An unusual silence blanketed the City of Saint Charles.
It was almost ten o'clock on a weekday morning. Under different circumstances, the city would have been a scene of bustling metropolitan prosperity. Streets full of traffic. People working. Money transacting.
Coffee—that gloriously capitalistic, black liquid gold—fueling everything.
Under different circumstances.
The heels of expensive Italian shoes clicked against pavement and echoed through the concrete canyon of the city's downtown district. A gust of wind picked up a scrap of newspaper and tossed it through an intersection.
A deer trotted out from around a building and found a patch of grass to inspect. Sunlight cut through the skyline and illuminated the deer until it was practically glowing.
It was a goddamned picture-perfect moment.
The owner of the Italian shoes grimaced.
This was all wrong.
The city had ground to a halt. And while the smog and pollution had lifted—nature creeped its way back into the concrete jungle—the people of the City of Saint Charles were as miserable and hopeless as ever. They were locked away, isolated from their fellow humans in a desperate attempt to slow a viral pandemic that was steadily rewriting the future of mankind.
Greg couldn't help but sneer in disgust as he walked down the middle of the empty downtown street.
He was frustrated. Angry. But mostly, Greg was disappointed.
The world had taken a shit so big, it was suffocating all life on the planet. This wasn't just one for the history books—this was going to be carved in the Stones of Time.
And Greg wasn't responsible for any of it.
For the love of fuck.
From the pocket of tailored pants, Greg fished a key out to unlock the main entrance to his coffee shop. It was the flagship store of a successful franchise that peppered the Eastern Seaboard.
Religiously Roasted Every Goddamn Day. Coffee So Devilishly Good, It's Practically a Sin.
Greg stepped into his black-and-red themed coffee shop and locked the door behind him. He wasn't going to have any customers, the city's lockdown orders had made sure of that.
Pocketing the key, Greg looked around the empty shop. He had built the company from nothing—the perfect execution of needlessly expensive coffee that quickly became a compulsive necessity in the daily routines of thousands. Greg made no bones about it—he had shamelessly ripped off those guys in Seattle, put a little Satanic spin on it, and started racking up exponential soul points as soon as the franchisees started signing on.
Sure, the shop was called 'Religiously Roasted Every Goddamn Day' but there was nothing special about the coffee beans. There was nothing special about the brew. Greg just marked up the price —six dollars for a cup of otherwise cheap black coffee—slapped together some fancy marketing spin and then sat back to let the coffee do its thing.
It was a motherfucking perfect time to be a demon in America.
Above the coffee shop were the corporate offices of Religiously Roasted. Greg sat in his executive conference room—a blacked-out affair with crimson foot lights spilling an ominous glow across the walls.
An ostentatious 100-inch television was mounted to the wall and after logging into the video conferencing network, familiar faces started appearing in a grid on the screen.