The sound of gunshots could be heard in the distance, echoing through the narrow hallways and barren rooms of a run down apartment block. The walls were dull and dirty, the floors covered in garbage and rubble. Most of the doors and windows were broken or missing, which offered some relief from the putrid stench of poverty and decay. The main door to the apartment block flies open and subsequently falls off of its hinges as a hooded figure runs through it. The bullets fired momentarily before were following this hooded individual with their releasers close behind. He makes his way through the hallways and up the stairs to the roof of the building where a helicopter awaits him. He shuts the door to the roof and pushes a large piece of rubble in front of it. He runs towards the helicopter, which is about to take off, and jumps into the cabin as it starts lifting off the roof. Agent Zero! he shouts over the noise of the engine as one of the soldiers in the helicopter pushes him to the floor, pats him down and scans him with a handheld scanner. Im all clear. They didnt touch me and Im not hit, explains agent Zero as the soldier finishes his scan and helps him to his feet. That was a close one, says the soldier, We were picking up seven mutes hot on your tail and more on their way. Youre lucky you made it back alive. It doesnt look that bad from up here, thinks agent Zero, looking down over the city, as they make their way to the safe zone. Its been five years since the reactor at the nearby nuclear power plant exploded. That was the start of the chaos. The end of electricity and all the comforts it provided sent those who survived the explosion and its fallout into a savage-like state. Looting, killing, and every other imaginable crime soon followed this chaotic transformation. People started killing for food, water, clothing, shelter and anything else of value. Electricity and technology, for the most part, or at least to those known as the mutes, is now a thing of the past. The mutes are what civilization has become. They have created themselves with the way they have chosen to live. The human race chose to hand over control to technology, which became responsible for everything from controlling the weather around the world and transporting people to work to disposing peoples bodily waste. Life gradually became easier for everyone as technology slowly took over. Humans created artificial intelligence within their machines and gave those intelligent machines the ability to create intelligence of their own. This led the technology to do what it was designed to do, and that is to make things more efficient. So humans gradually had less and less to do for themselves. Everything became automated and there was no need for human intelligence of any kind. In fact, humans didnt even have to think for themselves anymore. Their machines created new machines to move them around and did everything for them to stay alive. It became a symbiotic relationship. The machines cared for humans from birth to death and everyone lived a peaceful and calm life. They built everything, maintained everything, and gave everyone what they needed. There were no classes, no royalty, no wealth and no poverty. The machines treated everyone as equal and there was no hard work to be done. It all seemed too perfect, which it was. With time technology drained the planet of all its resources and began planning its departure from Earth to move on to other planets containing the resources it required to continue functioning. So the artificial intelligence abandoned Earth and moved on to colonize another planet in a nearby galaxy. The remaining machines were left in a vulnerable state with only natural power resources such as solar, wind, and water to sustain the humans. Devoid of all other resources, things slowly started malfunctioning. The technology left behind on Earth was no longer capable of sustaining the humans and began to collapse bit by bit. Most of the humans died as they had lost the ability to care for themselves and as the machines began failing so did their health. Now all that are left are the mutes, those who have adapted to this new world. They have adapted, and not evolved, as they are incapable of intellectual thought. In fact, they have very little thoughts about anything. Their main purpose is to attempt to live, or what they think resembles that. There are an elite few amongst the mutes who are capable of dominant living amongst their kind and are able to use weapons and tools to some degree, yet their accuracy or method is far from refined. They are a haphazard bunch and have killed many of their own with their attempts to wield weapons. They will soon be extinct as there are few women amongst them and they have no concept of reproduction, let alone how to release bodily fluids and substances without soiling themselves. The helicopter begins to descend as it approaches its destination, a run down military base near the coast. The base offers protection from the mutes and contains preserved food packs that were part of military supply reserves. In addition to the food and safety there are weapons, equipment and limited fuel. Fuel has now become the most sought after resource on the planet. The mutes have no use for it, or little use for anything for that matter, though it is precious for those who remained after the chaos started. There are scattered groups of survivors in areas around the world that were not radioactively contaminated