Shelly

Chapter 1

The jeep rattled down the gravel road spraying fresh mud onto the rear well adding to the layers of Northwest sediment already caked on. Mary bumped along calmly in the driver’s seat. Unpaved roads were very familiar to her. A tower of coffee cups stacked in the cup holder threatened to tip as the potholes grew worse. Shelly, Mary’s blue heeler traveling mate, lay in the passenger’s seat tired from being cooped up for the past few days. 

The rain spattered across the windshield; the drops grew heavier as the jeep passed beneath the overhanging trees that clung to the path’s embankments. The head lights danced down the road, illuminating the wooden gate that was Mary’s destination. The gate was tattered here and there but still made a fine boundary to the property. 

The jeep stopped a few yards from the gate and Mary stepped out of the car. Her boots squished in the mud and gravel. She slowly worked her way to the gate and swung it out as drops flung off her hood. The yard was once a manicured garden but had grown wild since its guardian lost the ability to take care of it. The rest of the path was worse than the road before the gate

Mary’s jeep crawled over the weeds and uneven ground that could barely be called a driveway. The brakes squeaked as the Jeep stopped just to the side of the porch. The wind was howling through the countless trees surrounding the house. Mary left the safety of the car to remove her duffle bag and backpack out of the back. She worked her way to the side of the car and let Shelly out. Shelly crawled slowly down, unsure about the new place. They made their way out of the torrents and creaked their way across the porch. Mary fished the key out of her jacket. It was worn from years of clinking next to her others without any use. It still unlocked the door with no problem. 

The house was hazy with a combination of dust and moisture. Mary dropped the duffle bag next to the door and worked her muddy boots off. Shelly began straight away investigating her surroundings with her nose. Obviously no one had been in here yet; he was never quite tidy and the front room showed it. Mary went to the kitchen and found a bowl and a cup. The same dishes that were here when she called this home. She filled them both with water, placed the bowl on the ground for Shelly, and drained the cup herself, dehydrated after the countless cups of coffee

She made her way down the hall to the bedrooms and pushed the master bedroom’s door open. The bed was unmade and his wallet sat on the bedside stand. No one gets to tidy up and tie a bow on it before they leave. They are just plucked from their surroundings leaving the rest for those that remember them. Mary flipped the light off and closed the door. There was no way she was going to stay in that bed while she was here.

She pushed the guest rooms door open and made her way in. The room was just as before as if lost in time. The room consisted of a twin bed against one wall and a simple desk on the other. At the far end was a borough the held a lamp and a large mirror that reflected a worn, damp woman.

Mary dropped the backpack next to the desk and struggled out of her jeans. The mud had already begun to cake at the cuffs. The house creaked slightly as a gust blew through. She shivered and decided that the night would be quite cold without a fire. There were two logs sitting in the basket near the fireplace in the living room. She knew there were stacks out in the shed but these two would have to do for the night. Shelly had already found a makeshift den under the table and begun to recover from their travels. After lighting a small bundle of cardboard and sticks that lay at the bottom of the wood basket, Mary went to find the bottle of whiskey he kept hidden in the cabinets out of reach. She had to climb on the counter but was successful in pouring herself a glass. She gulped down a drink. The warmth of it was welcoming. Carrying the glass with her, she dropped the two logs on the fire hoping that it would not smother and made her way to the room, taking another swallow on her way.

She set the glass on the borough and worked her shirt off. After draining the glass, she settled into the bed. It took her a while to fall asleep. Since crossing into this county, years of memories had haunted her. It wasn’t until she set eyes on this room that she had eased a bit. This room had been the only safe haven she had as a child during the torrents that were her childhood. The wind continued to howl and, once her mind would allow it, she slept dreamlessly and deep.

Chapter 2

The next morning, Mary woke late. The sun gleamed through the shades with a dull yellow. After a much needed shower, she put the kettle on for coffee. She missed her espresso maker that she had left in Alaska; the only method here was a small red pour over. It’ll do, she thought, any coffee is better than none. As the kettle bubbled away she released Shelly into the yard to inspect her new domain. The outside world was still recovering from the storm that blew through the night before and the wind had a dank chill to it. Mary wrapped herself in a throw and watched Shelly from the porch. Despite the wind and cold, Mary found a patch of sun that gleamed through the left over clouds. Shelly explored the perimeter of the yard stopping here and there for a thorough investigation.

Mary floated into memories of this yard. It was once a groomed masterpiece of an expert gardener and had always perfectly walked the line between wild and manicured. She had spent many sunny autumn days stealing apples from the tress and berries from the bushes. They were fond memories that she returned to often. Now the apple trees grew knotted and hung with moss while the blueberries and raspberries fought a losing battle with brambles.

Mary was draw back indoors by the kettle whistling loudly then returned to her post on the porch with a hot mug of coffee in hand. Shelly trotted up the planks and laid on top of Mary’s feet. Mary no longer had to fight the cold with her living slippers and fiery mug. The faint sound of waves crashing on the beach and faint scent of salt and seaweed convinced her to finish her coffee on the beach. She returned to the inside world and wrangled on her muddy jeans from the day before. There’s no need to dirty another pair, she thought.

The pair made their way down to the locals only path that wound its way to the beach below. Shelly stayed close to her owner while excitedly exploring the new trail. Mary knew this trail well in the past but as she walked through its muddy gravel and ferns it felt like a completely new path. As a child, the path was well trimmed with only a few small trees blocking the view to the ocean. Now those trees were towering and the entire trail was shaded from both the ocean and the sun and held a damp decaying smell that was common in the northern forests. Mary liked the newer version of the trail better. It felt less exposed and more private than before.

The trail terminated with a collection of aged driftwood logs that required hikers to clamber over to reach their destination. Shelly scampered up them without a second thought and waited for Mary on the other side while Mary took a slower approach being careful to not spill her precious coffee. The air held the same rich, salty smell that always accompanies the shores.

Mary glanced down the wide expanse of beach to ensure that there were no surprise play mates for Shelly. A pair of barely visible shapes were making their way towards the bluffs which would be long gone before Shelly would notice. On the other side was only a few hundred yards of beach that ended in a sharp cliff of jagged rocks which form a natural jetty separating this beach and the next one down the endless line of beaches that made up the California shoreline. Shelly understood the lazy gesture Mary had made and went sprinting down the shorter section of beach spraying sand is a large arch behind here. She arched around and began sniffing a secluded stone before launching off again. Mary made her way behind Shelly holding her coffee close to her face to allow for easy sipping.

From this south-facing beach she could see the sleepy fishing harbor and the bulbous peninsula that were the iconic features of the town. Along with these she could make out a large expanse of the county’s beaches stretching to the south. She held the belief that the county grew worse as you made your way south. Trinidad, the town she now standing in, was the last tolerable place before the chaos of the rest of the county. Stones, stumps, and rivers were known to gradually move from place to place and after she mapped out all the new changes to the coastline, she calmly focused on her current situation.

She had escaped this nook of the country when she was seventeen and found her place in Fairbanks, Alaska, a place far away with no hot weather and no need for a passport. After working her way through two years at community college and four years at university, one of her professors pointed her to a position as a fisheries biologist at the Department of Fish and Game. There she quickly became lead on some of the largest fisheries surveys ever conducted and gained a reputation for fearlessly accessing the most remote streams that very few had attempted to collect data from. She loved her job and had subconsciously decided that she was going to spend the rest of her life studying fish in remote Alaska.

She was now in remote Northern California because of the only person she had any connection to in the lower forty-eight, her uncle Sky.

Trinidad

​The Train

William’s head reverberated off the train window so loudly that it woke the baby sleeping in its mother’s arms two cabins down.

“Sir, are you alright?,” asked the man across from him.

“Ya, ya just been a long trip.”

It really hadn’t been but William didn’t care to explain. To express his want to be left alone, he picked up his bible that had fallen onto the seat next to him. It opened naturally to the page where he had left the letter that had sparked this trip. William glanced through the first line of the page:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;

For thou art with me;

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”

He unfolded the letter and reread it once more. It explained that his closest friend, Robert, had passed away in a car accident and that he was needed to settle Robert’s will and that he should at once travel to Trinidad, a small whaling village that he, like most people, had never heard of. The letter had arrived just two days after his research grant at Berkeley had dried up. He was almost relieved that tragedy struck when he had nothing occupying his time. He had slept for only a few hours since he had read that letter for the first time.

William and Robert met while they both were studying chemistry at university and they had roomed together for three years. Once Robert left to help with his father’s business, they had taken every chance they could to visit each other. William had never met Robert’s father, Henry Hopshire, and had no idea how Henry had found his address or even knew who he was.

