When the transport arrived at its location on the southern edge of the Overwatch District, a chime rang to notify the occupants that they had arrived at their final destination. As the two Hunters exited the transport, they looked up into the darkening sky. The Overwatch District was a district within the City that housed many its denizens. It was the central hub of commerce and had several shops and eateries where many gathered to congregate and team up for missions outside of the City. The official meeting place was over by the “Twilight Gap”, as it was commonly known, and many people gathered there.
Some were pilgrims from the outer colonies that had been able to remain free from Fallen control, and others were people from outside the City, who still lived in the harsh wilderness that the planet Earth had become. You could say that the Overwatch District was a great melting pot of earthen society. There was the Exo quarter, where many of the Exo would live, and was the only place within the City that remained in perpetual shadow. Several Exo could be seen walking into the quarter, and those who were not Exo almost ever returned.
There was also the Awoken quarter, which always seemed to look as if it was bathed in an ethereal light. The structures were mostly regal and had sweeping sky-ways that could be seen from the street and looked as if the Awoken who traveled through them were floating instead of walking. The Awoken had appeared to humanity several years after the great cataclysm, in the early days of the construction of the City. They had no special abilities to speak of, and it had been said that they had always been watching humanity.
The Awoken looked human with the exception of their gray skin and hair. In the right light, an Awoken looked just like the stories of angels long ago with their regal features, and always looked as if they were floating instead of walking. Most Awoken were almost always Warlocks, with a few who had joined the ranks of the Hunters and Titans.
It was commonly thought that if the Exo were the worst that humanity could become, then the Awoken were the best. They were often believed to be the next stage in human evolution, and in the past were subject to secret breeding programs. These programs, which had mostly been forgotten by now, served as the humans attempt at producing a perfect crossbreed of Awoken and human. In the past, many of the Awoken that were products of this secret program, had hair color different from other Awoken and a skin color that was a lighter shade of gray. As the years went by, Awoken and humanity intermingled, and the program was mothballed. Most of the Awoken crossbreeds had died off by now, mainly because forced crossbreeding produced Awoken/human half-breeds that were infertile.
When the program had come to light, the humans were afraid of an Awoken uprising, but the pure-blooded Awoken never rebelled. The Awoken and humans lived in harmony and there were many pairings between them. It was still rare for Awoken and human pairings to produce offspring, but when they did, it was a cause for celebration and not fear. In the past during the breeding program, Awoken/human children were hidden from the ruling Titan autocracy, and many families left Earth for the colonies because they had become largely independent since the great cataclysm.
Now there are more Awoken/human half-breeds then there were in the past, and their numbers have stabilized. About one-in-ten Awoken human pairings produced a child. The Awoken/human children take many of the physical traits of their parents, the most common is in hair color. About eighty percent of these children had the hair color of the human parent; with ten percent retaining the silver hair color of the Awoken parent. Oddly enough, the remaining ten percent retained a mid-point where the hair would be predominately either the color of the human parent with silver streaks, or the color of the Awoken parent with streaks of color from the human parent.
It had been noted that if the human parent was male, then there was a sixty percent chance that the child would retain the dominant genes of the human parent. These genes determined hair and skin color, with most other attributes, such as eye color, left to the genes of the Awoken parent. If the human parent was female, the hair color remained silver, with the eye color determined by the female parent. For example, if the human parent were male, then the child would have the hair and skin color of the male parent. The eye color would always be silver and any other traits would be a sixty-forty split between the two parents. If the human parent were female, than the child would have silver hair and light gray skin color, with eye color determined by the human parent, and a seventy-thirty split between all other traits. In Awoken/human children with multicolored hair, the eye color would be white, with a one hundred percent chance of blindness.
A few short years ago, if you were to see a multicolor haired Awoken/human child, they would always have a blindfold over their eyes. With bionics becoming more widespread, thanks to Exo technology, the eyes in these children have been replaced, and they function as an individual without that particular social shortcoming.
As the two Hunters walked towards the Exo quarter Ver’verd waived to the two plain-clothed TCSF officers who were themselves secretly part of the Titan Democratic Council’s shadow agency, The Titans’ Hand. The group was the internal intelligence branch of the Titan Democratic Council, and is responsible for gathering intelligence on internal threats to the security of the City. The operation of The Titans’ Hand, was similar to the old Earth country known as the United States of Americas’ NSA. They would gather intelligence in a variety of ways, and were not above keeping tabs on citizens of interest. To the uneducated or ill informed, this seemed like an invasion of privacy, but to a few pragmatic individuals, this was just the nature of the organization and a part of maintaining City internal security.
As they walked further into the Exo quarter, the shadows became more apparent. If not for their filters, the Hunters would smell the stench of death that seemed to permeate everything around them. The Exo quarter was a mess of wires and cables, with many buildings coated with rust and grime. As the Hunters passed a heap of such refuse, an insect crawled out from under the heap and scurried into the darkness. Ver’verd mused at the humor of the only creature to widely survive the great cataclysm was one of these insignificant bugs. However, if it weren’t for these bugs, then the birds would have died out as well. It was sad that the majority of the Earth’s creatures had died out during the great cataclysm, save for the bugs and the birds.
