Chapter 1: Cold rain, *** death The year was 2035, a time when the United States of America, long teetering on the precipice of a dystopian nightmare, had already gone careening off the edge. The once-proud nation had fallen prey to its own hubris, defaulting on its debts and succumbing to the insidious machinations of corporate behemoths who conspired to buy out the government in exchange for power. They now wielded that power without mercy. In this bleak landscape, our protagonist, Samuel Pierce, finds himself at the center of this crumbling society. Samuel was a man of modest means, still clinging to the vestiges of middle-class existence, although the term had lost much of its significance in these dire times. His home was a dilapidated one room apartment nestled in a forgotten corner of the city, where the flickering neon lights struggled to penetrate the pervasive gloom. Yet, despite the meager circumstances that defined his existence, Samuel considered himself fortunate. It was the true underclass—the destitute and impoverished—who bore the brunt of the corporate gluttony that gripped the nation. They were left to wither away in the streets, their emaciated bodies serving as haunting reminders of a system that had abandoned them. The hunger that gnawed at their insides was not a metaphor; it was a cruel reality that condemned them to slow, agonizing deaths. As Samuel ventured through the desolate streets, his gaze met the vacant, hollow eyes of those less fortunate. The sight of malnourished children, their frail bodies trembling in the cold, struck him to his core. They were the casualties of a society driven to the brink of collapse by the insatiable greed of their new overlords. Their suffering was a stark reminder that mere sympathy was not enough to alleviate their plight. Samuel had always harbored a simmering discontent with the state of affairs, his dissatisfaction fueled by a deep-rooted sense of justice. Yet, the harsh realities of living in this dystopia had tempered his revolutionary fervor, compelling him to tread cautiously in these treacherous times. He knew all too well that openly advocating for socialist ideals was tantamount to signing his own death warrant. Survival demanded discretion. But fate, relentless in its pursuit, had a way of reshaping destinies. It began with a fateful visit from Samuel's sister, Alice—a victim of the callous machinations of the corporate elite. She had fallen victim to a ruthless round of downsizing, her livelihood abruptly snatched away. Samuel knew that he couldn't allow his sister to suffer alone, even if it meant risking his own fragile existence. However, his landlord's omnipresent facial recognition cameras would surely detect Alice's presence and promptly evict them both. Subletting was strictly prohibited, and the indifferent authorities would offer no mercy. Their heartless response would be to instruct Samuel to find a better job and secure his own place—a cruel mockery of the realities faced by those struggling to survive. As Sam cradled Alice in his arms, her tears mingling with his own, an inferno of righteous fury ignited within him. The anguish etched on her face mirrored the anguish he had seen in the eyes of countless others, and he could no longer ignore the call to action. Right now, he thought that action would be making money, but the events that would thrust Samuel into the waiting embrace of the revolution were still only beginning to take shape. Samuel stared out of the cracked window of his dingy apartment, his eyes fixed on the relentless downpour outside. The rain seemed to match the despair that had settled over the city like a suffocating blanket. He turned his attention to Alice, who sat huddled on the worn-out couch, her once-vibrant spirit diminished by the hardships she had endured. "I can't believe it's come to this," Alice whispered, her voice barely audible above the sound of raindrops pattering on the windowpane. Samuel clenched his fists, a mix of anger and helplessness coursing through his veins. "I won't let them destroy us, Alice. I promise. You'll get through this." Alice managed a weak smile, her eyes shimmering with gratitude. "I believe you, I just don't know how-And I don't want to be a burden." Sam reached in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled wad of thousand dollar bills. "Here," he said, pressing the money into her trembling hands. "Should keep you going for a couple months." Alice's eyes widened with a mix of gratitude and concern. "But Sam, what about the rent? It won't do us any good to have you out on the streets." He sighed, "I'll figure something out, Alice. I can't let you starve." As he watched Alice slip out into the rain, clutching the money he had given her, a knot formed in Samuel's stomach. Hours later, as he watched his sister slip out into the rain clutching the money he had given her, a knot formed in Samuel's throat. He gripped his old Springfield Hellcat pistol, the cold steel a comforting weight in his hand. It was a constant companion, a reminder of the dangerous world he navigated daily as a private detective. But now, it represented something more—a last line of defense against the encroaching darkness that threatened to consume him and Alice-That had already consumed so many before them, and waited for them with a growling stomach that was never satisfied no matter how many tormented souls it stuffed down its greedy maw. Samuel's mind raced with possibilities. He knew he would have to take on extra work, perhaps delve into the murkier side of his detective business to scrape together enough money for rent. But he also knew that such paths were fraught with danger, a tightrope walk between survival and compromising his principles. As the rain continued to beat against the window, he vowed to himself that he'd do whatever it took to protect his sister and those like her. The revolution whispered in his ears, its call growing louder and more insistent