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It was a Saturday, more precisely, the 10th of November, which I remember distinctly. It was the first day I felt the approaching winter cold soaring through the suburbs, and I pulled my hands back at the near-freezing metal - the mailbox.

The letter had a government stamp on it, and I almost tripped over the stairs as I couldn't pull my eyes away from it until I was inside.

I also remember that date because it was the first weekend we spent at home after a lengthy honeymoon, which had been no less than perfect. Hawaii. Waking up from the ocean clashing with the coast. We had gotten matching tattoos that we would probably regret later; a small wave etched into his and my wrist.

I saw it again when he removed the letter from my hand, appearing as puzzled as I was.

"Huh, did you get into trouble?", he joked, while nonchalantly ripping open the paper with his thumb.

I was on my toes behind his shoulder, like a kid at the movies, attempting to catch a glimpse at the small font. It said 'Congratulations!' in slightly larger letters, and then 'you have been selected to take part in our exclusive program...' , and that's where I stopped reading, thinking it a scam or some other kind of malignant practice.

"Throw it in the trash.", I advised him, but his stare was still stuck on the paper, transfixed, which left me with a weird feeling.

"No...", he mumbled, more to himself, faster and faster his eyes traced over the lines, "No, look, it's official."

He pointed at the stamp, a faint blue seal that seemed familiar. Moreover, it was printed on hard, thick paper that gave it some kind of perceived integrity.

At this point, I was getting impatient, simply grabbing the letter from his hands and skimming over it.

'Surveillance Program... Only few select citizens to participate... Please assemble at town hall, 12PM...'

"How odd...", it slipped from me, but I couldn't find anything strikingly dubious about the contents.

It was true, public surveillance had been announced to undergo a massive expansion this year, if one were to believe the government's promises. They wanted coverage in all public places, to cut down crime rates, track missing persons, and so on. It was nothing that interested me much, but apparently, new technology was being developed that was made out to be a big deal if the specifics were ever released.

Only a testing program I hadn't heard of, but it was not rare for surveys and in-person testing to take place rather secretively until the results were ready for presentation. Usually, we'd toss those letters and invitations, but something about it had seemed to peak my husband's interest.

"They're testing something new, huh? Probably technology-related." He paced around the room, an idea in his mind taking shape. "Sounds interesting. It's tomorrow already."

"You want to go?", I probed. I suppose he didn't want me to notice, but he was definitely agitated about the prospect. He had always loved fiddling with electronics, and was up to date with that surveillance campaign. On multiple occasions he tried to enlighten me on the possibilities it could open up, but I had forgotten most of that. It was a topic I listened to out of courtesy, not really interest.

"Hey, I know it's your thing. We can check it out if you want.", I tried to reassure him.

"Really?" His eyes lit up a bit, then he seemed bothered by something, checking the letter again.

"There's a problem.", he muttered.

"What is it?"

"It's addressed to me. Only me."

"No problem, I'll stay home. Wouldn't want to interfere with anything."

It was a decision I would painfully regret.

Nothing had been said about the time frame or the proceedings of the project. That's why it didn't worry me when three hours passed with no message, and I only grew marginally impatient after five.

The most comforting of fantasies I spun in my mind - it's an official thing, I thought. Phones won't be allowed. They might have a buffet after. Or simply long waiting times. But the clock mercilessly ticked on, and when the sun had set, I was reduced to a nervous bundle, pacing from window to window in between fruitless attempts at calling his number.

It was impossible to sit here and wait. I had to see for myself.

He had taken the car, so I was left to traverse the distance to the town center by myself. It was luckily not far, but the nighttime and freezing cold added to my discomfort.

It didn't help that a lingering feeling arose in me. At first, I pushed it away, attributing it to my anxiety given the situation. But I kept turning my head to all directions, almost frantically. It was as if there was someone observing me. The sound of my footsteps seemed to multiply, coming from everywhere at once, but my mind must have only been playing a trick on me. I walked faster until I was nearly running, away from some invisible danger. Dark treetops obscured my sight on the neighborhood, and it was as if the whole world had fallen silent except for me.

I reached the town hall out of breath, but immediately felt a wave of relief rush through my body as I spotted the car - it was painted a glaring red. I hated the color, but just for a moment, I was so glad to see it.