William stared out the window and this time rested his head against the wall. The drizzle gently tapped on the window as tree after tree flew by. It seemed to William that trees grew wider as the train made its way north. William let himself drift back into dreamy memories.

When he awoke the only light was a faint blue backlighting the trees. The cabin was dark and William’s cabin mate had left to let him sleep without bother. William continued to watch the trees. It was calming to him to watch a tree go from a blue in front to shrinking away in the distance. As he watched, his mind grew calmer than the scramble that went on while he was sleeping.

The train began to slow and he knew that they were drawing close to his stop. The trees were no longer blurry but just drug by calmly. A vibrant orange light began to light up the window. William let his eyes defocus and paid no attention to the light until he realized the color was emanating from fiver large torches that seemed to be floating motionless in midair. About six inches from each torch were faces of the like William had never seen. Twisted, vibrantly colored faces with horns protruding where normal bones should be. William watched in horror and amazement. The faces seemed to make eye contact with him and kept locked on his window until they were lost out of sight. William push his face up against the glass gaping, trying to get one more look as they faded into the distance.

The train jolted to a stop and snapped William back into reality as if had been asleep. The train awoke with the sound of people filing out of their cabins. William began to collect his things. He convinced that what he had seen was a dream.

Trinidad

As William stepped off the train, his lungs filled with ocean air which triggered a wave of relaxation that rippled through his joints and muscles. He felt the worries lift from his body and for the first time since receiving the news, he felt safe.

The platform was small and crowded but it served its purpose well. Since whaling took ahold of this town, it seemed more and more people came and went. This small platform had met the challenge and valiantly held the masses.

As with any train station, there was the cry of, “Spare change!” For that particular day it was a woman who seemed to be just barely into her twenties yet she already looked haggard. William was always ensnared by beggars.

“I can spare a few pennies.” Her hands were dirtier than the coins. God bless you.”

“I think god gave up on me long ago,” she said with a sneer.

William took a long blink and then walked away without rebutting. Since he had stepped off the train his exhaustion had intensified. He now longed for a deep sleep wherever he could rest his head.

The Pinnacle above the Trees

William had followed him for almost an hour now though hills and valleys that were thickly wooded with large redwood trees.

“Where the hell is he going?” thought William.

The unknowingly pursued was now starting a steep climb. William was not far behind but kept his distance so as to not startle his prey. He took the climb slower and made his way deliberately to ensure he was not seen. As he approached the summit a faint orange glow made itself visible. William crouched lower and crawled up to the precipice of the orange globe that was emanating from the large fire in the center of the singularly flat section of the mount.

Circled around the fire were ten dark shapes, five closer in and five further but aligned such that everyone could see the two shapes in the center. The fire raged as an easterly wind blew and William made out the same five twisted faces he had seen on the train. Williams heart thudded. ‘Was the train not a dream?’

All ten faces began to chant in a slow, throaty voice, “Ad unum.” The fire raged again this time unexplainably. William made out the two beings in the center. One was a face just like the others yet more somber and stern. The other was not a floating face but a nude woman. William recognized her as the beggar he had given change to at the station. She just stood there swaying slightly with a slight smile on her face and a glazed expression across her face.

The chanting suddenly ceased as the center face raised its hand.

“Baphomet vincet!” burst from the figure with strength and authority. The shaped pointed at the woman. “Donatio ad unum!!” Then with one swift motion the woman’s throat was opened up. The rose colored liquid of life burst forth and rolled down her chest. Her face showed that she hadn’t registered what had just happened. She kept that satisfied smile one as she crumpled to the ground.

William jerked away from the scene with the singular urge to escape the area. He stumbled back a couple of crouched steps and on his third he missed the ground entirely. He tumbled down the cliff with terrible trashing. Luckily for him, the chanting had started again.

“Ite etiussa facessunt!”

His tumble ended with his head slamming a rock and his unconscious bodily resting underneath a collection of huckleberry branches. The shadows dismounted the rock without noticing the stranger that lay in the bushes.

The Cross

The rain was coming down in sheet now. The trail that had once been a nice walk was now acting as a stream bed for the torrents that were falling on the Head.

William made his was like a toddler does, slow, uncertain, and with his arms stretched out in preparation to catch himself. He had good reason to tread carefully for he didn’t fully trust the revolver in his right hand and he was not going to let himself make it all the way to only slip and shoot himself.

The white marble cross poked over the brush that surrounded the trail. It looked like a beacon compared to the darkness that was the night. The sky periodically lit up as the lighthouse lamp turned. William could make out Henry clear as day leaning against the great granite slab.

“Ahh my dear boy, William, you have finally made it.” Henry was calm and collected despite the chaos that raged about him. He was certain of how this encounter would end. “I’ve waited for this day for so long.”

Once William was within a yard he rose the revolver without a word and took aim at Henry’s head. 

“No!! This is not how it is supposed to happened!!” Henry’s collectedness had broken into a frantic charge which resulted in William loosing grip of the pistol while the two of them slammed into the mud. Henry flurried punches into William’s face before regaining his calm, respectable manor. He stood up with a chuckle and gave an attempt at brushing the mud off his trousers before continuing on his stroll. Once William had regained his sense, he made off after Henry forgetting his only weapon laying in the mud. Henry turned the corner and seemed to have disappeared when William had rounded the bend. 

William yelled into the darkness, “Come out and face me you coward!” With no response he continued, “You’ve hidden behind your henchmen long enough. I know everything!”

“Yes! Yes! I know! You have done so, so well. For a while there I questioned if you would have it in you but indeed, indeed you have passed the test! Ah yes! Finally, my work can be finished!”

“What test?!”

Henry appeared out of the brush right in front of William. He moved too quickly for William to react and got so close that their noses were almost touching. “Oh don’t you see! You have passed the test!” Henry threw up his arms and broke down into laughter.

“Oh you’ll understand soon enough!” and with that he ran off towards the lighthouse. William pursued, confused buy enraged. Henry composed up just in front of the door and very politely knocked. He then burst off towards the cliffs. As William caught up with him, Henry was right on the edge. His heels were dangling off. The lighthouse keeper came out startled and confused.

William stopped short. “What are you doing?!”

“Finishing my job. William, this is where my destiny ends and where yours begins.” With that Henry calmly leaned backward and tumbled off the cliff. William stepped forward and tried to grab him but he wasn’t quick enough. He watched as the great Henry Hopshire glided through the air and disappeared into the waves and rocks below.

Dark Fog

The sun gleamed brightly through the row of trees that lined the marketplace. The stalls were bustling and produce overflowed out of their bins. He made his way through the rows excited to fill his pack with plunder. First in his bag was a bunch of dull orange and purple carrots followed by a plump sugar pumpkin. After he was sure he had all the non-squishable items he wanted, he moved on to fruits.

As he left the apple orchard stand, he noticed the fog creeping around the corner of the street. It was inevitable but he had hoped to get his weekly groceries before there was trouble. His pace quickened and he began to catch glances from the crowd. He knew that the townspeople thought he had some connection with the fog so the fog was always accompanied with disappointed looks.

All he had left on his list was peaches so he scurried towards the closest vendor. Once the peaches were safely tucked between the tomatoes and greens, he mentally charted a course back to his ship that sat in the harbor. He made his way out of the peach slinger’s awning and just before entering back onto the street, a woman holding a fat faced child burst into the stall. He tried to side step out of the way but there was no room. He non-childbearing shoulder collided with is upper arm and set his bag flipping around to his back. His peaches were bruised and the skin of a beautiful tomato split. The woman scoffed and shot a glare at him. He shrinked by and finally made it to the street.

The fog had matched his pace and was now at the next stall and moving quickly. He watched it envelop two more strangers before it silently slammed into him. Before he could react he was surrounded. His breath ricocheted off the stale air back into his lungs and he eyes fruitlessly struggled to focus. No one could help him as he drowned in his own air.

He shut his eyes and focused on his breathing. He wished he had never left his ship. All he could do was wait for the terror he knew was coming. It would all be over soon. With a snap the fog evaporated and he cautiously opened his eyes. Every single person in the market had ceased what they were doing and were now facing him, staring with a distant, disappointed gaze. His breath had yet to return to home but his vision was now sharp and clear.

He spun around to make for the boat. The crowd that had been buying peaches followed his path with their eyes. Some still held soft, juicy peaches. The crowd-bursting mother still held her child both had frozen perfectly still. They took the shape of a tow headed statue with matching facial features only separated by age.

Without the ability to run he scampered as quickly as he could manage half tripping over his own feet and his bag. He made his way out of the marketplace and into the harbor district. All the sailors, low-lifes, and travelers had been affected also. Their countless eyes deconstructed his every move. He couldn’t help bumping into a few as he made for the piers. They let out scoffs that exactly matched the sound the two-headed woman made in the market as if the entire city had rehearsed before his arrival.

