At the center of the city is the Capitol itself, an old legislative building we took for ourselves from the ancient ones. It’s the heartbeat of the syndicate where I create highly-trained hunters and assassins, the best in the world. I have a separate militia of drafted residents that I allow my generals to command and control. The syndicate is where I keep my own personal branch of warriors for me to dispatch at my will, all of them highly enhanced, extremely powerful and extremely dangerous. Its also where I pedal drugs and organize war crimes against rival clans.
Most of the members used to be “ghosts,” our term for infected children left behind by Martian raids who wander the earth in small gangs, slowly picked off by either beasts, enemy clans, or their own mutations. I began taking them in and training them from ages as young as three and four; their hyper resilience and lack of family attachment make them fantastic warriors. The rest are immune children who I force to train with the others. They are constantly targeted and therefore must know how to protect themselves, otherwise they become a liability to us all.
I walk through the cracked pillars into a large sanctuary where the great stone columns continue to follow me along the sides. Light spills from the wide open entrance through the gaps between them turning the marble floor into piano keys. Statues of the old humans watch me pass, all of them infested with vines that creep in through the large rectangular windows on the sides of the cool walls. In the back is a great amber throne where scarlet rays of sunshine burst from the center of it like fireworks. They slither up a wall of old paintings that depict the heroes of a nation long dead.
The coils are made of a fairly dangerous radiation-eating bacteria that put off a crimson glow, together they make a constantly moving entity that reaches to all corners of the room. Sealed within a protective glass that keeps their toxins safely contained they represent the power of Earth’s new humans; a culture built around containing deadly poisons and disease within ourselves in order to accelerate our evolution, enhance our bodies, and destroy our enemies.
“Get off that,” I say with a snarl as I stand on the steps in front of the throne. Drift lazily uncurls her long legs from the side of the royal seat and stands to her full height, stretching her arms over her head.
She’s breathtaking, shiny black curls spill over her shoulders, her muscles ripple under a tight black combat suit that accentuate the curves and edges of a fully realized warrior. She has two suns carved into the back of her arms, both reach up from her elbows in various lengths of black rays. Her eyes are a strange silvery blue with darkly-rimmed irises, a unique affliction caused by her modifications. I carry it as well, except mine are halcyon.
“Welcome home, Eden,” she says.
“There are very few people who can call me that,” I say. “You are not one of them.”
“How can that be? After all we’ve been through,” she asks.
“It doesn’t matter. That’s not for you to decide,” I stand beside her and look up, cursing my own damn Napoleon complex. She puts a delicate hand on my cheek and gingerly rubs her thumb against my too-visible cheekbones.
“You’ve gotten so thin,” she says. “These ‘solo missions’ of yours, they’re killing you.”
I take her hand and pull it away. “I’m fine,” I say. “Come on, I have something for you.”
I lead her down the steps and into a dark chamber behind the painted wall. Blue lights illuminate a great steel tunnel that disappears into a black abyss. I slip off the edge and let gravity take me to the ground where I land in a crouch just to enjoy my own inability to take fall damage. At the bottom is an elevator, I walk to a lever on the side of the chrome wall and send a floating metal disk to the top.
“I hate it when you do that,” she says as she descends. Her high heeled boots send reverberations through the tunnel as she steps off, her goddess-like features illuminated by the blue lights.
“And I hate it when you wear those,” I say. “The sound gets on my nerves.”
“Everything gets on your nerves these days, King,” she says in her honey-gold voice. We make our way to the edge of the tunnel where it opens up into the great city.
Titanic skyscrapers drip from a cavern ceiling and reach for an unending black chasm. Platforms splay out between the edifices that allow various groups of trainees to pass from building to building; they weave in and out of open windows and drop down between the levels on either tree roots or black ropes.
I don’t know who built this upside down city, I don’t know how they did it and I don’t know how it works, but it’s been a treasure of mine ever since I found it. It even directly reflects the city above ground, a picture of what it used to be before the oak trees ate the skyscrapers. When we found it each building contained books and movies and records and paintings and written music from the ancient days; I can only assume that it was built to immortalize the culture from centuries past. The ancient humans must have been monoliths of innovation and technological advancement to create such a thing as this; it’s a shame they destroyed each other in a senseless war.
