Episode 1: Welcome to Omega
December 21, 2192
The dull stars glared down on Omega City from their perches in the night sky, watching everything and nothing. Their light barely illuminated the polluted and twisting streets, their cold radiance filling the recesses of gutter and slum.
Eternal witnesses without hope of testimony, the stars stared down at the spectacle of human life.
Here a corpse, his killer standing over him with blood dripping from his fists, his tears and his curses filling the night around him like a fog.
There a man, broken and delirious, a marionette of the flesh, living out his last moments in a black haze of alcohol and legalized narcotics.
There a woman, journalistic folder in hand, dragged silently from her home by guns for hire, gagged for life.
Here deals for the death of another, whispered in vile tones of fear and secrecy, made openly under the night sky for any of the gods to see.
On and on they continued, the dramas no one would dare play out in the sunlight.
But not all is done in malice and anger… look there, nestled between the monolithic houses of the old city, blocks of black ice in the shadows.
Two lovers, united in desperation and fear, their young and fatal connection overcoming the terror of discovery with sweet words, false reassurances, promises easily broken.
Two deserter soldiers, brothers in arms by necessity and by choice, standing by one another as their own platoon of former comrades bear down on them, their guns making one last retort to an old tyranny.
On and on the stories wrote and finished themselves, tortured songs and dances written and performed between the shadows of the megaliths in blood and tears, stories of loss, corruption, death, regret, defiance, and the desire for freedom in a shattered and black world.
And here on the roof of a towering helioscraper, lit by the light of the desolate and eternal stars, two of the actors stood above it all and watched through a sniper rifle's scope.
A woman and a boy, strange and unharmed and dangerous in this bleak midnight, watched the world around them through the glass of the scope. His hair swirled around his head in a cloud of shadow, his eyes onyx in the night, his handsome face bearing a look of innocence lost.
The woman kept her vigil over the youth as he watched the world, her cropped auburn locks swirling in time with the boy’s, her eyes of a color with his. Her face was far away from where she stood, beautiful, sad, pained.
She could feel the agony emanating from him, the anger, the grief. She wanted it to stop, wanted to hold the boy close, whisper and lie that he was alright, to save him from the bloody screams the city’s nights brought with it. She yearned to shield the child, to keep him unknowing just a moment longer.
But the moment came; the boy had seen enough at last. He got to his feet slowly, stiff from the long hours of watching, and looked at the woman. He stared at her a moment, then opened his mouth to speak. She raised her hand to silence him, slender and grey in the twilight.
"You want to know why it’s our way to bring young ones like you up here and have you sit here for a night, watching the city," she said, her melodious voice carrying even at a whisper.
He nodded vigorously, never breaking eye contact with her. She sighed and shook her head.
"We have to know the world we exist in,” she told him grimly, “We have to know the city. You’ve never seen it as it truly is until tonight. You may have had some idea about the danger, but no one really understands anything until they take a nice, long look around them."
"You wanted me to know what their life is like,” he murmured, soft as silk, “You wanted me to see the world as it is when the sun and the rules are gone.”
It was a statement, not a question. The woman shivered and looked away, avoiding the child’s eyes.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that, kid,” she murmured, whispering into the wind.
“Do what?” he asked, puzzled.
“Nothing. Nevermind,” she replied quickly. She beckoned him to follow her, walking towards the opposite end of the mighty helioscraper. They strode in silence, avoiding each other’s eyes, the only sound the crunch of gravel under their feet.
As he joined her at the edge of the roof, she turned her gaze to the horizon. The first tinges of dawn's light were beginning to color the polluted sky, dyeing it with rich hues of amethyst and orange. The child stood impassively, arms crossed as he watched the city below.
"You didn't like what you saw, did you?" she asked quietly, not looking at the boy, keeping her eyes fixed on the distant skyline.
His jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed as he stared into the twisting black metropolis below them. Anger, hatred and confusion drifted off him like a scent. To her they were as palpable as gun smoke, the smell of steel, the silent air before a summer storm.
"That was murder being committed down there,” he growled, his fists clenching by his sides, “I saw men and women alike being gunned down in the streets, saw people being persecuted based on nothing but dislike, saw people's lives being ripped apart with a knock on their doors.
