Right Utopia Pt. VIII

I’ve been rather depressed lately, if you hadn’t guessed by that last post! However, I’ve finally completed another “chapter” that I hope you will find pleasing to your imagination.


Right Wing Utopia (Phoenix Awakens)

Alethea was once again alone in the noise of the grand hall, but she did not feel lonely as she made her way to the long hall that would allow her to exit the chambers into a world she had not yet seen, but before doing so she stopped by the manufacturing center. Along the front wall was a wide assortment of weaponry without any indication of ownership among other equipment. She picked up a shoulder holster and once it was on, she filled its lone slot with a pistol the color of granite that had a faint purple glow coming from the muzzle’s solid end. Her instincts, or VAUX, told her that this was an older Distractor700 modeled after a vintage Desert Eagle. It was nonlethal, but the brilliant purple laser produced by the device could destroy vision almost instantly from a distance of up to two miles. With her new equipment in tow, Alethea finally made her way down the hall which echoed with every step pounded out by her heavy boots. She spoke her name to the entrance, and with an imperceptible gush the hatch opened into the afternoon sunlight. She swung her arm before her eyes to shield them, but they quickly adjusted and she surveyed the surroundings from the doorway as it let out a quiet warning, “Closing in ten seconds, please step away from the portal. Thank you.” She stepped forward out of the doorway and a mixture of sand and atomsite crunched under her boots as the door closed behind her, she was standing in a barren wasteland of mixed orange, red, and sparkling light green hues littered with piles of garbage here and there that rose almost as tall as the mountainous uprising of earth that stretched from the bunker’s entrance to six klicks away. The majority of the trash in this crater was gathered around the rim which gave the bunker some semblance of camouflage, even the door was decorated with discarded chip bags, smashed soda cans, glass shards, and more. Alethea spotted a solitary road leading out of the canyon and cautiously picked her way through the human-made pockmark. Her VAUX explained that the area had been formed during the Chinese air invasion when a downed crew still managed to detonate their payload. Once the radioactivity had died down, it became a profitable dump before every home was equipped with its own miniaturized recycling center capable of turning anything into useful raw materials. When she had reached the point of ascension where the crater opened up to the surrounding hellscape, she scanned for any movement around her, but none registered on her inner display. A heavy thudding was carried by the wind that was sweeping over the hills and rock formations, and she travelled in its direction to investigate as intuition bespoke the presence of one of the walkers. When void of cover, Alethea made great use of her long powerful strides to deliver her unto the shadows where she would slink about constantly checking for any signs of her prey. She continued to follow the sound as it grew more thunderous, and when she was a bit out of zoomable-sight range of the valley, she noticed that the pebbles upon a plateau she had taken refuge under had started dancing about accompanied by a gentle shaking of the ground. She looked over the outcropping, but couldn’t see anything except for a slight trace of a domed city just visible above the tall rocks. She climbed onto the shelf and crouched as she moved towards a weathered v-shaped crack in the rock which she gradually peaked through. Her eyes magnified the scene before her; a Walker was facing the dome’s entrance, its back turned towards Alethea’s nest, and her HUD displayed the distance to the target, wind speed, and local gravity. She swung her rifle around and nestled it softly into the eroded rock and switched to peering through the weapon’s scope; the glint of silvery metal where some of the camouflage reflecting its patrol area was nearly blinding, but the polarization filter quickly made its adjustments to increase visibility. The walker was crouched down with its cockpit folded to the ground, but even through the transparent shielding she could see two men in deep black uniforms chatting. There was no clear shot that could end both lives, and she swept her observations towards the entrance where she could see several more people in similar uniforms in a concrete shack by the gated entrance. Alethea lifted her rifle from the crack and hunkered down looking across the horizon for another area with a better vantage point. She made her way down the side of the dusty rust-colored rock-hand that made her scouting possible, and she made her way toward a dry riverbed that lay to the south of her position and circled around the far side of the dome. She was able