things. Why am I here? I am not supposed to do this but I am going to show you the future. I could get in to a lot of trouble for this so don’t tell anyone, alright? Why am I doing this? I have been an observer for too long. I have watched people, empires, and civilizations born and eventually slain. If I can save somebody, anybody, I can die happy. So come along and observe... I am only showing you this once...

 

 

    This is earth five centuries in the future. Three centuries earlier, the atmosphere burned away. Those who did not have the good fortune to burn suffocated. I still remember the sound the people as their organs boiled and became mush. The governments of the world, in an effort preserve an inkling of civilization (as they knew it), built immense subterranean shelters. These shelters housed politicians and skilled workers. Among them were technicians, engineers, scholars, sorcerers, etc. Regular civilians were chosen by lottery. In the days before the fiery apocalypse, magicians and sorcerors of all kinds created barriers to preserve the atmosphere in a bubble to evacuate mankind. They held for five days before they could maintain it no longer. About twenty three percent of all humans and other sentient beings inhabiting earth were safely in the shelters that day. They didn’t see it themselves. But if you pressed your ear to the steel ceiling, you could faintly hear the strident shrieks and agonized screams. In the days that  followed, life would never be the same again. People could travel between shelters via transports, which strongly resembled your modern subway cars. The first issue that was brought up was government. All the nations were now literally under the same roof. Lokren, an elvish representative from Korea proposed a simple solution.

“We have left the world we know behind. With it should be our antiquated concept of nations and country. Our division has only led to destruction. So the obvious remedy is unity. What I propose is this. All our leaders will become part of a great senate. All of our resources will be pooled and we will leave old conflicts behinds us.”

A few people argued against this, but they were drowned out by the ones who approved. The final vote was 96-12. Then came the unexpected.

A chemical weapon was released that killed most of the leaders who were present that day. With them, about fourteen percent of life that inhabited the subterranean was killed. Twenty percent of the shelters became blocked off and quarantined, never to be inhabited again for years. The strain became known as boil-blister fever. As the name suggests, the strain caused the infected to experience fever symptoms. As the disease developed, the victim’s skin would break out in boils that would grow and then pop, like boiling water. This boiling also affected internal organs. Few people survived, but they experienced deformed skin as a result of scarring, but they still consider themselves lucky.

The world is now ruled with an almost complete dictatorship. I say almost because the group that controls the world restricts very little. People are assigned work, they can do whatever they want afterwards. What is restricted is punished severely, usually by torture or death, sometimes both, if violated.

Science and magic flourished as researchers attempted to bring the luxuries of the old world back. There was one new branch of science that changed everything, necromancy. It has always been possible to extend human life. But one method emerged that did not involve human sacrifice of gruesome transformation. A substance called Sillanium was used to keep dying people alive. That is until the doctors ceased administering the substance. This raised intense controversy. One argument was made as to the price. It wasn’t the fact that it was extremely expensive. It was the fact that there was a price at all. How much does life cost? It was not anywhere near immortality, but to some, it might as well be.

Arguments escalated to physical conflict. Extremists fighting to eradicate or promote Sillanium life extension. It was eventually banned on the grounds of ethics. Extremist groups still exist, but a civil war was narrowly dodged.

The next big thing is still to come, at the center of it is one man. There are many people involved. Many pawns. But it all boils down to one man, if that is what you would like to think of him as. His name is Yuri. This is how it happened, I have recorded his experiences.

 

    The last thing I remember before my life changed forever was a protest. I had no business being there, I know, but me and my buds were curious. I was probably 13 years old, I worked in the food packing factories. We were walking home when we came across this demonstration. People were holding up signs, yelling, saying stuff that would made you feel queasy. In hindsight, it was probably about the Sillanium ordeal. At the time, I had no idea what was going on. So one of my friends, I forget what his name is, he says we should get a closer look at what is going on. Of course it made us uncomfortable, but our curiosity got the  better of us. We got close, what I saw invoked a weird, intoxicating feeling of fear and excitement. We stared at the procession from the side as they marched along. Then the next thing you know, men from both sides of the street run in to the crowd. They start throwing homemade bombs in to the crowd. People are screaming, I probably caught it the worst. I could not see anything other than darkness, but I heard enough of the carnage over the ringing in my ears to know what was happening. I could not hear myself, but I could feel myself screaming, the air blasting through my mouth. I the blood trickling out my ear and a growing sense of cold and numbness. I knew I died when I lost all connection to my body. It was not a sensory thing more than I just knew. I knew then that I was dead. I saw my body floating in a black void. My body was in a fetal position. I don’t know how long I was in this state. How I came back to life, I don’t know either. One day I just woke up in a hospital pod. Body perfectly intact, then it hit me that I could actually see my body. I spent a few minutes testing my body. Wiggling my fingers and toes, bending my elbows and knees.

    After the doctors ran some tests on me, I left the hospital. They also insisted that I wear a viral-screen. They said this was because my body was not yet ready to be exposed to the elements. My immune system was weakened.

When I walked into the lobby, my friends were there waiting for me. They thought I had died. They saw me die. So naturally, they had to see if ,somehow, I was still alive. Elyssa had an eye put out by flying debris.

    “It's so good to see you again, what happened?” she said.

    “We thought you were dead.” said Bu’urdock. Orcs were known for putting stuff bluntly. His face resembled that of a pig. Elyssa was an elf.

    “Trust me, I thought the same thing.” I said.

    Sandra held back from the rest of us. He never talked for as long as I’d known him. But from the look on his face, I could tell he was glad to see me again. His gaze met mine and he looked away.

    We made idle conversation, but I began to notice a look that seemed to be behind their faces. They couldn’t stop looking at me.

    “What’s up?”

Bu’urdock gulped. “Have you looked into a mirror recently, by any chance?”

“No,” I felt a growing sense of dread. “Why?”

Elyssa and Bu’urdock gave each other a look.

“I'll tell you later. We got to make up for lost time.”

“Ha. I know the overseer is going to be pissed. How long was I out?”

    The Overseer was a person who served as the manager at the cannery that the kids worked at. Or depending on what your rank is in the company, he was the slave driver.