or completely destroyed. The members of these groups have attempted to contact each other using outdated radio equipment, though lack of electricity and energy makes it near impossible to sustain a communications link for more than a few seconds. The fuel that remains is used for reconnaissance missions and to search for more fuel. Agent Zero was tasked with investigating the nearby city and had found a fuel cache near where he was picked up. Now back at the base, agent Zero prepares to report back to his superior, agent Omega. Agent Omega runs the base and is in charge of all its operations. Military has become a thing of the past and was no longer necessary as technology had removed all anger and hostility from the human experience, which had been the end of all wars. It had been years since anyone had even seen a gun or a blade. Fortunately old records and reference materials still existed which allowed the last of the intelligent humans to operate these old and unused military vehicles and equipment. Agent Omega, greets agent Zero as he enters the dimly lit bunker and winces at the musty odor of old army tents. Zero, responds agent Omega, Glad to see you made it back in one piece. Thanks. I kind of wish I didnt, says agent Zero as he pulls back the chair in front of agent Omegas desk with a squeal and sits down. Dont be foolish Zero, you know youre one the best we have left, says agent Omega, I know its difficult and that things are bad. Were low on food and fuel and can barely generate enough power to keep our shields up. Were all battling Zero, though we need to work together and keep our spirits up if were going to make it through this. Agent Omega pulls open the top draw of his desk and removes a half-full dusty old bottle of whiskey and pours them each a glass. Here you go, he says while handing a glass to agent Zero, This should take the edge off a bit. Agent Zero takes the glass, swirls it around, breathes in the aroma, and then drinks it all in one go. Thanks, says agent Zero. I found some fuel during my mission, though the place is crawling with mutes. Its going to take some heavy firepower to get through them. Im sure we dont have enough supplies to do it. You let me worry about that Zero, says agent Omega, We have no choice but to try. Weve got enough fuel for another three flights to the nearest city and not enough to make it anywhere else. If we dont give this a go then we may as well give up now. Its all we have left. Youre right, says Agent Zero as he puts down the glass on agent Omegas desk, Were going to die anyway so we may as well die there. Both agents Zero and Omega jump out their seats as the sound of an explosion echoes through the bunker. The light inside the bunker flickers a bit and then goes out. Sh*t! yells agent Omega as he makes his way to the door of bunker, Were being attacked! The door flies open as agent Omega approaches it. We have a hole in the west wall and all our shields are down. We need to move now! says a soldier standing in the doorway. This is it Zero. This is our last chance. We have to make for the city, get as much fuel as we can and find another safe zone. Suit up, Ill meet you at the helipad, says agent Omega as he leaves the bunker. Agent Zero makes his way to the armory and starts putting on his combat gear. Other agents and soldiers are scrambling around him for weapons and ammo preparing for the current onslaught of mutes and the last mission to the city. Its really happening, thinks agent Zero as he locks his last piece of armor into place, Finally, now maybe Ill die and end this wretched life. This is no life, having to look for food and shelter with wild savage creatures out there trying to kill and eat you. No entertainment, no drugs, no computers, no games, no gambling, nothing. Theres nothing left in this world. All thats keeping me alive is the idea of things being somewhat like they used to be. Things will never be the same, though there may be places on this planet where life is better than this and things are closer to how they were. This is my only chance to try and get back there and if not then Ill die anyway. The mutes, or at least those who hadnt blown themselves up when they blasted through the wall, were making their way into the camp. There were many obstacles and traps around the buildings that delayed the mutes attack. The soldiers take up defensive positions to hold them back while the agents prepare for their final mission. You ready to roll Zero? asks Agent Omega as he walks past the armory towards the helipad. Agent Zero was just leaving the armory at the moment agent Omega walked by. I guess so, he says, Though what are we really trying to achieve here? How do we know that things arent the same as this or worse anywhere else? The helicopter starts up as they approach it. We have to take that chance Zero. We stay here and die or try to fly to better places, says agent Omega with increasing volume as the sound of the engine gets louder. They climb into the cabin and strap themselves in as the helicopter lifts off and makes it way towards the city. There were five other agents, including the pilot and co-pilot. Agents Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, who are weapons experts and whose job it is to secure the area and protect the team. Agent Delta, who specializes in bombs and explosives. Then there was agent Echo who was in charge of communications. Agent Omega leads the team tactically and has experience with