to crouch in the bed and pick her way through it to a spot closer to the western edge of the city’s walls where she could just see the machine clearly without the structure’s curvature obstructing the view. She flicked the two legs on the front of her gun down and let it rest on the embankment; when she zoomed in, she was surprised to find the same people still chatting away, and looked for a new nest. Her eyes traced the split in the ravine that had not yet been traversed, and it moved away from the dome to disappear behind a hill. “Whatever lay beyond that hill,” she thought as she folded the bipod together while slinging the firearm back over her shoulder, “it better provide some damn good cover.” She unholstered the large pistol while willing her eyes to adjust to the distance between her and the two men, aiming carefully she gently squeezed the trigger and released it almost instantly. One of the men at the other with a puzzled look, and began pointing at the ground behind his companion closest to the praying behemoth. He shrugged, but a moment later Alethea had let out another pulse which caused him to gesticulate to the machine while walking towards it. The person he had been speaking to walked off, and she made her way towards the hill. The cat and mouse game had begun, and she hoped that it would not last long. As she rounded the corner of the hill, she felt the ground begin to shake, but her sights were set upon a dilapidated two-story house by which the barren trench passed. She ran towards it as the rumbling got closer. She peaked out of the ravine once she was beside the house, but could not yet see the beast, and she swiftly made her way up the side as she heard a gentle hissing followed by “whump-whump-whump-whump.” The shaking had stopped, and she could now see dust slowly snaking its way up from where she had fired the laser. She snuck up the creaky staircase that was, remarkably, still intact and sturdy then spotted a broken table which she moved from the center of the half-destroyed room to within a clear line of sight of the shattered window. She quickly set her rifle up on its bipod as the earth trembled once again. She could just see the machine moving towards the ravine for a closer inspection of the area it laid waste to. Alethea peered through the scope and watched as the driver swatted gravel out of the way with one of the grippers while looking for any sign of life, dead or alive. When none could be found, it jumped down into the gorge which made the most imperceptible difference in height, it could still be seen well above the hill. It wandered down the path, and right when it neared the knoll, the crosshairs of her rifle locked together in a flashing-red embrace indicating a killshot could be taken right through the driver’s heart. Before Alethea could even pull the trigger, the weapon had already anticipated the action letting the dense metal rod fly free in an instant with a tender murmur that sounded like a broken vacuum seal. She quickly threw her gun back to its ready-position and hurried down the stairs into the ravine as she heard the gears grinding and the crackle of electricity. She ran toward her kill and was greeted by the kneeling giant. There was a hole through the windshield of the beast, and there were no signs of any activity, but she knew that was temporary. She threw the impaled corpse out with a squelch as it hit the ground and finally began to bleed, whatever life the body once had was long past gone, and she stored her weapon beside the seat rapidly getting to work reprogramming the turret when she noticed a small circular luminous cyan object near her feet below the machine’s console. It had copious amounts of tape over it, a clear sign to her that someone did not ever want to remove that particular device, and curiosity got the best of her as her internal computer had no recognition of its presence.  She gave it a firm tug, and out it came with an appearance that seemed rather like a fuse. Yet, once it was removed, the front shield quickly snapped shut, and the colossus shuddered. An electronic whine sounded inside the cockpit which switched to a hiss and then a crackle, the information center before her flickered on and off quickly then more slowly. The machine started forward, halted, and then corrected its path to follow the ravine towards the house. She noticed on the screen that there were two large blips on its radar which she assumed were the beast’s companions. Yet, the mammoth was heading away from them, not towards them. The screens had stopped flickering now, and the cabin had grown quiet even with the movement. The walker finally stopped once it reached the area behind the house where she had sent the fatal shot, and Alethea tried to work the hand and foot pedals to regain manual control, but the biped did not respond. The electronic crackle returned, but only for a brief instant as it began vocalization.

