Ultraxenopia project w a.., p.1

Ultraxenopia (Project W. A. R. Book 1), page 1


Ultraxenopia (Project W. A. R. Book 1)

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Ultraxenopia (Project W. A. R. Book 1)

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it was published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  Edited by CLS Editing

  Cover design by Covers by Christian

  Book design by Inkstain Interior Book Designing

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  Published by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing, LLC

  Text Copyright © 2016 M. A. Phipps

  All rights reserved.

  “THE TRAIN IS NOW APPROACHING Central Station. Disembark here for W. P. Headquarters and for access to the Department of Interzonal Affairs.”

  I glance out the window. The darkness of the tunnel seems to disappear in an instant, and before I can even blink, the train is back above ground. The buildings of the city rush past in a blur, blending into one confused mass of gray. Nothing stands out.

  Everything is the same.

  Grabbing my bag, I slowly rise from my seat. The movement of the train is smooth enough that I don’t have to hold onto anything to keep myself from falling. But I do anyway. Perhaps to calm the nerves raging through every inch of my body and steady the trembling in my legs, which makes it feel as if they might buckle beneath me at any moment.

  My fingers grip whatever they can find as I make my way toward the nearest door. A crowd of people has already gathered in front of it, but that doesn’t surprise me. After all, Zone 1 is the busiest of all the zones in this city.

  I barely even notice when the train stops. The automated voice comes back over the loudspeaker, telling us to keep our distance just as the doors are about to open. Other than that, the train is completely silent. No one says anything. No one forces their way forward to get out any quicker. Everyone is patient. Everyone waits their turn.

  Including me.

  My lips hardly move as I quietly murmur the same words to myself that I repeat every day. “Don’t stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible.” Those are the rules I live by—that everyone lives by.

  Those are the rules that will ensure we all survive.

  I descend from the train, walking headfirst into an overpowering rush of noise. Footsteps intermingle with the jumbled beeps of turnstiles, combining in a cloud of sound, which echoes like thunder through the station lobby. I mindlessly follow the herd of people shifting toward the exit, each step nothing more than a sluggish crawl forward. My hands grope my pockets, searching for my rail card as I find my place in line, and when I eventually make it to the front, I scan it across the machine just like everyone else.

  Another beep.

  I push myself forward when the turnstile opens.

  The warm glow of daylight reaches down to meet me as I move calmly up the staircase leading out into the city. A sharp breath catches in my lungs as the cold air flushes my cheeks, but for a long moment, I don’t do anything. I simply watch the people in front of me, observing the usual detachment in each of their empty faces.

  No one says anything. No one even looks at each other. Everyone minds their own business, just as they’re supposed to.

  Bile rises in my throat, but I urge it back down.

  “Don’t stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible,” I whisper.

  Taking a deep breath, I step aside from the station entrance to focus on the task at hand. I peer down at the silver watch on my wrist, and a mumbled curse escapes my lips when the numbers ignite across the mirrored face.

  The clock is ticking.

  There’s no time to waste.

  I glance up, careful to avoid eye contact with anyone who passes. My nerves are tingling as if they’re on fire, and my stomach is twisting into an uncomfortable, tight ball. A surge of anxiety is beginning to creep up on me when I catch sight of a guidepost a short distance away. Breathing a sigh of relief, I hurry toward it, taking another breath to compose myself once I’ve figured out where I have to go. Straightening up, I fall into formation with the other people around me.

  The main road continues for many miles, but the building I’m looking for isn’t far from the station at all. A few minutes’ walk at most.

  Step after step brings me closer to my destination and my heart pounds more violently with each moment that passes. I swallow, trying to settle the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, but the feeling only continues to grow. It gets larger, heavier, and the weight of it nearly crushes me when I finally stop walking.

  My heart drops when I glimpse the massive stone sign in front of me. It seems to grow up from the ground, looming as ominously as the building behind it.

  W. P. Headquarters. The workforce placement educational facilities where the rest of my future is about to be decided. I suppose you could say this building is the foundation of our society. Every person—regardless of who they are—has to come through here, one way or another. From our early days of education up until our twenty-first birthday, at which time a single exam determines the rest of our lives. Pass it with flying colors and move on to your designated career. Fail it and receive a one-year imprisonment as punishment for lacking discipline, followed by a lifetime of the worst jobs imaginable—and not only in terms of pay.

  I inhale, swallowing the lump that’s begun to rise in my throat.

  You can do this, I tell myself.

  Breathing out, I reluctantly trudge forward through one of the revolving glass doors.

  The interior of the building is just as dreary and cold as the world outside. Everything is gray, made of metal and glass, and security cameras line the top of every wall. At least a dozen people stand in front of me, waiting in line to gain entry to the building.

  More beeps. More turnstiles.

