a SLA Industries story by Eldritch
What does it mean when the enemy has fallen? Does it mean that we have won?
What does it mean when the defeat is so utterly devastating that nothing remains? What does it mean, when your mind refuses to accept the fact of this utter destruction?
Is there sympathy for the devil?
It means nothing, when the people you wanted to help were hit hardest. It means nothing, when the lives of the people you wanted to free were snuffed out like a brief candle in the wind. It means nothing, when you begin to wonder if the enemy of your enemy really is your friend. It means nothing, when this is the cost. It means nothing, when everythig you worked for is utterly and irrevocably corrupted.
Would they have done the same to us if they could? Yes they would – but they couldn’t. They wanted to hold and to acquire. Not to destroy.
Everything we ever believed was wrong. We were fighting the wrong enemy.
And now we all have lost.

I turn around and face the owner of that angry voice.
“Don’t you walk away on me like that, Thodol!”
“Else what, Subcommander?”
He tries to suppress his anger, barely successful. The strain in his voice. “Else I’ll have you executed. Right on the spot.”
Hollow threats. “You can’t. And you know.”
I turn around. Head for the gate.
“Thodol! Stop. Right now.”
Ignorance is bliss. They said. They always said. In a way it is true, but in the end it is ultimately wrong.
“Walk out of the Perimeter and you’re a dead man, Thodol!”
It almost makes me laugh. How wrong he is. I am already dead. But outside is more death. Manifold death. Death from above, below and within. The ground is treacherous – even more treacherous than before and even as high as Uptown. The storm as seen to that. How the Mighty has fallen. We should rejoice, but our voices are silent, our eyes full of tears and our throats sour.
Not at this cost.
They have battled for as long as I remember. Injustice. Resistance feeds on injustice, they always said. They were right. The media would dub us terrorists. We knew better. We had seen the true life down there, when the camera eye is not looking. We have seen the injustice and utter oppression. We had to fight.
They gave us what we needed. We gave them our lives. Once outside the system you can never get in again. Even if they offer it to you. You can’t. Something inside can’t. And now they say you must. They are right. We must join forces to attempt to salvage at least bits of what was. To have at least a slight chance to weather the coming storm. But once you have tasted freedom you can’t walk back. Even if they offer amnesty. You can uphold their cause. But you must do it alone. Out there, on the streets.
Until you die.

He won’t understand why I’m leaving. He won’t understand that I have to see with my own eyes. The destruction and the horror. He won’t understand how much pain a man can bear. Forlorn Hope. My commando. How fitting. Orders and Numbers are everything to him. We have become acountants, not fighters. So little time, so much change. All for worse.

Uptown is destroyed. Once monolithic and stubborn in its apathy it is now only crumbled dust. Streets are covered with rubble and slabs of broken concrete, destroyed vehicles are everywhere, the stench of corpses decaying in the rain is revolting. They must have torn each other to pieces even here. I don’t want to imagine what happened in DownTown.
The shaft is hard to find. Our maps were always wrong – they always cheated on us and we were only the pawns in their greater game. Pawns cannot become Queens in this new game, they can only be sacrificed. They wouldn’t believe me then. Soon they will find out for themselves.
It drags me down, this ruined crypt. All life that has been here has gone. Snuffed out, like in their Killer Shows. Mercilessly, ruthlessly, efficiently.
The interior of the shaft is dimly lit, some of the lights still work. Others flicker down in the darkness. It should lead all the way down to the labyrinthine darkness of the ancient tunnels that run underneath the whole of the city. Didn’t they know, or didn’t they care? Or was this their open trap?
The descent is monotonous. Step by step the same greyness. Some smudges of darker grey where water has found its way into the concrete of the shaft. But step by stept deeper into darkness. And nearer to DownTown.

I have heard the stories about DownTown. Everybody has. Most are too horrified to brave the descent. Most are glad that the orders now are to consolidate not to fight back. But I have to know what happened…
The day everything died is not even a hazy memory. I cannot remember. The doctors explained about shock and amnesia. I didn’t listen. Fuck the subconscious. Time heals all wounds. Yeah, hell.
Time stretches to infinity. I take breaks, rest on the steps. The muscles of my legs begin to ache, but the painkillers help. The moment of silence before combat seems eternal.
Further down, no lights down here any more. I had to switch to my shoulder mounted light. Its cone bounces up and down, mesmerizing, quite in tact with the idle beep of the Motion Scanner. Still no movement.
Have they forgotten about me? Am I not worth the effort? Or are the stories wrong? All a lie by them to get us all. Fuck with our minds with the Ebb or what else, wait until we are gathered in one place. And then, an end to resistance, an end to freedom. Paranoia through sensory deprivation.

