The podtrain shuddered slightly as it dropped in speed from 700 MPH to 130. Deceleration was noticeable in the pit of one's stomach, the inertia dissipating only after seconds of distinct awkwardness. Outside, the smog choked, tightly stacked slums and freezing tenements of the Undercity and Industrial had long given way to the sleek, surgical pylons and monoliths of the Upper Strata. Rarely glimpsed by the downtrodden 90%, this panorama was the reserve of the upper middle class, those who cooperated and betrayed. And yet, further the podtrain soared, clearing even the Celestial Dome of smooth artificial blue, its turrets and observation decks crowded with security and Augments - it was now breaching into the fabled opulence and tranquillity of the Conglomerate's private holdings. The heady heights of mythical power and advancement, isolated from the sprawling masses like fire without a Prometheus. It was unmatched in its majesty, thousands of towering skyscrapers, dazzling in their architecture and ostentatiousness. It was Hyperion.
"All personal items are to be surrendered at Securecen. Prepare for Inspection." A chilling, monotone tannoy announced this instruction impersonally and bluntly. Farrow sat in awe of the images that were scrawling outside the podtrain's window - vivid marble statues 50ft high, polished silver store-fronts and even the premium Fresh Air so many had spoken about. The only thing this paradise shared with the lower levels were the transport and traffic signs, as well as the familiar official Conglomerate brands that permeated even the depths of Orbis' underworld. Before he could be overwhelmed any further, the train dropped to a stop at a darkened tunnel. Within seconds the entry had been swamped by 10 members of the Odin Order, their masks separating them from humanity; assault rifles with the skull and fire insignia separating them from the unarmed aboard the train. It was important to stamp out any dissidence immediately, particularly with recent unrest.
"Welcome. Please step into the Inspection booths situated across from the entry points." Farrow was taken aback by the politeness of the terrifying guards, red eyepieces twitching behind the mesh goggles. This feeling was only momentary, as he soon remembered the purpose of his excursion. Manners were to be expected. His inspection was quick and painless, the scanners almost unnoticeable; nothing like the typical gauntlet of Undercity to Midlevel inspections, fraught with physical and psychological humiliations, invasive and haunting probes, usually uncleaned. Farrow's stomach turned at the ease of which these non-invasive methods could be implemented lower down the City, yet weren't. He parted ways with his keys, tracker and tickets before passing through the clinical booth unscathed.
Within minutes Farrow was escorted out of the landing pads and TravelPort, past milling Conglomerate executives, their faces agape with astonishment and outrage that a Serf was in their midst; before being bundled hurriedly into an elevator. His presence risked inciting a riot it seemed. The Odin Guard left him in tense silence as the machine whizzed him onto the efficient track system, tearing him like a newborn away from the blood and crudeness of what he'd left behind. Finally, he arrived at the Sanctum.
His entrance had been prepared for him with special attention to detail. The Conglomerate were harsh masters, but in those whose special abilities they required, they could offer the greatest rewards hedonism could offer. Farrow's path down the platinum and crystal stairway was flanked by white walls, adorned with photographs, labelled "to our loyal customers". Pictures of the Aquilan housing, Aquilan vehicles, Aquilan food. Never before tasted by the Serfs of the Undercity; a distant mystery, reserve of the oppressors. Farrow nearly had to stop completely to fully observe the illustrations of Golden Passes, free Inoculations and the much sought after Zeitach and Orba Accommodations.
After a few moments of slowly soaking in the ambience of aristocracy, Farrow was at last ushered into the office he'd been travelling to by the huge Guards of Oa. Across a gargantuan office of sparkling egg shell white stone, obsidian flooring and wall portraits gilded in gold, sat the Superintendent. Farrow felt under-dressed in his fatigues, stained slightly by the soot of home.
"Sit, please." The Superintendent of 'Byzantine' wore a suit of impeccable tailoring, his age creeping across his face with frightening pace. Rather than the gods they were made out to be, the Superintendent came across to Farrow as an everyday human, just as human as an Undercitier (or even a resident of Qal). No Olympic stature, no chiselled looks or resonance in his voice. Just a man in his mid 50s, a man of great manipulative skill and personal corruption.
"Thank you, your Excellency." Farrow stepped the thin line between respect and grovelling.