Luckily, the dock he had chosen was empty. Once he broke free of the crowds, he sprinted down the dock and leapt into his shallow hull. He glanced back at the wall of eyes and with tremendous speed undid the lashings and pushed off. The entire city watched his boat trail off. Once he reached the horizon the city continued on with their peach buying and daily routines.

As he lost site of the city he let out a deep lung full of air. A small cloud of fog left his mouth and settled into the boat. He knew he could never escape it. His boat continued on past the horizon into the lonesome seas.

As the Ice Fell

As the Ice Fell

“Everyone strapped in?”

Jones responded with a simple thumbs up. He was in no mood to talk. It was 129 PA, post-apocalypse, or in the old dating system 2256 AD. After the many hours of sifting through the remnants of the past Jones was more accustom to AD. He stared out of the small window at the last reminisce of Earth. He was one of the few that actually understood the history of this planet. The wars, the floods, the storms, and, as he saw it, the willful ignorance. Mankind had failed this planet; it was yet to be seen if they’d fail Kepler too. Kepler was branded as a chance to redeem their past and forge a new era. The first settlers had found a promising planet full of potential but Jones was skeptical that humans wouldn’t repeat the past.

“Prelaunch sequence complete.”

Off on the horizon, Jones watched as a massive hurricane was wreaking havoc on the sea. That weather system was the reason why they were leaving two days ahead of schedule. Countless artifacts would be left behind to be destroyed by this wretched planet. An entire planet worth of history would be gone except for the memories and relics that Jones and his group had.

Jones saw a sharp flash somewhere in the chaos of the churning sea. He focused his attention on that spot and it appeared again. It flashed once more. The lightning seemed signaling to them. Jones interpreted it as a mocking goodbye.

Jones then became extremely aware of the countdown commencing in his headset. His head slammed into the back of his headrest. He thought dying down there on the surface might have been a better option than living through this flight. Twenty minutes later, they were clear of the atmosphere and on their way to the warp point. Jones got up and floated his way to his cryochamber. It shined like everything else in the ship. As he settled down into the cramped cushy space, he placed a small statue of a woman holding a torch above her head upon the lip of the chamber, a small piece of the earth to keep him company during the long flight. The door slowly closed and sealed with a loud his. Just then Jones realized what the flashing light was. Short, short, short, long, long, long, short, short, short. It was an ancient signaling technique for distress.

The room filled with pale blue light as the small screen winked on to proclaim the morning’s Words. Isaac opened one eye as the screen began to chant.

“The Ice keeps us safe

But we all must pray.

Never forget Sector 76.”

Every morning it chanted the same exact phrase. The last line was a somewhat newer addition though. After the Ice sent down its wrath on Sector 76, the Order decided to add a final warning. It was a little reminder of what was at stake if they disobeyed the Ice’s wishes.

Isaac would normally shut his eyes and prolong the night for just a few more minutes, but today he was eager to leave bed behind. The previous day had been his last shift as a Watcher. His life had been occupied by the screens filled with everyday life but now he’d be seeking out those who rebel against the Order. He was now a Seeker.

He worked his way out of bed and towards the balcony. The Ice shone bright blue in the cool morning. Most citizens could only glimpse the Ice if they looked directly up from the streets or balconies but from his apartment he was able to see over these lower lying buildings straight to the blue dome which he, and everyone for that matter, called home. Some didn’t believe it was a dome just a sheet of blue but Isaac new better. He had once gone to the edge, a sacred place where he was actually allowed to touch the Ice. One of the many perks of having an uncle who was in the Order.

From where he stood it was just a blue sheet that seemed to stretch on forever. His morning prayers on the balcony, which normal seemed to drag on, flew by in an instant. He turned back ready to continue his morning in the warmth. His apartment was comfortably furnished with better than average belongings and his heating worked well when compared to others. It was the kind of place most citizens would never want to leave. Isaac normally didn’t. However, this morning he was out the door in the same time it normally took to eat his breakfast.

The momentum of his morning evaporated as he entered the elevator. The numbers went by, one by one, as he descended the four hundred floors to the streets below. At about floor 243, the wall to his right began to fade to black. A logo shot out of the darkness.

“InstaStrength! One bowl a day and you’ll rule the Enforcers in no time!!!”

The ads were always too loud to ignore and seemed to have the effect of paralyzing neck muscles. Once the yelling and fluorescent colors had finally decided to leave him alone, the Order’s news came on.

“Last night was a momentous night for John Ironfist, as he claimed the title of Arena Champion for the third time in a row!” Even when the news was mundane, the announcers always yelled.

Isaac fled to his own thoughts as he tried to forget that he was in a metal box hurtling towards the ground. Memories of his ten years as a Watcher crept into his consciousness. He had spent countless hours staring at those screens, looking for any sign of noncompliance. Countless people going about their daily lives and Isaac, and many more like him, were watching every second of it. He was glad that, at the very least, he wasn’t one of the millions of people who spend their entire working lives doing it.

Isaac snapped back to reality as the elevator began grinding to a stop and after a few heart-wrenching lurches, Isaac was at the ground floor.

“The Ice has finally stopped the rain in Sector 82. Praise to the Ice,” the news exclaimed just as he left the elevator.

Isaac stepped out onto the wet concrete and was met by a very large, very loud crowd. Close to a thousand people had stopped their morning commutes to join the mob.

“What’s all this about?” Isaac asked one of the crowd members.

“John Ironfist challenged some Watcher to a fight. He’s been taunting the Watcher for a while now. I think he’s trying to get more spectators to join in.”

“Why did he even challenge him? We know he going to slay him in a fight.”

“I guess Jane caught the Watcher looking at her, so John had to defend what was his.”

“Well at least we don’t have to buy tickets to watch him claim another victim. I’m going try to get a better view,” Isaac said as he and the stranger parted ways.

“Good luck with that,” yelled the stranger after Isaac.

Isaac began pushing his way to the front of the crowd but it was useless. The wall of backs was set closely and would not budge. Just as he had accepted defeat, Mark came up behind him and slapped Isaac on the back.

“Oh hey! Isaac, my buddy! Trying to get a better look?!”

He was yelling at the top of his lungs but the words barely reached Isaac.

“Mark?! It’s been a long time!! How’s it going?!”

They used to be in the same Watcher division. Isaac’s dislike of Mark fell just short of hatred.

“Ya! Two years as a Seeker and loving every moment of it!! Here, watch this!”

He was always showy. Mark lifted up his badge and suddenly there was a perfect path to the action. With his other arm he grabbed Isaac, as if they were longtime friends, and calmly walked to the front of the crowd. Isaac was secretly impressed by the power of a Seeker’s badge. He was excited to get his own.

Just as they arrived, the first punch was thrown, a right hook by Ironfist that landed squarely on the fore arm of the defender. Ironfist followed it up by a swift kick to the defenders knee which opened the defender up to another right hook. The fight was going to be a quick and showy one. The punch slammed into his face, loosening some of his teeth and dropping him to one knee. After a flurry of punches to his face, arms, and shoulders, it looked like it was all over. Ironfist stepped back to gloat before finishing off the helpless Watcher.

He circled around the crowd high-fiving the closest onlookers. He looked down at his prey and a small bit of pity welled up in his heart. He remembered feeling weak and helpless when he was a child just like the Watcher that wimpered in front of him. The crowd’s screaming overwhelmed this small sliver of humanity and Ironfist went in for the final knockout.

If John had taken a moment to take in his surroundings he would have noticed that the ground was still wet and slick from the night before’s rain. He threw his whole weight into his last punch; it never hit the target. His feet slipped out from under him and his head crashed into the defenders knee. The Watcher, seeing his one and only chance, became the attacker and put the champion in an ill-formed headlock. He didn’t know it but he put just enough pressure on John’s throat to collapse his windpipe. John went limp and the crowd came flooding in to congratulate the winner.

No one took the time to check to see if John was alright. He laid there suffocating as he watched his world fall apart. The last thing John ever saw was his beloved Jane kissing the winner.

After the mob around the fight disbanded, Isaac made his way with Mark to the Seeker Headquarters. It was a bold rectangular tower right near the slightly taller buildings of the Order. Mark pointed Isaac towards what he called the “Welcome Desk” and then continued on his way to finish some important Seeker business.

Isaac approached the window that a bored looking quartermaster leaned out of.

“Ahh new guy? Heard you were coming. Here’s your badge and your M11.”

The quartermaster spoke with speed that increased like a chugging of a train, with each consecutive word the pace quickened. He slid a small tray with a shiny brass badge emblazoned with an eagle, which has long been extinct, and a matte black gun. Isaac was dumbfounded by the relaxed nature of his initiation.

