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Taylor Lanson Taylor Lanson
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Or So I Thought : Chapter 1 - Maria

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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

This writing contains explicit content and is only for adults. You have been warned.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2 - Cain to be released soon!

      Maria sat at her dining room table thinking for a moment that life was so meaningless.  She couldn’t understand how existence had reached the point it had.  She turned her head to look out of the room’s window and saw the moon clearly casting its rays of illuminating light upon the city.  This particular night, it looked much larger than usual, a difference that sparked emotion inside Maria’s heart.  She thought to herself how beautiful the moon looked in comparison to the harsh reality in which she lived.  Maria felt old, she felt the fear of demise creeping up on her and she knew that she would die without purpose.  She sat back and took another drag of her electric cigarette.  A drift of cold air blew into the dining room and glanced about Maria’s warm face.  It comforted her and made her calm down, but it also brought the subtle scent of dust into the room which gradually produced a harsh headache within Maria’s skull.  

       Looking back towards the moon, Maria began to experience something she hadn’t in a very long time.  She felt hopeful, almost as if there was still time to make a difference. Maybe life isn’t so bad, she thought.  “I have had my fair share of experiences.  Sure, things could have been better – but this was the hand that I was given and I think I’ve played it well.”  Maria turned her chair and sat facing the window to the outside world as she would do every night before bed. She marveled at the skyscraper-filled sky and how the reality she knew was completely different than how it was just a few short decades ago.  When she was little, this area that she had grown up in was all woods.  

       Born in the year 3058, Maria had lived to the ripe old age of 65.  “A full life, I have lived.  If nothing else, I should be thankful for that.”  Maria sat in her chair for several more minutes reminiscing on her past.  She peered down into her large gem necklace to see that it caused a reflection to appear on the window.  Even though it was dark outside, the light from the moon was enough to create her image on the window. She wondered to herself how she would look on the outer-side of the window looking in.

       Maria took some more time to prepare herself to get up and retire to bed.  At her age, it took her a considerable amount of energy to stand.  Maria counted to herself, a habit she had developed when she first noticed that her limbs weren’t as nimble as they used to be.  On the count of three, she would rise.  “One,” Maria said as she took a deep breath.  “Two,” Maria spoke as she propped her hands on each of the chair’s arms.  “Three,” Maria would have said if she would have been able speak; something, however, was preventing her from vocalizing her final thought.  Maria began to panic as she felt a sharp pain in her throat.  She couldn’t move her head and the pain was excruciating.  It felt like it lasted forever, slowly draining the life-blood from her hollow shell.

      She could see a blood geyser shooting from her neck, painting the musty window in front of her crimson red.  The warm liquid also was descending on the inside of her evening gown, creating a sensation akin to being submerged in water.  She let out a defeated gurgle, unable to remain conscious.  It was at this moment that Maria felt the sting of death touch her body.  Her vision faded to darkness and the void of nothingness consumed her awareness.  There was nothing to perceive, just an endless plane of blackness.

       Then Maria woke up from her nightmare, catching her breath from the shock.  She was sweating heavily and couldn’t maintain her pulse at a reasonable level.  It was storming outside, the harsh wind was creating a whistle against the slightly ajar window across from where she laid.  Maria slowly got up to close the window flush against its sill.  It closed with an excruciatingly loud clatter, a noise that sent tremors throughout the entire house.  Maria didn’t care though, it was a small price to pay in exchange for a restful night.  She practically crawled back to bed and slept the rest of the night calmly.  

       Maria awoke to the sun glaring into her eyes from the window.  She felt rejuvenated, but couldn’t shake off the fright from the previous night’s dream – It felt much too real for her.  She got up from the dining-room chair in a very lethargic manner and suddenly realized that the chair had not been where she had fallen asleep.  “No, this isn’t right.  I awoke from my night-terror in my master-bedroom, not this chair,” but if such a rationalization was true – then how had she just now awoken in the dining room?  The same place that her nightmare had taken place.

       Maria shook herself and attributed her confusion to old age.  “I must be losing my mind,” Maria coyly muttered to herself.  “It doesn’t matter though, I am fine and that is all that I am concerned with.”  Maria got dressed and tidied up the mansion a little before returning to the dining room chair, awaiting her distant relative to come visit – just as he did every day.  The dining room was located on the second floor of Maria’s mansion, it was furnished with antique pieces and was extremely bland.  The only aspect of the room that made Maria fond of it was the large window that overlooked City Epsilon.  From that window, Maria had a perfect vantage point to observe the scenery.  Of course, there wasn’t much scenery to observe, just a jungle of buildings and metal.  Nevertheless, Maria enjoyed gazing out into the distance – it was her only pastime.  Being so old, Maria had lost interest in the hobbies that kept her occupied in her younger years.  She was frail and unwilling to endanger herself if there was no necessity to do so.  Maria sat at the head of the table, but turned the chair backwards so that she could look outside the window without turning her head (the only physical task Maria was able to accomplish with ease).  She did this every morning and every night.