“A month.” said Elyssa.

I whistled. “Really pissed.”

“Oh I’m sure he will understand. It’s not like you were skipping out or anything.”

“You were sayin’ something about ‘making up for lost time’, what should we do?”

“You’re the one who came back from the dead, you tell me.” said Bu’urdock.

I considered. For a moment I felt a chill, I did not like the term “back from the dead” in this case. But I quickly dismissed it. He was just joking.

“Wait, where are my parents?”

“You have got some catching up to do. I will tell you over a bite to eat.”

Food Fortress was a respected restaurant and theater chain. They served quick-food (like fast food in your time, but with many differences, you will see them in a second). I ordered sim-chicken wings. (The reason it is sim-chicken is because most real animals had been killed off, real animals still exist but their meat is extremely expensive. Sim-meats are a cheap replica.) Bu’urdock ordered the Fried Squid XL. Elyssa and Sandra did not get anything. The restaurant was decorated with walls that looked like it was supposed to be brimstone. The cashier was wearing a hat that resembled a paper castle. The theater area was where we had decided to sit. The lights had been dimmed and the performing area had been illuminated by overhanging lights. The background was painted to look like a medieval landscape at night. A jester skipped on to stage and took a bow.He wore a frilly rainbow outfit with stars on it. His face had been painted pale white with two big red dots on his cheeks. He slowly bent over in a bow .

“Excuse me guys I have go to the bathroom.” I said as I got up to leave.

“Hold up, you’re about to miss the best part.” said Bu’urdock.

    The Jester held up a glass of water. He Held it above his head for a few seconds before he gulped it all down. He the hiccuped. He took a deep breath and blew fire out of his mouth. He blew fire at the people closest to the stage and, almost as one, jumped out of the way. I laughed and then made my way to the bathroom. I walked into the mens room. It had the similar mock-brimstone design on the walls. I walked into a stall and did my business. When I was done, I walked out and went to the hand washer. While the machine was sanitizing my hands. While I was doing this, I was hearing a weird whirring sound in my elbow. Inevitably, I would have found out, but I just had to go against the doctors orders and peel back the viral-screen. I took all I had not to scream. My elbow was a joint between what appeared to be a mechanical forearm and bicep. I walked out of the bathroom feeling nauseous. I sat down in my seat, among my friends again. I tried to enjoy the show, a second jester emerged and was throwing eggs at the other, but all I could feel was dread and horror.

    “I’m leaving now.” I said.

    My friends looked at me and they seemed to understand, because they did not ask why. We left The Trough.

    “What happened? Seriously.” I asked as we were walking away.

    Elyssa sighed. “There is a lot to explain.”

    I gave her an intense look and she seemed to wither a little bit.

    “Both of you parents have gone missing. The police had investigated but they have no clue where they are. There was not even a trace.”

    She paused.

    “It was like they just disappeared.”

    We sat down with our backs to a crumbled cement building.

    “Why am I... like this?”

    “The doctors say that you were taken. No one saw his face. When you returned, you were different.” said Bu’urdock.

    “That’s kinda creepy.” I said.

    “You died and they say your body was taken. A doctor just came in one day and found your body laid in a pod. There was a note attached to the pod but nobody told us what it said.”

    I was feeling disappointed. I had gotten over the shock of seeing myself for the first time. But I was disappointed because I was hoping they would have an explanation of some kind. I don’t know whether or not to feel grateful that I am alive or not.

So, wait, how are you guys still alive?”

    ‘You took most of the damage from the bombs. After we saw you...”

    Bu’urdock’s voice trembled at this last word. He gulped, took a few breaths and the continued.

    “...we thought you were dead.”

    “I am dead, I should not be alive right now.”

    “Just be glad you are, Yuri.” Elyssa hissed. “You got a second chance that nobody else had. If you had seen everybody else...”

    She was trembling violently. She had the image of one of the victims playing in her mind. She saw a man with his torn skin hanging off him like loose rags, he cried from empty eye sockets. He moaned hoarsely, the cry seeming to rattle in his throat “Helf me. Pleef, helf me.”

    She shuddered and pushed the image out of her mind. She reached a hand up to her eyes and a tear slipped down her finger. She looked over at her friends who were watching her.

    “I’m sorry Elyssa.” I said.

    Elyssa sniffled. “You have nothing to be sorry for. If you had seen what we saw... you would understand why it pisses me off to see you talk like that.”

    There were a few moments of tense silence. Sandra reached a hand out and petted my hair. I jumped at her touch, but I did not swat her hand away. I could not help but smile.

    “Y’know, we have an extra bed in my dad’s deli. You could probably stay there for a while.” offered Bu’urdock.

    “Thanks, I appreciate it.” I sighed and slumped down a little more. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

    “We’ll figure it out, don’t worry.” said Isabelle.

    I looked back at Sandra, she smiled and gave me a thumbs up.

 

 

It takes a certain amount of love to do what I do.

Only one who has done it would know.

I am looking at the man in the chair. He is strapped in with leather straps. They are laid across his wrists, the ends of his forearms, his legs, his neck. He must have been in there for a few days now, because it looks like it is starting to chafe at his skin. His breaths are coming in heaves, sweat is running down his face by the drop, but he still has a defiant look on his face. A couple guys have been in here before me, but none of them have managed to get any information out of him. He looks at me with a look that says I dare you. It’s guy like this that make me appreciate my job.

    I grabbed a wood chair and sat down in front of him. I was wearing a black t-shirt and olive-drab green pants. The cuffs were tattered. I leaned forward, putting my elbows to my knees and then I talked to him.

    “I gotta admit, you must be pretty tough. How long has it been since you slept, five days? Six? And how much longer since you had a proper meal?”

    “If you’re going to try and reward me for selling out my people, you can stop right there. I won’t do anything for you fuckers.”

    “I understand why you would be angry. You’re loyal. That is an admirable quality in anybody. You’ve already proven how tough you are, now why don’t you just throw in the towel...”

    I leaned into his face and smiled wickedly.

    “...before anybody thinks differently.”

