the year is 2248. the place is seattle, washington, usa. in 2180, a war shattered the world. tensions between the united states and the middle east erupted into all out warfare. operation: rising sun was a brutal war that lasted nearly 60 years. when the dust has finally settled, half the world has been ravaged. america, reeling from effects the war had caused, shuts it’s doors indefinitely. no one leaves, no one goes. there is no contact with the outside world.
infrastructure is destroyed. people have no money. there are no jobs. the price of war has put america and her citizen’s deeply in debt. politicians are assassinated by the dozen, replaced by corrupt gang leaders, mafia bosses, and black market kingpins. rebel groups lead attacks on government buildings and riots are constant. space exploration has all but stopped, outside of mining other planets for resources. rural areas are practically ghost towns, cut off from the resources brought in by the black market. war cut a path through the midwest, scorching what was once america’s bread basket.
the last bastions of american civilization now lie in three cities. seattle, new york, and atlanta. the cities are overpopulated and underfunded. slums make up the majority, with apartment buildings that rise hundreds of feet into the air. criminal activity is rampant. the wealthy and elite sit on their money in towering skyscrapers. government is no longer national, but specific to the city. seattle is governed by a delusional madman who spends thousands of dollars on hedonistic delights, while his grunts carry out unjust laws below him. the cities have become small dictatorships, and rumors of civil war constantly hang in the air.
biomechanical engineering has been prevalent for years, as people look for new ways to lengthen their lives, heal injuries, or simply decorate their bodies. the last census listed nearly 75% of the population as ‘cyborg’. the upper classes spend insurmountable amounts of money on bionic enhancements as fashion statements, while the impoverished beg for food on the streets.
a majority of the lower class is addicted to mana, a derivative of lsd and opium that causes intense hallucinations and sense of euphoria. the government floods the slums with mana, making it cheap and easy to find.
however, a new race of human has quietly evolved as humanity becomes more entwined with technology. they are called cyberwitches. cyberwitches possess the ability to hack into the abacus, an omniscient web of energy that powers everything, and manipulate it to their own will. cyberwitches present a very real threat to the status quo, as they can manipulate the very system that is used to oppress. cyberwitches are hunted like dogs. they are taken from their homes in the dead of night, their families left to wonder what happened to them. the government uses them for grotesque experiments, trying to learn how to gain their abilities. cyberwitches live in hiding, always on the run.
the abacus is a complex web of energy and connection. it was created as the next evolution of internet. it is everywhere, and it sees everything. it’s original use was to provide access to the internet regardless of location, education, or status. a way to give the power of information to everyone. however, over the years, the government has twisted it’s original purpose, using it to control people and spy on them. they can use it to watch you in your home, at your job, even while you sleep. they can see into the minds of people all around the world. revolution is all but impossible without special surgery to block the abacus from entering your mind.
There was darkness.
And then there was light. Strobing. Flashing. Bright. All around. Everywhere there was light, with intermittent flashes of vivid colors and bright whites.
Cue the music.
Loud, beating music. But what was it? It was too loud to place the song. At least, up there next to the speakers it was. A female voice is audible above the electronic undulating, but the words blurred together, almost like listening to someone speak another language.
A woman center stage slid gracefully down a metal pole. Her pale skin glowing purple then blue then pink in the flashing lights. Her body moved in time to the music, performing acrobatic arcs supported by nothing more than the pole in her hands. Up here, gravity was her enemy and she had already proven the stronger force. She wrapped one leg around the pole and bent backwards, her hair falling in a waterfall of liquid gold towards the floor. This wasn’t something as simple as sex, no, this was art. The music beat on as her body used the pole to perform unthinkable acts of contortion. Soon, the song dies, and she slides back down to the floor, coming to rest on her knees, her divine face upturned as if she faced the heavens. Then, the lights are gone.
Men whoop and cheer, whistling and catcalling towards the stage. The darkness is replaced by dim lights across the room and low music begins to play throughout. The whooping dissipates into chatter as businessmen discuss mergers and politics at their tables. A few whistles can be heard as the girl collects hala, tokens of currency, from the stage. She smiled and winked and waved at them. One man drunkenly professed his love to her. She gives a light laugh in response before sauntering off the stage wearing nothing but underwear and heels.
In the back of the room, at the bar, a girl with messy, shoulder-length blonde hair scoffed coarsely. She leaned with her back resting against the bar, sipping at some pink cocktail with a lime in it.
“Half the men in here have been to every one of Arabella’s dances for the past two weeks. Don’t they ever get tired of seeing the same old shit?” She asked a scruffy young man at the bar. He laughed and refilled her drink.
“Have you seen her tits?” He replied. The girl rolled her eyes and gave a rather indelicate snort.
“She makes out with nearly three-hundred hala a night, and I’m over here scraping pennies together. I’ve got bloody bills to pay.” The blonde said, her tone irate. The bartender gave her a sympathetic look.
“Tamsin, look at me.” His tone demanded she turn to face him. “You’re a fine girl, but you’ve got a bionic leg. These men, they want natural and real. They want to go back in time. Arabella’s organic.”
Tamsin looked away, not choosing to respond. Or perhaps not able to. The bartender sighed. “Listen, love. You’ve already danced through your stage time tonight. If you want to make a couple of hala, go and serve these drinks. I’ll split my tips with you 50/50.” He said apologetically. A small smile crept to her lips.
“Really, you’d do that Dan?” Her tone gentler now. The bartender nodded and then waved at a tray of drinks. Tamsin squeaked in response, setting her drink aside and going about the work of delivering booze to the inebriated masses.