       After a few moments of gazing, Maria saw her distant relative, Cain, walking to her front door.  For some odd reason, Cain always left his house from the back door and traveled up the alleyway in between the two houses to get to Maria’s front door.  As it turned out, this alley way was directly below the window in which Maria would look out of.  Because of this, Maria always knew when Cain would arrive.  Even still, it wasn’t as if Cain’s arrival-time was a mystery.  He was very punctual and made sure to leave his house at the same time every morning.  Cain would reach Maria’s front door at 8:00 without a second ever out of place.  He had a key to the door and so he entered without invoking hassle from Maria – who would have trouble getting to the door with haste.

       Maria, could always hear Cain walking up the stairs in the old mansion.  He knew that Maria would be in the dining room, so he wasted no time meeting her there.  Cain walked through the threshold of the dining room and greeted Maria.  He told her that we was ready for the daily chores.  Maria sent him off to clean the downstairs living room, for it had been noticeably dusty in the previous day.  Cain left without saying another word; Maria trusted that he would do his work diligently.  Even if he didn’t though, Maria wouldn’t have minded much.  Cain did what he did everyday out of the kindness of his heart.  That being said, however, Cain would receive the mansion and all of Maria’s money upon her death.  This would have happened regardless, however, seeing as though Cain was Maria’s only surviving relative.  Nevertheless, Cain had decided a few years back that he would buy the house next to Maria’s mansion so that he could take care of her and her property until she passed away.  At the time, Cain was not even aware of Maria’s existence, but he was thoroughly elated at the notion that he would receive all of her financial assets.  However, he felt guilty at the thought that he had never even met the woman that would provide financial stability for him for the rest of his life.  It was at that moment that he vowed to help her in any way that he could until she was no longer living.

      Cain also had spent the last several years getting to know Maria on a personal level.  He would listen to her stories and gained much wisdom from them.  Maria had grown up in a time before The Nexus, a time before the world had been brought together under one flag.  She lived to see it happen, a feat that not many people could still say.  Maria had told Cain how in the past, there had been many countries.  These countries, she told him, were always in a state of war.  Whether it was political or actual armed conflict, the world was never at peace.  This was true up until The Nexus was formed, she said.  The Nexus was a group of international leaders who banded together in an attempt to unite the entire world.  This group, however, did not proclaim their message outright from the beginning.  It was gradual, Maria said – she, herself, was not entirely sure how it happened.  

       One after one, countries banded together under the name of Nexus and it wasn’t before long that the entire world joined in.  The Nexus ended warfare, it ended racial hostility, and it ended the notion of creed/culture.  The Nexus told its people that the differences between us were nominal and that focusing on them only brought about destruction and disagreement.  By learning to accept one another, The Nexus said, the strength of the human race would only increase tenfold.  This message was not unheard of, of course, attempts at world peace had been tried countless times before only to have them all fail.  Something about The Nexus was different though, Maria said.  They had a way of convincing even the most radical leaders to see the benefits of a world-conglomerate.  As time passed, The Nexus created all sorts of innovation that changed human-life forever.  By having all of the world’s brightest minds under one flag, technology evolved by leaps and bounds.  Industry skyrocketed and past understandings of political economy no longer existed to restrict progression in all aspects of existence.

       As a result of all these fundamental changes, the human population skyrocketed.  New cities had to be made over-night and other cities had to be enlarged to house all of the new masses.  Where past uncultivated land existed, new sprawling urban landscapes were created.  Eventually, smaller towns were absorbed by larger ones and large cities were absorbed by even more gigantic metropolises.  After a decade of life under The Nexus, a very small fraction of the world was left untouched by industry.  Municipalities were tangled together in a gargantuan mesh of skyscrapers to the point where people became confused on where one city ended and the other began.  As a result of this confusion, The Nexus decided to create new city names with new grid-like boundaries.  Each “block,” which were squares one hundred miles in side-length, were given a new name.  Maria and Cain’s block was given the name “Epsilon.”  

       Maria also told Cain how this almost utopian past turned into the world they both new today.  The Nexus was obsessed with efficiency and it slowly tried to eliminate the “unnecessary” facets of life.  One of the most revolutionary changes was the removal of the justice-system.  In the past, Maria said, crime suspects were given a chance to plead their side of the story before being found guilty or innocent.  If they were found guilty of the crime through the justice system, they would be housed in large facilities with all of the other criminals.  Only the worst criminals were sentenced to death, Maria told Cain.  