The Exo were more of a misunderstood ethnic group of humans then originally believed. There were many who saw the Exo as a sinister group, one that would often be found scavenging the dead for spare parts. In reality the Exo had a great respect for the dead. Within the context of the Exo belief system, the dead held a special place in their society, and a place of honor among its peoples. The Exo didn’t believe in the soul as an integrated entity but that the body was separate from it. The Exo believed that because the body and soul were separate, if the body were deceased, then the soul would be placed in a sort of suspended animation until such time that it was either harvested, or when a burial ritual had been completed.
It was important to the Exo that the soul was harvested as quickly as was able to, so that it could be placed in another body. Because of this, many Exo carried a small canister, which held the organ that was believed to contain “the soul” and flash-froze it, so that it may be preserved on their person. When an Exo, or someone who the Exo had taken a great interest in would die, the Exo would position the body so that it was face up, arms and legs spread out. The Exo believed that this position was best suitable to allow them to view the body and to assess if the soul had been damaged. They would then turn the body over, placing the face in the ground, which was believed by the Exo to make access to the organ that contained the soul easily accessible and to harvest it accordingly.
What made so many people fear an Exo at the presence of death was not in their appearance, but the way in which they “harvested” the organ they were looking for. Once the body was turned over, the Exo would grab the head by its forehead and pull back. They would then take their other hand and place two fingers against the eyes and push. This dislocated and often crushed the eyeballs, making a place for the Exo to gain leverage. With their fingers in the eye sockets of the dead, the Exo would pull sharply, tearing the esophagus.
They would then take a ceremonial knife and slice the skin along the spine, exposing the spinal column. Holding onto the head with their hand, the Exo would smash the bones of the hips near the lower end of the spine, dislodging it from the rest of the pelvis. Placing a hand on the sacrum, the Exo would then pull violently on the head, cracking the cervical vertebrae and ripping the head and spinal column out of the body. They would then carefully remove each vertebra and discard them until just the spinal cord remained attached to the brain.
Using a chemical, the Exo would dissolve the flesh, leaving the skull a dull yellow. With the same ceremonial knife, the Exo would pound on the back of the skull in such a way as to only crack the skull, and not damage the brain. They would then peel away the remains of the skull and discard it, holding the brain and spinal cord in their hands. The Exo would then separate the spinal cord from the medulla oblongata and discard it as well. With the ceremonial portion complete, the Exo would truly begin the harvesting process.
The Exo would remove the cerebellum and then the medulla oblongata. They would then grip the brain between the two parietal lobes and peel it apart gently, exposing the interior of the brain. The Exo would then pull back the corpus callosum to reveal the desired organ. The organ that the Exo collected was not considered a separate organ, but was part of the greater whole of the brain. They would take the thalamus, discarding the rest of the brain and would then open it to retrieve what they were looking for. After the process was completed the Exo would leave the location.
Only in the best of circumstances could this procedure be completed. Most of the time the procedure had to be done quickly, allowing for the quick removal of the head. This often left pieces of lower jaw and even the tongue remaining with the body as the skull was torn away. On a really fresh removal you could see the tongue writhing spasmodically. It was these “fresh” removals that made people the most apprehensive to the presence of an Exo, due to the brutality of the procedure. If one were to come across a properly harvested body, most were shocked and sickened. Body parts strewn about haphazardly tended to do this.
The Exo had been able to successfully merge man and machine through cellular manipulation by the use of nano-machines. These small machines, the process of their creation known only to the Exo, would mimic the cells of a creature and replace damaged ones so that the creature could still function normally. The nano-machines could replicate the effects of living tissue, so that there would be nearly no way to discern the difference. From an internal perspective, an Exo would appear the same as the original body.
However, whether because of a programming mistake or the non-biological nature of the nano-machine, the outward appearance would make the Exo look artificial. Exo had often been confused with androids or other primarily artificial beings. Their skin had a metallic appearance and often their head had more than two eyes. One of the things that separated the Exo from the other races was the fact that an Exo would never require a helmet. There were those who would mistake a non-helmeted Exo for a helmeted one, and vice versa. Some had said that they had seen an Exo without their metal carapace, but these reports had been mostly unfounded.
As the pair passed an Exo sitting on the ground, their head held low, Ver’verd tossed a small canister in their direction. The Exo picked up the canister and turned it in their hands. The Exo immediately stood up and bowed towards Ver’verd. The two Hunters turned a corner and walked into a high-rise building. The building was the tallest in the Exo quarter and when the two Hunters entered they looked towards the front desk where an Exo was dressed in a suit and tie. The interior of the building looked as best as it could for being in the location that it was in. Usually the Exo didn’t care for opulence, preferring a more practical use of space. This building however, was used for those who lived in the Exo quarter from different races, of which there were few.
The appearance of the Exo at the front desk was only for the benefit of others and that’s about as far as it went. There was a small sitting area adjacent from the desk and the two Hunters nodded in the direction of the two Exo Warlocks who sat in silence. The Warlocks bristled slightly, their faces showing slight surprise. As they passed the sitting area they turned left and headed towards the elevators. As they entered the elevator, Ver’verd pressed a short series of buttons and the elevator began to ascend.