  The line gradually shortens. I rock onto the balls of my feet when I feel that familiar tingling beginning to course through my legs. Transferring my weight, I shift ever so slightly to peek around the person ahead of me. As I move, something out of the corner of my eye abruptly grabs my attention, freezing me in place.

  I hesitantly look up at a large television embedded in a nearby wall. On its screen, is footage showing what appears to be the aftermath of a fire or bombing. Some people are screaming. Others are covered in blood. Dead bodies can even be seen littering the ground.

  I strain my ears to hear what the broadcaster is saying, all the while trying to appear disinterested. Luckily, one of the security guards—apparently also intrigued by the news story showing—chooses this exact moment to raise the volume.

  “Thirty-two are reported dead in the devastating attack on the Justice Building in Zone 1. Although there are no leads as to the motive behind the attack, it is believed to be the work of the renowned terrorist group, PHOENIX. Anyone with information regarding the group’s whereabouts is urged to come forward, whereas any citizen found to have been involved with this rebellious act will be branded an enemy of the State and executed.”

  I quickly look away from the screen. That uneasy feeling returns to the pit of my stomach, but I force it away, focusing on the line as it begins to move forward. From this point on, I keep my eyes fixed ahead of me.

  Before I know it, I’m at the front, standing face-to-face with a squat middle-aged woman.

  “Name,” she says without looking up at me.

  “Wynter Reeves,” I answer.

  “Identification chip,” she grumble

  I hold out my right arm and watch as she moves a scanner over my wrist. A tiny light at the top of the machine turns green. It beeps once. She then grabs my finger and inserts it roughly into a small metal device. It stings for a brief moment when she pricks me for blood, but the pain is gone almost instantly.

  “You’re all clear,” she grunts with a dismissive wave of her hand.

  Another beep as the turnstile in front of me opens. I walk through it at once, my pace quickening as I make my way toward the glass doors up ahead.

  My reflection stares back at me as I grip the metal handle. The surface is cool to the touch, sending a shock through my body when I pass into the main reception. An older man sits behind a large marble desk. His head is down, his unblinking gaze glued to the computer in front of him.

  I approach him slowly—afraid of disrupting the silence that surrounds us. It’s eerie, and in many ways, I feel like an intruder amidst the hush. I try to be light on my feet to avoid unnecessary attention, but in spite of my best efforts, the man lifts his eyes before I’ve even taken two steps.

  “Name and purpose of visit?” he asks.

  “Wynter Reeves,” I murmur. “I’m here to sit my placement exam.”

  “Identification chip.”

  Holding out my arm, I watch as he repeats the same process from before. The little light turns green as the machine beeps. I glance up at him, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he double-checks my information on the computer—another check to make sure that I am who I say I am. When he seems satisfied with what the database is telling him, he hands me a small laminated badge.

  “The examination is on Floor 5,” he says. “The elevators are on your right.”

  I cast a brief look over my shoulder before turning back around to thank him for his trouble.

  My legs are shaky as I walk. Fortunately, no one is around to notice, and the elevators are only a few steps away.

  I press the call button. A light above the steel doors begins to glow, and I use the time to fix the visitor’s badge to the front of my shirt. My fingers are uncoordinated, and I nearly drop it several times, probably due to the apprehensive feeling still lingering in my gut.

  I’m only on my own for about thirty seconds before a number of other people gather around the elevators as well. I can tell without looking that they’re the same age as I am, which means we’re all here for the exact same purpose. But, as to be expected, no one says anything. No one even looks at each other.

  When it really comes down to it, we’re all in this alone.

  When the elevator finally arrives, everyone files inside. I’m the first one in, and I take it upon myself to press the button for the fifth floor, desperately hoping no one else will see that my hands are shaking. One of the last people to enter the elevator is an older man who presses the button for the fourth floor. Other than that, no one moves. Everyone is silent. Everyone is still, calmly waiting for the same moment that I’m personally dreading.

  The metal doors close, and I can feel the change around us as the elevator ascends to the next floor. For some reason, it feels painfully slow—as if the journey is being drawn out for the sole purpose to torture me.

  I peer at the floor numbers as they light up above the door. One by one, they come to life, the bright glow illuminating our metal surroundings. It’s only now that I glimpse the camera hanging from the ceiling. It seems to stare back at me, the red light on its side continuously blinking like an eye. I shift uncomfortably, feeling as if it’s watching me.

  As if they’re watching me.

  I nearly jump back when the doors open for the fourth floor. I wait until the older man steps out of the elevator before peeking up at the security camera one last time.

  It’s only a moment before the doors open to the fifth floor. Since I was the first one in, I’m the last one out. But I don’t mind. Those extra few seconds give me time to compose myself.

  Another reception desk awaits me when I leave the elevator. When I reach the front, I find that it’s more of what I already went through before.

  “Name?” a shorthaired woman asks me.

