Chapter 4 - Part 1
5:00 a.m. Sunday morning. The first shuttle of the day was preparing for departure from the capital city's train station. The elongated sleek shape was designed for high speeds, limiting exposure time to the unshielded wild regions of the surface world. Its pearl-silver surface gleamed in the stations' lights, adding a new level of brightness to the passenger boarding area. The trains' reflective surface was thought to confuse demonic entities, a design function implemented in a time when man believed demons to be lower life forms. History had taught them that demons came in all shapes and sizes, each with talents as unique and diverse as man's ingenuity. Since the new cooling system was implemented, travel between cities was becoming popular.
A generous person-sized door pushed out from the seamless design and lowered itself to the platform. "Departure time. In. Ten. Minutes." An automated female voice informed the only passenger in the station.
Seth Wright sat at the benches that had a clear view of the train. The glass divide between himself and his ride out of the capital had yet to unseal. At this time, he and the service clerk were the only living people in the station. A single automaton had been activated to lug the passenger's duffle bag toward the rear luggage compartment. Though Seth had been comfortable with managing his bag, safety protocols dictated that upon arrival to his destination, he and his possessions would be reunited.
It is the last time he would be making this trip. It might well be the last time he would ever see the capitol, his home. He felt the tension build up in his stomach like it always did when he knew he would be going to the surface world. It was a combination of nervous energy and excitement. For the first time in his life, he'd be free to carve his path...assuming he survived his civil duties over the next five years.
The passenger section of the glass divide slid downward. "Passengers may board shuttle to. Council's Academy. Estimated. Arrival time. One. Forty. Five. P.M."
Seth took in a deep breath of recycled air before pulling himself to his feet. He was six feet two inches tall and had a firm athletic build. He tucked his white blazer over his arm, careful to avoid damaging the fabric with dark marks. He caught a glimpse of himself in the reflective surface of the train and made a mental note to get his hair cut. Torn between bouts of self-pity and the resolve to change his fate led to a certain level of personal neglect. He ran his callused fingers through the long dark strands in a feeble attempt to get his hair out of his face. 'It didn't bother me until I noticed it. Figures. At least I shaved.' He scratched his neck at the thought.
The passenger car's interior lights flickered on revealing a row of six lush padded seats on either side of the car. In the center was a skeletal console with a black sphere perched atop it. He chose a seat near the front. It didn't matter which chair he took; unless the other passenger cars filled up along the way, he would have the car to himself for the duration of the trip. Each town would add its passenger car to the train along the way. A safety mandate imposed in by-gone years to prevent the spread of infectious diseases allowed for the infected car to be removed and disposed of in a restricted quarantine zone. He wasn't sure if such zones still existed, none of his research on the topic had yield to result denying or confirming their continued existence. Results stated that they had once played an active role in the old wars when biological warfare was at its height, and warlords had no qualms targeting populated civilians areas.
It was unlikely that anyone would be joining him at any point during his trip. He imagined that most students would prefer a later train since registration at the Council's Academy closed at 7 p.m. with enough time to spare to allow for some catching up with friends before curfew. He wasn't interested in catching up. He had his work cutout for him this season and the school year hadn't started yet.
The lights blinked out, leaving Seth in darkness. The train began its journey, pulling its living cargo forward only slightly. "Departing. Capitol City. Next stop. Fairview." The train gained momentum causing the subterranean lights to flashed passed his window.
He counted the seconds. Eight. Nine. Ten. A wall of red zipped across the passenger car.
Nineteen. Twenty. A second wall of red shot across the car.
A new wall appeared every ten seconds for the first ten minutes of the journey, followed by every five seconds until the train breached the darkness. The average person had to assume that the shields were working. Their invisible presence was no longer felt by the society it protected. He didn't know why he could see the shields, but it did give him some peace of mind that humanity had a found a way to prevent the demons from decimating their whole species. The capital would become humanity's last refuge, should that time come.
Back against the wall, arm perched on top the back of the chair and a leg resting comfortably along the seats next to him; Seth watched for the light of the surface world. A loving smile graced his lips. He couldn't explain why that particular moment excited him so. He would be blinded by the light for a few brief seconds as a deep sense of nostalgia washed over him. At that moment, he was found wanting. He clung to the feelings of memories that weren't quite his. They were good feelings, the sort of positive emotions that helped balanced the melancholy of recent years.