    “You don’t scare me. Go tell your friends that they don’t either.”

    I knew he was serious by the look in his eye. Fierce, defiant. But there was a reason why they called me in here. I have seen many guys like this, not often, but they appear once in a while. They just stubbornly refuse to crack.

    I put my hands to my knees and sat up out of the chair I slowly walked to the corner of the room and pulled out a bag. It was a battered leather suitcase. I went to a plain gray colored table and emptied out some tools. I picked up a dark brown leather apron and sat down back in front of the man.

    “Fun fact about me: I have a little obsession with the old world. You see what I have here?”

     I held up the blade. It was a plastic rod with a prong on the end that had a blade laid between it.

    “They used to use this to peel apples. You know what apples are right?”

    He still kept up the defiant facade, but a flicker in his expression told me that he didn’t.

    “It’s a shame how much people have forgotten about the old word. I am going to give you one more chance to talk.”

    He looked in to my eyes. I saw a flicker of fear in his eyes and then he looked the same way he did five minutes ago, defiant. Good, so he’s human after all.

    I smiled and put the razor to the top of his forearm, his arm was wrist side up. I pushed down and raked it downward. A swath of skin curled upward through the blade and the man writhed in pain. You could see dancing muscle fibers under his wrist before blood pooled in the wound. I rotated his wrist by an axis in the restraint his arm was contained in. He fought it, but I think he’s finally beginning to realize how powerless he is. I put the razor on his wrist and pulled downward again. he yelped.

    “You know, I don’t care if you confess or not at this point, I had so much prepared for you.” I chuckled briefly.

    Ten minutes later, the skin of his right forearm is gone. The restraint is slick with blood flow. The muscles taut as his wrist clenched the handle. He fainted, it’s okay, I came prepared for this. I went to the tool table and picked up a syringe filled with startlingly orange mixture in it. I took it and injected it into his neck. In a moment, he was awake. His eyes snapped open, his head jerked up. He drew in breath sharply and looked in to my eyes. There is the look I was looking for. The raw fear, the ripe agony. His nerves on fire.

    Hours later, I cleaned up my tools. A medical team came down and took the man away, he  lay limp and barely breathing in the gurney. He confessed in the end. They all do in the end. Through a layer of blood and vomit he told me everything.

    I paused at the threshold of the exit and turned of the light. I exited. An officer was waiting for me.

    “Man, the way you cut him up.”

    “He will remember this for a long time.”

    “Of course he will. Whenever he reaches down for a wank, he will see your handiwork.”

    “He had nothing interesting to say. He really was just a grunt with Broken Wings.”

    “I’m a little disappointed, it’s been ages since Broken Wings ended, and the first guy we ever capture has no useful intel?”

    “This is a good sign. They are getting careless. If this guy were true Broken Wings material, we would never have captured him, let alone interrogated him.”

    “You sure he was with Broken Wings at all?”

    “The peacekeepers thought he might have been lying too, but the way he ran from them seemed suspicious.”

    “Suspicious how?”

    “Well, he had obviously received training in pursuit management. You know, the kind that the Stealth Core recieves?”

    “Ah, wasn’t what Broken Wings created, pursuit management?”

    “Yeah.” I replied.

     “Huh, you know I heard rumors. Do you think that Broken Wings is back?”

    “Ha, well let me put it this way,” I looked over at the chair. Two men in biohazard suits were hosing the blood and excrement off of it. “If they are back, they will be easier to beat than the last time. They no longer have the advantage.”

    He paused. He felt like a voice was yelling at him. It was nothing. I always feel weird after interrogations.

    ‘We will be ready for them.”

 

 

Twenty Years Later

    I look in to the mirror. I am watching my face as the skin is slowly growing back like a plant. That is exactly what this covering is, but still. I figured it would be nice to have at least some semblance of humanity. So earlier, some guy got drunk and he happened to have a claw augmentation installed in his hand. He ripped three inch long scratches in my face. Any normal person, and he would have killed me. I have made a few augmentations to my body, but I look at the skin snaking out and regenerating and I realize how he could have killed me. As soon as you start to think you are indestructible, someone will prove you wrong.

    My apartment is nothing fancy, it is one of the compact cubes they have on the ninety second floor, eight floors from the magma core of the earth. I could afford a better home, but I feel a strong connection to my old home. It feels weird to be away for a long time. I tried, I know. I am looking over my weapons cabinet. Some guys are holed up in a tenement building. They are holding people hostage. nobody knows what is going on inside the building. All the windows had been covered. Because it was an emergency, they want me there in a half hour at the most. The short time table is also due to the fact that I am part of the Peacekeeper Augmented Assault Core. In exchange for my freedom, this was a requirement. I don’t mind, it was this or experimentation.

    I strapped on my body armor. The sleek silicone-kevlar armor fit snugly against my chest and my sides. I picked up my AG-78 assault rifle and attached it to a strap on the back of my armor. I put on my combat visor. (To describe what it would look like to you in your time, the visor looked something like a motorbike helmet meets a riot helmet.) I slid my pistol into a holster attached to my leg. I stood up. I looked at the bland steel door. My house was two rooms. The main room was illuminated by two blue tinted lights. I went to the door and let myself out.

    I got to the Tenement apartment in twenty minutes. It was surrounded by barricades and machine gun nests. I approached Lieutenant Germain. (The first part of her name is pronounced like ‘jar’.)

    “Care to brief me on the situation?” I said.
    “There really is not much to brief you on. There are an unknown number of hostiles in the building. They are holding all of the tenants of the building hostage. No demands have been made. The sorcerers have not been able to get a look on the inside. It’s like they’re being blocked out.”

    “I thought that was impossible.”

    “I did too, but today that has been proven false. Also listen...”

    She held her hand up to her ear. We were silent for a couple of seconds.

    “No one, other than us, is making any noise. This silence is making me nervous. Something is not right.”

    “I see your point.”

“You are going to enter with a squad and rescue the hostage.”

    “Are we going in guns blazing or stealthily?”

    “Quietly. No need to alert them of our presence. Go assemble with squad c over there.”