many types of older machines and technologies that humans have lost touch with. Agent Omega was a friend of agent Zeros grandfather and vowed to treat him as his own son after agent Zeros grandfather died from a mute attack about two years ago. Both agent Omega and agent Zeros grandfather were in the military together in their youth. They served together in the air force during the Third Last War. Agent Zeros grandfather was one of the few who had held onto old ways and didnt hand over as much control to technology as everyone else. After the Third Last War, and as people were conditioned by technology, the military began shutting down. Parts of the air force however still remained active, namely those working on interstellar flight. So agent Zeros grandfather and agent Omega continued working for the air force as test pilots for a hyper-drive technology. Both of them experienced a similar vision while on a test mission together and saw glimpses of the future. They saw the decline in intellect and both agreed to learn and pass on as much knowledge about the past as they could. They wanted to try and prevent what they saw, which they knew would be impossible, though they still tried to warn people and pass on the knowledge. Most wouldnt have it and thought them crazy. Maybe all that space flight testing youre doing is messing with your head, someone would say. Agent Zeros grandfather, who became his legal guardian after his parents died in plane crash when he was just a child, raised him with as much awareness and knowledge as he could offer. Agent Zero grew up trying to break things, trying to mess with technology. He didnt take to it like everyone else from his generation and fought it much to his grandfathers approval. From this he developed a keen ability to hack and modify any piece of technology or machinery. His tasks usually involved breaking into or out of something and hacking mechanical or security systems. Mutes start running out of the camp containing the fuel cache as the helicopter approaches it. These are smart mutes, says agent Omega loudly, We need to be careful down there. They probably have weapons. A car nearby the camp explodes as a mute attempts to fire a rocket at the helicopter. We need to get down! agent Omega shouts to the pilots. Theres a mute with a rocket launcher down there. The helicopter descends and lands on top of a nearby building. As they are about to disembark the whole mute camp goes up in flames. Damn it, damn those mutes, those bloody fools! Theyve just destroyed all the fuel, shouts agent Omega. So what do we do now? asks agent Zero, We cant go back. Agent Omega thinks for while and then says, We can try the island. There is an abandoned prison island near here not far from the coast. A famous politician once served there many years ago. He revolutionized this country. Not sure what he did exactly, it was too long ago and no one remembers. I think it was about a matter of inequality or something like that. Anyway, Im getting sidetracked. We should be able to make it to the island. Hopefully things arent too bad there and we may find supplies in the old prison buildings. We dont really have much choice. We cant stay in the city, there are just too many mutes. He looks around the helicopter at the other agents. Do we all agree that we head for the island? he asks as he shifts his gaze to the floor. No one responds. No objections? he asks, still looking at the floor, Ill take that as everyone agrees. He looks up towards the pilots, Its about six kilometers west of here. You can see it from the shoreline. The helicopter lifts off and makes it way towards the island. What am I doing, this is suicide. Theres nothing there, thinks agent Omega as they make their way towards the island, Im flying my team to their death. We wont have enough fuel to make it back to the mainland and God knows if there is anything there at all, let alone fuel. After the prison closed down the island became a tourist destination and has been deserted since technology eradicated marketing and tourism. The last advertising ever was the slogan You have it all right here. Technology felt that there was no need to advertise or market anything and that advertising encouraged competitive thoughts and behavior. There was no need for advertising and no place for competition in technologys view of the future. It systematically removed everything that produced feelings, thoughts, and emotions from the human experience. Humans became devoid of all emotional responses and people stopped feeling and caring. They had no choice in the matter. As technology removed freedom of choice from the world so did it remove the very essence of what it was to be human. People had lost their personalities as well as their opinions and began to conform to a mechanical and methodical life. Technology created machines that did everything for humans and eventually they became incapable of looking after themselves. Once freedom of thought was abolished, humans began to stop thinking altogether and handed over complete control of their lives to these machines. Technology and the artificial intelligence however were incapable of turning on humans and wiping them out, even though that would have resulted in the most efficient use of the planet. It treated humans like gods as it were humans who created technology. So instead, technology chose to restrict the human experience and completely remove desire by removing everything that stimulated