The shaft ends abruptly.
The exit is unlocked. Outside, more darkness. The old sewer systems.
Nobody knows what lurks here. Nobody has been here during the last centuries. Unless they didn’t tell us.
The darkness is complete. Eating the light from my shoulder lamp. Like a black screen some few meters in front of me. So absolute I almost miss the sign. The red sign that shouldn’t be here.
I have been there before. She gave me what I needed. For a price.
I step into the neon glow and open the door.

Inside it looks just like the first time. A low, dirty bar runs along the right wall. The black laquer damaged, peeled off and broken in several places. Like festering wounds. The light is low and gloomy, distorted and eerie music from the derelict sound system over the dance-floor in the back of the bar, netxt to the neon-lit glass drug-bar counter. Nobody is dancing. The stairs that leed down to the toilets and the flipper are dirty and deserted as ever. Ancient, torn and faded posters are all over the staircase. Down, in the restroom I can hear the mechanical sounds of the flipper machine.
The door to her office is closed, the private booths next to it empty. The stare the barkeeper gives me, full of indifference. He knows I’m not here for a drink. He knew it then, he knows now. Nobody is here for a drink.
I nod. “Beer”.
He draws one and places the glass in front of me. Waiting. I give him some UNIs, still waiting.
“Is she in?”
He nods. “She’s occupied at the moment.” His gaze leaves me, resumes staring into the club. I pick up my drink and head over to one of the private booths. No sense waiting at the bar. I sit down, put the glass on the dirty wood-imitation table and settle myself on the red plastic. Graffitis all over the bench, the table marked with knife carvings. I close my eyes and remember…

Her voice brings me out of it. Haunted and soft, difficult to describe, seductive.
“Your eyes are hollow, Thodol.”
“Not quite right.” I shake my head “My eyes are dead.”
She sits down on the opposite bench, an amber drink in front of her and a cigarette in her right hand. Everything about her is unchanged, the raven hair, the pale face, the gothic outfit. Only the top-hat is missing.
“Then you’re damned.”
“I need to see her. Do you know where she is?”
“You know where she is.”
I cannot answer, lower my head.
“She died. The day the world collapsed, she died.”
There is only so much pain a man can bear.
I clench my teeth. “I need her back. She is everything to me…”
She shakes her head. “I told you, I cannot bring back the dead.”
“Then everything is really lost…”
“No Thodol. She is dead, but her memory lives.”
I cannot hold back the pain. “Yeah, in my head.”
I feel her hand on my shoulder. A grave weight. “No, outside.”
“There is nothing outside. Nothing! Only death, stench and destruction!”
“When you came in, yes. But not when you leave.”
I drown my beer. “Then there is nothing I can get here.”
She lowers her head in sadness. “You don’t understand.”
I get up, head for the door. “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t fucking understand. I thought you were so powerful, but in the end it seems you’re just another crazy bitch.”
I open the door, look back to her. She gives me a sad look, “We all are responsible for our own paths. You have damned yourself, Thodol. Don’t doom yourself now.”

I step out into the darkness of a DownTown street. The door closes behind me, cutting off the last bit of her sentence. It is quiet and the neon glow fades. Not even the bass of the music gets through the door. I turn around, an ordinary door. Nothing of the Mantua’s remains. Get in at one place, get out at another, and fade to black.
The destruction is not noticeable here, the air is dirty and acrid, the houses run-down and crumbling, but the stench of death is missing; it seems as if the Fall has never happened.
I have to get deeper into DownTown, where she lived. Somehow I know the area, the layout of some streets, but the buildings are different. The feel is different. Before the fall we could navigate DownTown by the feel of the area. We were attuned to it, we knew when something was amiss. Now all I get is false. Like a bad fake of a picture, hastily patched together.
The sound of the teevee hits me like a bullet. There is no teevee left. ThirdEye has stopped broadcasting publicly and Channel Resistance as well. Still I can hear the moans and cries of pleasure from an Alien Sex Channel Triple-X flic.
Very false.
I lower my rifle. Proceed carefully. Like in unknown territory.
The shape comes out of the dark like a spectre from the past. Huddled in his tattered rags it hushes by silently. I almost shot him.
What is going on? Do they have me in Ebb interrogation? It feels like I have stumbled into a dream.
No sense staying here. You cannot find the answers on the street. At least this street. My answer is deeper down.
It should be deeper down, but it is right around the corner.
Our house. Where we lived when I was with her. So little time. Not destroyed. Everything as it used to be. I must have stumbled into a dream. I cross the street, head over to the entrance door. Pry the keys out of my pocket and open the door. The smell of the building is so familiar, the gloom of the hallway so well-known.
If this is a dream never let me wake up.
I rush up the stairs to our apartment, open the door so hard it almost shatters on the wall, and there she is, the way I left her. Her smile is like a welcome sun I have never seen and her touch is an unfelt bliss.