    The HUD in my visor pointed to a group of armed men about thirty feet away. I saluted her and walked away.

    I fell into formation with the rest of the men. I was on point because my body was able to take more damage. My eyes were also better than most people’s. Not to brag or anything.

    We approached the set of double doors. Seeing it up close, I saw what looked like a black screen held over the door. Two men stood beside the doors. I held my assault rifle high and aimed at the door. Two more men approached the door and grasped the handles. I gave them a nod and they opened. From what I heard earlier I was expecting men to start shooting at us. But what we really found was silence. The lights were disabled, so there was nothing but darkness in the halls.

    I stepped forward and everyone fell in behind me. I turned on the night vision in my visor and everyone else did the same. We scanned through the main hallway. I remembered what Lt. Germain said earlier. It’s too silent.

    We came to a bisection in the hallway. I joined a group of two other men and four went the other way. THe way the building was laid out, we would rendezvous at another bisection and then take the stairs to the next floor. This building was twelve stories high. This is going to be a long night.

    I again took point and we assembled in a triangle formation. The walk was uneventful, we checked doors to the resident houses, but most of them were empty. Not only were there no people there, friendly or otherwise, but all the stuff that should be in an occupied house were not there. It was like nobody was there to begin with.

    We got to the intersection, twenty minutes later we were early. Hayes, known at the station as “Haze”, was the first one to express his concern when, ten minutes later, they did not meet up. There were no gunshots, no sounds associated with violence.

    “I feeling a little worried guys.”

    “Grow a pair Haze, they are just taking their sweet old time.” said the other guy.

    This was all whispered, of course.

    ”Hey, I’m just saying, this whole place feels off and now we don’t hear back from the other half of our team.”

    “It’s okay, it’s not like I wasn’t creeped out before or anything.”

    “Hey look, you’re making the tin man scared.”

    “Don’t call me that.” I said. I can usually take a joke, but when someone mentions my- let’s call it condition- I don’t appreciate it very much. I show my dissapreciation with a healthy puch to the sternum, but now was not the time for that.

    “How long should we wait before we call them?”

    “A minute sound good to you?”

    “Sure.”

    A minute passed.

    “I say we should go down that hallway and check on them.” said Haze.

    “Yeah.” I said.

    We got back into formation and went forward toward the other hallway. Haze pressed against the wall and raised his rifle against his chest. I walked forward looking down the sights and turned the corner. As soon as this happened, we came face to face with the other squad.

    “What the hell?” the pointman of the other formation yelped out in surprise.

    “Oh, thank god.” said the other guy in our group.

    “Sorry, we had to escort some survivors out.” said the lead man of the other group.

    “Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Haze.

    “Slipped my mind. Sorry.”

    “You little bitch.” Haze said bitterly.

    “We should probably continue upstairs. It’s clear down here, correct?” I said

    “Correct. There is no understory either, so it’s only up from here.” replied Lt. Germain over a speaker in my headset.

    “You here with us?”

    “No, the scanners (the sorcerers mentioned earlier) can see in to the floor now. They can’t see anything above it, but we know the first floor is clear.”

    “Great,” said Haze. “We got them trapped like rats.”

    “Let’s go.” said an officer.

    I took point again and we went towards the stairway.

    There was a growing sense of fear as we went up every floor. It became a pattern, go up, split up, search the rooms, regroup, repeat. But every time, the halls seemed more and more surreal. Furniture was floating, there was no sound except for our muffled footsteps and our breathing. We found one body, dead and floating like a doll. It was when we got to the fifth floor that we began to notice it. There was a ringing that seemed to get louder and higher pitched.

    “I swear, this noise is going to drive me crazy.” said Haze.

    Suddenly, we heard gunshots coming from the other hallway. They went on for five seconds before stopping abruptly. One shrill shriek rang through the hallways before the gunfire was cut short.

    “We better check that out.” said Haze. Stating the one thing we had but didn't want to do.

    “Carefully.”

    Haze took point position and we retraced our steps to follow down the hallway we split up at. We crept silently, tensely with our rifles raised. Haze backed up against the corner of the wall and I moved forward. I turned and raised my rifle.

    So this is where all the residents went. The ringing sound intensified and I saw men and women standing in the open doorways throughout the hallway. There were a group of them that were tearing apart the dead bodies of the other police officers. The stared from marble white faces and their eyes became solid black oil drops. Black veins stood out in their eye sockets. One man walked forward from among them. The skin on his right forearm was gone. You could see blacked, scabbed muscle fibers straining to give his hand motion.

    He looked me in the eyes, I looked back into the void that was his.

    “Yuri.” he said. “Yuri, where have I heard that name?”

    “Stand down. Release these people.” said Haze.

    The man gave Haze a sideways look. “Oh, I will. I just wanted to get your attention.”

    “Mission accomplished, asshole. You have our attention, what do you want? Not that you’re going to get it, but I’m curious.”

    “It’s hazy, but I know this man was the one I’m here for.” He pointed one gnarled finger from his right hand at me.

    “Release these people now. We will not warn you again.” said the other guy.

    There was a stir between all the residents. The man inhaled sharply.

    “I guess this means you won’t hear me out. That’s a shame.”

    He bent down and picked up a piece of a man’s jaw. He sniffed it.

    “These guys didn’t want to hear my message either. I came out all this way to have some neanderthals point their guns at me.”

    He peeled some skin off the jaw and put it in his mouth.

“It’s been forever since I had an actual meal.”

The was a low growl between all of the residents. The bent over and seemed to be poised to strike.

“Feed.”

They leapt as one.

We fired back as one.

There was no choice, he had transformed the residents. This was purely self-defence. I don’t know if there was anything we could do for them.

Our rifles jumped as the bullets flew. The screams of the charging creatures filled my head.

“Yuri, what the hell is going on in there?” asked Lt. Germain.

I did not respond, I could not respond.

“Yuri, respond.”

I kept my focus on the wall of marble faced creatures.

“We are sending in reinforcements. What threat registry are they.”

They were sending in more men, I had to tell them or elses they would get massacred like we were being right now. Like my other squadmates were not two minutes ago.

