Is happiness a lie?
Halcyon
CHAPTER
1
The Guardian
It was one of those elusive things, Olivia thought. The praying mantis perched above the stone gate waited expectantly as a fluttering ladybug zipped tauntingly above its head. We want what hurts us the most, it seems. The glittering possibilities, the echo of a better tomorrow, the promise of sunlight...we never seem to notice how much it might hurt to fall or get caught...
“You don’t know that, do you?” She whispered at the ladybug, its red skin shimmering in Halcyon’s thousand-watt LED lit ceiling, blissfully ignorant of its imminent death. It was like guarding a gargantuan supermarket. Sighing, Olivia swiped her spear to ward off the soon-to-be mantis feed. “Happiness,” she nodded at the bug, “and you don’t even know it.” The mantis blinked at her, annoyed at being cheated yet another meal by the vigilant guardian.
Olivia Ming was her mother’s child. Those who knew her well called her 小麻雀, her sparrow-like, nervous ticks in direct contrast with her deadly hunting skills. Quiet but sometimes chirpy, her goofy off-kilter exterior hid a sharp, calculating mind. A hawk in sparrow’s clothing, graceful yet keen. Since the last fall of the Empire, she resolved not to give up her education as many did due to lack of hope. Olivia wanted to save somebody. Anybody, really. Ming 媽媽 would have wanted that. “Fly straight, little bird,” She had whispered in the middle of the square amidst the clearing dust, Olivia sobbing at her shoulder. “You can’t stop now.”
In 4381, on an unassuming December day in the middle of the night, a star began to sputter. Of course, people had predicted it all for quite some time. But this was not just any star, but THE star. The Ancestors called it el sol, 太陽,“the sun.” There were those who completely forgot protocol and found themselves dawdling on the surface but a moment before dying from the extreme cold. Olivia was not one of those people. Her family immediately went into the geothermal living cubes created by the A.I.R. Empire, Alliance of International Restoration. Days were spent indoors, but little else had changed in the last millennium. Kids annoyed parents to buy them the latest hologram iHuman, adolescents longed after the newest Toyota hovercraft and people everywhere were discontent.
That’s where Olivia found her calling. As part of the A.I.R. psychology ward, she kept the masses happy. Not exactly in a drug-induced coma, but nearly, unfortunately. People were just naturally discontent these days. The chemicals in their food, the dwindling sunlight, the lack of freedom...it all added to a certain malaise of the soul. What everyone needed was someone else to care for, but all anyone cared for was themselves.
Olivia shuttered awake from her post. Another day, another hour at the gate. What time is it? She thought, grappling at the digital nozzle on her helmet to switch it from “snooze” to “on.” Ugh, noon already? I haven’t even got to see a —-
Before she could finish, a screaming figure launched itself at the electrical gate, a flash of smoke taking the place of its incinerated arm.
I guess I spoke too soon. Sarcastic as her thoughts were, Olivia launched herself over the ramp, quickly calculating the correct measurements of PCN, laudanum and anti-depressants to pacify the latest victim of unhappiness.
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