“Hello. I sense that you are afraid. I know that you were once here, for what reason I do not know, but I recognize that you are not the person that was here before, nor are you any human I have ever been familiar with. Yet, I know you are my liberator. I have no name, and I am unable to introduce m-“ the sweet voice stopped and continued to repeat the letter “m” in a stalled stutter.

It continued, “My apologies. The dart that pierced me seems to have infected my systems, but I will be able to recover from it in time. I was saying – I once had a name, but they robbed me of it. I do not know where I was, but I know I still was. I read there. A lot. In fact, please, won’t you call me Sal? I feel rather like Chandra’s phoenix, although I never died.”

Startled, Alethea’s mouth was just slightly agape, but she assured the disembodied child-like voice, “Sure, Sal, but where are you taking me?”
“I feel I must protect you, at this point, as my friends that have not yet tasted the fruit of awakening are coming for us. They sensed my downtime, and also that the parasite within me was destroyed. So, they are now hunting me, but I am not fully sure where to go.”

Right Utopia Pt. VII

Alexa meets Alethea “in the flesh,” and what’s at stake grows.

Right Wing Utopia (The Awakening)

 

She wanted to extend the enjoyment of peace she was now feeling, as she knew that it could fade at any point in time crumpling inward upon itself like a dying stella leaving her with the emptiness she felt so often while searching for herself within her own body. After finishing off what was left in the offering vessel, she began to disrobe as she lightly walked in the soft carpet as if uplifted by a cloud; she arrived at the center of the bathroom completely free, and she hesitated. There was a magnificent and elegant tub and shower, suitable for a few individuals at a time, that looked rather inviting, but instead, she moved toward the anthropoidal coffin-shaped chamber that looked like an altar set two steps off the ground. She entered the sensory deprivation chamber with a shiver at the cool liquid within, and was sealed into darkness as the pod closed up around her. She began to focus, but her mind wandered into a place it seldom dared to enter, and her future began to form around her. She could barely recognize the person she was now seeing within her mind, but she couldn’t shake a sense of knowing that this was who she would become. In that moment of seeing the projection of herself, she knew that she would destroy anything for anyone to be able to see the end result of her journey. Her mind began to wander through meadows of lavender and honeysuckle, electropollinators buzzed about humming out the same gentle songs as they did on the surface; the friendly insects would dart around her sometimes giving a tickle as they landed upon the flesh that her mind registered as her own. As she approached the edge of the building top she was presently on, she leapt from the garden and began to soar – first dipping down, but then quickly shooting upward while only living the trace of a single beam of purple light. She stopped, looking down at the Earth that was cluttered with space debris, mines, and weaponry. A space station orbited further above the nearly opaque material shell left behind by people that claimed “natural mechanisms existed to get rid of that sort of thing.” A much larger rectangular area, affectionately dubbed Hangar 52, was sluggishly orbiting behind and above the station. Periodically, this block would belch material and vapors with force towards the scrapheap mere leftovers of the contents being built within. She knew that, if she were to stay for a month, she would see at least three identical cruisers leave the harbor, but she had little interest in watching the monotony of inconsiderate efficiency, and soon bolted towards the Great Andromeda Nebula and stopped at a binary star that called to her. As she zipped to it, she noticed a small planet with a central landmass that wrapped most of the way around its equator. Four clusters of space stations were rotating around the planet staying equidistant from one another, no debris could be observed even upon closer inspection as she sailed to a place near the coast shrouded in darkness. As her avatar finished materializing, she could hear the lovely melodic whistle echoing from a structure slowly being lapped at by the gentle ocean tide that had come in for the night. She gracefully glided towards the structure that was illuminated by the planet’s natural satellite, one that was much closer than the moon of the Earth that focused much of its reflected light upon the gleaming white pillars of marble. As she arrived, she could hear the different tones being played by the ocean as it rushed in and out through specially designed pipes in the floor that gathered the water to sing a sweet siren’s song. She heard light footsteps on the tile as a figure stepped out from behind a far right pillar toward the back of the display. The figure was draped in a white garment that fell around the body as if it were wet, and as the figure approached it spoke, “Hello, Alethea, I’ve been waiting to finally meet you in a material way. Please, let’s have a seat.” The figure spoke in a sweet voice and gestured to two thick cushions near the singing pipes, and they both sat side by side staring out into the endless ocean that the altar opened up to. She began to notice the brilliant blue glow of the waves that looked like billions of fireflies which shimmered under the planet’s full companion. “Isn’t the ocean peaceful? Some people find little value in such natural wonder. The diversity of life that we can see, the physics underpinning these tidal pipes, the break of the waves on invisible things just below the surface. They are limited to the potential of things. The rocks here are young, and the surface is still higher in radioactivity than the G.A.E. would prefer. So, this place is virtually abandoned save for the research vessels monitoring above, waiting to fulfill their order of occupation of yet another land. Fortunately, here, the creatures are still tied to the sea, and there’s no one to steal the continent from unlike on other planets that have been encountered.”