No one noticed the three indistinguishable men walking casually to the back of the bar, their suits all the same and their faces hidden by darkness.
Her disposition had lightened considerably as the crowds dispersed a little, leaving the club a bit quieter. Most of the patrons were drunk enough now that she’d been able to squeeze a little money out of them with coy smiles, delicately placed fingers, and ginger laughs. She played the part well enough, she had to. She was by no means the most attractive girl here. Her body a little too thin, her hair a little too messy, and her eyes a little too dark. She was always a little too something.
She’d gone through three trays by the time Dan waved her back to him. Her pockets full with hala tokens that she’d gotten as tips, and maybe a few that she’d snuck from unsuspecting drunkards pockets. Tamsin waltzed to the bar, a broad smile on her face as she prepared to show Dan the night’s loot. As she approached, however, she registered Dan’s expression. Something was wrong. Her brow furrowed as she set the tray down.
“What? What is it?” She asked, worried. Dan bit back a response, instead nodding his head towards a dark room whose entry was covered by heavy curtains.
“They’re here.” Was all he said. Tamsin’s heart caught in her throat. No, not again. Not already. Dan’s eyes were filled with concern and his mouth was drawn in a tight line. He already knew what these men meant, even if he’d never been explicitly told. Tamsin met his eyes and swallowed hard, her fingernails digging into her palms. She turned to face the portal to the room, her breaths coming a little less easy than they had before. Dan caught her wrist, bringing her attention back to him. “You be careful, girl.”
Inside the room, the three men sat casually on cloth benches. These rooms were typically meant for lap dances, but that’s not the job she’d be performing tonight. All three wore a silver pin on their lapels, signets of the Elkov family. The smoke from their cigarettes filled her lungs, and it took all she could muster not to cough pathetically.
“Ms. Blackwood. Dmitri Elkov sends his best and regrets that he could not be here today.” The man in the center said, his voice as gruff as his visage. A long scar embellished the length of his jaw and his right eye seemed to be permanently drooping.
“And to what do I owe the pleasure?” She tried her best to sound confident, but her voice cracked and she wrapped her arms around herself in response. She suddenly felt naked, despite her boots and dress.
“Mr. Elkov has another job for you.” The gruff man replied, moving to stand. He unfolded his body from the couch like a jungle cat, ready to pounce. The air in the room seemed to grow thin as he approached her, leaving her feeling as if she had to fight to breathe regularly.
“I- I thought I just ran something for him last week?” She asked, her voice timid.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Elkov doesn’t think that the one job was proportional to the loan that he gave you. These things collect interest, darling. We’d hate to have to,” He paused, looking for the right word. “Repossess.” The man’s words were sharp against her ears, sending chills down her spine.
“No, no. Of course. Interest.” She squeaked, cursing her own fear, wishing she sounded stronger.
“Good.” The man pulled a small stick out of his coat pocket, no larger than her little finger, and flat. “You’re gonna take this downtown. A place called Club Vita. There will be a man waiting for you there. You protect this with your life, or you die trying. And if you lose it and don’t die, you’re gonna wish you had.”
She nodded, biting back the urge to drop dead then and there. Small, thin hands reached out to take the data stick from him. He pulled it back just as her fingertips grazed the edge. “Ah-“ he said tauntingly. His other hand, coarse and large, cupped her chin painfully, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Don’t fuck this one up, sweetheart.” A malicious grin spread across his mouth as he expelled the words. She nodded slowly as he released her chin from his grip. The data stick fell into her shaking hands as she inadvertently took a step away from the man. She could smell his cologne all over her, like velvet and sickeningly sweet sugar. The man nodded to his companions who stood to leave with him. She stood in place as they left the room, practically choking on their smoke. The last man winked at her as he left, leaving her knees weak with fear. Once she was sure they’d gone, she rushed from the room.
Tamsin fled to the girl’s dressing rooms in the back of the club, just barely making it to the small bathroom in time to avoid vomiting on the floor. The bright white walls and the sickening hum of the fluorescent lighting only made her nausea worse. She sat, knees on the floor, retching into the toilet for several minutes. When she’d finished, she leaned with her back against the wall and let a sob escape from her lips. Followed by several more. They rose up through her body, sending her shoulders shaking as if she’d been wrought with her own personal earthquake. Finally, she mustered enough strength to pull herself out of the bathroom and to sit in front of one of the brightly lit vanity mirrors.
How did you get yourself mixed up with these people? She asked her reflection. Paying off loans with the Elkov family, one of the most recognized producers and distributors of mana, was no clean task. They’d had her running contraband for weeks now, and she’d had one too many close calls. These things collect interest. Soon they would want more and she didn’t know if it would ever be enough. What would they take next? Her body? Her family?
The girl in the mirror was one she did not recognize. She wiped the streaming eyeliner from her cheeks, doing her best to clean herself up. Out of the drawer she picked out her favorite lip gloss, a pretty pink, in the hopes that it would help lighten her up. It was in vain. Messy blonde hair and crooked bangs framed a face that was angry and sad, the circles under her eyes darker than usual. She sniffled as the last of her sadness escaped from her lungs. Standing, Tamsin threw an old leather jacket around her shoulders and fastened her bag around her waist, being sure to pocket both her lip gloss and the data stick.
She stood in front of the mirror one last time, squaring her shoulders and straightening her back.
Just get it over with.
You can do this.
It’s all gonna be worth it.
Dan waved at her as she left the club. “I’ll be back,” She called. “I’ve got an errand to run.”
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