  “Wynter Reeves,” I answer for what feels like the hundredth time.

  “Identification chip,” she requests.

  I offer her my arm, scrutinizing her face as she scans for the chip embedded beneath my skin. The light on the machine turns green, but she double-checks my information anyway, just like the man did downstairs. Several moments pass before she addresses me again.

  “The examination will be in Room 3,” she says. “Down the hall, on your left.”

  She gestures with her hand, and I don’t waste any time following her direction down the corridor. Room 3 is the second room I come across. There’s a short line of people standing outside of it, and I notice the cause of the delay when I see the monitor attached to the wall beside the door.

  Another computer. Another security check.

  Each person in front of me scans their wrist across the machine, and I do the same once I'm at the front of the line.

  Another beep. Another green light.

  Except at this checkpoint, the scan triggers the screen to display a diagram of the room and indicate which desk I’ve been allocated for the exam. After studying it for a moment, I walk through the door, finding my seat within a matter of seconds.

  I sit down and hang my bag on the back of the chair. More people are beginning to file into the limited space, and one by one, the seats around me fill up. The room is oddly quiet, despite the number of people present, but the silence only makes me feel more unsettled than I did before.

  I take a deep breath.

  It’s going to be okay, I remind myself. You can do this.

  I glance down at the desk and run my fingers across the computerized top. The screen remains deactivated.

  I reel back. My eyes trail across the surface until they land on the small scanner sitting in the top right corner. A small red light under the glass blinks every few seconds. Without another thought, I wave my wrist in front of the device, and as the light changes to green, the entirety of the desktop purrs to life. I stare down at the screen where I notice my name printed in large letters across it:

  Today’s date is flashing in the top left corner: October 14, 2061. There’s also an ID number printed below my name, which reads 73956241. A number I instantly recognize since it’s the one I was assigned at birth. Other than that, the screen is blank.

  I look up just in time to see a colossal screen at the front of the room turn on. A man’s face appears—the CEO of the company.

  I can’t help but feel unnerved by the way he looks back at us. His expression is unwelcoming, and his gruff authoritative voice booms through the air, sending a chill of fear down my spine.

  “The examination will begin momentarily,” he says. “You will be given three hours to complete it. Anyone who finishes before this time may press the call button to submit their exam. Once you have submitted your exam, no revisions will be allowed. Good luck.” As soon as those final words leave his mouth, the screen at the front of the room shuts off.

  My head snaps to the side when the doors behind me begin to close, and I know the moment I’ve been dreading has finally arrived. There’s no turning back, even if I wanted to.

  This is it.

  The locks on the doors set into place with an audible click. The sound is like a threatening omen, as if to say there’s no escape from my impending fate.

  An automated female voice comes over the loudspeaker.

  “The exam will now commence,” she announces. “You may begin.”

  I look down as the desktop begins to change, revealing the first part of the exam. My fingers twitch as I reach over to grab the electronic stylus that’s been provided. Taking one more deep breath, I dive headfirst into the series of questions that will inevitably determine my future.

  The automated voice returns every fifteen minutes, echoing through the room as a reminder
that the clock is constantly ticking.

  “Two hours, forty-five minutes remaining.”

  “Two hours, thirty minutes remaining.”

  “Two hours, fifteen minutes remaining.”

  It’s irritating, and I try my best to ignore it, centering my attention on the questions in front of me. For the most part, I seem to be doing all right. All of that studying has paid off. However, there’s still the occasional question that seems out of place, as if the test makers have purposely included them in order to throw me off—to confirm whether or not I actually belong in my projected sector.

  “Two hours remaining,” that annoying voice reminds me.

  I can feel a bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face, and suddenly, I don’t feel well. I try to swallow, but my throat is painfully dry, and even my eyes seem to be losing focus.

  I squint at the screen below me as I shake my head, trying to suppress the nerves that are beginning to overtake me. But nothing works.

  My symptoms grow worse.

  I try to inhale, but oxygen seems lost to me. For whatever reason, even my lungs are acting up, tightening to the point where it’s becoming difficult to breathe.

  A panic attack? I wonder. Not now, I beg.

  “One hour, forty-five minutes remaining.”

  I squeeze my fists tightly together and bring my face close to the screen, determined to finish this exam—terrified of what will happen if I don’t.

  “Don’t stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible,” I mutter through clenched teeth. A desperate reminder to keep myself going.

  I begin to read the next question, but only one word in the entire sentence is clear.

  “End,” it silently says to me.

  End . . . .

  Spasms erupt throughout my body, and it feels as if, at any moment, I might explode from the extreme pressure that seems to be pushing at me from the inside. Every breath I take is heavy as I gasp for air.

  I know without having to look that the other people in the room have become alerted to my strange behavior. I want to stop it. I want to continue the test. I don’t want to fail.

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