“Unknown number of hostiles. Possibly of vampiric origin.”

“Yuri, take the others and get the hell out of there.”

I walked backwards, firing on the creatures as I went.

“Guys, we have to fall back”

No response. I looked around and I did not see them. I did not see the residents either.

“Who are you looking for, Yuri?”

I spun around and fired at him. He crouched and launched himself forward. He grabbed my rifle and delivered an uppercut to my face. Damn, can he hit. He held the rifle and took aim.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked him.

“I was sent to deliver a message.” He replied while looking down the sights.

“Then just say it, dammit. All these people didn’t have to die.”

“No, they didn’t. But that was not my fault.”

He drew in a breath.

“We know the truth about you Yuri. Everything. This is hardly a way to make oneself known to another. But circumstances were not in my favor.”

“You couldn’t have just come to my apartment and said ‘hi’?”

“No, I cannot show my face in public. We want to help you. These people are using you for their own agenda.”

I thought on this for a moment.

“The police call reported seven gunmen. What happened to them?”

“I killed them. You won’t have any idea what it is like. You have no idea what it is like to eat flesh again after so long on the substitute.”

What he is referring to is a sim-meat that has the same properties as human flesh and can supply nutrition to a vampire the same way. But according to them, it tastes disgusting.

“Why should I do anything you say? You killed all of the tenants too.”

“This was all staged. They made this so they can get a tighter leash on you.”

There was a few moments pause, and then he focused again on the sights of the rifle.

“Looks like they have succeeded in brainwashing you. I am sorry it has to be this way...”

There was a chink sound and the man got hit with a 35mm grenade.

He stumbled around drunkenly. There was a sickening sizzling sound coming from his eviscerated body. His head, upper right torso and arm were were vaporized. Through the eerie green glow of night vision, I could see his organs growing, ribs reconstructing. There was a low wheeze as his breath was sucked through his exposed windpipe.

He turned and ran away. He tripped once and then was on his feet in an instant.

“Hey, stop right there!”

“He cant hear you, dude. You see any ears him? ‘Cause I don’t.” said Haze.

“We should still get him.”

“There’s only one way out of here, and that’s all the way down on the first floor. He’s not going anywhere.”

I got on the radio with Lt. Germain.

“The suspect is heading your way.”

“Don’t worry, we’re ready for him.”

We waited for about three minutes until we saw the men come our way. Lt. Germain was at the front of the formation.

“Did you get him?” I asked.

“No, we didn’t see him.”

“What the hell?” said Haze. “He went sprinting down those stairs, where could he have gone?”

There was a rumble through the building, followed promptly by heavy machine-gun fire.

“Well there’s your answer, Hayes.” said Germain

Haze’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. “Fuck.”

Several hours later, all of the surviving tenants were sent to the infirmaries. There were 47 people who were harmed, not including the five officers who were killed. You know that other guy who was with us? He died.

Later, we got back to the station, I filed a report. A few days later, I asked Haze how he managed to get away.

“I didn’t.” he said. He pulled up his pants leg to reveal a prosthetic.

“What model is that.”

“One of Yushiko's Human v1.7s, I think.”

“You think?”

“I sort of just picked the first thing I saw. Well, not really. My friend, he’s one of those guys who wanted his limbs cut off so he could get the prosthetics. I was looking at the Gearhead magazine and he said ‘Oooh, pick that one’.”

His leg had a sleek, black plastic cover. You could see the fibers that replaced the  human muscle fibers.

“I could of gotten additional attachments, but I didn’t want to overdo it, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I do.”

I am basically just one big prosthetic. I thought.

“I mean you see these guys with all of this stuff stuck to their bodies. Who needs a cup holder that comes out of his stomach?”

“Ha, you got a point there.” said Kent. He strolled over casually and got a cup of Coffee. He had all of his limbs replaced with the Paxton “Killswitch” series. He had knife blades that he could shoot out of his wrists and out the back of his elbows. His legs have been designed to triple, almost quadruple, the running speed of a normal human.

The police force is split up into three functions, Assault, Stealth, and Peacekeeping. Assault and stealth deal are similar to SWAT teams in your time. Peacekeepers are just a fancy term for police. My guess is that this man is in Stealth.

“That a new augmentation you got there?” he asked.

“Yeah, I just finished with the surgery yesterday. It’s gonna take some getting used to.”

“I remember my first time.” said Kent, “If I ever looked down, It was weird to not see my my leg there, in the flesh at least.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean.”

“I should probably not be one to talk, I mean look at you.”

Kent gestured my whole body with his right hand while holding his cup.

“I wonder what it was like when you woke up and saw that mug of yours for the first time.”

“I wouldn’t think on it too much. It’s a military secret after all.” I said.

It was true. My ‘condition’ was supposed to kept secret. It was not known except by a few select people. They did not know that Kent knew. I would like to keep it that way, for his sake.

“I know, I know. But you can’t blame me for being curious.”

We sat there in silence. The sounds of paper being sent through the transport pipes and the clatter of fifty keyboards were the only sounds.

“Well see you later, where should we go for beer?”

“Something wrong with the usual place.”

“No, it’s just that I want to go somewhere different.”

“I got a little extra money on me, let’s go to the Games District.” suggested Haze.

He was referring to District 7, also known as the “Games District”. Because of the number 7, I guess. Their specialty is in casinos, bars, and strip clubs.

“But that’s expensive.” said Kent.

“I got plenty, you know what, all of your drinks will be on me.”

“That much extra?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Haze replied. He did not look like he wanted to elaborate.

“Where then?”

“I was thinking either the Deep Blue or Six-shooters’” offered Haze.

“No, I been to Six Shooters once...” started Kent.

“And?”

“There’s a reason why I only went once. Let’s just leave it at that.” said Kent, his expression reinforcing the point.

“So, Deep Blue it is then?”

“Yeah, their music is better anyway.” I said.