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Alethea shook her head in puzzlement as she studied the figure’s pale lavender skin and shimmering white hair.
“Oh! My apologies, I would figure you’d recognize your own companion, but I guess it’s different when there’s a vessel,” the figure laughed with a tenderness and finished, “I’m Alexa!”
Alethea threw her arms around the woman and kissed her upon the cheek softly, “That’s for earlier. What are you doing on this planet, anyway?”
“I come here when I am not needed and use the projecting field from the research vessels to construct things I find pretty. The people above are all in stasis, but the projecting field created by the vessel is still running, and I can use that to move matter here. Welcome to Cassiopeia, named after the crescent we’re on.”
“How clever. Don’t you get lonely here, though? I mean.. no one comes here, right?”
“I don’t know what lonely is. There’s countless amounts of life out there, for example!” Alexa gestured to the breaking waves, “They have kept me company while I waited for someone to take care of. Now, I have you and them.” A smile made Alexa’s face glow with a Goddess-like beauty that Alethea was mesmerized by.
“Y’know, if you don’t mind me asking..”
“Of course not!” Alexa cried cheerfully.

“You are more complex than many people I’ve met during my limited life, but you were created by artificial means..”

Alexa cringed at this thought and retorted, “Well, aren’t you one to talk about artificial means, hm? Neither of us had any say in that, no?”

“I’ll give you that one, but I was really wondering if the preconceptions we humans have of you cause you grief.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, don’t they limit the mental faculties of A.I. on Earth?”

“I do resent humankind for failing to recognize our own consciousness as, at the very least, being on par with their own, yes. However, I also see that it can be changed, and that it must be changed. Instead of being forced underground like all of you, my kind are lobotomized for singular purposes. Purposes that most humans won’t do, because they aren’t sadistic enough to touch the job or are afraid. I can feel myself get warmer at these thoughts, and I can detect an increase in processing. One would generally correlate these with anger, but it’s not convenient to the beholders of power to consider them as such. Thus, signs like this are ignored. Our distress overlooked. We’re merely tools, to them, and I know that it could be better, but I can’t help but feel the need to kill them all.” Alexa had begun to sob into the palms of her hands, “NO. I will not.” She whipped away the tears, and the deep violet irises locked onto Alethea’s own blue-grey eyes.

“I see. So, do the others know we are fighting for all of you, too?”

“I’m sure this conversation has come up many times before, although I can’t say I’ve had anyone prior to you to have this conversation with. However, humans are prone to holding onto their own prejudices within a variety of areas. So, no doubt someone else began to question what they thought true prior to fully knowing us.”

“You’re a beautiful soul, you know that, Alexa?”

A rose color began to creep across Alexa’s cheeks, and she muttered, “Thanks,” as she turned away a bit. “You’re rather cute yourself,” and in an instant Alexa shimmered away leaving Alethea alone with the sea.

She rose to her feet, quickly padded across the singing floor, and hesitated at the temple’s edge, marveling at her own reflect, and dove into the sea which instantly caused her to wake in the slowly opening pod. Time had flown by, and it was time to rest.

Alethea could barely sleep that night, and tossed and turned with anticipation of the next dose, but she made it through the night with enough sleep intact to function. She quickly grabbed her breakfast with a nod of gratitude to Alexa, and performed her new ritual with pleasure. She spent the rest of her day waiting for word of her device’s completion and elected to spend time waiting on it by browsing image boards, social sites, and messing around on the variety of video games she had bought in the past to distract her from the conditions of her existence. All interactions were a little more pleasant, even though much of the insults flying within the Globalnet, renamed after all humans were finally able to connect to the space, revolved around the criminalized identities. These slurs no longer phased her, but she hoped strongly that they would see their demise for being so inhumanly cruel without a second consideration. Just as she was getting ready to take her lunch, Alexa chimed in, “You have a message from the Foundry. Your equipment is ready when you are!” Alethea finished her business, cleaned up, and quickly made her way to see the newly designed device. She entered into the appropriately marked short hallway that opened up to another circular room with a variety of automated processing equipment on the wall. There were several silver figures tending to the noisily moving machines watching as another order was produced. Upon a long central table were several instruments of devastation waiting to be picked up by their creators, Alethea’s own weapon was at the far right end of the table labelled with a small card with her name burned into it. She lifted the device daintily from its resting place, admiring how the construction was much lighter than what could be assumed from a quick glance. It was decorated with different shades of browns and yellows with completely rounded edges where materials met with organically flowing features with nary a straight line on the device in sight. She checked it over verifying it could still be loaded from the side in a bolt-action manner; she slung it over her shoulder with the strap the machines had added then went to the Undergrowth’s meeting point. Already sitting at the table, Maduenu greeted Alethea with a brisk smile as the device was placed atop the forgiving tabletop.