emotions. This saved a large amount of fossil fuels due to humans no longer using them to operate vehicles for pleasure or sport. All forms of merchandising stopped as people no longer needed or wanted anything. Only the most basic of goods were produced. People wore the same clothing, ate the same food and had the same dcor in their houses. Everything was planned and produced by technology and everything was done to a bare minimum. By this time, technology had already begun planning its departure from Earth and chose not to take humans with them. The amount of resources required to keep humans alive was just too high and it would have been too much of a risk to transport them through space. The resources remaining on the planet were not enough to transport even a handful of humans to the galaxy technology planned to settle in. So instead, technology planned to remember humans by making them gods from another world who had given it life. Technology did away with names as well. Places and people were now just numbers as it was more efficient that way. Humans didnt even notice the change as they had barely any awareness left. Without freedom of thought, or any thinking at all, it no longer became necessary to communicate and there became no need for names of any kind. Humans didnt even have to know the names of the objects they needed to stay alive as the machines prepared and operated everything for them. The sun nears the horizon as the helicopter lands on the roof of one of the old prison buildings. We have about an hour of light left, says agent Omega to the other agents as they climb out the helicopter, Lets try to find some wood for a fire and a place to rest for the night. There may be some mattresses and blankets in these buildings. Well scout the island and search all the buildings tomorrow when we have more light. They take the stairs down to the ground and enter the building they landed on. Lets use that desk for firewood, says agent Omega. Agents Bravo and Delta begin dismantling and breaking apart the desk. You three search that side and well search this side, says Agent Omega as he gestures to agent zero to follow him through the door to the west wing of the main prison building. After searching a few rooms they find some mattresses and blankets and make their way back to the main room where the other agents had already returned carrying more matrasses and blankets. The courtyard just outside here looks like a good place to camp. Its going to be dark soon, let get a fire going, says agent Omega as he opens the door to the courtyard. The agents sit around the fire and eat some of the food they had brought with from the old camp in the mainland. Not a word is spoken the entire time, though the quick shaky movements spoke of the nervousness and tension amongst the team. Lets get some rest. Well be up at dawn to begin our search, says agent Omega as he finishes eating. He occupies one of the mattresses and covers himself with a blanket as he closes his eyes and falls asleep. Wake up Zero, says agent Omega as he gently shakes agent Zero awake. Agent Zero yawns and stretches as he sits up on his mattress. He takes a few moments to adjust to the light, rubs his eyes, and then stands up. Ok, Im ready to go, says agent Zero as he approaches Agent Omega who is busy taking stock of their remaining food and supplies. How long will we last with what we have? he asks. We have enough food for two days and enough water purification tablets to last us a week, says Agent Omega as he finishes counting the supplies. Lets move team, says agent Omega and he and agent Zero makes their way through the courtyard and into the main room of the prison building. There are another three prison buildings besides this one, says agent Omega as he addresses the team. Alpha and Bravo, you two take the building to the east. Charlie and Delta, you search the one to the west. Agent Zero and myself with check out the building to the north. Agent Echo you have a look at the old radio tower southwest of here. Ive seen no signs of electricity so far on this island, though there may be a generator near the radio tower. Assess the area and determine what you need to operate the radio tower. Well see whats available around here to make it work. The agents team up and make their way to the areas they were instructed to investigate. Agent Omega pushes open the door to the northern prison building. Lets split up, he says to agent Zero as they enter the main room, You take the west wing and Ill take the east wing. Be on the lookout for any supplies or fuel. Sure, says agent Zero, Ill meet you back here when Im done. The old prison building smelt of chemical paint and old dirty boots. All the years of abandonment were not enough to clear the energy and air of the prison buildings. The atmosphere in and around them still felt lost and desperate. These prisons were reserved for a special type of criminal. Not those who stole or raped or murdered, though for those inspired political unrest and who thought to overthrow the government of the country this island belonged to. The prisoners in here were, for the most part, left for dead. No visitors were allowed on the island and no one was allowed to leave. The prison guards and staff lived on the island and supplies were sent in by boat or helicopter. It was known that if you are sent to this prison, that it will be the last place you see. Agent Zero makes his way through the west wing of the prison