There's a place that swallows up the entire world, an immense metropolis with skyscrapers piercing the steel blue sky. Its people are like a colony of ants, thriving on plastic surgery, fast food, and instant gratification; the streets are arteries wired around the buildings, teeming with them. There are no stars in the sky, just streetlights; there is no grass on the ground, just clouds of steam billowing off the streets. This place devours everything it touches, bleeding people dry and turning the land to cold gray municipality.
It's the City. The last City on Earth.
The City has five social classes: the overwhelmingly large lower class, the middle-class labor zombies, the proud upper class, and Elysium, the ruling governmental body. And then there are the complete outcasts, those that pose a threat to not just society, but Elysium itself...
Those that are like Mason Sean Pierce, Inmate No. 604, age seventeen. He's a tiny speck against the cityscape, standing in hidden awe of the building in front of him: the Institute.
"I don't have to be here, Zane," he pleads to his older brother as the orderlies try to lead him in. "Make them understand that, please, you could just send me to the psych ward again, I'd cooperate this time, I swear—"
Zane pauses for a moment as he stares up at the imposing white building in front of him. "It's not my decision, Mason."
"Will!" He demands as he struggles against the orderlies unsuccessfully, his cuffed hands getting in the way ("It's illegal to commit suicide, and you attempted to do so. The handcuffs are necessary," the unsympathetic social worker had told him upon discharge from the hospital). "You can do something, I know you can-"
"I can, but I don't want to," replies his stepfather, whom his mother is currently clinging to silently. "You need this. You'll thank us for it eventually."
Mason gives up and lets the orderlies lead him in.
I can't trust them, he thinks. I can't trust anyone.
The inside of the Elysian Institute is tremendous and daunting. The staircases spiral like an Escher drawing, and the hallways twist and turn almost endlessly. The rest is unnaturally straight and perfect, with white being the predominant color of...everything. The ceiling is high enough to make one dizzy, with images of the City reaching to the top.
It's intimidating, to say the least.
The counselor who helps Mason move into his room is Jeanette, a blond twenty-something with round red lips and arched eyebrows. She's dressed in white on white, matching the color of the walls and furniture. She holds a clipboard reads out a list of things that Mason needs to do on his first day – he doesn't listen, of course – as he unpacks piles of clothing into drawers under the bed he's been assigned. There's another at the other end of the room, looking well-made and uninhabited.
"Your roommate should be in shortly," Jeanette says curtly as he finishes shoving clothing away. Noticing the look on his face, she continues, "Yes, roommate. What did you think the other bed was for?"
Mason says nothing.
"Anyway. As I'm sure you know, the program here is about rehabilitating you into a functioning member of society," she explains with a bored expression. "You will be re-evaluated every week, and once you can pass the evaluation, you're free to go." Before Mason could ask any questions, she's out the door.
He flops down onto the bed and sighs. He doesn't even know why anyone felt the need to send him here; he did try to off himself, but that wasn't enough to get put into a place like this...
His eyes shut.
"The gears of the City are turning at our feet.
Can you hear them?"
It was the first day of summer when Jett was reported missing.
Mason would reminisce about the long summers they'd spent together, the vanilla scent of her perfume permeating his senses. She'd had enough issues for multiple people; she was his bloodstained ballerina, a nymph-like girl with short-cropped platinum hair and big brown doe eyes, twig legs and hip bones. He loved her with all of his being.
He always bought her ice cream cones, which she adamantly refused. He always worried about her, which she always taunted him for. They would sit and watch the almost-obscured sun set over the city, and he'd have his guitar and he'd play songs that no one had ever heard; she'd make up her own lyrics and sing softly.
He'd gone to her house one day expecting to spend the afternoon with her, only to find her anxious mother saying that she hadn't seen Jett in days.
"We had a deal, Mason. A pact.
If one of us dies, we all do.
Jett's not breathing.
She's still and cold.
D E A D.
I'll let you handle your own death, but for now,
I'm gone. Bye."
The door slams shut, snapping Mason out of the flashback. In walks a boy about his age with choppy red and black hair, baggy pants, and a vexed expression on his face. Mason recognizes him immediately, but says nothing, both because he's not sure why and because he's too busy waiting for his crazed heartbeat and blurred vision to go back to normal. Withdrawal symptoms, he thinks. Or maybe I'm having some sort of a panic attack. Relax relax RELAX.
"What's wrong with you?" the boy he presumes to be his roommate asks. "Are you my new roommate or something?"