The barren northern territories had set in with washes of grays and barely there greens. It would be forty-five minutes before they arrived at the next town. If passengers hadn't registered, the train would by-pass the town altogether, skimming ten minutes from his journey. If he was right in thinking that the students would grab a later train, it could potentially cut almost an hour and a half from his travel time.
A knot formed in his stomach. Another feeling he couldn't rationalize away. It meant he'd have an hour and a half less time to pretend that everything was going to turn out fine. After graduating, he would be sent to fight in the war. He planned to enroll in an intensive training program that would carry him over the three months from graduation to his eighteenth birthday. He hoped that three years of prize money and side jobs to pay for the elite training program would increase his odds of survival. It wasn't like he could ask for his money back if he got killed.
Worrying about it would drive him nuts. The last thing he wanted was to succumb to another bought of depression. He had responsibilities. His squad depended on him. At best, his future depended on his ability to keep a level head. He removed his boots, placing them side by side at the foot of his seat before attempting to settle in for a nap.
He shut his eyes, cleared his mind and slowly exhaled. 'Regina has got to be married by now,' Seth's mind chirped. Their last encounter had ended with her yelling at him. His mind could still call up the shrill desperation in her voice even as she accused him of being a heartless bastard. "We could run away together, live off the land," she had proposed. It was just cold feet speaking. She'd mention it playfully at first until the allure of a dream was replaced with the fear of her social obligations. She was one of the lucky few to attract a decent marriage contract. He wasn't selfish enough to jeopardize her future like that.
'Selfish? Heh, no.' His mind sneered. 'You're a coward. The real reason you didn't go through with it is because you knew you couldn't protect her.' He was getting better at coming to terms with that reality. It hurt, but if he couldn't protect himself, he wouldn't be able to protect his family. Being born in the capital may have granted him residency rights, but it didn't mean work wouldn't force him to live on the surface where his potential loved ones would be at constant risk of demonic attacks. It was bold to think that his contribution to the war effort would make a difference, but it didn't stop him from hoping.
There was one other reason he had denied Regina's proposition. It was very simple. He didn't love her. She was convenient, low maintenance, and could handle herself against his growing number of admirers. Having her at his side intimidated many of the female students into inaction. Regina was well spoken, smart, beautiful and capable. She was confident and handy with a sniper rifle, which probably added to her intimidation. He was glad that he had somehow failed to mention just how much of an asshole he really was. For whatever reason, he had been under the impression that their courtship was entertainment until something better came her way. It did. He let her go.
He could play the scene over and again and it wouldn't make a difference. He could guess at when things went wrong, but he would never know for sure. He hadn't heard from Regina over the summer. No surprise there. But being a member of his squad meant he'd have to work with her under the threat of the potential backlash. There was also the possibility that she would transfer schools to fulfill the marriage conditions of her contract. It wasn't uncommon for female students to transfer out of the Council's Academy once a contract was formed. Many just used the prestige of the school to attract the eye of a wealthy mate. If she did transfer out, he'd have a second team member to replace.
"Just leave me alone!" he groan to himself, trying to still his mind.
"Arrival at: Fairview. Departure in. Five. Minutes." The automated voice informed him. Soon the train was speeding toward the next town.
He gave up on trying to get some sleep. He could always call it a night early if need be. Seth glanced at the black sphere perched atop the thin white console adapter in the center of the car. He reached over, waving his wrist in front of the sphere. A digital screen shaped itself in front of him. He took a moment to adjust his digital interface. 'Welcome Seth Wright.' The screen greeted.
He couldn't access the military feeds from here. Anything he did using the public network would be carefully monitored. He had taken care over the past three years to create a consistent profile of himself, one that showcased him as leadership material with a strong interest in technology and self-improvement. It's not that these were lies per say; it was just an exaggeration of the truth.
It would be some time before he would be within the range of the Council's Academy's local feeds, and it was unwise to access private messages using public access points.
