“I am Elysium.” A cloaked figure at the head of the altar raised a fist. “I. Am. Elysium.”
The crimson-colored hood cast a shadow across his face. Patches of pale skin peeked out from beneath the fabric. A scan of his measurements confirmed he matched the height and build of the target.
Found you. She glanced at her surroundings—the crumbling remains of a concrete and steel building taken down five years ago during the first waves of attacks of World War III.
You’re definitely not a ghostly aberration.
Those three simplistic words—I am Elysium—incited a unified chant among the faction occupying the pit of the chamber. Murmured voices, both male and female, rose, producing a combined echo.
Perched on a steel beam on the third floor, overlooking the ceremony, Citizen Hill activated the zoom-in function of the T-581 ocular implant nestled in her left eye. The crosshairs floated together, forming a plus sign, then multiple red dots covered the exposed lower half of the target’s profile.
Static, followed by a squelch, squawked in her ear.
“Seventeen percent match.” The handler—a feminine voice without a face—grumbled. “Get me more.”
Damn, not enough for a raid. She inched out as far as the steel beam allowed.
“A little to the left, you snowball aberration.” Her words, only a whisper, escaped her lips like a soft breeze on a frigid autumn morning.
The lines came together once more, and an explosion of red dots filled her vision, at least three times more than the prior scan.
“Hold steady,” the handler squawked again, “or you’ll lose him.”
Refusing to breathe, for fear of interrupting the facial recognition, Citizen Hill remained motionless, lids wide open. A Syth-L, short for synthetic life form, contained major organs like those of a human, but only for show. She, like a handful of others, looked human enough to pass as a fleshy, but to do so, took up extra space better spent processing necessary intel. Plus, without an emotion chip, she didn’t see or feel the need to replicate the simulation of life.
It’s not as if Elysium followers care.
“Talk to me,” she whispered under her breath, waiting for instructions.
“Sixty-eight percent match, that’s enough for now,” said the handler. “Stand by for an intel drop.” She was new, unknown to Citizen.
Hmm, where’s Steel? He’s never missed an assignment, not since she went active—and the old-timer’s never late.
“Copy that.” She considered asking but thought twice about doing so. Handlers and operatives never co-mingled, and they certainly didn’t make non-work-related inquiries. “Standing by.”
Nothing came. Just static. She refreshed the link.
The white icon in the lower left of her GUI vision spun in a never ending circular motion. She was losing reception and needed to get to higher ground.
Citizen didn’t know how long this ceremony of theirs would last.
Humans have so many bizarre rituals, none of which make sense.
“Sister Citizen.” A figure stopped behind her. It was one of the priest elders. The same tall, thin man in the same brown robe, who had greeted her earlier.
Hmm. His footsteps had gone unnoticed to the ear—a most unfortunate turn of events.
She had made contact with the group known as Elysium this morning but had been tracking them for over a week. After surviving the wasteland, Gollums, and infected humans, she had completed the first part of her mission—infiltration. Now, she needed to move on to milestone two—acquire the target.
“Oh, hello.” Citizen crawled off her perch and joined him. “I didn’t catch your name?”
She kept her voice low, monotone to a degree, to replicate the pitch and rate of the other cult followers.
“I am Master Dunlam, one of Julian Bless’ senior supporters.” The robed man tucked both of his hands into his long sleeves, like one would a muff, then held them in front of him. “I do hope you will join me with the rest, down below.” He cast a suspicious gaze her way.
Citizen needed to get away from Dunlam and the group to re-establish coms, but that looked like it would have to wait.
“Sure.” She replicated a smile with just a peek of teeth for a more natural look.
Master Dunlam motioned for her to lead the way down the winding path of what use to pass for stairs. Static in the connection slowly overtook the channel. The L-5 receiver wasn’t cutting it.
I’m definitely upgrading when I return to base. She chewed on which model to try out next. The L-7 offered new surveillance features but came with bugs. Don’t need to fry my circuits as a beta-tester. She sighed, then thought, the L-6.75 receiver it is.
“Acknowledge, CH,” the handler barked in her ear. Citizen loathed her codename. Hated her serial number too. CH012SYTH-L sounded so lifeless. That’s why she gave herself a real name, Citizen Hill.
She sent a busy code of text through the implanted chip connected to her processor, so the priest wouldn’t hear.
Her handler switched to messaging, but the connection continued to fade the closer she got to the ground. The broken concrete walls and steel formations made coms harder. That’s why she went to the steel beam in the first place. The com link went dry.
So close, she thought with a sigh.
The lack of response would frustrate HQ, but setbacks come with the territory when in the middle of an infiltration mission.
She and her escort reached the ground level and joined the crowd in the back of the chamber. The group was a little over one hundred by the last headcount. They were all walking in single file across the altar that Bless stood behind.
One at a time, each follower kneeled, bowed his or her head, then placed a hand on the large red stone that sat on the altar. Every last one of them flattened a palm on the stone, remained there silently for a couple of seconds, rose to full height, then walked away. The next person repeated the ritual.
Citizen had no idea what it meant and wasn’t going to ask.
“You do not have to take part in the dedication ceremony if you do not understand it.” Master Dunlam stood right behind her like the shadow she couldn’t shake.
“Okay, thank you,” said Citizen, in her best human tone. “I will wait.”
After everyone walked by and touched the stone, Bless finished his address. She knew it was him and didn’t need HQ’s approval to move in. But this meddling priest was too close to her though. He had already caught her up on her perch overhead, which made the human suspicious of her, so she must proceed with caution.
Citizen stood next to the figures clothed in dirty rags and ponchos. If she could get lost in the crowd, she could shake free of Master Dunlam, then isolate her target.