In some quiet and empty street of the city of Roen, a lone woman was walking, with only the sounds accompanying her were the sounds and echoes of her heels striking the cobblestone of the street.
She would occasionally stop to look around, wrap her coat tighter around her waist, hold the straps of her handbag hanging over her shoulder with her left hand while holding the top of her bag with the right, as if to make sure the bag was still there. She would then proceed to walk down the path again, this time with a faster pace than before.
The woman was hasting her way through those silent catacombs, she thought about those various families and people that might be living on the other side of the walls that surrounded her. She too hoped that she'd be home soon, thought it would hardly be called a home; when there is no one else to greet you when you come back, the floor, the roof, the walls, the doors and windows, can all only ever make a house, not a home. There was her landlady there though, someone who always greets her when she gets to her building, she also suffers from bouts of memory loss and sometimes even forgets that she has a tenant, so there's that.
With a bare minimum of clothes, food and money that she'd been saving up, she had left her home in a small remote town, never to return. She arrived at Roen, the capital, the city of endless dreams and opportunities to make them true. She had a dream too, to make a name for herself in the city, become a well respected and well paid journalist, and settle in a proper home with someone that truly loved her.
Her start had not been smooth, to put it simply: she was swindled out of part of her luggage the day she arrived in the city, the police were of not much help besides helping her get a dilapidated studio apartment, her interviews with the big media houses didn't go very well, she did manage to land a job though, at a much smaller company than she had imagined but at least it was a start for her.
"Tomorrow will be a brighter day, her break would come", she had made it her life mantra after listening to it the first time on the popular Miss Diana's podcast which she religiously tuned into every week. However her tomorrow hadn't come yet, the stories that she was given to cover were all mundane and normal, man saved a drowning kitten, a high class bloke was robbed and stuff like that, nothing exciting was coming up, but she knew (Miss Diana had told her) that perseverance was the key.
Occupied by her thoughts, she finally arrived at her building. Just up the stairs and she'd reach her room, her escape from the maelstrom of the city, a place where she could recuperate.
"Good evening Mrs. Herst, how was your day?" She asked the old lady who lived on the ground floor.
"Oh Claire! Welcome back." Mrs. Herst said to the woman who just entered.
Mrs. Herst was in her mid 70's, a stout old woman, one that fit the picture of a loving granny perfectly and not just from the outside either. After Claire had been swindled, Mrs. Herst gladly accepted to shelter her when a policeman had requested her to, she even went as far as to waive Claire's rent for a few months.
"Oh Mrs. Herst, you have a guest today?" Clair asked Mrs. Herst. It was unusual, seeing Mrs. Herst in company of somebody, she didn't go out that often after her husband died a couple of years back. She also never had any visitors before.
Mrs. Herst came over and grabbed Claire's hand. "Oh, Claire you wouldn't believe it, the government had been spying on us through our suns!! If it wasn't for this kind young salesman, I would never have known. He opened my sun himself to show me, there was-", she neared Claire's ear, "- a Chip! And I tell you I have seen many of that kind on TV, it was definitely a monitoring one." She dragged Claire into her room.
They were greeted by the smile of a man, not much older than Claire herself.
"Claire, meet Mr Jacob, if it had not been for him, we would have been watched for I don't know how long!"
"Oh Mrs. Herst, you're too kind. All I did was show you the truth, it was you who accepted it right? Now come over here and I can show you these sun models that our company creates, I assure you, no chips in those" the man said while taking out a catalogue from his briefcase.
"Oh yes yes, Claire dear, you come too, you can buy one, for yourself, you walk those shady, unsafe paths right, a sun would help you." Mrs Herst said while going over to the couch.
"They are cheap too, won't you give them a look pretty miss?" The man said with a grin.
"Oh, no no, I- I don't plan on buying a sun right now. I'm just going to go up to my room, you have a good night Mrs. Herst." Claire said and left without waiting for a response from either of them.
Half an hour later the salesman took his leave. He walked in large strides, swinging his briefcase behind his back, not a care in the world. He didn't need to care, the streets were the safest of the places for him, and he knew them like the back of his hand. After his mother had died, he took to these streets of the city, they were his teachers, his place of work and his place of rest. At first when monsters approached him, he took their wrath and fell down on the cold hard road but the cold streets encouraged him to get back up. The next time when the monsters came again, he ran, and ran faster than anyone else, the streets became his racetrack, he wasn't valiant and foolish enough to get his teeth knocked up again, afterall his work required him to have a well groomed face. That was the way he was able to survive and grow up.
He walked into the same dark and silent alley that the woman from before had walked out of. He walked around amilessly, it seemed, until he arrived the the same place the woman had stopped while on her path. He gave a look around once and continued walking, this time with a faster pace, the briefcase had descended to the thigh level now, and he seemed to have gained a direction.
Although, his reason for the increase in pace wasn't because of feeling scared, it was due to a sound, the sound of shoes hitting the cobblestones just moments after his own. It could just have been his own echo but something told him that it wasn't, plus it wouldn't hurt to give it a look.