He turned to her, fury set in his face like the carvings of a statue.
“You know me,” he snarled, “Do you think I liked what I saw?"
She turned to stare back at him, a sad and certain look on her face.
"I didn't think so,” she said soothingly, “I know you better than that.”
He looked away, blinking rapidly. She felt her heart wrench a little in her chest, her throat constricting as she watched him.
“But no matter how hopeless the world may seem to you, we're working to change it,” she said earnestly, fighting the overwhelming urge to go to him, to comfort him, “Keep that in mind. You can't stop every murder, abduction or enslavement in the world. I know I would love to be able to. The best we can do, and what we’re fighting for, is to stop the source."
"Jahansson," he whispered. Hatred darkened his voice like the eclipse of a storm shadow, a cold rain ready in the distance. She nodded and looked back at the dawn.
"If we stop that son of a bitch, we can change this city forever.” She said it with a fervor that rang down into her core, a heated declaration of an old engagement.
“We can end the crimes that you saw, we can clean up the river of shit history’s become. Always remember that, kid. That’s what we’re working for."
He said nothing, turning away from her and looking back at the lightening sky. She followed his gaze, staring with him into the beautiful pre-dawn tableau laid out before them.
It won’t do any harm to let him watch one more. It’ll be a long time before he gets to see another. Let him keep the memory as long as he can.
A moment’s hesitation. And then... it finally happened.
The first rays of the sun broke over the distant black plain, flooding it with a torrent of light and warmth and life, its glory spilling into the city and illuminating it in a way neon never could. And for a short time, a time no one could ever pin a label on, the light of dawn seemed to scatter the gloom of the city, routing the shadows and lifting the sadness that hung over Omega like a veil.
She looked down at the boy and saw a tear rolling down his face. The light of daybreak turned the tear into a rainbow, a crystal that travelled down his face as if it had all the time in the world.
She gripped his shoulder gently and squeezed, a small, lovely smile spreading over her face. He looked at her and smiled back, eyes full of unshed tears.
“It’s so beautiful,” he whispered. She nodded silently, fervently.
Then she realized with a jolt that they were late. She had been so caught up in the dawn…
“Dante,” she said, giving the boy a little shake.
“I know,” he whispered, still smiling that young, beautiful smile.
They both took one last look at the rising sun, their feet perfectly balanced on the smooth granite, the wind whipping their faces. The sun was beginning to fade behind the low clouds of Omega industry, the light disappearing from the city’s avenues and alleyways.
The pair stepped out into the open air, three thousand feet above the black floor so far below. They felt themselves hurtle downward, almost in slow motion, staring down at the near-empty streets below.
An orb of verdant green like a splash of emeralds spat into existence, glittering out into the void. Then it was gone, flickering out of existence, taking the pair with it.
The bright flash of emerald light rang out across the telechamber, across the continental United States from the old city. The woman and the boy were deposited into the air fifteen feet above the floor, transported mid-leap to another place. They landed gracefully, not making the slightest noise as they rolled off the impact and sprang to their feet.
A crowd had gathered outside the radius of the teleporter’s drop zone, all clad in the same grey skin-armor as the woman, some smiling, some grim-faced and sad-eyed. A pair of engineers ran forward to the woman, one of them giving a disgusted sigh as she surveyed the blackened teleporter module.
Dante looked around at the throng in front of him, the smile slowly fading from his face. He stepped forward and the mass of grey bodies parted before him, the collective stare never leaving his face. Some stepped forward to offer congratulations and advice, a kind of melancholy and foreboding in their eyes. Some said nothing at all, pressing their fists to their hearts or nodding or avoiding the child’s gaze.
The woman shook the two engineers off, calmly fighting off their protests and following in the path the boy created. The eyes now had two targets; they flicked between this storied pair, between mother and son, between Aaliyah and Dante Soldari.
As the last of the crowd parted before him, Dante’s eyes fell on a cloud of yellow triangles and fog across the room, swirling and combining at random into various shapes and patterns. He walked across the room to it, watching it become more and more orderly and coalescent, slowly shaping into the figure of a tall, wiry man. His face was still a whirl of polygons, his skin a disorderly ocean of triangles, but the boy knew who he was looking at.