"I understand this must all be very daunting for you." Byzantine smiled thinly, his eyes quietly dismantling the soul of the Serf who dared to sit at his 15ft desk. "But there is no need for my title. Not many of your type are allowed to gaze upon such unadulterated magnificence, but I wish to discuss this in a grounded way. With any luck, you'll be one of us soon." He spoke with confidence. He could afford to. "You have a real chance to be a part of our Pantheon." The last word sent a shiver down Farrow's back.
"Yes sir, thank you." Farrow felt unease at the hugeness of his undertaking. Byzantine picked up on his weakness like a vulture, and beak snapping venomously, he pushed home the impetus of the meeting.
"This man's work," Byzantine flicked a switch, darkening the room to reveal the insignia of Pericles sprayed onto a brown brick wall. "I understand, is well known to you." Farrow nodded. "He is well enough known to you, and you are of such good breeding," Byzantine had an inner chuckle at that flattering lie. Always a good idea to bring out every tactic he could on his workers "that we are entrusting you with his demise." The image changed to a video feed of Qal and lower Hajat. Thousands of people were clambering and tearing their way through the riot police and Overwatch. In the darkness of the synthetically lit Lowest Levels, it was apparent to all that the peasants were in revolt. Farrow watched in silence, unsure how to comment. Flames licked the cubical Accommodation Complexes, and APCs laid dormant, smouldering as the mob convulsed with fury. Pouring and diffusing, they spread like a virus. Block after block was that way, air support all that stood between the millions of enraged and total dominance on the foundations of Orbis herself.
"These scum aren't content with what we provide. They are intent to corrupt the beauty of the system we've upheld for millennia, they know only entropy! I care little with their motives, or whether you sympathise with their plight; everyone has their price. As do you. I'm offering you and your family, including any and all of their descendants, permanent places here. Permanent." Farrow shuddered at the possibility. It was becoming a habit.
"If you bring me Pericles, dead or alive, you'll be rewarded with every depravity you can name, any past time you can imagine, every luxury you can dream of. Your brother works with him. You can get inside the inner circle, and help me quell the cancer that is tearing up our Grand World Order from the inside. His little house of cards won't stand once you've plucked out the King." Farrow nodded.
"I will find him." Determination hid Farrow's slight sympathies with Pericles. The prize was too great for him to remain principled. He was only human, after all. Humans aren't Gods.
"Good." Byzantine smiled, a snake in a suit, satisfied that his circus had bought over the peasant from Block 88. "Your home is but 2 levels above the rabble. Who knows what damage they could wreak, unchecked. You aren't oppressing, but maintaining. Maintaining a status quo that will reward you so grandly that no one who shares their name with you will ever go hungry." Farrow nodded again, this time staring Byzantine in the eyes. The Superintendent pushed a single sheet of paper forward to Farrow, almost struggling with the size of the immense desk he sat behind. The Contract.
"In signing this, you waive the right to any mercy. The cost of failure, or betrayal, will be returned upon you tenfold. There shouldn't be any doubt in your mind that serving us, yourself and those you love, is the easiest choice you'll ever have to make."
"My mind was made up long ago, sir." Farrow lifted the black pen to the paper, signing with his signature and tracker number. Laying his utensil down, he sat back, a tide of adrenalin drowning him. He felt like Atlas heaving a world of torment upon his previously light shoulders.
"I'll give you an entire day to enjoy the services we can provide to you. A taster, so to speak. Tomorrow you are going to Qal. You'll be briefed fully then." Byzantine sat back, gesturing to the side door. Farrow thanked him, before standing and leaving. Upon exiting the Sanctum he found himself in the streets of Hyperion. Thinly populated with the genetically engineered elite of society, he found it hard to soak in any sights without again attracting attention as a Serf. As one of them. He retreated to his designated quarters in Zeitach, the most grandiose sight he'd ever laid eyes upon. His room was massive, received all 6,000 channels and was fully integrated into even the exclusive and PPP sections of the Orb. Panel windows looked out upon a huge city veranda. The view was of the monolithic Conglomerate buildings, the swarming air fleets above the Dome. And the stars - the stars Farrow had never seen before.
As he prepared for a night of sleep in the largest and most comfortable bed he'd ever laid upon, the door bell rang. Behind it stood a selection of 25 gorgeous women in the service of the Conglomerate. Scantily clad, of course. It was a most immediate and lasting impression of just how seriously they took their friends, and vested interests. Farrow slept a lot later than he was expecting...