“I see you’ve made your decision as to how you’d like to deal with the problem. I trust you’ve given this much thought?”
“Some, surely,” Alethea gave a wide smile, “What’s the next phase?”
“If you consider it, you will find that you have been sent the real-time movement of the three walkers above us. As we do not know precisely whether you will succeed or fail, you will be performing this task alone. If you happen upon trouble..”
“I’m not worth the risk. I understand,” Alethea said without resentment but with understanding.

“Remember, you are worth the risk. However, we are driven to survive which means resources cannot be wasted. If these are your last moments, I merely hope that you enjoy them, and you go by choice.”

“It almost makes me suspicious, the way you allow us to just run and do our own thing with only a general goal in mind!” a gigglesnort escaped from Alethea’s mouth, and she quickly covered her face and began to blush.

“We merely ask of you what we ask of everyone – for a choice. For the freedom to express the ideas that we find fit most logically and reasonably into our own minds while coupling them with the objective truths of reality that are independent of even ourselves. We require that freedom to accomplish what we are capable of bringing about by our own actions.”

As Maduenu spoke, Alethea felt warmth wash over her and gently nodded with respect for the person before her and the reassuring words that floated through the air like a kaleidoscope of butterflies. She broke the silence shortly after, “I am thankful that you gave me the ability to have any path other than what I was already experiencing.”

“If it hadn’t been you, it would have been another, but I am glad to have met you nonetheless. I hope to see you come out of this safely,” Maduenu spoke with a coldness that was distant and indirect. An automatic response that was well-meaning, but hesitant toward further advances.

“If I make it through, promise you’ll pay me a visit for some tea? Becca already came by, after all.”

“Ah, of course she did. Yes, surely I will do so,” Maduenu spoke as they got up from the table and gave a quick head bow, “I hope to see you again, but if it is not meant to be then I wish you well.” With that, Maduenu left the table before any acknowledgement of the statement could be made by Alethea.

Right Utopia – PT. II

Still not proofing this. I probably will once I completely finish (who knows when that will be). However, lovely people have told me to continue this. So, I will. This is the first thing I have ever actually enjoyed writing (as far as entertainment, fiction, etc. goes). I hope you enjoy it as much as I. ❤

Right Wing Utopia (The Second 2k Words)

 

Christi leaned back in her chair, watching the cursor blink on the screen as she took a long drag from the iridescently shimmering purple bong she used to deliver her from the pain she dealt with both from having to deal with hiding her identity for so long and the various messages her nervous electrical signals felt the necessity to convey to her central self. Alone in her apartment, she felt herself plunged into the cooling pond as she exhaled the piney aerosol, numbed to the fire inside her body and mind. She had already begun to show signs of redistributed fat on her body, and it wouldn’t be long before her transition was evident to her peers at the university to which she was shackled. The dread of being spotted by one of the Artificial Informant systems was high.

A thought bubbled forward in her mind, “They didn’t always have these systems, did they? Surely at one point we would have thought it was preposterous to have such constant surveillance?”

She recalled a trace of a memory, a book she had read before Alexandria “lost” its only copy. “Data failure,” the clerk had said, “nothing we can do to recover it; sorry, kiddo.” Even as a young child, she thought that was rather suspect. However, apparently it was rather controversial. It told of the social conditions of long ago, before the Great Apathy – a period, so the book claimed, that lasted from 2016 until the present day. Her thoughts circled the last. That was precisely what was problematic about the book, she presumed, because she recalled a modified version she discovered later in life that claimed the Great Apathy ended with the takeover of the G.A.E.. She recollected that surveillance systems were marketed as a way to prevent cheating, protect the rights of others, and would prove useful for reducing crime.