Deep breaths. Deep, deep breaths. "Yeah. Don't ask."
The boy raises his eyebrow. "Well, my name is Angel," he says. "Uh, nice to meet you, I guess." His bed creaks as he sits down on it. "What's your name? What're you in here for? What'd you do, I mean?"
Mason suddenly remembers where he knows Angel from. He's a bit shocked that Angel apparently hasn't made the connection, but he goes with it. "Mason. Pierce. And I don't know."
Angel laughs. Mason runs his black-varnished fingernails through his equally-black hair and says, "Really. I don't."
"That's not possible," he replies. "If you're in here, even in the adolescent's part of the building, you still did something major. Come on, what'dya do?"
"I really don't know," Mason repeats, anger seeping into his voice. "I overdosed, but I've already been in a shitload of hospitals for suicide attempts, so I got locked up in here, I guess. I didn't do anything really bad, though. Happy?"
"Calm down," Angel demands. "Sorry I asked. What'd you overdose on? You a regular user?"
Mason squeezes his eyes shut again. "Painkillers," he says. "and that's none of your business."
More laughter. "You're an addict, aren't you."
"I've been addicted to worse stuff than I am now," he admits. "But yeah, I am. How'd you know?"
Angel shrugged. "I've met enough people like you to know."
Mason decides that he was too tired to get mad about his roommate's stereotyping. Angel may not be aware of it, but Mason knows that they've known each other for years; he has enough pent-up anger at him to save it for later.
The first thing on Jeannette's list – which she was smart enough to leave on the edge of the bed for Mason – is a meeting with his treatment (treatment? More like brainwashing, he thinks) team leader. He's lead down the hallways by an orderly as ghostlike images assault his vision: waif-like white forms with broken wings and two sets of teeth. He's used to this; he's seen things for as long as he could remember, everything from apparitions that command his life to subtle mindghosts in the corners of his eye. Lately, however, the hallucinations have been mixed with these white waif creatures, who would simply groan and writhe as if in pain. The hallways themselves warp and breathe, coming at Mason in a way that almost cause him to fall. The poor orderly has to stop to make sure he doesn't collapse all over himself. He's just too lucid, too aware of the world. He craves the numbness of his opiates, but knows he can't have those for a while.
He's desperate, but he says nothing.
"So what are you here for, Mason?" The doctor asks. His nameplate reads DOCTOR CARROLL in big, engraved letters; he's in his late twenties or early thirties and has bulging eyes and large, bony hands. He has the black line of Elysian status drawn across his face, crossing over his eyes and nose from temple to temple as if a student highlighted them to remember him for a future exam.
"Wouldn't you know?" The room that Mason has been placed in is surrounded by soundproof glass walls with a whole squad of blank-faced robotic Guard members standing on the other side. Inside the room are just three of them, plus a human Guard standing sentinel next to the Doctor. "Because I don't. I shouldn't even be here."
"Let me refresh your memory," the Doctor says coolly. "Isn't there a war going on above your head, Mason? Up in heaven?"
Mason says nothing.
"You talked about it in the hospital," he continues. "'Make the war stop, the war in heaven, make it stop.' It's all you'd say."
Mason takes a deep breath and tries to push down the monster that's clawing its way up his chest. "I don't remember saying that. You must have me confused for someone else."
"Oh, no," the Doctor grins. "We don't make mistakes."
"And?" Mason pipes up. "What the fuck does it mean to you? I'd be okay in the psych ward, goddammit, not here with a bunch of killers and -"
"Calm down," he interjects. "You're in the adolescent's section of the building, anyway. The residents there are considerably less dangerous. Besides, there'll be medication lines and therapy sessions just like at the hospital...just think of it as a higher level of care."
"But it's not fair," Mason persists. "What does any of that have to do with getting placed here? So what if I said there's a war in some imaginary heaven, what does that have to do with Elysium? I'm – I -"
"You're insane. You're also unstable. If you didn't belong here, you wouldn't be here. Trust me, Mason," the Doctor grins. "I think you'll learn the exact reason as your memory of the incident returns, hm?"
"Who said my memory was gone?" Mason begins as an orderly walks in.
"Your evaluation is over. I'll see you later, Mason."
"Evaluation? What evaluation? And you say I'm insane?" The orderly and the human Guard grab him by the arm. He doesn't fight; the walls are breathing again, and he's sick of Doctor Carroll, anyway. Mason just wants to sleep, and when he gets back to his room, he does.