I checked there first, attempting to make out the inside through the panes. Everything just like I remembered it. But no trace of him.

Then I had no choice - I approached the mighty building, passing by the old architecture, and grabbed the handle with determination. I pulled, and the door wouldn't give way, adamantly pushing back at me. In disbelief, I tried again and again, to no avail. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Never had I imagined myself here. Images shot through my mind, abductions, murder cases, crime scenes. I needed to calm down. There would be an explanation. Somewhere, somewhen.

Trying to take in a few deep breaths of the nightly air, I let my eyes wander. This part of town was scarcely visited, especially at nighttime. It was no surprise the streets remained empty. Tall lamps had been set up, making the road faintly visible. Security cameras had newly been mounted on some of them, as well as on the fence rows behind. Their bleak, shimmering eyes stared back at me.

Only one stood out. I squinted so as to fix my stare on it. It was quite distant from me, but without doubt exactly lined up with my position. Somewhat unnerved by the idea of being recorded loitering around the town hall at night, I quickly moved past it, keeping it in my sight.

But with every step I went - it seemed to follow me. I tested it, taunted it, repeatedly changing direction, and the lens turned with a mechanical jerk wherever I went.

They didn't do that. They never did. It made no sense for a camera to have a motion sensor pointing to a frequented road, nothing made any sense at all.

I felt dread rising up in my body, the urgent need to leave this place, fast. I ran an odd curve to move out of the camera's scope of movement - but it wouldn't be as easy as that.

To my horror, the black, emotionless glare of the lens rose up, far above the fence I had thought it attached to. Shadows were still coating it in obscurity, but soon enough, it expanded in my field of view, moving towards me briskly and shakily.

A man stepped out of the shadow, unmistakably, a grown human that walked just the slightest bit too unnaturally, almost automatically. Instead of a head, a security camera was mounted on his neck, twitching to keep up with my movement.

It was faster than me. I wouldn't make it across the parking lot and back home, it was already to late to even try to escape to either side of me. I had no idea what that thing would do to me if it caught me, but I was in no mood to find out, rather shaken by a visceral fear.

I felt my way along the facade, scurrying across the side of the building while keeping the creature in sight. It took long, coordinated strides that were faster than I could possibly run. I almost stumbled over my own feet, concrete scraping along my palms. Suddenly, they fell into emptiness. I tripped sideways, into a narrow gap between adjacent buildings. In the darkness, it couldn't be said whether it led anywhere. But the approaching steps sounding faster and harder moved me to run further into the unknown alleyway. I was squeezed in between the backside of the town hall, and an apartment complex next to it. There was no light to illuminate my way, but it can't have been long until I reached a dead end. I had gained a small lead, enough to adjust my eyes to my surroundings. My hands brushed over harsh wire mesh to my right, where I had presumed only the town hall's cold concrete to be. But there was a small gate inset into a fence that led to a flight of stairs, and further down into what must be the building's basement. I rattled the door without thinking, only to discover it was held in place by a heavy lock. It would have been too tall to climb over; besides, barbed wire was spun across its full length, which I might have seen as odd had I had time to think.

I turned my attention away from the fence, as escape seemed to wait right in front of me: The alley ended in a head-high brick wall over which I could catch a glimpse of the next road, and even a few apartments in the distance that had light shine through their windows. If I made it there, I could call for help. The thought was what drove me to grab the ledge with both hands and cram my feet in the numerous gaps to push myself up. The task took so much of my strength that I hadn't noticed it. Footsteps behind me. It had caught up.

For a moment I thought myself safe, slowly climbing upwards, until it occurred to me that something still half-human could climb, too. Its limbs found creases to hold onto, and its fingers stretched after me. Just barely, I made the final step and was able to pull myself up to stand. Right next to me, it did the same.

I should have just jumped, that exact moment. But I missed my chance when I staggered, trying to make out the ground below on the other side.

The thing used that moment to leap at me. Within a split second, I had to make a choice. It would follow me, even if I jumped. It would follow me everywhere.

I saw my leg cut through the air, hit its metal head with full force. The creature stumbled back as the camera's encasing cracked. Just once more, I thought. Then I could push it off the other side, and hopefully damage it enough to put it out of order.

But I failed.

