In the future following the Collapse, former rebel Zaq Martial just wanted to get away from his problems. But it turns out that's not so easy. He finds himself pursued not only by an oppressive government, but also by a vengeful ex-girlfriend. If he can survive that as well as superhuman enemies, a violent split personality, and even his own quirky allies, he may just become the hero the world needs. Can he stop the ruthless Benefactors, led by dangerous beauty Yamiyo? Or will humanity be led down an eternal dark path devoid of free will?
Chapter I—Far from Home
He walked across the plains with crushing guilt and a lack of purpose as his only company. A slight breeze was in the air on the green environs of the Western Continent. A few clouds dotted across the otherwise crystal-blue sky. This world has been called Mirai since the Benefactors took over following the Collapse. This particular location was somewhere on the Western Continent, several hundred miles north of the southern coastline, in the Red Earth Zone. It was the year 212 P.C (Post-Collapse).
The birds flew through the air on this day and numerous animals could be spotted wandering about, but no humans could be seen on the prairie plains, save one: Zaq Martial. He was casually walking west towards some unknown destination. Even he did not know where he would end up or what he would do once he was there. He was simply wandering.
His short, dark cropped hair complemented his dusty black shirt and green jeans. He wasn’t particularly tall, being just about six feet tall, but he had a rugged air about him. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. All he had with him was two dark bags. The large one he carried slumped over his shoulder. The other was very slim but longer in length, and he carried this in his right hand.
Presently Zaq came upon a house along the dirt path he was on. He gave the two-story wooden structure a casual gaze before turning his attention back toward the path. Two sets of windows lined the first floor of the front, while three sets decorated the second story. The house was the color of a redwood tree, except for the roof which held more of a sandy hue. His attention was caught by the mere fact that such dwellings were rare in this day and age. Most people lived in the cities; the Benefactors gave no assistance to people who chose to live out in the wild, as everyone viewed it. Those that lived in the Thirty-Seven Cities under the Benefactors’ rule at least were granted the luxury known as civilization. The Thirty-Seven Cities were spread out across the planet with thirteen of them located on the Western Continent. These city-states specialized in different exports which they traded to each other via the RailWay system.
At that moment an old man emerged from the front door with a box of tools. This caught Zaq’s attention, and he exchanged a glance with the man. The old man wore dark brown leather pants and a shirt made of a slightly lighter shade of brown.
“Why, hello there,” he said, and began applying his tools to a well pump in front of the house.
“Afternoon,” Zaq replied, not stopping his walk.
“You’re a curious sight. We don’t usually see other people around here,” the old man said. “Most people stay holed up in the cities.”
“I don’t really belong anywhere.” To Zaq, truer words were never spoken. After running off and abandoning everyone he knew, he felt living anywhere civilized was a privilege he had given up. He no longer deserved a home, or friends for that matter.
“I take it you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere.”
Zaq looked in the direction he was originally headed. “Only to get somewhere.” It really didn’t matter where he went, as long as the Camisards didn’t find him. Especially her.
“That bag doesn’t look like it can carry much food. When was the last time you ate anything?”
“I cooked some food this morning that I caught. I usually just find what I need as I go.”
The old man looked down at the ground, as if Zaq’s words had put an extra weight on his head. “This world almost brings me to tears sometime. When so many people suffer as they do these days, it kills me to think we’ve fallen so far.”
Zaq shrugged. “It doesn’t seem so bad to me.” As long as no one caught up to him, he felt he could somehow go on living. It wouldn’t be a happy life by any means, but of course he deserved no such thing.
The old man looked at him with weary eyes. “I get the feeling that you’re used to it. That may be the most depressing thing of all. People want to adapt to the world’s problems rather than solve them.” Zaq felt these words, felt them on his chest. The old man may have been right, but it was too late now; he assured himself there was no turning back, no returning to where he came from. He suddenly found himself needing something to take his mind off his problems. That’s when he noticed the old man was having trouble fixing the well pump.
“Do you really get water out of that?” he asked. The old man looked at him with a mix of frustration and humor.
“Usually. The pump hasn’t been working right today, though.”
“Let me look at it.” Zaq picked up a tool from the box and began using it on the pump. Within moments he had water pumping out.
“Thanks a lot, friend. You really helped me out here today,” the old man said.
Zaq simply shrugged. “It was nothing. I like to do good whenever I can in order to make up for certain things I’ve done that I’m not proud of.”
“Well I want repay you anyways. Come inside and my wife and I will give you something to eat.” Zaq refused this request, however. He felt the need to continue on his journey. He had to keep walking, so he took another step….and felt his leg give out under him. The old man rushed to help him up, but Zaq couldn’t seem to stand on his own.
“Looks like you don’t know when to stop,” the old man said. “Come inside. We don’t have much but you can at least rest and get some food.” Zaq tried to think of some excuse to refuse, but nothing came to him. I don’t like this. I need to keep heading west, but I have to recover my strength before I can continue. Please don’t let any of them find me in the mean time.
Inside the house, Zaq sat down on a couch which may or may not have been made from the same leather as the old man’s pants. He made sure not to lay his head down in case this was a trap and he fell asleep in enemy hands.
The house seemed to him to be a museum of antiques. The old man and his wife had an impressive collection of all things old. Almost everything around him predated the Collapse. There were shelves all over the walls that held priceless antiques: vases, silverware, clay sculptures, obsolete electronics equipment, and so on. There was even a piano across from the couch.