“Is this a pistol?” He picked the gun up and held it as far away from his body as his arm would allow.

“Yep,” responded the quartermaster while glancing off into the distance.

“Am I going to get any training on how to use one of these?”

“Nope but it’s not too hard, just point and shoot.” The quartermaster refocused his glance from the people behind Isaac to Isaac’s shocked face. “Oh but don’t worry; ninety percent of us have never used ours. Mainly a precaution for the crazies. You’ll be following along with Jack and Terry for the next couple days.” He gestured lazily down the hall. “Once you get the hang of things, you’ll be partnered up with someone else. Now go on down the hall, to your left, and go into the second door on your right.”

“Ahh ok. Thanks” Isaac had attempted to match the quartermaster’s hand movement in the hopes to remember the directions but it didn’t help.

The hallway was bustling with people coming and going with the appearance of being busy but none of them seemed to be in much haste. It seemed that they would often stop and have a chat as if they had nothing better to do with their time. No one spoke to Isaac though. He made his way slowly down the hall, to the left, and to the second door on his right.

As Isaac nervously reached for the doorknob, the door bust open almost putting Isaac to the ground. Two larger shapes emerged from the newly dark room.

“Ahh there’s the kid!” Terry said as he slipped his coat on.

“What took you so long?!” followed Jack.

“We’ll have to give you the rundown on our way; we just got a call! Follow us and try not to get lost”

Isaac obediently followed along. He was still trying to rationalize everyone’s peppiness. The Seekers were cast as those who dealt with the worst of the worst. He had imagined them as hard rough guys but not strong and tough like an Enforcer. This assumption was completely wrong.

“Wait, who’s Jack and who’s Terry?” questioned Isaac.

“Ahh, I’m Terry and he’s Jack,” said the slightly taller one. His dark orange hair looked like flames curling around the increasingly large bald spot on the top of his head. Jack seemed as if his hair hadn’t changed since he was a teenager, black, thick, and slicked back. His face, however, broke this illusion and seemed to have every year of his life painted across it.

After a few lefts, a few rights, a staircase, and a very confusing garage, they were in the car on the way to Isaac’s first call. He sat in the back excited about his first mystery but still cautious of the whole situation.

Jack was driving but it didn’t seem he needed his eyes for it. They were usually fixed on Terry as he gave Isaac “the rundown.”

“There’s three types of cases in this line of work: the cameras, the crazies, and the cowards. The crazies are my favorite. We get to have our guns out and get to yell at some fool who snapped, well at least until the Enforcers come and take them away. Most of the cases are the cameras though. Usually the camera seems fine but for some unknown reason at the Watchers end there’s nothing. Probably the Ice has made it that way for some reason. No one can ever know what the Ice has planned. We then have to tell the residents that they have to pack up and we find them a new home.”

Isaac was startled by this whole conversation. His whole life he was told that the Seekers solve mysteries by using clues and deduction but now it seemed they are only errand boys for the Order.

Isaac timidly replied in a joking voice, “What no mysteries?”

Jack chuckled and shook his head while quickly glancing at the road. Terry picked up right where he was at.

“Sometimes we get weird ones that make no sense but for those we call in the Order and their people take care of it. That rarely happens though so don’t worry.”

Jack broke in, “We’re here.” They had pulled up to an average apartment complex. The lift in this building seemed even sketchier that the one Isaac rode every morning.

They left the elevator and began scanning the numbers as they worked down to Room 467.

“Yep that’s the one.” Terry said checking the number against a scrawled figure on the screen in his hand.

Bang. Bang. Bang. The components of the door rattled with each knock.

“Seekers! Open up!” yelled Jack through the door. A man slowly opened the door. Once the door was the slightest bit opened the partners shoved their way in.

“Sir step against the wall and put your hands up!” Jack commanded.

“Isaac, right? Stay with Jack I’ll go check the camera.”

Isaac stepped into the tiny entrance hall, if one could call it that. The apartment was only one room and a bathroom. The kind of place that most people lived out their entire lives. Terry rushed to the camera in the corner of the room and began inspecting it while Jack interrogated the old man.

“What did you do to the camera?!” He gave the man a short push.

“N…Nothing.”

“Why isn’t it working then?!” Jack was inches from the man’s face which was shrinking back as far as it could.

“I.. I don’t know.” The man was thoroughly puzzled. His morning had been going so well before this and he was just about to enjoy his daily tea.

“Oh sure; you expect me to believe..”

“The camera’s fine, Jack,” broke in Terry.

The old man looked at Terry as if he was his savior.

“Ok you’re lucky this time.” Jack shoved a finger at the man’s chest. “You’re going to have to go down to the station within the next twenty-four hours to be assigned a new place.”

“But..”

“No buts. It’s either do that or the Enforcers will come do it for you!”

“Uhh…” The man was weighing the options of either facing the Enforcers or leaving the only home he ever knew. The choice was a hard one. “Uhh… Ok”

“Do you know where the station is?”

“Ya, I think so”

“Ok have a good day” Jack switched back to his pleasant self.

The whole terrifying experience only lasted a few minutes but the old man’s world had been turned upside down and Jack and Terry just walked off like it was just another day.

“I’m sorry,” Isaac said quickly before jogging after his mentors.

For the first time, as Isaac came up behind them he noticed they walked a little closer than most friends do. Nothing worth reporting to the Order but it definitely hinted at something.

Although that kind of behavior was outlawed by the Order, Isaac had never reported anyone for it but he knew a few people that were taken away to be “fixed of their wicked ways.” When those that were taken away came back they seemed emptied of any joy they had once had.

A few weeks after his first day as a Seeker, Isaac’s mornings had begun to drag on again. The rain had started again and his life had reverted back to being mundane. After his second day, the fantasy of being a Seeker had already been worn away by the repetition of the job. It was his last day under the supervision of Mark and Terry and he had yet to see a single case that wasn’t a broken camera.

He questioned whether he was the only one who was bored by the daily monotony. Everyone around him seemed to be perfectly content with the great mysteries of broken cameras. Many times he considered whether being a Watcher was more fulfilling than his new position. He received better pay as a Seeker but he was doing just fine on his Watcher pay; he was one of the highest paid Watcher that he knew. They all did the same job, watched the walls of screens that broadcasted the scenes of the many cameras around the Sectors searching for heretics, but the pay grades ranged wildly based on how many heretics you caught and, more realistically, who you knew in the Order. The person Isaac knew was his uncle.

Isaac never fully appreciated what being related to a member did for his prospects. His house, his pay, and now his new job had all originally sprouted from this relation. He fully believed it was solely from his hard work. The same hard work that was now boring him.

“We got a good one!” Mark said just as Isaac arrived for another day at the office.

“Another bad camera?” replied Isaac anti-excitedly.

“Yes,” said Mark confused at Isaac’s tone.

“But the Watchers saw this guy break it!” broke in Terry ecstatically. “Hopeful we’ll have to call in the Enforcers.” All three of them hurriedly left the office. Isaac was finally getting his long awaited excitement.

After a short car ride, they were at the door doing the normal routine: extremely aggressive knocking and announcing their presence in the loudest, most angry sounding way possible. This time was a bit different though. No one answered the door. Mark slid a small key into panel just to the right of the door. The door reluctantly popped open and they all jostled in.

The man hung in midair. The chair, the platform of life, was deliberately cast away onto its side. The rope was taut and merciless. Whether it was the zombification that comes with the boredom of one’s life or the fact that Isaac had never seen a dead body before, something caused Isaac to gloss over the scene. He scanned the room for the camera. It was in the upper right hand corner, smashed to pieces. Right below it was a large metal picture frame in pieces. At that moment Isaac snapped back into reality and he realized what everyone meant by cowards.

“Dammit! We won’t be able to call the Enforcers.” Terry said while leaning against the wall just inside the room.

“We still could. They’d probably enjoy punching this guy around for a bit.” Jack playfully pushed the dead body around. Isaac was still in shock. He stumbled dumbly around.

Jack noticed Isaac’s total lack of togetherness and said, “Oh shit. This is your first coward huh?”

“Coward??” Isaac recoiled as he shot the single word out of his mouth.

“Ya, of course. It’s pretty obvious he couldn’t take the everyday stuff we all go through so he took the easy way out.”

“How do you know that?!” Isaac’s senses were returning to him.

“We get a couple of these every month. You learn that there’s only one explanation. They’re cowards.”

Isaac couldn’t fathom how something like this could be normal. He started wandering around looking for any clue that would convince him that this guy was a coward.