You cannot live with dreams forever. Soon you’ll know that dreams are different from reality. This difference drives you mad. Then you either break or go.
She was just too perfect. Just the way I remembered her.
Only the way I remembered her. Nothing more, nothing less.
It all was just the way I remembered it.
She knew when it was over, she felt it in the way I held her, in the way I kissed her and in the way we made love. Afterwards she cried. I never wanted to make her cry. But I did.
I could be happy there. But I wasn’t.
I knew it wasn’t real.
Somehow I knew even before I met DrugNun again.

In the bathroom, the lights dimmed, washing my hands before going to bed. I look up into the broken mirror, DrugNun behind me. I knew she would appear. I have felt it the whole day.
“Why are you ruining it, Thodol?”
“It’s not what I wanted.”
“You wanted her.”
“Yes, but not this.”
“Isn’t she the way you remembered her?”
“Yes she is. Perfect in that regard. But she isn’t more.”
She shakes her head.
“I know she was more. Now she is only the way I knew her.”
“I cannot give you more. That’s all I have. Harvested from your dream.”
“Yes, my payment. Tell me, was this always your plan?”
She almost hits me. “No. This was never my plan.”
“Why you’re doing it then?”
“It’s the only thing I can do.”
“I don’t believe you.”
She smiles sadly. “You have damned yourself. Don’t go further.”
I look down into the washing basin. When I look up again, she is gone.
“But I have to.”

She cried the day I left.
We both cried.

I don’t know how much time I spent in her living dreams, but nothing has changed outside. The city lies in ruins, a rotting sepulchre for the lucky ones who were spared this aftermath.
I the distance Kilcopters are braving the treacherous streets of DownTown. Searching and destroying. The wailing of PowerReapers is always present.
Other shots penetrate the deadly silence, some close, others far away. Thick fumes of dust, cover everything. It hangs in the air like a smothering fog.
The terrain is lethal. Whole landslides of rubble come crashing down from every direction almost constantly, molten girders that offer safe passage break for a lethal drop into the empty spaces below; the chasms of DownTown have widened, a metal ribcage exploded from the inside. And flesh, flesh everywhere.
Nothing prepares for this horror. At some point the mind blanks out.
I walk, like a manchine, burrow deeper into what was DownTown. The slaughter means nothing to me. When my weapon is empty I pick up a new one from the last fallen foe.
When the mind is blank time ceases to exist. Stretched to infinite singularity.

Every search has an end.
At some point I crossed a border nobody would follow. I didn’t realize it until I was almost there. No more death. No more destruction.
The area is almost untouched. A cruel coming home. Like in a dream.
The door is broken, the hallway left in perpetual darkness. I can smell the dust everywhere. Everything is coated with a thick sickly white film.
The stairs are broken, the holes not easy to navigate.
The door to our flat is open, ripped from the hinges. The corridor behind in darkness. I can hear the uninhibited rush of water outside.
She is not in the kitchen.
She is not in the living room.
She is not in the bathroom.
She is not in the bedroom.
She is not there at all.
Not even a trace.
I fall to my knees.
Let the pain come.

A movement in the corridor startles me. I cannot find the strength to get up and face whatever has found me here.
Your eyes are hollow.
My eyes are dead.

I wish they were.
“I would have done everything to get her back.”
No resistance, no more. Not now.
“Yes, I would.”
I look up. Meet my fate.
It is her.

Her face dustcovered, full of dried blood. Eyes wide in terror, clothes ripped apart. Bleeding wounds all over her body, a broken arm. She would have died if I had not come.
We embrace. Forever.

I don’t know how long we can survive down here. I don’t know what will happen. But I am happy. I have her back.
I tell her late at night, in our makeshift bed. The drugs have kept her fever down and I have tended her arm.
“I was so lost without you. I thought I had to die.”
She shakes her head. “Shhhh.”
“I’d do everything for you.”
She smiles. Cruel.
The words, walls and worlds of my illusion break apart and her face melts into a familiar face. Just like DrugNun.
Her voice is vicious. “You already gave me everything you could, my pawn.”
I should have known. This is no world for wonders.
Her last words, casual. “Love blinds everyone.”

I feel so cold as it enters my body.
So cold.

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