Chapter 1:

The Best Day...

Paradise


In the streets of Chicago lights shine brightly, numerous rainbow colors lined in neon cover the streets giving a more poppy feel to the one time Windy City. However, the facade of this cheery feel isn't good enough. Bookmark here

On closer inspection, down those darker alleys, this city reveals its darkness. The bodies along the streets give off a pungent nauseating smell that overwhelms you even if you're used to it. Shrill, horrific screams of those being killed the slow way, or even being raped, echo through the streets and alleys. The prayer for police sirens dances in the thoughts of these victims, but for many, help never comes.Bookmark here

When anyone bears witness they don't call anyone, they just have one thing repeating in their mind over and over. 'As long as it's not me. As long as it's not me.' They go about their lives without that sick guttural feeling of remorse that you're supposed to feel as a human being. Bookmark here

Children carry knives to school, teens get guns illegally to protect themselves. It's a fight for survival, at least for some. Bookmark here

The lucky ones live in protected and walled off areas, sipping freshly brewed coffee peacefully, looking down at the others struggling with a smile. Many of them work at the main hub of all revenue not just in the city, but in the world. An intimidating, tall, sleek looking silver building at the city's center, with a sign at its base, reading Paradise in white fluorescent light. Bookmark here

In one of the middle floors of the building in a corner office, sat a young man at his desk, juggling a lot in his head as he leaned back in his rolling chair. Bookmark here

"I got a week left on this project and it just feels like we're all fatigued and stuck. But, I can't screw this up if I want to get promoted again. I just need a spark or something right now, because the gears in my head are spent. I just hope when I move up I can do something more and actually make some real change. Cause right now, it feels like pure hopelessness." Bookmark here

"…Tobias.." Bookmark here

A feminine voice that sounded like a faint echo to him came through. Bookmark here

"Did I even eat today or….no I think I ran out too fast because I thought being way early would've been more efficient." Bookmark here

"Tobias…." Bookmark here

The voice came through again a bit more clearly but he is still lost in thought.Bookmark here

"What else am I forgetting, I feel like I am but I can't even recall what it is…" Bookmark here

"Tobias!!" Bookmark here

His name being said with such emphasis broke him from his spell and nearly made him fall out of his chair as he rolled back suddenly and sat at attention. Bookmark here

"Daydreaming again? Hopefully it wasn't about work like usual." The woman said. Bookmark here

She was seated on his desk comfortably, wearing the attire they all do, a scarlet jacket lined in purple along its seams, pants that have the same colors but in reverse, with a stark white button up shirt underneath the jacket. Even the shoes are all uniform, white with golden colored laces. Bookmark here

Her hazel eyes fixated upon his blue ones; he shook his head for a moment before speaking.Bookmark here

"I'm just deep in thought, that's all. When exactly did you come in here? I didn't even hear you." Bookmark here

She looked away with a coy expression, flicking her red tipped black hair. Bookmark here

"You know I'm sneaky Tobias, and you well…have a tendency to go wayyy out into space when you think. Must be a smart person thing." Bookmark here

"Just knock or something next time Zoey." He sighed. "What brings you in here anyways?" Bookmark here

Zoey huffed. Bookmark here

"I didn't realize I needed a reason to talk to my co-worker and best friend of 4 years. But, you are needed out of your office for a moment. If you're not too bothered to do it." Bookmark here

Tobias rolled his chair back and hopped to his feet. "I suppose." Bookmark here

When he walked into the semi open office with cubicles that hardly felt as confined as one might think, everyone in the room exploded in unison. Bookmark here

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOBIAS!!!!" Bookmark here

Zoey crept behind him and patted his back as he stood dumbfounded, that's what he'd forgotten, his own birthday. They had a sign, a cake and decorations set up everywhere. Bookmark here

"I can't believe I actually forgot, that's really bad. We're behind, but maybe this is for the best. Take a day and just have fun, we'll hop to it tomorrow." Bookmark here

Tobias smiled. An occurrence that was incredibly rare with how seriously he took himself. He looked at Zoey and made a full sprint for the cake. In spite of the head start, she flew past him and got to the cake first. Bookmark here

Their co-workers all whispered to each other watching the two of them. Tobias and Zoey were pretty infamous for being work husband and wife. Their close relationship made many wonder about whether or not they were romantically involved. Bookmark here

The rest of the work day is spent chatting and enjoying themselves. Despite being Tobias' party, he made himself less of the focus, standing off to the side smiling to himself. Bookmark here

"I'm probably going to get a talking to. But I'll talk my way out of it. Bookmark here

-Bookmark here

Evening approached fast. Everyone else had left already saved for Tobias, who is making last minute preparations for tomorrow to jump start work the next morning. Bookmark here

He exited the building shortly after, finding Zoey patiently waiting for him. Bookmark here

"Zoey, we talked about this. You don't need to walk me home every single day." Bookmark here

"Tobias, there has been a severe increase in crime, and we both know that's saying something. Law enforcement doesn't care anymore, they barely make it to a murder scene. I don't want to have you missing and dead on the street for a week." Bookmark here

Tobias looked at her hesitantly but he walked and let her follow without a word. He didn't like that she felt the need to watch him, but the feeling of how much she cared always warmed him deep down. Bookmark here

