The nights were always long in the Bellows, but they were made even darker by the ceaseless rain that had held the city hostage for days. Water poured onto the streets from the sky, from the gutters, from seemingly every outlet that plagued the lower levels of our vertical metropolis. Aqueducts in disrepair overflowed like open wounds, their contents spilling into the world without discrimination or mercy. The city wept for us, despondent for its dying denizens.
I’ve never been outside my home city. Born within these narrow concrete alleyways, I’ve spent my entire existence living under the shadow of the all-consuming megacorporations that tear apart our world. Every day I’m reminded that I only exist because of the ceaseless greed of a thousand unfeeling gods. The advertisements plastered across every surface sneer at us, offering glimpses into a world we’ll never know, mocking us with the very idea of hope.
Our bodies are as much victims of this technological nightmare as our minds; flesh and bone replaced with the cold indifference of machinery, usurping what little humanity we have left. I can feel my own enhancements coursing through my veins, a constant reminder of the scientific hubris that has become our collective undoing. The price for admission into this dark edifice: dependence on the very thing that keeps us tethered to it.
It was in a dingy alleyway along Harken Street that I first met Lea. We’d both been seeking refuge from the rain, relying on the thick, veiny pipes above our heads to shield us from the deluge. Her long coat was drenched, her clothes hanging heavily on her frame like a sodden shroud. Her face bore the marks of augmentation as well—her eyes replaced with cybernetic implants that glowed a fierce green, piercing through me as surely as any blade.
She looked just as lost as I felt.
It wasn’t long before we became friends, then partners, then something more. We found solace in the shared misery of our lives, the unspoken knowledge that we were all victims of a humanity that had long since ceased to care for its own. The higher-ups ignored our cries for help and change as they floated above in their towered penthouses, untouched by our suffering, deafened by the exquisite sound of opulence.
Together, Lea and I traversed the Bellows, scavenging for the materials necessary to survive in a world that seemed hellbent on our destruction. We sold what we could, hoarded what we needed, and discarded the rest. Then we’d spend the night huddled together against the pervasive chill of the night, sharing our dreams of escape, of life beyond our nightmarish cityscape.
She was my reason for existing.
As time wore on, I began to notice something was amiss. The rain was harsher, the nights colder, the city more unforgiving than ever. The number of homeless and destitute grew with each passing day; entire city blocks were swallowed up by tent cities and makeshift shelters that struggled to protect against the encroaching darkness. The destitution was matched only by our desperation.
It was Lea who first heard about the project—whispers from the darkest corners of the Bellows, rumors spoken only by those who were too far gone to fear punishment. A group of scientists had broken away from the megacorporations’ iron grip, seeking to use their knowledge to free us from our mechanical bondage. They called it ReGenesis: the key to regaining control of the very technology that threatened to consume us all.
We knew there had to be a catch, but what choice did we have? The city was dying; if we stayed, we would die with it. And so, we sought out the ReGenesis scientists, offering to aid them in their underground work, pledging our lives to the cause. We became their hands in the darkness, scavenging for the materials they needed to bring their vision to life.
I don’t know what I expected when the day finally came. Did I imagine some great turning of the tide, a sudden revelation that would bring this cruel, dark world to its knees and herald a new era of hope? Did I really believe in the power of science to save us? Or was it all just another lie we told ourselves to get through the day?
Despite the fervent desire for change, nothing ever truly shifted. The megacorporations tightened their grip, snuffing out any lingering hope we held close to our hearts. We were left with nothing but disappointment and broken dreams, a bitter sense of betrayal gnawing away at our souls.
Lea never looked so defeated.
In the end, there was nothing left for us here. We sought solace in each other, knowing full well that it was a false comfort, a fleeting respite from the crushing weight of despair. Our days were spent dreaming of a world we would never know—a life free of the chains that kept us bound to this dying city.
Our nights…we spent mourning the life we lost. In the darkness, we clung to each other, our tears pooling together—just as the rain pooled outside our window—and flowed silently into the abyss.