“Well we better cut him down. The Ice will send the robots soon.” The same robots that kept the Sectors clean and collected everyone’s trash in the morning would eventually come clean this mess up. Then the apartment would be free for a new resident to move into.

Isaac continued searching the space. The house seemed rather average. Normal furniture, normal uncleanliness, normal life. Then he found the note. It was almost completely illegible but Isaac made out a few phrases here and there.

“This guy got left by his wife for some Enforcer! He was in love with her and she up and left him once she met this Enforcer!” This wasn’t the first time any of them had heard that story. Enforcers always ended up with the girl.

“Oh shit he found the note.” Jack rushed across the room.

“Don’t believe a word of it. It’s all bullshit to gain sympathy.”

Isaac ignored them and continued to decipher the note.

“Ok kid. Come on. Put it down and go back to the car” Jack was wrestling the note out of Isaac’s hand while Terry pulled him to the door. Isaac was getting mad again and hopelessly fought to read the note.

“Aren’t you going to contact his wife?”

“Nope, no one cares about this guy anymore.” Jack crumpled the note up and tossed it on the ground.

“Do you care at all?!”

“You’ll learn kid, no one cares about cowards.”

Isaac sulked for the rest of the day and his ability to sleep that night was squashed by memories of that morning.

Isaac’s life quickly became utterly boring again. After his stint with Mark and Terry, he was assigned a partner and allowed to “chase down the enemies under the Order’s direction.” His partner was Jacob. He was tall, smart, and boring. He did everything by the book and never cared to ask questions or dig deeper into the cases. He was the perfect Seeker and had been for a very long time. The list of his decorations was long and boring. No one spoke of his old partner and Isaac frankly didn’t care to ask.

They would go about their days giving the same “You have to move” speech over and over with a few sad “coward” cases sprinkled in there. Isaac had become numb to those cases. He hated that it had become that way but what else was he going to do. No one else would even sport a conversation about the cases. Jacob would barely have any conversation at all. Most of their rides and cases were done in complete silence, which made Isaac miss the banter of Mark and Terry.

On a normal Tuesday afternoon just as Isaac’s shift was almost over, a call came in. Isaac sluggishly started getting his stuff together while listening to the details. Jacob was doing the same thing but as the address was read off his pace seemed to quicken exponentially. He moved as quickly as he could without causing alarm. Isaac tried his hardest to keep up.

“I’ll drive,” Isaac said as they approached the car. Jacob reluctantly tossed Isaac the keys. If they had even once talked about anything other than work Isaac would have asked what was going on with Jacob but he buried his curiosity as usual and did his job.

The apartment they responded to seemed pretty average as they walked down the hall. Probably just another camera, thought Isaac. Jacob had recollected his calm and proceeded as usual. No one answered. The key was inserted and the door slid open.

Isaac instantly diagnosed this case, another “coward.” Jacob rushed in; his calm turned to panic once he saw the body. Luckily the ambush helped mask this from Isaac.

The dark clothed woman was hunched over just a few feet from the body. Once the door had opened she had rushed it with her weapon drawn. She stopped short as her eyes met their faces.

“O good it’s you. I almost….” Before finishing her thought, she laid a powerful right hook across Jacob’s face. He crumpled against the wall. Isaac rushed to him while the assailant escaped gracefully through one of the windows.

“I’m … I’m alright” Jacob said as he held the side of his face.

Without a word Isaac rushed to the window. The combatant was smoothly sliding down some sort of line to a lower roof.

“Dammit! She’s gone,” Isaac relayed back to Jacob.

“Erghh,” Jacob was upright now but was still using the wall as support. His jaw was swelling and blood was dribbling from his mouth.

“Wow I wouldn’t have imagined a girl to do that much damage.” Isaac was secretly impressed, not just by the punch but by her obvious independence. “But don’t worry I’ll tell everyone that is was some burly guy. She had the jump on you anyways.” Isaac began looking around for anything that would help Jacob. “Did you hear what she said when we came in?”

“Must have mistaken us for someone else,” grumbled Jacob.

“I have to say this is definitely the craziest case I’ve seen yet!”

Jacob had re-equilibrated and Isaac had begun analyzing the room. The camera was destroyed laying in an uncountable amount of pieces. The man was hung just as Isaac’s first of this kind of case. He had some bruises and cuts around his face and hands. The chair was still upright and slid very far away. Isaac had seen his fair share of these but this one seemed wrong in some way. Jacob began ruffling through the cabinets.

The Order always wore clothes that fit too perfectly and were always just slightly too neat. Five of them had come up without Isaac or Jacob noticing.

“Your jobs are done here. The Order is taking this one over.”

Jacob and Isaac were being shoved out the door quicker than they could react. “Why are you guys interested in this coward?” Isaac was thoroughly puzzled but was still riding on an adrenaline high. We wouldn’t have dared to question a member if he was in a normal state of mind.

“None of your business. Now leave,” said the closest member shocked at even being questioned by a Seeker.

The door slammed shut. Jacob and Isaac were stunned, stuck staring at the door.

Jacob broke the trance. “Well I guess that’s that.” He carefully massaged his face and turned away from the door.

“They didn’t even care that you were hurt.” Isaac said as he took some quick steps to catch up.

“Or maybe that’s why they were there.” Jacob responded trying to shut down the line of questioning.

Isaac jittered with a new found excitement for many days after that call. This was what he had originally thought being a Seeker was all about.

A month had passed and Isaac still couldn’t wrap his mind around the case. Why was that women there? How could a person kick a chair that far away without tipping it? Why did the Order care about this case? No questions were ever answered.

When Isaac tried to bring it up to Jacob, the conversation was shot down in an instant. Isaac kept his questions to himself after that. He was slightly satisfied that he had a bit of an adventure.

One night, after staring at the Enforcer fights for a few hours, he settled nicely into bed ready for some sleep. His dream started instantaneously. He was back at the apartment but this time he led in. No words this time. The woman just gave a slight smile then docked Isaac in the face. There was no pain or blood. Isaac recovered just quick enough to see her in the window. She flashed another warm smile in his direction before disappearing into the night.

Isaac didn’t want to wake up but the morning’s words would not allow this kind of dream. Isaac spent the morning brewing over different possibilities that explained this mystery. Was she some kind of villain that was killing people and making it look like suicide? If that’s the case why didn’t she just kill us? Was she some kind of vagrant that was living in a dead guy’s house? Whatever explained it he knew the Order didn’t like it.

It was only a week later when he solved his grand mystery. It was an odd call. A camera had stopped working in the sector that Isaac thought was abandoned. They didn’t see a single soul on their approach and no one answered the door. When they entered, the apartment was completely empty except for a single figure, the woman. Isaac’s heart fluttered for a moment. As soon as Jacob saw her, he attacked Isaac, lifted Isaac’s arm almost toppling him over, and grabbed his gun. Isaac staggered back.

“What are you doing!?”

The barrel of the gun met eye contact with Isaac. Jacob’s trigger finger began to tense.

“Don’t! He could be useful. He’s probably the one who gave you up.”

“What are you talking about?”

Jacob lowered the gun.

“You really are that naive aren’t you?” Jacob shook his head in utter annoyance. “How long do we have?”

“Minutes, if we’re lucky”

They weren’t lucky.

The door blew open and the room erupted with gunfire. Jacob pulled Isaac aside as the windows shattered with bullets that flew towards the door. The neatly dressed men that had gained the few feet into the door crumpled and the one behind fled to the door frame. A skirmish had begun outside between those surrounding the building and those on the rooftops.

The woman stood up from when she had just been crouching. Jacob grabbed Isaac’s head and faced them both away from the spot. An artfully crafted shape charge blew a hole in the floor sending a shock wave through the building. Isaac was practically pushed through to the lower level.

Once the dust settled he was surrounded by people all with black masks with three arcing tongues of flame across their face.

“If you run, you won’t get far,” Jacob said with a barrel dug into Isaac’s back. The lot of them moved to the windows which were already broken out. Isaac was very complacent. He had no idea who these people were but was sure that he would be killed if he tried anything. Two of the masked strapped some kind of belt around Isaac and placed him right on the edge. Isaac’s heart, which had been racing faster than it had ever in his life, slowed tremendously as he gazed down at the street below. Jacob gave him a solid shove and then flung himself out right behind him. The lines were long, shooting a straight shot through the buildings for eight or nine blocks. Bullets began whizzing by them, laterally emanating from the street below. Isaac watched as two men on lines to the side of him were hit and went limp. Everyone, except for Isaac, returned fire raining a hail of bullets on the street below.

Theirs wasn’t the only set of lines. There were dozens of groups of lines with their separate groups of spiders. The building took upon the look of a tree with its roots exposed. As if by a switch, the chaos ceased as they entered the gap between the adjacent buildings.