My second kick was flung through thin air, just past its goal. It gave the camera enough time to readjust, and start its attack. I was pushed over, lucky not to fall off the wall entirely. It held me down, a human hand wrapped around my neck, but my eyes staring at an unmoving lens. It squeezed firmly enough to hold me in place, but didn't seem to hurt me. Entirely still, I felt sucked in by the black void in place of its face. The aperture narrowed. It was as if it was squinting at me. In reality, the camera was adjusting to the darkness. Click.

My sight was coated in a painful flash that turned everything a glaring white for a matter of seconds. When slowly, but surely, the world returned to normal, there were sharp contrasts that stuck out. One of them was a mark on the arm right in front of me. Dark ink against his pale skin. A small wave, with pronounced lines, just recently done.

It startled me, more than anything I had seen so far. He let go of me to retreat into the darkness. I however, stumbled back in my own confusion, not to either side, but backwards, through barbed wire that cut into my skin, holding up my fall, until I landed another meter deeper on the opposite side of a locked fence.

It felt like minutes lying there in silence, with the painful sensation of thorns that dug into me. I experienced it vividly when I made my first attempts at getting up, shooting through every part of my body, small trails of blood that had dried across my arms.

"Oh, shit.", was the first thing I said to myself, into the silence, reminding me of how alone I was, and now also trapped.

An obvious option would have been to wait until morning, here, in the cold, with no guarantee of anyone hearing my calls for help, even if the stores nearby opened. A more appealing option was to breach the door right to my feet, leading into some part of the town hall. People might still be at work there. He might be there.

What I just saw couldn't be right. It must have been an illusion of my tired mind. Nothing else made sense. I somehow convinced myself that he was there, he was alright, I only had to go in.

To my surprise, the door wasn't locked. They must have thought the gate would suffice in keeping unwanted visitors out.

Inside, as expected, was pitch-black darkness. I rummaged through my pockets for a light source, but- my phone was at home, happily sitting on the kitchen counter. I must have forgotten it in the haste, and now scolded myself for it. There was no other choice than to feel my way along the walls. They were cold, adamant and dirty. Probably just a basement, maybe an archive of some sorts.

I was proven wrong when my fingers found a switch. Fluorescent lights flickered, spanning across the ceiling, and gave sight to a large storage hall. It was incredibly bleak and boring in here, as I approached the middle of the room, the sound of my steps echoed back from the walls. Big cardboard boxes were stacked up to each side of me, that was all. Because I couldn't find a reason why not, I decided to take a look inside.

I withdrew my head with a gasp. They contained piles of large security cameras - similar to something I had already seen. Frantically, I opened every box within my reach, but they all held the same contents. Detached cameras, dozens and dozens, cable ends sticking out of them, ready to be assembled.

What was happening here?

I wouldn't find answers unless I descended further into the building, and the next door was already in sight.

Taking a deep breath, I opened it, reaching a long corridor.

There were plenty of rooms to either side of it, some with windows, some with light in them. I was now in danger of being spotted. Normally, I should have ran up to the first sign of human activity I could see, but something was telling me I wasn't supposed to be here. So I decided to keep it down and slowly crouched along the hallway, occasionally peeking through the glass panes. They all seemed like common office rooms, with a few people sunken in their work inside, scribbling down something or working on their laptops. It seemed normal enough to give me some relief. Still, I didn't knock. I felt like a criminal. Some explaining would be due if I was found in here, and I certainly wasn't ready for that.

Through another door, I could hear distant chatter. I was too curious not to listen in. There might be information on the program, on the whereabouts of the testers- anything.

But I was disappointed as the two men's conversation seemed to revolve only around mundane topics, TV shows, family life, and the approaching end of their shifts. Either they were ordinary workers with no involvement in the letters, or I had caught them at an unlucky time. I was ready to move on, when suddenly, one of them was interrupted in the middle of a sentence. It was the ringing of his phone.

"Uh-oh, orders from the boss.", he jokingly exclaimed. From then on, I could only follow one side of the conversation, and listened as the men's voices grew increasingly concerned, almost frightened.

"Escaped?", I could hear. And then, "If it's only a couple witnesses, we can easily gloss over it."

Something was definitely wrong here.

"No, we'll find him, don't worry. Sending out a team right now."

They listened to some more instructions through the phone line until the call fell silent.