with each passing day, but still he was too afraid to take things into his own hands. Samuel still had enough to lose to keep him in check. As he holstered his pistol on his belt, his mind drifted away from revolution and back to survival. He had an idea of how to make the money he needed. Samuel would dust off a skill he hadn't utilized in years: bounty hunting. He had always despised the notion of apprehending poor people struggling to survive, which was the only way to live a long life in that career, but this time he had a different plan. Instead of going after those in the same boat as him, he would take on a high-risk contract to apprehend a violent, meth-addicted drug dealer. It was a dangerous task, but the reward was substantial enough to make a dent in his mounting debts. More importantly, he was already thinking of walking into town hall and shooting up the city council, so this seemed like a slightly less extreme alternative to at least try in the meanwhile and see if it worked out. With the address of the drug dealer in hand, a giant commiebloc style apartment complex built in 2026, Sam set out on his mission. He'd been on enough stakeouts to know the dangers that awaited him. The dark underbelly of society was a treacherous place, teeming with serpents willing to defend their illicit enterprises with lead and blood. The rain-soaked night cloaked Samuel's brief walk from a nearby alleyway into the main entrance of the towering utiliatarian building. His heart raced as he found the dealer's apartment, unholstering the Hellcat hidden under his shirt as he mustered his courage. He couldn't afford any mistakes—his life and the future of his sister depended on it. With a surge of adrenaline, Sam kicked open the door, crashing into the drug dealer's lair. The room was covered in old soda bottles and fast food wrappers, the aroma a sickly sweet mixture of rotting organic matter and chemical desperation. Samuel's heart pounded in his chest as he ordered the dealer to surrender, shouting words he wouldn't even remember later. The dealer, his gaunt face etched with the ravages of addiction, reacted with a mix of surprise and anger, sitting forward in his reclining chair and reaching for a pistol on the coffee table in front of him. Fueled by fear and resentment, the dealer's eyes locked with Samuel's as the dealer racked the slide of his pistol. Time seemed to slow as Samuel made the decision to fire, his finger gently pressing the trigger once, recovering from the recoil, and pressing it once more. The sharp crack of gunfire echoed twice through the room as the hollowpoint rounds found their mark, punching through the man's chest and flowering open to rip wide holes in his heart and lungs. The two biggest pieces of lead that came out his back, surrounded by shower of fresh chunky gore, were about half as big as when they went in. The rest of the mass had fragmented off inside him during the expansion process. What was left of the bullets careened out is back, through the wall, and lodged in the side of the building across the street. The shower of deep red arterial blood decorated the miasmic trash and painted the face of a little stuffed kitty on the other side of the room, the man's desperate gasps punctuating the silence drown out only by the sound of his feet helplessly kicking over old soda bottle. Samuel stood there, his face devoid of emotion as the main let out a long agonized gurgle, the weight of what he had just done settled upon him. As the adrenaline slowly dissipated, Samuel retrieved the restraints from his pocket, his hands trembling slightly. He secured the drug dealer, who barely had the strength to groan on the floor as his life ebbed away. It was a hollow victory. The man quickly bled out and stopped twitching before Sam could even think to call an ambulance, let alone before one would've actually gotten there. At least the guy deserved it, he told himself. He called the authorities to report the kill, his voice steady but his soul weighed down by the darkness he had waded into. When the authorities arrived, they lectured him on the importance of bringing people in alive and paid him half the bounty, almost enough to make rent and keep the eviction at bay. But the money brought him little solace. It was a meager consolation prize for the pure horror of daily life. Days later, Sam stood in front of a modest grave. It was a burial the city had arranged purely for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease, the man long ago incinerated. His ashes were placed in a foot deep, foot wide square hole in the ground and a thin gravestone was set into the freshly tilled earth. The drug dealer, it turned out, had children—orphans now, left to navigate the unforgiving world on their own. Samuel's heart ached at the sight of the small, tear-streaked faces, innocent victims of the vicious cycle of addiction and violence. A lump formed in his throat and he turned away. As the tears streamed down his face he suffered in silence, walking away from the cemetary and back into the churning heart of darkness that was his city. Sam made a silent vow to himself: He would do whatever he could to ensure they had a chance at a better life. The revolution that had whispered in his ear before now roared with a deafening urgency. He wanted to dedicate himself to the fight against the corrupt forces that had shaped this dystopian nightmare, hoping that someday the children would be able to live happy and safe lives as adults in a world that knew the meaning of the word hope. He wanted to tear apart the kleptocracy with his own two hands, or die choking on his own blood like the nameless dealer he'd just wasted to make rent. Samuel's tear stricken eyes hardened with determination. The shadows of his sister's torment and the faces of the dealer's children clung to him like a relentless specter. The hatred inside him no longer burned. Instead it churned like a cauldron of boiling lava.