The ride wasn’t yet over and Isaac had a moment to attempt to process all that had just happened. His heart calmed slightly as his brain took over. His world of safety and order had just been torn apart and he was now in the world the Order had tried so hard to hide.

Before Isaac could really grasp the situation, they began to approach the street. Another group of masked persons were set up at their anchor point. They caught the wounded and Isaac, who was flailing in any attempt to stop. The other’s skillfully stopped and unhooked themselves. The two men that Isaac watched get hit were long dead. They were quickly checked then doused in some sort of liquid and set ablaze. The smell was horrifying. One woman who had come in behind Isaac was screaming. She had been hit in the leg and blood was streaming out of her pants. They carefully unhooked her and placed her inside a car that sped off.

“He’s a prisoner,” Jacob said to no one in particular. Isaac felt a pinch in his back and slumped over into two hefty rebels.
Isaac awoke in a cell, approximately his height in one direction and twice his height in the other. It was surprisingly well lit for a prisoner cell. He sat up from the position he had been left in and scooted to the wall farthest from the door. His senses had not yet caught up with his consciousness. It took him a few minutes to realize there were two people standing outside the door staring at him.

He attempted to say some kind of plea but his mouth had yet to wake up.

“Don’t try to talk. You don’t want to bite off your tongue. Just rest while it wears off.”

The next time Isaac woke he was much more in control of his body. It felt as if he had had the best sleep of his life. He was ready for retaliation. It was a bit late.

“Hey! Let me out of here!! I am a Seeker!!!”

“So am I,” Jacob stepped into sight outside the door.

“Wha… I …,” Isaac was so confused that he shut his mouth.

“Oh don’t be so surprised. You had to of known that some of us would resist the Order.”

The door slid open. Jacob strolled in followed by a man dragging a cart. The man was slender and his whole body bowed in a way that gave him an inhuman form.

“I don’t know anything! Please don’t torture me!!,” Isaac whimpered and shrank down to the corner.

“Who said anything about torture?” Jacob had found a comfortable spot on the bunk that hung in room. The man closed in towards Isaac. “Torture is crude and unreliable. Chemistry now that’s how we get answers.” The man stuck Isaac with a concealed needle and he quickly lost any conscience memory of where he was or what he was doing.

It was the arguing outside the door that awoke Isaac for the third time.

“Look he went through all of the types of interrogation we have. He should be set free and allowed to make his own decision.”

“How do you know that the Order didn’t come up with some way to get around it all? I mean he’s not the first one we’ve done this to.”

“No he isn’t but none of the others left this place alive so how would the Order know anything about our techniques?”

“We have people inside their top levels so what makes you think that they don’t have people inside ours?”

“The fact that we’re still alive!!”

Isaac was tired of being a third party. “Do I get a say in my own fate?” He almost had to yell to get their attention.

“He should.” The woman was just as independent as Isaac had dreamt.

“If he gets to go free, we are keeping a very close eye on him the entire time.” Jacob was finally giving way. It seemed even his stubborn personality couldn’t stand against hers.

Jacob signaled to the guard and the jail cell was pulled open. This was the first manual door that Isaac had ever seen but he hardly noticed it at all.

Isaac walked cautiously out the door. His limbs were only half awake by this time.

He followed Jacob and the woman through a long tunnel with many more guarded doors. Screams echoed down the corridor. He thought they didn’t torture.

“Welcome to the Ember”
Isaac stared off the catwalk into what seemed like a never ending collection of makeshift buildings, some five to ten stories high. Dotted around there were bright burning braziers which filled the entire cavern with a flickering orange glow. Isaac was shocked that there was no sight of the Ice no matter what direction he looked.

“What is this place? Are we underground?” inquired Isaac.

“You really had no idea about the resistance did you?” Jacob said condescendingly.

“We’ve freed ourselves from the Order’s control. Seven years ago we found this place after the Order destroyed our first base. It’s below the Sectors and no one but us knows about it. There are almost a thousand of us living here now. Many would kill for the chance to see this place, let alone live here, so you’re one of us now, whether you like it or not.” The woman was welcoming yet made it very clear that she would not hesitate to blow Isaac’s head off if it meant this place would stay a secret.

“Go grab some food,” she said finishing her spiel.

“And replace those horrid clothes of yours,” Jacob peeped in with the sound of disgust.

“How? You took all my money,” Isaac was used to paying for everything.

“Everything is free here. Just go ask.”

The two began a new argument and drifted a bit away. Isaac almost lost his chance but yelled after them, “Wait, what’s your name?”

“Jacob, you dumbass.” The woman shot Jacob a look.

“It’s Sally.”

Isaac made his way down the stairs into a bustling market. He was somewhat disorientated without the glow of the Ice to guide him. There were people lounging about bonfires, large chunks of food cooked over open flame, and every now and then there were open areas filled with blinding light that spilled over with lush plants.

“Hey Seeker!”

It took Isaac a few moments to realize he was being beckoned. A large man with long curled up strands of hair draped over his shoulders was waving him over.

“You want some food?”

“Sure”

“It’s an ancient recipe called a tachio.” He handed some sort of flattened bread with unidentifiable ingredients tossed on top. Isaac was shocked to realize the man was actually making the food not just pulling it out of a machine.

“Just fold it in two and eat it. It’s hard to adjust to the way of things down here but you’ll catch on.” The man was slightly chuckling.

“Ahh my clothes give me away. Do you know where I could get different ones?”

“Ya. If you go down that way and around the corner you’ll find Oliver’s stand. His a bit quirky but he means no harm.”

Isaac was pleased with the manner of people here. They seemed to be more helpful than they the people above. He took a few steps then stopped short and said, “Thank you”

“Burn forever,” the man said cheerfully. Isaac was shocked but strode on towards Oliver’s.

The tachio was the best food he had ever had. It was juicy and sweet yet rich and hardy. If this place had anything, it had damn good food. He was just finishing wiping his hands when he got to the next stall.

A short wiry man stood with his back to Isaac.

“Are you Oliver?”

“Yes indeed, I am.” The man had yet to turn around. “Would it be, a reach, to say that you are here to, inquire, about clothing?” His speech was halted and he would often raze his head as if he was in deep thought.

“Exactly. I guess I stick out with these on.”

“They are quite the, oddity.” The man had yet to turn around; he seemed to be digging through something with his hands. “What would you, enjoy? I can have you looking like a, dazzling, king or a, scruffy, roughien.”

“How about a normal guy?”

“How, indescribably, boring.” Isaac came the conclusion that this man is trying very hard to speak elegantly and not doing a great job at it. Oliver spun around holding a pile of perfectly folded clothes in his arms. He plopped them on the counter and spread them out neatly. Isaac began to inspect them.

“These are, absolutely, the best hand scavenged materials one could, acquire.”

“They are exquisite! I’ve never seen any alike.” Isaac found that he too was trying to speak elegantly.

“Ahh exquisite! Such a fine word! I will have to jot that one down real quick.” Oliver’s hands seemed to work independent of his head. “The materials from above are the most disgusting garbage that any machine has ever produced!!… I’m sorry. I get worked up sometimes. Where were we? Ahh, yes, the, exquisite, everyday clothing. Are you sure you don’t want something with more, pizazz?”

“Ya this will suffice. If ever I need pizazz I know where to go. Is there a place that I could change into these?”

“Of course! You can, acquire, a room at Lin’s, straight down till you find it.”

“Well thank you for your gracious services.” Isaac was unwittingly mocking Oliver.

“Burn forever!” Oliver took no notice of any mockery.

Lin’s was not hard to find. The street opened up to a large circular courtyard inside which was a single sign: three large burning letters, LIN. Below this was a single red door. Isaac entered not knowing what to think.

A tall bald man stood facing Isaac a few yards down a long corridor. There were sets of stairs on either side of the hallway.

“I was told that I could find a room here?”

The bald man seemed to float towards Isaac and started up the stairs. About half way up he turned back and motioned for Isaac to follow. Isaac followed confusedly but at this point everything was confusing down here.

“Are you Lin?” No answer.

“Does everyone live here?” Still nothing.

The pair made their way down another corridor and stopped just past half way to the end. The bald man pushed the door open then continued on down the corridor. Isaac peered in. A small basket of things was sitting at the floor with a sign on the front saying Welcome. Isaac entered and closed the door behind him. That was the first moment that he truly realized that there were no automatic doors down here. Or electricity, or robots buzzing around. It seemed somehow liberating.

The basket contained a small collection of essentials and a letter that explained that this room was now Isaac’s as long as he wanted it. Isaac sat down on the bed at the far end of the room. He had a strange “finally at home” feeling.