My shift ended at 8:00, I took the subway to District Seven. The car was like any other subway car in your time except the inside was of a slicker design. It was a ceramic tube with red plastic seats that jutted out of the side. The car was illuminated by a single light fixture that spanned the top length of the car. The windows spanned the length of the car stopping at the door frame. We stopped at the Fifth District, the doors lifted outward and slid apart. People drifted out and more crammed themselves in. The doors slid back together and slid back into the frame. An orcish woman shoved me aside and took an empty seat. A man with red shells covering his body squirmed away from her and readjusted the NeuroLink on his face. There was an ad playing behind him. There was an asian woman wearing a suit that was made of gold diamonds, she was holding a tube of toothpaste. It splayed the name, SureShine in English with the Chinese translation underneath it. Then the ad disappeared and the background turned to solid black. Then the announcer started to speak.

“Have you ever felt inadequate?” he said in a strong, masculine voice.

Not this ad again. I thought.

“Do you wish there was something you could change about yourself? With our products, you can customize any aspect of your body for relatively low prices. Check out our new line of biomechanical augmentations, Human v1.8.”

It showed a clip of someone running on a treadmill with mechanical legs. The camera zoomed in to show the metal fibers stretching and contrasting in slow motion.

“Run four times longer and faster with our Leg Replacements. Get a custom paint job and look slick while blasting out the competition. You can change it at will, so don’t worry about removal.”

He showed the leg with a crashing wave design change to criss-crossing snakes instantly.

“See more at our website www.yushicoinc.com

There was a barcode that appeared underneath it. Someone who was wearing a NeuroLink could look at it and go to the website.

The train announcer droned “Next stop: District Seven, the gaming and nightlife capital.”

I made my my out the door. The air was heavy. I could smell food frying. The people became a wave that swallowed up anyone who dared to stop. Along the gray cement walls, there were people sitting they all were clad in rags. An elderly woman had herself and three little children wrapped in a patchwork blanket.

“Why can’t we eat ma?” said the littlest child. He had long orange hair that draped over his eyes. He was wearing a grey t-shirt that was too big on him, that was it.

She just stared at the cup in front of her. There was one bill inside. There was something written on it, but in this light I could not tell what it said. I would assume it was something about herself and her children being hungry. I stopped to look but was shoved forward in response.

“Move it, buddy.” some guy grunted behind me.

“I’m hungry ma.”

“We all are.” said the mom.

“Food please.”

“Be quiet. Your brothers are hungry too, but they are not complaining.”

“FOOD.”

“Be quiet, please god, be quiet.”

I walked up the stairs. I could barely see the strip of light on the edge of the steps. As soon as I was out of the subway station, I recoiled from all the lights. The first thing you will notice about District Seven is that everything is BRIGHT. There are flashing lights and neon signs everywhere. The smells of a million different foods clashed with each other. People were walking to and fro. People stumbling drunkenly, couples hand in hand, friends laughing together in their tight knit groups. I made my way down road 56. This was the road to the club we arranged to meet at. A neon sign to my left displayed a woman with a cactus between her legs, her left hand near the tip of it and her right hand holding a cowboy hat in the air. The signs underneath me daring me to test my luck at the game tables.

About ten minutes later, I arrived at the Deep Blue. The black building looks like a coral reef, except all of the coral is black. A thin blue stripe circled the building and stopped under the big Deep Blue logo. Believe it or not, there are still queues, and this one was massive. The building was practically vibrating, you could hear the bass beating like a human heartbeat. The peacekeeper at the gate was a humanoid crustacean creature with four arms that ended in claws. He had a metal strip around his neck. This was a translator. After all, he resembled a crab in your time, how could he talk like we can? His kind was commonplace, but you would probably scream if you saw him.

He was listlessly managing the line. As I stepped in line a hologram projection appeared in front of me. It read

Join queue: “Deep Blue”?

I selected ‘yes’ and was given a number. 5698

Shit, I’m going to be here awhile.

I looked around and saw all the people around me. Despite the name, this place was not in any way fancy, at least not at this hour. As soon as it is late, the dinner tables are put away, the music starts, and the drinks flow endlessly. I have moved half way through the line. The door is still about a hundred feet away. I listened in on the conversation of the couple in front of me. I was just bored. I would probably have had a neuro link. But for some reason, whenever I tried to use it, it wouldn’t work for me. It must have something to do with my ‘condition’.

“How much longer we gotta wait here?” groaned the woman. She was wearing baggy urban-camo pants and had a black tshirt on.

“Your complaining ain’t making it go faster.” said the man. He was wearing a pink hoodie and was wearing turquoise shorts. He had a short mohawk and a tattoo on the back of his head. I couldn’t make out what it was in this light. She made an angry hmph. I checked the hologram, 3972. At least the line is moving fast.

 

 

I was sitting in a projection sphere. It was a large theater and a woman with branches for hair was singing. She was wearing a light, almost white green dress with leaf designs. There were white berries growing from the vines draping down from her hair. I did not have any particular taste for this music, but the human I am possessing did. They resisted less if you kept them occupied or gave them what they want. They are like dogs that way. The woman struck her high notes, the dress spun with her as she spun around. I could see the appeal. I could feel him inside me. No matter how much I hate it, we are here together. Had I had my way, he would be gone, his soul crushed and scattered in the breeze. Unfortunately, I have been told to keep him alive. Someone higher up wants him alive. This man is also the reason I am still alive. If it weren’t for the higher up officials in this realm, I would have been exterminated. So somebody wants him alive here too. I don’t mind, but it does get annoying sometimes. He would resist me, not like he did before, but sometimes he would try to regain his control. I looked at him inside me. He was floating in the black void, curled up like a fetus in the womb. He looked peaceful right now, docile. I watched the show, maybe this will be done soon.