The underground is brighter than the outside, beautiful green bio-luminescent creatures light the walls like stars. The roar of a great waterfall follows us as we make our way down a long steel platform; it flicks water onto our backs as it descends below the entrance-way tunnels behind us. I lead the way with my arms crossed and try to prepare myself mentally for the coming hours.
We reach a gaping tower and slip inside an opening where rows of windows would’ve been, I only have to walk straight through while Drift elegantly ducks beneath the concrete overhang. A great ballroom spans the entire diameter of the tower, the ceiling is so tall above us that you can’t see the end of it; countless red metal beams criss-cross into the sky. The floor is a cracked old fresco painting that depicts naked angels and strange men loosely wrapped in cloth. The walls are stone with human-shaped holes where trainees are sent sprawling from time to time...mostly by my hand. The other side is covered in mirrors; many of them shattered for the same reason.
About twenty or so recruits dressed in fully weighted gear are scattered throughout the space, sweat drips from their faces and repaints the floor. Some are hanging from the rafters doing all your standard calisthenics, some are sparring, some are stretching. They all snap into neat lines when I enter, all eyes forward. I love to see them freak out whenever I get there, I especially love it when those training above either flip elegantly to the ground or fall with a splat.
“Don’t pull that shit,” I tell them as I cut through their ranks. Still, they don’t relax. I walk up to a well-built recruit, about fifteen or so, and take his chin in my hands. I turn his head from side to side and observe. His pupils grow large with fear as I peer into them, beads of sweat form on the top of his forehead.
“I don’t recognize you,” I say. “Drift, how long has this one been here?”
“That’s Cave, he’s been here for six months.”
“From Berea’s,” she replies.
“Ah, you’ve been through it haven’t you,” I let go and his eyes somehow grow even wider. “My name’s King, you don’t have to be afraid of me.” I offer my hand and he just stares at it, then slowly and tentatively takes my forearm.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” he says in a sheepish voice.
“Tell me, Cave, how many altercations have you been through?” I ask.
“N-none ma’am,” the recruits beside him don’t move a muscle, but I can feel them grow increasingly nervous.
“Oh how lucky, you must be quite talented to keep yourself out of that sort of trouble. How many missions have you been on?”
“Right, I guess you wouldn’t be ready for that sort of thing yet. Let’s speed things up a bit shall we? How would you like to join the next outgoing team?”
“I-I accept. Th-thank you, it’ll be an honor to serve,” he replies, and he bows his head.
“You’re weak though, stuck in this basic human state. It’s the one thing I don’t like about you,” I say. “How’d you like to change that before you leave?”
“What?” He asks. I grab the center of his forearm and slowly crush it, the bone cracks and splinters within my grasp. His cries echo up through the rafters and bounce off the sides of the room, he tries to crumple to his knees but I don’t let him. The recruits beside him don’t move a muscle, they don’t turn an eye, they don’t even twitch.
“Don’t scream.” I say and he clamps his mouth shut, sheer agony splays out over his face as tears stream from his eyes. “The rest of your body works fine, doesn’t it? You don’t need two arms to defeat an enemy. And you especially don’t need to tell him where you are when you get hurt. In a world where you can be healed indefinitely, there’s no reason to allow yourself to feel pain. In a world where nature has surpassed us, there’s no reason to fear modification in order to survive.” I let go of him and he continues to stand; his dismembered forearm dangles awkwardly at his side. I look at their commander, one of my very own pupils, who comes to stand at my side.
“Take him to the infirmary and give him a full dose. Put him on a mission when he wakes up, his training will be complete if he survives the procedure,” I push past him before he can respond, Drift follows closely behind.
“And Cave,” I say as I glance over my shoulder. “Change your name, it sounds stupid.” He mumbles something under his breath, probably trying to stay conscious, and then joins the group in a full sprint out of the ballroom as if nothing had happened despite his grossly broken arm.