The pair walked through the streets of postmodern Chicago in silence. Stay in a place too long and they'd get jumped, say a wrong word and they might be shot without warning. It was a harsh reality that closed around them more as they neared where Tobias lived. His apartment complex was a part of the 'safe havens' that their company Paradise provided. Bookmark here

The location is unique, a pristine, futuristic building amongst the edge of the slums.Bookmark here

Once they're at the entrance, Tobias quickly scans his digital ID card and they both walk in without a moment of hesitation. Bookmark here

They let out a sigh of relief in unison, before Zoey asked a question that she'd asked numerous times before. Bookmark here

"Why do you live so far from the safer areas? You've told me you've seen crime, bodies and all kinds of other things, and yet you remain here." Bookmark here

Tobias stood up straight, and looked down into her eyes with a stern answer. "Like I've said, I don't want to grow a big head. Every time I look outside I'm reminded of how far I could've fallen. As well as the trials people face, you know why I joined Paradise, and why I want to be promoted to the top." Bookmark here

She gave him a glare, before trailing behind him to his apartment. Bookmark here

"You can't save everyone in that capacity. But I'll follow you up anyways, when you sink from the reality of the upper echelons, I won't say I told you so. I'll give you a safe place to land." Bookmark here

Despite the gloom future predicted within those words, he felt his heartbeat accelerate all of a sudden. He didn't respond at first, as he got to his apartment and scanned his card, opening the door. Bookmark here

"Good evening and welcome home, Tobias." Bookmark here

He was caught up in his thoughts so much that his inhouse AI scared him. Bookmark here

"Ah! Oh…hello Meri." Bookmark here

The AI Meri, also known as Merical Columbine, is part of a series of AIs dating back to the year 2025. She is the newest series created, as Paradise has invested a great deal into their creation. Bookmark here

Meri stands only a few inches shorter than Tobias who is five foot ten. Although usually wearing much more convenient clothing today she decided to wear a maid outfit, with her deep blue hair wrapped in a messy bun. Bookmark here

Zoey jumped out from behind Tobias putting her hands on Meri's shoulders. Bookmark here

"See! I told you you'd look lovely in this!" Bookmark here

"I don't see the necessity of it. I feel it lacks any sort of practicality needed to do my job effectively." Bookmark here

Zoey turned to Tobias with a sly grin. "It's his 23rd birthday, so wear it to appease him." Bookmark here

Meri gave a look of shock, a rarity for an AI to make such an expression. Bookmark here

"Master, my apologies! I had no idea, I'll make you a cake right away!" Bookmark here

The whole situation sent Tobias in a mild panic, he chased after Meri and cut her off at the kitchen entrance. "They already had a cake made for me at work! I don't need another one. Also…we've talked about this, don't call me Master." Bookmark here

Zoey was snickering in the background, seemingly loving the fire that she'd ignited. Bookmark here

"Yes, my apologies Tobias. But please do not forget to tell me about such important days like this, I would've had things prepared for you the moment you awoke, and told you to take a rest from work." Bookmark here

Tobias felt himself cornered by the gazes of Meri and Zoey alike, both showing concern because of his workaholic life.Bookmark here

He rubbed his head before taking a deep breath. Bookmark here

"I will Meri, I didn't even think about it with how crazy everything has been. I'm still not used to you being here yet; it's only been three months." Bookmark here

Tobias trailed off after speaking leaving Zoey to immediately boost the mood.Bookmark here

"Tobias, don't get too comfortable. For tonight, we keep the party going at the fastest rising club in town!" Bookmark here

He and Meri stared at her like she was crazy, he was already exhausted and the AI wasn't too keen on letting him go out another time. Bookmark here

Without a word, Meri moved swiftly, showing that in spite of her appearance she truly wasn't a human; and grabbed Zoey in an attempt to escort her out as she squirmed in response.Bookmark here

"You're going to kick me out over that?! Tobias please talk sense into her! I had something planned out and everything!" Bookmark here

She cried as she spoke, whether the tears were real or fake was unknown. Tobias sighed and waved Meri off to let go of her, which she did, by tossing her into the couch like she was weightless. Bookmark here

"Meri, I appreciate you. But you take things way too far. You even scared a cat that wanted to visit the other day." Bookmark here

He walked in front of Zoey who was still in a slight daze from being tossed, looking her in the eyes.Bookmark here

"So, why the club? That doesn't suit someone as stiff as me." Bookmark here

Zoey looked up at him with a slight smirk. "I have a few things up my sleeve, plus I know you like one of the DJs." Bookmark here

Tobias thought for a moment before the light bulb went off in his head. "Ohh! That's right! I'd heard she was performing here but I didn't realize it was there. Still, one last question. What about your clothes? A lot of those kinds of places are very apprehensive of a Paradise uniform." Bookmark here

"That's the easiest one!" She threw her uniform off, wearing a black skirt and top that looked purposefully torn. A vibrant red mesh covered her legs and even part of her torso. Bookmark here

Both Tobias and Meri looked at her puzzled. He spoke up first after a few moments to process. Bookmark here

"How did you fit that…." Bookmark here

"Carefully. As for these boots, I left a pair here the other night very sneakily." Bookmark here

She paused for a moment before getting to her feet, shoving Tobias back to his room. Bookmark here

"Now go get changed!" Bookmark here

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