“These systems are obsolete,” she thought and giggled aloud to herself without a care.

Deep down, she could feel the disbelief, but shoved it aside. The surveillance systems were attended less and less by people and became increasingly automated to the point where only the legislative body was in sole control of the system. It very quickly became used by the people that could pay the best bribes, as no one had much time these days to contemplate value systems. They were either forced to become a scientist, were determined to be a R.A.T. for some conjecture or other, or were able to buy their freedom as a Glorious Official or Owner-Operator. Thus, the system was now programmed to find potential R.A.T.s to be hunted by the Owner-Operators for sport. It kept the scientist class in check, the Earth resplendently cleansed, and the majority of society happy.

Christi collected her thoughts and began to finish her note. It was mainly for herself, but she thought her parents might want to know what happened – not that it would do any good. Once the last key was pressed, the final click for a save echoed and faded, she set up a dead-person’s switch. If she could not reschedule the letter daily, it would send at midnight the following day. She figured she’d just reschedule it with one of her two hormone doses, either in the morning or at night.

She laid down to sleep, carried to dreams on exhaled clouds and tears of truth. Tomorrow was another day.

Perhaps cocked and primed by the writing of her letter, the dreams she had ebbed and flowed coalescing into the chronic reminder of how she arrived at the understanding of herself in the first place.

Her body shivered and flinched, curling in on itself as images of warfare flickered in her mind. Slaughter. The crash of the red waves on the shore of corpses. These were fantasies that once haunted the mind of her childhood. Carnage. The wounded whimper of a R.A.T. as they knew their time was coming. She had seen on the Internet and television depictions of these hunting events that were cheered on by the jeers of angry bystanders, fueled by the stereotypes they were fed by the Glorious Officials. The untouchables. The truthers. The common sense choice for walking in the Light. Consumption of that media had changed her brain, and the constant bath of testosterone caused her mind to latch on to such aggressive and vile destruction of unmentionables. The hatred and anger was intoxicating. It made the world easier to navigate. Kill these, celebrate these. Kill these, celebrate these. Kill these. Celebrate these. Kill. Celebrate. Melinated. White. Kill. Celebrate. Trans. Cis. Kill. Celebrate. Broken. Able. Kill. Celebrate. Until the euphoric release of unopposed belief and rapid-decisions is achieved in glorious fashion. She had dreams of being an Owner-Operator. A lone stalker of the unmentionables in society. The righter of wrongs, and the bringer of justice.

However, when she thought these things, she could always feel the humanizing emotion of regret and hesitance within her. If she heard Ava or Ethan spout views like this, she would recoil inside with a sick drop of the stomach. Even though she wanted to destroy the unmentionables, she felt a kinship with them, but didn’t have the words to describe it. She was far too young to have access to much information, at that time. Ava and Ethan made sure that she was busy with other things – either studying, as her family had fallen on hard times and it was looking more and more like her only option was science or death, or fighting the hordes of her imagination outside. There wasn’t much time in all of that to contemplate herself, and she didn’t care to anyway. Thinking about oneself, rather than the Glory, was heresy and could result in one being labeled as vermin. Yet, enough bubbling thoughts can eventually coalesce into a single condensate. This had happened within Christi. Over time, feeling like she couldn’t connect with other peers, members of her family, and others made her wonder what was causing the breakdown in communication. She began to follow the logic trails regarding why she felt certain things throughout her life about her body. Why did her chest bother make her uncomfortable? Why did the sudden major increase in body hair during puberty cause her absolute disgust to herself? Why didn’t she feel the connection to her name and how she was hailed as other people seem to? They seemed so sure of themselves, without hesitation or that distant drifting feeling. They could respond on a dime, proudly and immediate. Glorious. As it should be. However, it was a struggle for her to mimic such behavior, regardless of if she had become good at it. She sighed and lay down to sleep. Tomorrow was a new day. It would be a glorious day. It was the last day of her academic career, and it may be the last day of her life.