The hologram raised a hazy yellow fist and pressed it against his swirling chest, nodding at the boy. The child returned the gesture and knelt at the hologram’s feet. There was a short silence, broken by the soft padding Aaliyah’s feet as she walked to the boy’s side.
"I hope you're ready, child. Many don’t survive the initiation," the hologram said softly, his voice a bass note turned slightly synthetic. He glanced at the circular doorway to his right, the cool light of the moon filling the rough asphalt tunnel with a white sheen.
Dante’s smile was long gone, replaced by the grim frown that a careworn adult would carry like a weight on their face. He followed the gaze of the hologram out into the West Coast night and nodded once, silent beneath the breath of wind through the tunnel.
"Then go with my blessing and my hope, Dante Soldari. Many expectations ride on your legs tonight." The hologram’s voice sounded fatherly. Almost affectionate.
The boy took a breath and stepped out of the tunnel into the dark air, where the other students waited for him. The woman watched him go, an expression of pained worry painting itself across her face. The hologram looked back at her and sighed.
"Yeah. I worry about them too,” he told her, shaking his head, “But you've been a good teacher, Aaliyah. He's well prepared for the initiation."
"None of us were ready for the initiation. Neither is he," she replied, her eyes troubled and sad.
The man shrugged and stretched out a ghostly hand, pressing an immaterial ring finger to the woman’s forehead. She met his yellow, holographic eyes without wavering, her jaw clenched in frustration.
"Aaliyah Soldari, we recognize you as a fulfilled Guide,” the figure intoned, his voice ringing out around the constricted space, “If Dante survives the initiation, he will be your partner; there to assist you always until he beats you in the two Trials."
"I understand and thank you, Forerunner," she replied, never breaking eye contact with the leader of the runners.
The figure inclined his head with a tight smile and the holograph stopped projecting. The faint smell of burnt dust lingered on the air in his wake, the chamber falling into darkness as the tunnel sealed back shut and the light of the holo faded.
The crowd of runners turned to Aaliyah as one, repeating the what they had done with Dante. Some offered comfort and reassurance, friends trying to assuage a friend’s pain. Much of them stared at her with a mixture of fear and pity. A few of them could understand her pain. A few knew how it felt to watch their child walk out the door into the long night.
Aaliyah walked to her quarters alone, gently fending off any who tried, in their ignorance, to help her. She fell into her pre-prepared bed with her armor still coating her skin, exhaustion eating its way into her bones. She was asleep within minutes, breathing softly against the soft foam mattress, sinking deep into her well-worn blanket.
Dante’s cold, pale face, deprived of life and love, looms up from the dark and stares her full in the face. Unable to move, trapped in the darkness with the corpse of her son, Aaliyah screams and cries and sobs, lost and destroyed and broken…
She jerked awake with a gasp, her eyes wide in terror, adrenalin racing through her veins. No corpse. No darkness. Only her room in Gamma City, spartan and dark and empty.
Aaliyah fell back to the bed, tossing and turning, hovering in the torturous space between sleeping and waking, mentally and physically drained. Even someone like her could only fight exhaustion so long, but the haunting death-portraits would not leave her be. Electrocution, monowire, bullets, blades, fire, falls, grenades, each paraded with a sick sadism through her inner eye and kept her from the safety of sleep. At the end of each, Dante’s dead, destroyed face would stare her down while she lay locked in the dark, screaming for the rest of time…
She moaned in exasperation and misery, clenching her fists and kicking down at the memory foam as if it worked actively to keep her awake. Drained, anxious, angry, tense, such a recipe for sleep!
Suddenly she stopped twisting and fighting, tears of frustration and care just at the borders of her eyes. There had been the sound of several loud voices down the hall, and she could hear the quick tap-tap-tap of rapidly running feet.
She stood, resigning herself to another sleepless night, and walked over to the door. It flew open from outside, a wash of shouts and pleas breaking over her like the cold rain of a winter squall.
The first and only thing she saw was Dante’s limp body, frothing at the mouth, burnt, bleeding and barely breathing.