       The Nexus found this process to be very inefficient and so it removed the justice-system all together.  Instead, The Nexus created new technology to combat criminal activity.  The Nexus’s scientists developed innovative microscopic video-cameras that were planted over the entire world, with one exception – Nexus-controlled buildings were not under surveillance.  In order to avoid loop-holes in the system, The Nexus placed the cameras at random locations at random times.  Once a week, all of the cameras would shift in position to keep people from potentially finding and vandalizing them.  Each shift, however, would not compromise surveillance.  The Nexus made sure that each shift would not cut off any previously observable space.  These cameras were placed in the homes of citizens, they were placed in bathroom stalls, and they were placed in almost every dark nook of the world just waiting to catch a criminal in the act.

       If the cameras recorded suspicious activity, Nexus officials would be notified.  Upon reviewing of the recorded video footage, if The Nexus found the person in question to be guilty of a crime, they would send a notice to “Overwatch.”  Overwatch became the police of the future, but it consisted of only one “person” per city.  In order to maintain order, colossal towers were constructed in the center of each city.  The towers had no entrances at the bottom floor and no windows in order to avoid the possibility of citizens revolting and attempting to storm the building.  They were each fifty miles tall with a roof armed with one technologically-altered sniper.  This android-solider was enhanced to be the perfect sniper – one shot, one kill.  Neural enhancements allowed Overwatch snipers to see through walls and to make shots from distances that would impossible for any normal human.  The Overwatch would be helicoptered into the tower upon activation and remain there for the rest of its life.  

       Overwatch snipers can survive without food or water and are mentally incapable of shooting anyone that isn’t a labeled criminal by The Nexus.  Each day, Overwatch snipers are given targets via a computer-interface located in their brains.  Also, they are helicoptered supplies which include different sniper-rifles for different kills and sufficient ammo for that day’s list and not a single bullet extra as an extra precautionary measure.  During that day, the Overwatch will locate the criminals and deliver a quick and painless shot to the end.  This shot is delivered to the head in order to keep justice somewhat humane and to avoid drastic “clean-up” for the officials who gather the bodies post-mortem. After the day’s cleansing is complete, Overwatch will signal The Nexus to let them know where the bodies are so that they can be picked up and harvested.  Overwatch’s justice is given to any criminal no matter how trivial the crime.  If you are caught (which you will be), you will be killed the following day.  Overwatch snipers are perfect, but they are still technically human and they will die after an uncannily long lifespan.  Typical Overwatch snipers will live to see over a hundred years total and then will malfunction before dying.  Upon the death of an Overwatch sniper, The Nexus takes one day to recruit a new official to take the mantle of the deceased Overwatch.

       The Nexus found that this system reduced the cost of maintaining peace and also deterred crime by levels never before seen.  However, there came a case in which Overwatch could not locate the criminal in question.  As a result, the creation of Nexus “Investigators” was necessary.  These Investigators are also technologically-altered, armored with all sorts of machine-enhancements to boost efficiency.  The Investigators are equipped with the Nexus’s most advanced and classified weapons, ranging from every kind of ranged-munition imaginable to up-close-and-personal close quarters combat ordnance.  The Investigators are trained in combat from birth and are genetically manufactured to be infallible assassins.  They are given the list of criminals that are unable to be terminated by Overwatch.  They walk the cities incognito, searching for The Nexus’s most wanted.  Nexus Investigators are also given special missions outside of city walls where needed.  Special teams of two or more Investigators are created and act as The Nexus’s military in such cases.

       Maria would tell all of the history that she could remember to Cain; she enjoyed sharing her knowledge.  They would often talk at the dinner table after eating, before Cain went back to his house for evening activities.  It was at this time that Maria was happiest; just having someone to converse with made her feel less lonely than she did the rest of the day while Cain worked.  Maria didn’t know how much longer she would have to live and so she tried to make sure that she shared everything that she could about her life to Cain before she passed.

       However, that afternoon during dinner, Cain didn’t say much.  They sat at the table after dinner and just looked at the walls, unable to talk about anything truly interesting.  Maria, looked at Cain and noticed that he seemed very troubled.  She wasted no time and asked him what was bothering him.  Cain looked back to Maria with a frown and told her that he had something to tell her.  “I have caught the Zantel Virus and I didn’t know how to tell you.  I contacted Nexus the other day and tonight I will be taken by Overwatch.  I won’t be here to take care of you or the house starting tomorrow, so if you find that you still need assistance you will have to hire someone.  I didn’t think it would end like this Maria, I don’t know what to say.”