Claire had been following the salesman from the time he left her apartment, the further she followed him, the stronger her conviction grew that the man wasn't just a salesman. Giving in to imaginations, she thought of many scenarios, he might have been an actual detective, or someone from the crime syndicate, people did say that Mrs. Herst was hiding a lot of wealth under that thick capet of hers. Whatever that man would turn out to be, she was seeing a story in him, the break she had always wanted was right there, and the sleuthing techniques that she had practiced a thousand times before in her mind would come in handy this time, match his footsteps, if they are synced, he couldn't notice her.
Her plan did seem to work for a while, until he stopped and then increased his pace, Claire found it difficult to keep up with him while hiding her presence, but then he went under the arch. Claire knew this place well, there was a dead end on the other side of the arch, she would catch him red handed there.
The arch once served as the entrance to a commemorative building signifying peace, the building itself was destroyed in a terror attack a few decades ago and the arch was later engulfed in the ever expanding city.
Claire passed through the arch hoping to catch him off guard but he wasn't there. Amidst the confusion she felt a tug at her arm from behind her, and before she could turn around, she was pinned down against the wall. A hand muffled her mouth cutting short her tries to scream.
"Stop it!" The man said.
After she calmed down, he let go of her and continued, "Why were you following me pretty miss?"
"You! I know you are a con man, I know when I see one."
"Yeah? Bet you were swindled before yourself!"
"So what? Wait till Mrs Herst gets to know about you, we would report you to the cops. A kind lady like her and you try to con her!"
"Oh just drop the act, you would have done something the moment you realised it, you don't give a damn about that lady, you won't even care if she dropped dead and merged with the ground right now. So why don't you just tell me about the real reason you were following me?"
"I- I thought that if I could get some information out of you, it would make for a good article."
The man was dumbfounded upon hearing this, "So, you followed me all the way here just for that? In the night no less. Just think, I could have raped you, murdered you and put you in the dumpster over there and no one would know for days."
"You creep! Stand back, I- I know how to protect myself!" She said, swiftly taking three steps back and taking out a bottle of pepper spray out of her handbag.
"God!! Young pretty and dumb! Why would I be talking to you like this if I wanted to do those things?"
"So, so are you interested in the interview, I promise I would not reveal your name." She said taking out a notebook from her coat pocket.
"What? No, why would I? Besides, I'm only a part-time con."
Claire had lowered her head and had started to take note of what he was saying "...Uh- huh, part-time con, right, wait, what-", realising that what he said was odd, she raised her head back up but he was gone.
"Go back, dont follow me" his voice came from somewhere in the darkness of the arch."
Upon a small overbridge the man walked as the city ran beneath his foot. His face adorned a pained and irritated expression. The reason for that being the woman who was following him, now not even trying to hide.
"Urgh, fine woman! Tell me what you want?"
"I just want to have a talk, that's all."
"Well then talk!"
"You said your name was Jacob with a 'J', a name common among the ones of european descent, but judging by you skin colour, you can't be, someone from the middle eastern or indian descent perhaps, whichever it is, your name definitely isn't Jacob, is it?"
"Wow, that was very progressive of you. After the people came underground, everybody fucked with everybody else anyways, all the races, religions etc went to shit, it didn't matter who was who, everyone was human, equal, and then there were people like you, looking for conflict where there is none. It doesn't matter if I am european or middle-eastern or anything, it shouldn't matter."
"Well, is your name Jacob?" Claire said with the straightest face possible.
"Nope. Although your reasoning was wrong."
"Okay then what is your name?"
"Is that real?"
"Are you carzy? Just call me that."
"So Enton..., Wait, Enton! I remember-"
"Shit, gave the wrong name" he said to himself.
"I remember your name, and that voice, our magazine talked to you about your conspiracy theories, that was you right!?"
"I only did that because my organisation wanted me to."
She apoke ignoring his last statement, "I wanted to talk more of that with you, those ideas that you guys have, I'm intrigued by those. The surface is habitable again and the government is preventing people from going up, they even disposed of the team of explorers who went up two decades ago, how did you come up with ideas like that?!"
"Heh, I didn't come up with that shit, the organisation did, I only said it because I got paid for doing that. And honestly, I think all that is nothing but crazy talk made and believed by bunch of morons like them and yourself."
"Hey! How can you say that, do you have something on them? Something that proves that those claims aren't true?"
"They aren't true! That's because-"
Enton stopped midway though his sentence and both of them looked in the direction where the shriek came from. During their conversation, they had walked up into a fairly secluded area, a few houses here and there and a fenced up park. The shriek had come from the park.
Both of them rushed there, Enton signalled Claire to be quiet and raised his own head up to the see through portion of the fence.
Claire was crouched down, looking up at Enton, a few moments passed like this and Enton was just staring.
"What is it? What do you see?" Claire whispered to him.
While crouching down, Claire heard the sounds, as if someone was struggling, a woman! She helped herself up.
She was left speechless, just like Enton standing beside her. At the centre of the park, there was a naked girl lying on the ground, she was deformed, missing a whole leg and an arm. Blackened veins were clearly visible across her body and she seemed to be shedding off dust. She was trying to shout or speak but some barely intelligible sounds were the only thing coming out of her, which stopped shortly afterwards. A man was there beside her, his hand slowly hovering over her entire body and as he was doing so, her body was continuing to disintegrate into nothing.
"Its... Real. Conflation, its real." Enton said, still looking wide eyed at the extraordinary sight unfolding in front of him.
Claire and Enton were both hit in the back of their heads and knocked out.
"Take 'em" A voice said.