"Fuck, man!", one of them muttered, and the other joined in: "Overtime it is again, then."

I suddenly realized that they would leave the room, forcing me to withdraw with no time to process what I had heard.

Footsteps approached faster than I could have reached an end to the corridor. I had no choice but to enter a windowless room to my side. As quietly as possible, I closed the door behind me. With a sigh of relief I realized there was nobody in my vicinity.

Voices again. An adjacent door was flung open. I crouched behind a shelf I spotted just in time, frozen in place, overseeing the entirety of the room. Luckily, everyone's back was turned to me, allowing me to observe in peace.

It was no office room. No tables, chairs, laptops. Instead, a sort of surgical table, equipped with the according instruments. I held my breath. My mind spun circles trying to make a sense of the scenery.

Surrounding it were three figures in sterile gowns, one seemingly the head of the operation, an elderly man with a slumped over posture, greyed out hair peeking out from under the white surgeon's cap. To his side were two younger assistants, giving him a hand in his tasks.

And what were they doing now? They removed some kind of tarp covering from that table, replacing it with a clean one. This was necessary, because the sheet one of the men held and quickly rolled up was glossed over with a visible layer of blood, and it was unmistakably blood, I would be fooling myself trying to assume anything else.

This would all be perfectly normal, had I gotten lost in a hospital, but not here. A basement locked away underneath town hall, the same place I presumed my husband to be.

They left the scene, all at once. I stayed down and kept my shaky breaths quiet, just in case, and I had been right: They returned within seconds, and not alone.

With swift step, a hospital bed was rolled in, carrying a lifeless woman's body. She might not have been dead, but entirely unconscious. Her limp body was lifted up and spread out on the tarp.

I felt nausea rising up in me. I didn't want to be here, I shouldn't - but leaving now was no option. Opening the door was guaranteed to give away my presence. Looking away also didn't occur to me. It was like any horror scenario - nothing could have torn my eyes away from the gruesome events about to unfold.

The old doctor released a long sigh, as if he was about to follow through with a mundane part of his daily routine. Without wavering, he picked up a long, hefty object. An axe. A surgical axe, if you could call it that; it was polished clean and with a thin, fan-shaped blade that was sharp enough to see the edge even from a distance.

My eyes were transfixed. I believe I didn't even breathe. It was like a scene that usually cuts away just at the right moment, but this one didn't. I saw everything. It looked unreal. Have you ever seen something like this? Not on the internet, I mean, right in front of you. At first, it feels like a cartoon, unreal and harmless, but still striking enough to remember every detail. It was odd how clean and swift it happened, barely a sound. The man looked like he didn't even have to try, the blade seemed to fall by itself, severing the head effortlessly. It was caught by his assistant, who carried it away. I followed it with my eyes. The head of a woman who seemed so alive, as if she could start talking in an instant. I couldn't possibly process the fact that it was detached. It looked entirely normal for a moment.

After that initial moment, you'll realize, and you might throw up all over yourself. I prevented that, luckily, because I was still painfully aware of my intruding.

They immediately tended to the cut, stopping the bleeding, attaching something I couldn't quite recognize, until the third man returned, not carrying a head, but something close to it. A camera.

I watched paralyzed as they completed her. Attaching wires to nerves, engineering her artificial brain. It might have taken hours, or minutes; my perception of time was entirely lost at this point.

Somewhen, the team stepped away from the table, observing their creation. A jolt went through the creature. They all nodded in satisfaction, and it gave me the feeling this exact scene had transpired many, many times before.

It was finished. They seemed to be waiting for something to happen, it might have gotten up by itself, proving their success, it might have been supposed to do all kinds of things, but I saw none of that. Instead, with a single, clicking motion, the camera turned from where it was lying, facing sideways. It was staring across the room, directly at a pair of widened eyes that reflected in its lens.

The last thing I saw in my human life was the image of a sharpened blade rushing at me, the dull eyes of a man to whom I was just another subject, as my final conscious thoughts were cut off.

Welcome to the Stalker Program, said the screen that was my sole mind.

Congratulations! You have been selected.

A picture of a woman appeared, unknown to me.

This is your target. Observe at all times.

Blinking dots showed up in the depths of my mechanical conscience, that I could not quite see, but feel. I knew where she was. I knew I would be watching her. Forever.

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