 

 

The man was curled up in a fetal position. It felt like floating in a warm bath, except it surrounded him from all directions. He felt like he was submerged in water, but he did not feel a struggle for breath. He felt warm liquid blow out and inflate his lungs. He heard the music from the woman with vines for hair. He liked it. It was soothing. It reminded him of the life he had before. I remember listening to this with my wife. An image appeared in his mind. He saw a woman with long black hair and pale skin. Her smile lit up the room and her eyes had a majestic but haunting look. I loved her. Why does it make me sad to think about her? He forgot a couple things ever since the demon took him, but he remembered the woman, his wife. They also had a kid, but he died. But this did not sadden him. It should, but it didn’t. Did he think he might still be alive? He had tried to break out from this structure, but he had never managed to make a dent in it. He had been in here for a long time. How long? He did not know. He wondered what it would be like if he got out. Who had he left behind? What kind of life did he live? He had no way of answering these questions, so he decided to stop thinking about it. He was aware that he was sharing his mind with the demon. “Sharing”, right. He laughed. He was trapped in this structure, and the demon was using his body. He could not hear his thoughts, and that was a good thing. At least he had some privacy. Sometimes, he could see through the demon’s eyes. Sometimes he saw terrible things. Maybe if the demon willed it, he could see this performance that he was hearing. Maybe.

 

 

    I was in the Deep Blue now. The amount of human activity going on in one place was overwhelming. People were dancing, some skilled and passionate, others stumbling and shambling drunkenly. The black walls were decorated with structures that resembled a coral reef. Lights shone down and swirled and shifted with a life of it’s own.

    “Yuri, baby.” Haze stumbled over to me. “Where you been?”

    “Get off me,” I said. “You couldn’t wait until I was here, could you?”

    “Nope.” He laughed. “Why don’t you come catch up with the rest of us?”

    I smiled. “You guys...” I trailed off at that.

`    Me and Haze went over to the bar. Haze fell on the edge on his elbows and chuckled.

    “What do you want now?” said the bartender. The top half of his head resembled that of a man’s but the lower half was covered in grayish blue tentacles.

`    “Gimme the Jakobski brew.”

    He reached under the counter and revealed a teardrop shaped bottle with a golden colored liquid inside it. He screwed the top off it and gulped down some of it.

    “What are you gettin’ Yuri?”

    “Where’s Kent?”

    “I’ll let him tell you himself.” He giggled mischievously. “Get somethin’ already. I’m the only one drunk right now and it ain't right.”

    “Okay,” I told the barber. “I want what he is having.”

    “Aay, I knew I raised you right.”

    “Shut up, Haze.”

    “Yezzir” he slurred.

    I drank the brew. It burned a little bit, but it was soothing. I felt warmth in my stomach and it felt like my head got a little lighter.

    “Well look here,” he turned around in his seat. “You seeing what’s going on here?”

    I did. A man was setting up a stand with speakers on it. He laid out a chair and pulled up a hologram projection, seemingly out of nowhere. The lights dimmed and he closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes back up, they were glowing a glow in the dark green. He smiled and his teeth were the same color. Music started to play. A drum roll played slowly and a bass kicked every few beats. Silence and then heavy dubstep played. Strobe lights lit up the floor. The man was touching the hologram and making gestures in it to the beat of the music. A video was playing in the air behind him. It looked light a ball of paint that spike and curved into shapes to match the rhythm of the music. At one point the music paused then resumed as men materialized out of the floor. They looked as they were draped in paint, it stuck and clung to them like taffy. Their bodies would lurch forward and slide backwards, one spun his torso a whole 180 degrees.

    “That’s cool, but weird. How’d he do that?” asked Haze eying the paint men.

    “Probably some illusion spell.” I replied. I finished my drink and ordered a second. I drank and felt a rush of giddiness.

    “Is that Kent?”

    Haze leaned forward and looked into the crowd.

    “What is he doing?” he laughed. “He looks so stupid.”

    He was stumbling around the dance floor. He seemed to be trying to impersonate the paint men unsuccessfully. He was reduced to spinning around with his arms extended. The music ended and the paint men folded their arms on top of each other and sunk into the floor. They leaned forward until they rotated under their legs and all the way back to where they started. They repeated this until they were little orbs of paint on the floor. Kent saw us at the bar and shambled toward us.

    “You guys see me out there?” said Kent.

    Haze started laughing. He held his stomach and his face was cringed in a hysterical burst of laughter.

    “Oh yeah we did, what was that?” said Haze. He leaned forward in another fit of laughter.

“You were all like,” he got up and an twirled around in circles with his arms raised while saying “WOOOOO!”

    “You look so much more intelligent when you do it.”    said Kent sarcastically.

    

 

    We stumbled out of the club literally holding eachother up. I was the most sober of the two, but not by much. we were all giggling and shambling through the street.

    “You would have to pick me up if I pass out.” said Haze.

    “Why would I do that?”

    “Because Kent can’t. I know that for a fact.”

    “It’s an accomplishment if somebody could carry you,” Kent replied.

    “Heh, I would punch you but...”

    Haze passed out he slumped down, but his arm was still around my shoulder. Kent laughed. He passed out and slumed forward. I sighed and slumped the both of them over my shoulders in a fireman’s carry. I walked into the subway with them over my shoulders, nobody seemed to bat an eye. Around here and at this hour, it was perfectly normal to be dragging a friend who was unconscious on the sub. There was a poster on the wall that had a picture of what looked like a dead wolf with it’s back to the camera and blood pooled around him. The sign read

Don’t let this be you!

Register At The Local Shelter today!

    Werewolves would have to go to theses shelters periodically so that when they transformed, they would not kill people. The punishment for not doing this was death. This was not the government being harsh, There was no sedating them when they have turned, so there is no choice but to kill them. Vampires also have special accommodations, there is a special meat that was engineered to satisfy their hunger for flesh. It is made out of the same material that makes all the sim meats, except this is supposed to mimic human flesh.

    I saw the same family bundled up in the blankets. The child was still complaining about being hungry. His mother seemed to not notice anymore. She just stared distantly. I noticed a mark on his neck. It looked like a bite mark. That’s not a good sign. It would certainly explain why he was still complaining about being hungry, speaking of vampires. I thought that I might have to report him later, he looks to be in one of the first stages of transformation.

I should report him. Later. I’ve got my hands full right now. Dang, these guys are heavy. You don’t realize how heavy someone is until you have to lift their unconscious body. I’m lifting two.