The old man and his wife sat in old rocking chairs at an angle to Zaq’s left but still facing him. When her husband had brought him in, she was against it. They argued in the kitchen about whether or not to throw the young man out that very minute. She insisted he was a total stranger and therefore not trustworthy. Her husband argued that he had fixed their well pump even though he was dead tired, and it would be cruel to just leave him to his fate. In the end he won out and she accompanied him into the living room to get acquainted with the mysterious youth.
The wife, who wore a fur vest over a leather shirt, spoke first. Her hair was an ashen gray color, suggesting she was not as old as her husband, who was completely white on top whose face was dotted with liver spots. Despite this, she had clearly lived a long life and her experience was telling her to be wary of this stranger.
“Well, err, I think we should introduce ourselves. We are the Lithics. Nice to….meet you,” she said.
“My name is Zaq Martial. Likewise,” the youth said.
“Tell me, Zaq. Where are you from?” Mr. Lithic said.
“The Eastern Coastline.”
“Surely you didn’t walk all the way out here,” Mrs. Lithic said.
“I walked when I had to. But I also hitched a ride on the RailWay.”
Mrs. Lithic looked shocked. “That’s dangerous! Do you know what the penalty for that crime happens to be?”
Zaq shrugged. “I’m pretty good at not getting caught. Besides, it was kind of an emergency.”
The Lithics exchanged a worrisome glance, and then looked back at Zaq. “Listen,” Mr. Lithic said, “You’re not in trouble with the Benefactors, are you?”
Zaq didn’t respond right away. “Trouble” was putting it mildly. If these well-meaning people knew the truth about him, it would create serious problems for everyone. After a few moments of awkward silence while he searched his brain for an excuse, he finally said, “No, I was just in a hurry to do some traveling.”
They clearly didn’t believe him. “He is in trouble with the Benefactors! We can’t have him here,” Mrs. Lithic said.
“Take it easy,” her husband replied. “If he’s in trouble with them, it means he’s a good person. Look, son, those Benefactors are vile people. I don’t know what you did to them, but I applaud you for it. You must be very brave.”
How wrong this old man was, Zaq thought. “I’m sorry to have troubled you like this. I need to be going now,” Zaq said. He moved to get up, but realized he still hadn’t recovered enough of his strength. He could barely stand. Just great!
“Please, you need more rest. You can stay with us tonight,” Mr. Lithic said.
Zaq shook his head. “But you don’t even know me.”
“We realize that. But we just can’t let you wander around the wilderness in the shape you’re in, especially now that it will be night soon.” Zaq reluctantly slumped back onto the couch. There was no other choice. He had to take them up on their offer. He had to be a burden. Mrs. Lithic continued to protest but her concerns were dismissed by her husband. The man was very compassionate, probably too much for his own good.
“I’m sorry,” Zaq said. Indeed, he was sorry. For more than they knew.
Zaq sat with the Lithics in their kitchen and ate dinner. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was also filled with antiques. This caught Zaq’s interest as he had never met anyone with so many antiques.
“What’s with all the antiques?” he asked.
“Now that’s an interesting story,” Mr. Lithic said. “My family line has always had the responsibility of preserving the past. Even before the Collapse we collected artifacts and protected historically significant buildings. There were a lot more of us back then. I’m talking hundreds of people working together to protect history. It was an entire organization. At least, that’s the story that’s been past down to us from generation to generation.”
“We don’t question it. It’s a worthy cause, and that’s good enough,” Mrs. Lithic said. She still sounded somewhat distressed at having a suspicious stranger in their house. Zaq couldn’t blame her.
“How many people know about this place?” Zaq said. He doubted very many people—if any—did. It was such an out of the way locale, it was unlikely any human beings were even aware of its existence.
“No one that we know of. We’re all alone out here. As you know, most people live in the cities,” Mr. Lithic said.
Zaq found himself puzzled by this. “What’s the point of preserving history if no one knows about it? Aren’t you doing this for others?” Zaq said. After all, the Scholars (a rebel group opposed to the Benefactors) preserved old books and the knowledge they contained in order to one day overthrow the Benefactors and share that knowledge with the world.
“We’re doing this for future generations. We can’t let anyone know about this right now or else the Benefactors could come in and seize all our artifacts for themselves. We’re taking a risk just letting you know about this. But you have the eyes of someone who is trustworthy. And some day the Benefactors will be gone and we can share our antiques with the world,” Mr. Lithic said.
“You’ve said too much!” Mrs. Lithic said.
They talked for a while longer, and when they finished eating the conversation turned to the Collapse. Zaq asked the old couple if they had any ideas on what exactly it was and what caused it. People widely believed that only the Benefactors knew for sure, but different people had different theories, and the Lithics had theirs.
“We believe the Collapse may have been a war or the result of one,” Mr. Lithic said.
“Why do you think that?” Zaq said.
“We have our reasons.” However, they kept quiet about that those reasons might be. Zaq preferred not to pry into their private thoughts.
Not too far away, it was dusk in the woods. The nocturnal animals were coming out to forage for food and there was no shortage of noises reverberating among the trees. However, there was one creature that did not belong here. Cloaked in black, this one moved lithely through the woods. Close inspection would reveal this figure to be female. Her cloak served to hide her slender legs, moderate chest, and a toned body that could only have come from years of training. She moved with a single-minded determination to locate her target. You won’t get away. I will find you. I will hunt you down and I will hold you responsible for what you’ve done. How many people will suffer because of you, Zaq Martial? All she needed was for him to stop somewhere for a while. Then she would have him. Then she would hurt him. Vengeance would be Reima’s.