building, stopping and searching every room he passes. There are old clothes and furniture in some of the buildings, which would be useful for making fires, though not a drop of fuel or any food could be found. After searching the offices agent Zero makes his way through the prison wards, searching each cell along the way. Some of the locked cells still have the skeletons of their prisoners in them, abandoned and forgotten for their crimes. While searching the last of the cells something catches his eye. A locked cell with a skeleton stretched out on the floor as if pointing towards a message scrawled in blood on the cell wall. It read Stop the machines before its too late! Strange, thinks agent Zero as he continues searching the remaining cells, How would he have known back then. After having come to the end of his side of the building and not having found anything of value, agent Zero returns to the main room where Agent Omega is already sitting waiting for him. You find anything Zero? asks agent Omega as agent Zero enters the main room. Nope, nothing useful, just dust, skeletons, and a strange message written in blood on one of the cell walls. It said Stop the machines before its too late! replied agent Zero. Hmmm Interesting, says agent Omega, Solitary confinement can have strange effects on a person. Ive read stories about people using isolation chambers and sensory depravation to induce visions and mystical experiences. I wonder if he saw something. Well, I didnt find much either. Seems like these buildings were looted many times before, says agent Omega as he stands up, Lets head back to the campsite. The two teams tasked to investigate the other buildings were just returning as agents Zero and Omega approach the main prison building. Doesnt look like you found anything either, he says to the approaching team members, This island looks like its been ransacked and looted over and over again. The other agents settle down around the campsite and start discussing what they saw during their searches. Do you think were going to make it Zero? I had my doubts about coming here and now I fear they were right, says agent Omega. Youre asking me? says agent Zero, Youre the one in charge here. I stopped living when the chaos started. Im just here to see where this goes. So Im sorry Omega, though I cant offer you any support. Agent Omega shivers slightly and says, Thats ok Zero, I understand. Agents Zero and Omega make their way to the campsite, settle down, and join in on the conversations. About two hours pass before Agent Echo arrives back from the radio tower. She approaches agent Omega and says, The tower looks good and theres a generator hooked up to it. The generator looks good too, though theres the no fuel anywhere. Thanks Echo, says agent Omega as he begins to prepare a fire for the evening. Lets settle down for the night. Well be up early tomorrow morning again to search the remainder of the island. Its not too big and we should be able cover whats left before it gets dark, he says to the team. Agent Omega wakes up in the middle of the night, his heart racing and covered in sweat. He sits up and holds his head in his hands as he recalls the dream he just had. What the hell was that? thinks agent Omega, That thing, that grey ghostly thing. It looked like a ghost or a demon. It entered me. I could see its face as it entered me. It was my own, though deeper and darker, more evil. He shakes his head then stands up. The campfire, still smoldering, gave off enough light for him to see that everyone else was still asleep. A cold feeling came over him as he looked at his team members. So vulnerable. The thought took him by surprise and sent a shiver down his spine. Was that my thought, he thought, It felt different. It didnt feel like me yet it did. Thinking about this made his skin feel hot and cold at the same time. Feeling overwhelmed, he makes his way out of the prison building and begins walking towards the nearby beach. Kill them. Go back and kill them. You cant save them. Are you going to watch them suffer and die of starvation? Kill them, he hears in his head as he looks out over the ocean. Go back and kill them. Stop, stop it! I wont do it! he shouts to the waves as he falls to his knees on the soft beach sand. With tears rolling down his cheeks agent Omega looks up towards the heavens and shouts, Whats happening to me? Why is this happening? He falls forward onto the sand with his arms in front of his face and sobs. He sobs until he feels like his soul has been poured out onto the sand in front of him. Kill them. Go back and kill them. The thoughts continue as agent Omega lay crying, hunched forward as if begging God to give him back his sanity. All rational thought leaves agent Omega as he sinks deeper and deeper into the evil thoughts that have now taken over his consciousness. In his mind he could see his former self, sitting in a rowboat on a river, drifting off into the sunset. It looks so beautiful, was the last thought that was his alone. His former self waves goodbye as he drifts out of view. The beautiful landscape with the river flowing into the sunset began to change. It grew dark and the sun turned red. All the trees along the river began to wilt and died in a matter of moments. All life was being sucked out of the place. The sun grew larger and redder as it appeared to drain the energy out of everything around it. It grew bigger and bigger until it was all that, what was now left of agent Omega, saw. It