He scrolled through the nation's news feed. 'Red Order to Partner with Council in Joint Venture' he pulled the feed headline from the display and positioned it to hover nearby. 'Protest Against New Enhanced Law Flares up in Council's Court,' he sighed and pushed passed the overview of the feed. 'Soldiers Return Home Hopeful,' he pulled the headline from the display and added it to his existing playlist. 'Council Denies Existence of Vanished Town.' Seth frowned. It sounded like some wild rumor. Occasionally, these fake feeds ended up in the system. He heard that the people who clicked on them ended up with their accounts hacked; identities stolen or worse.
He hovered over the feed to access the report command. None appeared. He dismissed it as a bug and selected a few more news items to view. The first news item played out. "In an unprecedented move, the Council had agreed to a tentative trial program with the Red Order." A woman explained as the feed showed the aging men and women of the Council shaking hands with ancient crimson robed representatives of the Red Order. All smiles as though there was nothing wrong with imposing a religious regime onto military practices. He couldn't deny that the Red Order had the advantage when it came to defending the people from demonic entities. Their Demon Hunters went toe to toe with demonic forces regularly, successfully defending several of their large populaces for years. He never understood why they kept their practices secret when training up soldiers properly would aid in ending this war quickly. Why make so many people suffer for so long?
"Apprentices who pass the rigorous examination process will be chosen from the prestigious Council's Academy this year. Unlike past candidates, these apprentices will continue their education within the school while training under the supervision of a Red Order Master Hunter. So far, there is no word on how many students the Order plans on taking under their wing. Training will officially begin in the summer after exams."
He should have known better than to have placed any hope in this program. It would be illegal for him to linger. Not being a ward of the Red Order, mainly because he had a living relative, meant that successfully enrolling into the program would not grant him an exemption from his civil duties. Still, he felt the bitter twinge of disappointment sting his eyes.
"Councilman Daamon has been a major contributor in making this possible." The Councilman appeared on screen, his smile empty. His gray eyes were cold and hard. Seth felt that they were the eyes of a man who lacked empathy. Unlike many of his aged counterparts, he was cleaned shaven, trim, and held himself with a regal superiority. "We seek to unify our nation. Our future as a species, the future of our children and our grandchildren, depend on acts of civility such as these to build a stronger safer nation. Through this program, new candidates may take on the mentorship of experienced Hunters to become stronger assets of their respective communities." Dezmond spoke to the camera. Seth could hear the note of conviction in the Councilman's voice. These were words spoken from the heart; they were words the Councilman had faith in.
The woman's voiceover continued. "Councilman Daamon is the father of the late Governor Daamon, who had been found guilty for the murder of four Red Order Crimson Knights. The former governors adopted daughter, Astral Alexandria Daamon, will be attending the Council's Academy this year. Lady Daamon is the heiress to the multi-billion credit technology industry Omega Corp Ltd currently owned and operated by Lord Damien Daamon, the proud benefactor of over a million people."
'Typical,' Seth sneered. They pretty much painted a bull's-eye on the girls back. He didn't pity her. People of her status came equipped with the expectation that the world would do as she bade it. Students who sought opportunity would flock to her, use her, and then dispose of her as soon as her usefulness was spent.
"Lady Daamon was unavailable for questions," the woman concluded.
'Social pariah.' What did it matter if some rich fourteen-year-old girl had an opinion about the school program? She wasn't the average student. She would never have to study hard for the dream of getting a good job; she would have one handed to her when she was ready to take control. She would never have to work a side job while studying hoping to improve her meal plan; she would never have to endure the stale taste of a food cube linger in the back of her throat. She would never have to worry about stepping foot on the war fields. No, at best, her only worry would be if her marriage contract was air tight in her favor.
She had choices. He could only survive.
- We are introduced to Seth Wright, the third and final member of our lead cast for Awakening: Prodigy. I'd love to hear about your initial thoughts about Seth? What sort of journey do you think he'll be on? What kind of person is he? Can you relate to him?
- Can you share a time when you made a knee jerk judgement on someone and turned out to be completely wrong?
- I don't 'do' love stories. Does the idea that there won't be a love interest thread between the trio disappoint you?
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If you want me to answer your questions directly remember to tag me in the group, or you can email me directly.
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