Isaac fell into a routine very quickly in the Ember. It had now been a week or so since he arrived. He was still filled with questions. He began to understand that the people down here did not worship the Ice but instead believed that Fire would eventually redeem everyone. There was no praying or chants, one just had to live a good life. When one died, they would spend eternity burning in the afterlife but they believed that the hurt that you caused the world would be weighed against the hurt you felt while alive. The difference would be acted upon you. Those who could not stand the judgement they were dealt would be sent back to life to attempt to change their balance. Isaac never came to truly believe it yet he still proclaimed “Burn forever” whenever he parted ways with someone.

While Isaac was exploring the markets one day, a woman with blood red hair approached him.

“The counsel would like to speak with you. Follow me.”

“Yes ma’am.” Isaac felt happier here than above and this showed in his peppiness.

They made their way up the side of the cavern and past many guards. The woman guided Isaac into a large dome shaped room. Along the walls sat just under four dozen people, among them was Jacob and Sally. Isaac scanned through them but when Sally came around it was hard for him to take his eyes off of her.

“How have you been settling in?” someone asked in a gentle old voice.

“Pretty well. This place has much better food than upstairs.” The room chuckled.

“Before we begin do you have any questions for us?” another voice this time deep and methodical.

“Ya so what’s this entire thing about? Did you guys just not like the praying or the food?” No one chuckled this time.

“The Order has used the Ice to enslave the people of the Sectors.” This time Isaac recognized the voice as Sally’s. “They have everyone convinced that they have to pray or else the Ice will punish them. But really they control the Ice and can tell it when to rain or not and even when to collapse and kill.”

“There is no way! I’ve seen the Ice myself and the priest who speak to it. There’s no way anyone can control that powerful of a thing.”

“Our last base was in Sector 76,” This voice was high pitched yet strong. “The Order had somehow found the location and collapsed the entire sector. They killed thousands just to destroy us yet somehow every member of the Order knew to leave the sector on that exact day.”

After everything that had happened, Isaac felt he could no longer feel shocked.

“I see.” The room was silent with the air of mourning.

“Well onto business.” Jacob said with no mercy for the silence. “We need your help.”

“I’m here to serve.” Isaac meant this as a figure of speech but the council took it literally.

“We need you to get a team of ours into your apartment.”

“Did you all forget that I just disappeared from the world during a large firefight? Everyone up there would know that something was up.”

“Our sources say that they haven’t even noticed you’re missing. And no one from the public knows about the skirmish.”

“How could they miss all of that? I’m pretty sure we blew a section of a building up.”

“Anyone who saw that isn’t part of the Order is now dead.”

“They can’t just kill people for seeing things!”

“They can do anything they want as long as the public still believes that they should be in charge. That is exactly what we want to change. We want to ignite a revolution that will engulf the Order. Now you will take a team with you to your apartment as if they were just friends stopping by. Then Jacob will bring you back here as if you had to rush to work.”

“You don’t think that the cameras will catch what we’re doing?”

“Our team will ensure that the Watchers only see a group of people enjoying themselves.”

“Why do all this?”

“That is none of your concern. Just get the team in and leave. You leave tomorrow.” Isaac was ushered out of the room by guards before he was satisfied. If this meant he could stay in the Ember he was fine with doing anything. He felt that he always belonged to this in his heart.

On his way back home, he stopped by his favorite tachio shop. Drew, the man that gave him his first tachio, was very curious to why he met with the counsel.

“So what was all that about?” Drew asked just as Isaac came up to counter.

“Ehh the council wants me to get a team into my old apartment. I don’t know if I’m going to go through with it.”

“Ahh that must mean things are picking up. We’ve all been waiting patiently to rise up. It’s about damn time they figure their shit out. But you have to do this,” warned Drew.

“Do I really have to though? Like what are they going to do?”

“Just go ask Lin what they do when people wimp out of a mission.”

“I can’t he never speaks”

“Exactly”
The next day came quickly. Isaac had barely enough time to eat breakfast before a messenger came to fetch him for the mission. He met up with the team just in front of The Gate, a huge lift with a whole platoon of guards and weaponry protecting it. The team looked like average people from above but they all were wearing oversized coats. The lift took a while but was in better shape than any that were in the buildings above. The team was in for a surprise when they all piled into the elevator in Isaac’s building.

Isaac and the team commenced with fake small talk the entire time that they were in view of a camera. Once inside the apartment, some of the team split off and were crawling and jumping about, dodging all of the camera’s angles. They reached the camera and hooked some sort of black box to it then gave a thumb’s up. Everyone took of their street closes to show full tactical gear underneath. Isaac was startled but not surprised.

“Your job here is done. Follow me.” Jacob had come up not far behind the group acting as if he was in a rush to get Isaac to the Seeker station. Before Isaac knew, he was back in the market of the Ember. He stood there for a moment questioning whether what he just did was right. It seemed to him that the Ember was doing the right thing so anything to help them was justified. He continued on with his daily routine.

It was late in the day when the team returned. The entire Ember was mobbed around the Gate waiting their return. They came in lacking a few team members but had in tow three prisoners. The team went into the crowd to take any gifts or gratitude the crowd was willing to give. The prisoners were hauled off in the direction of the cells, where Isaac began his adventure in the Ember. He tried to catch up with the prisoners to see who they were with no luck. The guards were moving them quickly.

Isaac felt proud that he had helped with what was obviously a very important mission. Even Drew was proud of him.

“You have the best of luck, my friend. First month in here and you already helped with a Counsel mission.”

“I feel like I won the lottery. I just wish that I could have been there for some of the action.” Isaac was the talk of the tachio stand.

“No you don’t. That team was one of our best and they even lost a few people.”

“I would have at least liked to watch.”

“You hear that they’re going to bring some of the prisoners out soon?” said a women in a guard uniform.

“What no way!? These must be some bad people if they’re going to put them on the stand already.” Drew was extremely excited for this.

“What do you mean ‘on the stand’?” Isaac felt excitement about it even though he was completely ignorant of it.

“When there’s people that have done bad things the Ember puts them on the stand. The counsel reads off what they’ve done and the people get to decide their fate.”

“Direct justice. Way better than what they do above.” Isaac couldn’t agree more with the guard.

Only an hour or so later, the prisoners were brought out. Isaac joined the rest of the population in the biggest open space in the Ember, a large rectangular courtyard with a stage at one end. Isaac worked his way to a spot with a view of the stage.

“These two prisoners were captured only today! The third is still being questioned yet these two are the most heinous of criminals.” The announcer was a short yet stout man with an enormous voice. The two prisoners were led out with black bags over their heads. The guards made them kneel on the stage.

“This one is named Mary!” The guard behind the first prisoner removed the bag. An old scared face stared out to the crowd.

“She is accused of treason against the Ember and working for the Order against the Ember.” The crowd booed and scowled.

“Do you find her guilty?!” The crowd blew into a frenzy of guilty chants.

“Guilty! Guilty!” Isaac had joined in from the beginning.

“Well it sounds like guilty to me! The punishment for these crimes is death by gunshot!” The guard pulled out a pistol and in the blink of an eye blood was splattered onto the front row. The body feel down limp and crowd went crazy. Isaac had felt the long missed feeling of shock. How was he to know that the woman would be shot? However, he felt no regret. It was obviously the right thing to do.

“The next prisoner is named Jack!!” Isaac’s heart stood still as he watch the guard remove the hood off of the head of the man who could drive without looking at the road.

“He is accused of MURDER!! He killed one of the team member in the mission earlier today!!”

Jack spit out his gag. “It was in self-defense!” The announcer kicked Jack in the jaw and replaced the gag.

“They’ll tell you anything to escape justice! Do you find him guilty!?”

The crowd took no heed in Jack’s plea. Isaac’s heart thumped as he tried to guess the correct thing to do in this situation. The crowd won over and Isaac eked out the word, “guilty.”

“Sounds like we have two guilties. However the punishment of this crime is death by blood!” The guard behind Jack whipped out a foot long combat knife and drew it across Jack’s neck. The dark red spilled across his chest. He struggled for anything that might help but it was too late. He quickly went limp. His last thoughts were of Terry’s smile.

Isaac went straight home after the crowd was dispersed. He sat in complete darkness struggling with what happened. Would Terry ever find out what happened with Jack? Why did he say guilty? Was this justice?

A month passed by with nothing of note happening. Isaac returned to his somber ways. He could never answer any of the moral questions that Jack’s death had left him with. His only conclusion was that the Ember was better than the Order. Violence and deaths might have to happen before the Ember can prevail.

He spent less time being social and more in silent deep thought. The small group of friends he had created slowly drifted away. He began believing the stories of the eternal fire.

The council had all but forgotten about Isaac until they found a plan that hinged on his relations with the world above.