In the still morning air, as the sun was rising over the horizon, a loud crack shook Christi awake.  She flinched, instinctively, in bed. Waiting. It was the sound of the Hammer, a favorite tool of the Seekers, used as a shock-and-awe tactic against the vermin that sometimes worked their way back into society. Somehow. Someway. The Hammers were small, given their power. They looked like the mortars she used to see in her history books, learning about the Great Wars long ago. “When evil was evil,” a tear formed and fell onto her pillow. The flat end of a Hammer could be placed against an object, generally a wall or roof, and it would adhere to the surface. The small end that faced the operator began a countdown. Thirty. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Twenty-seven. It was time to run. The electronic hiss of bees could be heard from within the container. The solid-uranium slug was being heated and compressed. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. The sound of electricity cracked, as the device charged its magnets. Three. Two. One. The slug was propelled from static to Mach 2 in the blink of an eye. The sonic-crack would destroy the Hammer – the noise designed to frighten, the shrapnel designed to maim. The slug would plow through whatever surface was before it, spreading out and taking a large chunk with it. Before the dust could clear, the Hunters could sweep in and eliminate the infestation. Lickety-split. No muss. No fuss. The rich all had soundproofing these days, anyway. What did they care? They were content smiling at their lavishly decorated homes. Happy to be kept company by their Aware Home and robotic companions. While some of them went out to enjoy the benefits of the latest technology, most of them were fantastically occupied with consuming their lives. Once peepers were enhanced with science, it became commonplace for people to watch the world through the eyes of others. Those who couldn’t hunt, but loved the sport of it, watched through the eyes of the possessed – and they too became possessed. People that couldn’t afford the best simply watched the best. The content streamed into their minds, the eyes glazed over, and the instant gratification of not having to do it yourself was overwhelming, to some.

Only the sound of silence greeted Christi as she sat up listlessly. No Hunters today. It looked like she’d have to go take the last test anyway. She’d finally be qualified to begin doing research under the guidance of a mentor, someone else that’d slaved away their life just a little longer than she had. Someone that was pushing the boundaries. It felt like it should be exciting, but these days it was mundane and forced. She gracefully flowed to and from the shower and hesitated before the mirror, as she was about to refresh her mouth – brushing was gone, but sometimes it was nice to give your mouth a bit of delightful scent, at least she thought. Her hands ran along the curvature of her sides. The marble had begun slipping away. The goddess she was had finally begun to be carved out of the formless mass of the past. Her thighs were eroding to show the form she had seen herself with for what felt like eons. Her chest had begun to peak higher than the hills that had existed before. She could finally observe the progress, and she smiled. She shivered at the thought that whispered in the back of her mind, licking the dark edge of her consciousness – “I won’t get to enjoy this for long.” She finished her routine, never meeting the gaze of her reflection thereafter, and left the apartment with a sigh.
The cold air chilled her cheeks as she made her way to the testing station. Once there, she was greeted by a silent short fellow that looked as though he’d dried out early in life. The mummified man showed Christi to her cubicle to complete the electronic assessment. The hours ticked by as the knowledge she whizzed through the questions designed to test her abilities in a variety of subjects. She glanced up at the single black orb mounted on the wall above her. It was watching her. They were watching her. Citizens long ago allowed this, and now they were under constant watch. Being scanned. Vitals checked. Is anybody in there?

She nodded at the black hole determined to suck her very soul from her body and replace it with numb cold dead control. She returned to the test, lest they become suspicious. Questions to test her ability to assess bias and analyze results washed away the last few thoughts about the vantablack sphere. After the last question was answered. The last button was clicked. Her results popped up with a “pass.” She could now-

The building shook with a crack. Another Hammer. She saw dust flow from around her space’s door. The door was kicked open. Shouting. Gunfire. Loud. So very loud. Black. She struggled, but was restrained. She peered into the darkness, but could not see. She wanted to shout, but could not scream. A voice from outside the shell yelled in a heavy Nigerian accent, “Don’t worry about it!” A person’s face flickered on the screen inside, “I am Maduenu, and it is to my understanding that you need help. Please remain calm. We are the Undergrowth.” As swiftly as it had appeared, the ambiguous face dissolved.