    The train ride is slow. I am sitting on the seat, Haze and Kent are slumped on the seats adjacent to me. The narrator calls my stop (District 16: The homely district). I slide my arms behind their backs and heft them on to my shoulders. People are giving me weird looks as I’m walking along. Don’t mind me, just carrying two passed-out guys.

    It took me two hours to find where they live and slump their bodies on to something in their houses. Kent is living pretty nicely. That was to be expected of a higher ranking officer. He had an island in his kitchen with two iridescent vines hanging down overhead. He has a laser screen in his living room. (It is a system of lasers that cross beams together to project images. Essentially, it’s a really thin TV.) I slumped him on a fat sofa. Haze’s house was a little more... I don’t know... decrepit? It wasn’t a total wreck, but you could see the age. I laid him down on his bed.

    I was making my way home. I was not too far from District 17, so I decided to just walk. It wasn’t worth taking transit. My house more closely resembled an old-world apartment. It was decorated to look like it was made of brick. The door was wooden and painted a pallid green. Before I could walk in a figure shot out a hand from behind me and pulled me into an alley. A hand clamped over my mouth.

    “Shhh. I am not here to hurt you.”

    I looked down at his right hand and saw that all the skin was gone from it. The skin on the rest of his arm was a raw, bright pink color.

    “Yeah, we met before. It still hurts you know. You think because I’m immortal, it doesn’t hurt when someone lobs a grenade me?”

    He took his hand off of my mouth. I broke from his hold and faced him. I couldn’t believe it. This was the guy from three days ago. Haze shot him. And he just disappeared with his guts dangling out.

    “Tell me why I should not beat you senseless.”

    “I went through the trouble of revealing myself to you, don’t you want to know why?”

    “I know that you killed all those people.”

    “Bull, I did not kill anybody. The only killing being done was by you guys, and boy were you efficient”

    “What do you want?”

    “The only thing I am hear to do is deliver you a message.”

    “From who?”

    “He did not want me to reveal his name. He will tell you if you agree to meet him.”

    “Okay, why should I trust you. You tried to kill me.”

    He seemed to hesitate. Then he said.

    “There is a war coming, the man who sent me said to tell you, ‘I will give you a chance to join the right side.’”

    I snorted. “The right side?”

    “I can’t tell you anything else. All I need is a yes or no.”

    I considered this. A shady man, a vampire, is sending me a message. He won’t tell me who it’s from. There’s a war coming, apparently. Now he wants me to choose.

    “Sure, I’m supposed to meet him?”

    “Yeah, he will come pick you up. I won’t tell you when. Glad to see you at least considering our side.”

    He started to walk away. And then he said back to me over his shoulder.

    “And don’t try anything. Don’t follow me. Don’t wait to ambush the men who will escort you. They won’t know anything anyway. Also, if you have any spells or bugs on you, you will be killed on the spot.”

    “Threatening me now?”

    “Just a precaution, we need to be careful. Like I said, don’t try anything and you won’t have to worry about it.”

    “Okay.

    Why did I just agree to meet him? If the peacekeeper’s find out what happened here, I don’t know how they will react. Death if I’m lucky. But I have a feeling that if I can get inside their base, I will have something useful. At the very least, I can bring some info on this new threat.

    Before he disappeared completely from view, he said.

    “I was wrong about you, they haven’t succeeded in brainwashing you. I hope we meet again.”

    I did not respond. He chuckled and sprinted away. I was standing alone in the alley.

 

    Floating in the void, I get dreams sometimes. Tonight there is one that is not recurring every night, but I get it often. An old man (my father, maybe?) is showing me a small tree in a pot, on it is one large red apple.

    “It’s the last one. I want you to have it. You will never see another one, so enjoy it.” he says.

    He gently plucks it off the tree and hands it to me. I reach out with my little hands and take the vibrant red fruit. He hands me a blade. He clasps my hands around the handle and guides my hands to shave the skin off the apple.

The red flesh of the apple curled through the blade and fell off, revealing a pearly white layer. I held it in my hands for a second and put it to my mouth. I took a bite and a sharp sweet taste filled my mouth. The soft fruit seemed to melt on my tongue.

I was chewing the apple. The man was talking.

    “Slow down there kiddo, enjoy it a little bit. You will never see a real apple again, so try and savor this one.”

    “Why dad?” some specks of juice and apple fly out of my mouth as i ask this.

    He sighs and seems to look in the distance.

    “After what people have done, I don’t think they deserve to taste the fruits of the old world.”

    I swallowed what was in my mouth.

    “What did people do to the old world?”

    “We destroyed it. They don’t teach it in your schools and it has been forgotten what happened exactly, but one thing's for sure. We are living underground because of something we did to ourselves.”

    He sighed.

    “Some people don’t even know we are living underground. It’s sad.”

    He put his arms on the arms off his chair and hefted himself up. as he walked his legs would make a whirr and a click.

He walked up to a window that overlooked a large portion of the city. Whirr- click. Whirr- click. Whirr- click. The landscape always looked like an old world city at night. Bright orange lights. Obnoxious ads. There was never sunshine and the sky was usually dark save for an ad or a message from the government. The only stars I saw, that anybody saw, were on the ground. Above our heads in little bulbs.

“I hope that one day we can crawl out of this hole we buried ourselves in.”

He chuckled.

“Listen to me ramble. Go on and finish your apple.”

I stared at the apple, in my little kid hands. I held out the apple to him. He smiled.

“No, you should have it. I’ve already had plenty of apples.”

He ruffles my hair.

“Maybe one day, when we can return to the surface, you can plant some more apples. Show people what we have been missing this whole time.”

 

 

The demon woke up. His eyes shot wide open.

    The hell was that?

    It would seem the human’s dreams are becoming my own.

That made sense. We share the same mind (“Share”, ha!), why not the same subconscious? I should try and read further into his memories. it’s hard explaining to a non-devil what it’s like reading someone else. It’s like standing in a library filled with memories and catalogued thoughts. The only difference is that it feels like you’re standing in front of every book ever at the same time. It’s no use trying to explain to an organic being like you.

    Why can’t I just kill him already? Why do I need to keep him alive? All the more reason I should look into him. I need to go back to sleep. Goodnight.

 

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