filled his vision and he felt as if he was falling through it. Agent Omega stands up and widens his eyes as he looks at the moon. The light off the moon looks red in his eyes. He is no longer who he once was and has been overtaken be the evil inside of him. His only thoughts now are of killing his team members. Agent Omega makes his way back to the campsite, knife in hand. He silently slits the throats of everyone except for agent Zero. Hes sanity is restored for brief a moment as he see agent Zero. Oh my God! What have I just done! thinks agent Omega looking at the dead bodies around the campfire then at the bloody knife in his hand. Did I do this? he thinks, Was this me? That voice. The last thing I remember was being on the beach and all I could hear was that voice telling me to kill my team members. Did I actually do it? Kill him! Agent Omega begins to shake as he hears the voice again. No, I wont do it! I can still save you Zero, thinks agent Omega as he plunges the knife through his heart. Quickly, before you die, kill him! is the last thing that goes through agent Omegas mind as he falls to floor next to agent Zero. Agent Zero wakens to the sound of the body falling to the ground. He opens his eyes and sees agent Omegas body lying face down on the ground next to him. Omega, are you ok?, he asks as he turns agent Omega on his back. Agent Zero falls backwards with shock as he sees the knife sticking out of agent Omegas chest. What the hell! thinks agent Zero as he looks at the other bodies around the campfire. What the hell happened here? Did Omega do this? thinks agent Zero. They were all killed with a knife and the only bloody knife nearby is the one stuck in Omegas chest. Did he do this? Did he kill everyone and then kill himself? Why didnt he kill me? Damn it! What am I supposed to do now Omega? You were meant to protect me. You promised my grandfather youd look after me and now you abandon me. Why Omega? Why didnt you kill me too? thinks agent Zero as he sits down in front of the smoldering campfire. Agent Zero spends the next two days searching the island. If only I could find some fuel, then maybe I could find someplace where there is still a life. Where there is still entertainment and pleasure. There has to be some around here somewhere, thinks Agent Zero during his searches. With nothing to occupy his mind all agent Zero could do was hold onto and think about the only thing that was keeping him alive. The idea of returning to a life where things were how they used to be. By the end of the second day of searching agent Zero had looked everywhere on the island. The island was not large, roughly five square kilometers. There were no mountains or caves or any hard to navigate terrain. The island was quite flat and had few hills. On the third day agent Zero started over with his search. Having no contact with anyone and nothing to do but keep looking, his mind began to fade and he began to lose touch with the reality around him. He searched and searched, over and over again in the same places. By now fifteen days have past and agent Zero is still searching. It would appear now that he is no longer searching for fuel, or for anything at all for that matter, and has become stuck is a mental loop of just continually looking in, around, and under everything. Over the preceding days his area of searching became smaller and smaller. Yesterday he spent the entire day searching the campsite and the surrounding buildings. All day he spent searching this small area, picking up and looking at the same objects over and over again. He could no longer process anything. The objects he looked at had no meaning to him anymore. They were just things to help him achieve his new purpose. To help he look and search for something, something he doesnt know exists anymore. His mind had almost completely faded away and all he ccould do to stay focused in this reality was to continue looking and to keep searching. Day twenty-five, and ten days since agent Zero had last eaten. Agent Zeros reality had started taking a turn for the worse. Gradually, as he grew weaker from not eating, his perception of his reality became increasingly weirder. There were days where everything was terrifying, where everything he looked at looked back at him with a sinister glare. The faces would become too much and he would try and run away from them. He would run around the island, trying to escape the faces with their smug smiles and patronizing eyes, exerting himself to the point of passing out. Sometimes he would awake to the faces laughing and chanting at him. Its too late. You cant go back. Its too late, they would say. With hardly any life left in him an almost no water left, agent Zero settles down at the campfire and succumbs to the glaring sinister faces that have been haunting him. I give up. he mumbles, barely able to speak anymore, You win. Theres nothing here. I give up. Agent Zero falls backwards as he lets go of his reality and dies. His consciousness disconnects from his body as it begins to shutdown. Wow, I can feel my heart stopping, thinks what was agent Zero as he begins rejoining the collective consciousness. I can understand it all now, he thinks, The voices, the faces, the searching. It all makes sense now. In that world we had to die as we had completely destroyed it for ourselves, for human beings. Humans could nor function in that world anymore and had to move on. I know now that he life I kept searching for is still to come.