Chapter 1:


City of Gods

The process is quick and painless. Prior to the procedure, all that is asked of patients is that they perform a three-kilometre run, no further than fifteen minutes before the injection. This run ensures that blood flow is optimal and guarantees that newly injected nanotech is carried throughout the body properly. A numbing gel is used on the forearm so that the pinch from the injection isn't felt. Once injected, trillions of nanobots are distributed throughout the body and most importantly into the brain. Immediately after the injection, patients are turned upside down to ensure that blood flow to the brain is increased. It will only take a few seconds for the nanotech to invade the brain and you will likely enter a state of paralysis once the nanotech latches onto your brain cells. Many patients report entering a dreamlike state. Others report having an out-of-body experience. Whatever state of mind you may enter during the procedure, do not panic and remember that it is a required step in the process. After the process is complete the nanotech in your body will be able to interact with your cells so that your physical form can be altered. Many patients develop physical abnormalities reflective of their character, some of which can be controlled and some of which cannot. Engineering one's physical form may take time and training so do not expect immediate changes. Thank you all for listening and good luck on your journey to becoming a rustwalker. But before we begin, one last reminder. Remember, it is imperative that subjects........ are able to let the nanobots invade their minds. Do not fear them. Let them in.

The robotic voice goes silent and the room lies in darkness. I sit in my metal chair quietly, like the rest of the patients awaiting further instruction. The room is cold and tense. Everyone seems to be frozen in their seats. I assume that everyone is asking themselves the same question. Is this really what I want? To become a rustwalker means to become a soldier, committed to the goal of protecting and fighting for the city of Arcadia. It means becoming something humanoid, becoming more machine than man. My life would never be the same. My body seems to reject the idea. I feel hollow and frail. My hands are clenched together tightly and my heart feels like it is going to beat out of my chest. I do not find any comfort in becoming a rustwalker, but I need to protect this city. I just wish I could do it as a human, not a machine.

A mechanical rumble sounds from the wall to my left and a metal door begins to lift into the ceiling slowly. Light floods into the room, first warming my ankles, before hitting my bright white jumpsuit and eventually scorching the left side of my face. The door halts. I stand up and begin walking towards the bright opening in the wall. I hear shuffling amongst the other patients and the scratching of metal chairs against the floor. They follow my lead outside. Through the bright opening lies a courtyard surrounded by a tall metal fence. The space is void of any objects other than large box speakers accompanying each corner of the courtyard. The ground is made up of tiles divided like a chess board into white and black squares. Each tile is around two meters in length and there seems to be about thirty total. Beyond the fence, are tall white buildings barely visible due to the haze and thick orange hue coating the skyline. Based on the buttons in the elevator that I took to reach this floor just ten minutes ago, this courtyard is fifty-two stories above ground. Despite that, the buildings on the horizon force me to look up. The air outside is hot, dense and hard to breathe. Even though there is a constant wind, it does not provide a cool sensation like down by the ocean. Rather it feels like the current of a blow dryer, picking up dust and blowing it harshly around the barren courtyard. I feel sweat start to form on my brow as I walk towards the fence on the far side of the courtyard. It’s been years since I last saw the city from this height. As I look down I cannot spot a speck of green.

A noise suddenly sounds from the box speakers in each corner of the courtyard. It’s the same monotone voice I had heard just moments ago explaining the nanotech procedure.

“Each patient must accompany their own square tile. Please choose one within the next five seconds”

The voice is that of a female. She sounds inhuman. The group of people still standing close to the opening of the courtyard all scramble to a tile. I am the only one standing on the far side of the courtyard.

“Once you have picked your tile, ready yourself”

I feel my tile starting to move. The surface of the tile is sliding backwards at a walking pace and seemingly looping underneath the ground, much like a conveyor belt. Looking down at my tile, the surface is flowing like a river. The orange dust spots, staining the white tile are being mixed up in the flow of the current and eventually disappear underneath my feet. The entire ground must be made of nanotech. Surfaces like these are somewhat rare throughout the city, especially in the slums. It is rumoured that the spiral is made entirely out of nanotech. From here it is barely visible amongst all the haze and orange dust, but I can still discern its bullet-like shape and extraordinary height. The megastructure oddly has no windows and is thought to be a primary location for the most important people of this city. Many of my friends believe that it is a rustwalker training facility. Whatever it may be I can say for certain it serves as a symbol of progress for the people living in Arcadia.

The motion of my tile is beginning to speed up. I can feel dust collecting on my brow and sticking to my sweat. My breath picks up as my legs start moving quicker. The direction of my tile is positioning me against the wind and dust continues to blow in my face, so I close my eyes.

Running like this reminds me of my first time seeing a rustwalker. It was on the north end of the city. The rustwalker had just killed a man attempting to travel south with his family. After the family was killed explosives were found underneath their clothing. It isn't uncommon for armed persons to try and enter the city. To murder the family, the rustwalker had turned its entire arm into a gun and pulled out its teeth to use as bullets. After shooting the family in the head the rustwalkers teeth grew back and its arm returned to a normal functioning limb. My parents told me that the rustwalker had done the right thing and I guess they were right. Nobody was supposed to be allowed into the city from the outside and if they did come in it was surely not for a good reason. After that incident, I ran away from my parents and the idea of becoming a rustwalker. I didn't want to murder anyone for any reason. Rustwalkers are monsters. They kill people.

However, just as I eventually ran back to my parents, I eventually grew towards the idea of becoming a rustwalker.

Even though my knees are starting to hurt and my chest is tightening, I feel like it's my obligation to embrace what these final moments of being fully human are, even if they are painful. After all, the feeling of pain becomes a choice after I receive the nanotech injection and become a rustwalker. My lungs are beginning to wheeze and the taste of salt falls on my lips as sweat continues to drip down my face. That same question pops into my mind again. Is this really what I want? The first rustwalker I ever saw was a monster, but what I've come to realize is that it had to be, for the sake of the city and the people it loves inside this city. I do not forgive that rustwalker for what it did, and neither will I forgive myself when I am eventually faced with the same situation. Just as I am doing now, I must embrace the pain and dissonance that comes with following this path I've chosen, and trust myself that I am doing the right thing. Even though my body is nearing its limit and the heat is becoming unbearable, I find myself smiling. Smiling because I know that I have followed the right path. Becoming a rustwalker may not be what I want to do, but it is what I need to do. 

Scarlett Ascension
Taylor Victoria
Mahir Afnan
Saito Forester