      Maria was shocked and she could see that Cain was clearly shaken up.  Maria got up from her chair and went over to meet Cain.  She hugged him and told him that she appreciated what he did for her.  Through his company, Maria felt like her life had meaning again.  She was thoroughly morose to hear the news, but she didn’t know how to communicate all of the things she was thinking in her mind.  She could feel Cain’s heart beating through his shirt, which was uncanny for Cain seeing as though he never showed much emotion.  Cain told her that he wanted to retire to his house before it got too late.  He didn’t want Maria to see him when he was killed.  Maria complied and told him that she would always keep him in her memories.  She told him that maybe one day they would meet again.  Cain left the mansion after one final hug, which was the last time Maria would ever see him.

       Maria spent a few more moments pondering before she put on her night-gown and went to her favorite spot in the house.  She turned the chair to face the window and looked out over the landscape of City Epsilon.  She couldn’t shake the feeling that life was so purposeless.  How could someone like Cain, contract the Zantel Virus?  It was a fate worse than death.  The Zantel Virus was a new disease that started spreading in the last year.  It is incurable and the symptoms are frightening.  After contraction, the victim will slowly experience a downward spiral into insanity.  The disease affects the brain in ways that medical scientists haven’t discerned yet; only one thing is certain: one week after contracting the Zantel Virus, the host’s mental state will deteriorate beyond recognition.  This causes the host to go into a deranged frenzy in which all other life forms observed by the host will be attacked on sight.  

       It is a citizen’s duty to contact The Nexus if they have found out that they are infected.  To avoid casualties, Overwatch targets the infected persons and kills them before their descent into madness.  Another side-effect of the virus is that once a victim is controlled completely by the virus, their bodies are unusable for science.  This is significant because most of The Nexus’s operations run on deceased human bodies as fuel.  If a person is killed by Overwatch before completely being consumed by the disease, their bodies can still be used as fuel.  As a result, The Nexus implores the population to request assisted suicide by Overwatch in order to not waste their precious carcasses.  No one is sure how the Zantel Virus is contracted and so no one is safe from its effects and no one is biologically immune.

       Maria couldn’t believe that Cain would be gone tomorrow.  The Nexus officials would come to his house and remove the body.  No funeral service would be held.  No ashes would be given to Maria.  Cain would be gone forever, existing only in her memory.  It occurred to Maria that the night was old and that Cain had probably already been shot.  She shivered to herself in fear at how vulnerable the human race was.  Even after all the advancements humans had made in recent history, they were still susceptible to disease.  “We are all vulnerable against death,” Maria mumbled.

       Maria looked out the window and could see the Overwatch’s tower clearly, it was the tallest structure on the horizon by far.  Maria thought it was fitting that the tower was colored a darker black than the night sky itself.  She began to cry and mulled over the fact that her life would amount to nothing.  The Nexus would own her life’s savings and her property upon death since she would have no surviving relatives.  No one would remember her, she would die being known as the rich old lady who lived in the mansion at the end of the street and nothing more.  Maria looked back towards the window and observed the moon in all of its incandescent gory.  She thought back to the previous night’s nightmare and realized that in the dream, she had decided that her life did, in fact, have meaning.  It wasn’t easy, but Maria slowly pulled herself together.  She looked down at her necklace and saw her reflection in the large gem that hung in the center of her chest.  The necklace had been given to her by Cain on her last birthday, she loved it and so she wore it every day.  Maria decided that she would honor Cain’s memory by maintaining her stability.  She would do her best to remain happy, it was what Cain would have wanted.

       Just then, Maria felt a sharp pain in her neck.  She began to taste the unmistakable aroma of metal as blood coated the inside of her palate.  She started shaking uncontrollably in her chair and saw thick streams of red shooting from her throat onto the window.  Maria instantly connected the horrible sensations to the nightmare she had experienced the night before.  It felt so real, she thought; what were the chances that she was re-living the same agonizing horror?  Maria’s vision faded in and out from blackness, but her sight always was centered on the window when she regained consciousness.  Something about the window seemed different though, Maria thought within the last moments of her life.  She couldn’t see it clearly at first, but soon the difference was made apparent.  There was large hole in the window.

       Maria slowly managed to gather the strength in order to move her hand up towards her neck.  She felt around the wound with her old and skinny fingers and felt the pain of epiphany enter her mind.  She sent her hand further into the wound and could feel the sniper bullet lodged in her neck.  Maria knew instantly that she wasn’t dreaming and that her life was ending.  She didn’t understand what was happening, but she knew that there must have been some mistake.  Cain was supposed to be cleansed on this night… not her.  Could Overwatch have made a miscalculation?  No, it was impossible, Overwatch only targeted those who had committed a crime or who had sent in a suicide notice.  It was at that very moment, however, that Maria realized what had transpired.  The revelation would die with her, however, for she only managed to relinquish a final pathetic gurgle of blood and despair before dying.

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