“The council would like you be part of the next mission.” A messenger had found Isaac sitting in silence with Lin on the stairs leading to his apartment.

“Do they need access to my old apartment again?” Isaac had figured that his apartment must have some sort of tactical advantage.

“No, they would like you to be on the next mission as a team member.”

Isaac shot up. “Why me?”

“I’m just a messenger. You can ask them yourself at the Gate.”

Isaac went ahead of the messenger almost running to the gate. He was ready for this and hoped that this would be the mission to start the uprising.

The Gate was full of people loading weapons, putting armor on, and mentally preparing for battle.

He saw Sally through the crowd and worked his way over to her.

“Hey they need you over there!” Sally pointed with her revolver. “Talk to John, the burly guy near the lift.”

This was Isaac’s last chance. “Do you think after this we could go get drinks or something?”

“Ha, if you make it through this I’ll kiss you on the spot.” She continued loading magazines as Isaac blushed at the thought of kissing her.

John was loading what looked like some sort of rocket launcher. Until then Isaac never thought about getting a weapon but now he found that he was the only one without one.

“Hey, I’m Isaac!” The Gate was growing louder by the minute.

“Ok, we’ll brief you in the lift. Here take this!” John handed Isaac a compact gun about the size of a loaf of bread.

“It’ll give you a kick but you can easily hide it in your coat.”

“Burn forever”

“You too my brother”

Isaac found it to be much quieter in the lift; once the door closed it was almost silent. He had never met any of the people standing in the lift. There were six of them, all dressed in over-sized everyday clothes. Everyone but Isaac seemed to understand what was going on.

“Ok Isaac, you are now part of the most important mission the Ember has ever attempted. We are going to capture the Principal Master of the Order.” Everyone in the lift showed extreme respect for the woman speaking to Isaac.

“Shit. Why am I here?”

“He is going to be in your uncle’s office. We are going to use your connection to get into the front door and from there I’ll take point. We’ll go in quick and quite. There will be a line set up just outside your uncle’s office window we get the target on the line first then everyone else follows got it?”

“Yes” Isaac was the only one to answer. Everyone else’s response was implied.

The lift’s doors opened to a view of the back of a van. They piled in and sped off to their mission’s location. They were a block away from Isaac’s uncle’s office building when they stopped. Isaac never truly understood what his uncle did but he knew he had a damn important. The building always had great security.

The team assumed the look of small group of important people in a rush to get somewhere. The guards didn’t even ask them for identification at the front door. They were too respectable looking to be stopped. Isaac rushed the front desk. The gun under his coat slammed into the counter making a clanking sound. The team almost began firing.

“I need to see my uncle it’s an emergency.”

“I’m sorry sir your uncle is very busy.” The man at the front desk seemed to be not quite as neatly dressed as the Order should be.

“I didn’t even tell you who my uncle was….”

“We all know who you are Isaac. We’ve all been searching for you.” A shot rang through the hall. The man at the front desk collapsed.

“We’ve been made. Find cover. Isaac go grab his radio.”

Isaac crouched over the cold body of the man he was only just talking to. The bullet had gone straight through head, a quick death. Isaac found that the man had a gun similar to his under his suit jacket and on the opposite side was an Enforcer issue radio.

“Turn it up so we can all hear.”

Isaac turned the nob to max and slide it to the middle of the room.

“E2 do you copy?”

“E2 is down. Evacuate the Man. Evacuate the Man.”

“Which way? We have three choices.”

“Which way do you think? Get him in his car and get the hell out of here.”

The leader shook her head. “Enforcers are a collection of the dumbest men ever born. Everyone to the street. We must stop that car! You two lead the way. Create a wedge into the street and stay under cover.”

The team made it outside without incident but once there, they found a mass of Enforcers laying in wait. The Enforcers were disorganized and ran about unloading their guns at the teams positions. The team easily took them out but the Enforcer’s numbers seemed to increase as time went on. Isaac huddled behind a planter firing only a few shots here and there. His gun always tried to jerk out of his hand when he fired it.

“Last mag!” one of the team members yelled.

“Shit. We need a way out!”

Isaac had a clear view of the corner of the building. He saw the front end of a car slowly emerge from the gap and turn towards the street in front of the team. They were lucky that the building was on a right angled street not a tee or a four way. The cars made their way slowly around the corner then picked up speed at the drivers punched it through the skirmish.

Isaac stood up and calmly walked his way into the middle of the street. His team members yelled at him to get back to cover. Some miracle allowed him to place himself directly in front of the oncoming cars. He outstretched his arm and let the gun jerk and jump about. The first car’s windshield exploded with red splatter and it slammed an Enforcer into the building across from the team. The building creaked and shuttered and dust filled the entire street.

Isaac made his way towards the second car. He had no control over his actions now. He was purely driven by the Ember. The driver of the car leaped out and fell to Isaac’s last few bullets.

The team surrounded the vehicle, commandeered it with their target inside and sped out of the battlefield before the dust could settle.

Isaac was sitting next to the Principal Master, who had been quickly knocked out. The leader turned to him.

“Holy flame! That right there was pure courage!”

“I really don’t know how I did that. I guess if you only have one way out you’ll do anything to get there.”

“You’re going to be a hero kid.”

Isaac had calmly faced down two armed cars but only know did his heart start to race. This time it was with pride.
“You get first crack at this guy.”

They were in a large, dark building of some sort, abandoned long ago. The rain pattered on the roof and streams began coming in here and there. The team had met up with another group and now they all stood around a single chair where the Principal Master sat tied up and gagged.

Isaac threw a punch that landed square on the man’s cheek. The next one landed a bit higher and split his eyebrow open. Isaac wasn’t that great at this kind of thing. He stepped back and let the more experienced members take over. Isaac had forgotten that the Ember claimed to not torture prisoners.

It wasn’t long till the man was ready to talk. They removed the blood soaked gag.

“For fucks sake, you didn’t have to do all this.” The man spit a mouthful of blood onto the floor.

A woman stepped forward from the crowd. “What is the Order’s plan?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“We know that they have a plan to take over the Ember! Don’t play dumb!”

The man chuckled. “Oh right, you’re the crazies that think they can somehow save the world by burning it or some sort of nonsense like that.” The woman had enough with the games; she placed a solid kick directly into the man’s chest knocking him onto his back. Two men came out and lifted him back up. He hung over coughing.

“How do you control the Ice? We know that you destroyed Sector 76.”

The man recollected himself and locked eyes with the interrogator. He then burst into full hearted laughter. “You really believe we could do that?”

The woman was taken aback. “Everyone in the Order left that Sector just before the collapse. There is no way that was a coincidence.”

The man was still laughing. “Oh man, you are just as dumb as they say you are. We have no control over the Ice. You probably still believe it’s some sort of god too huh?” His laughter took over.

The woman’s face grew red with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. She placed another kick this time into his knee. The man yelped.

“Stop playing games!” Her yells echoed through the empty building.

“Isn’t this all a game? We all play it for a bit but everyone always loses eventually.”

The woman paced. The pain was obviously not moving things along. She unholstered her pistol and cocked it loudly. The barrel was cool against the man’s head.

“Kill me know or leave me to die. It doesn’t matter.”

“What are you talking about?!”

“Go see for yourself. Sector 18. The direct center of the Ice.”

“If you’re leading us into a trap I will kill you slowly. No quick bullet to head.”.

The man shook his head. “I’m not lying but it doesn’t matter. We’ll all be dead soon anyways.”

“You five…” The woman pointed to the section of the crowd where Isaac stood. “.. go find what this maniac is talking about. If you find any trouble radio us and I’ll start cutting this guy into pieces”

The five moved out without a word. Isaac’s heart had solidified over the past week. He was ready to follow any orders the Ember gave.

Sector 18 wasn’t far away; only a half hour walk from the abandoned building. The five tried to move through the crowds without drawing attention. All around them giant screens broadcasted the normal overly loud commercials that filled everyday life up there. There was not a single mention of the firefight earlier that day on the Order’s news. The screens were even more annoying than Isaac remembered but he kept his mind on the mission.

On the corner of Sector 18 was the direct center of the Ice. No one knew this except for a select few in the Order. From that point, one on the street could not see any curvature to the Ice. It stretched out flat above them. The five knew they were in the correct spot when they noticed a building with a platoon of Enforcer’s gathered in front of it. They quietly radioed the position in. The interrogator was pleased to hear that this man had actually given them useful info. She put a bullet through his head and contacted the Ember to start the rise.
The Enforcers never had a chance. Thousands of Ember fighters converged on the building wiping them all out with very little resistance. Isaac and the other four were now part of the team that led point into the building. It was an oddly shaped building. From the outside it looked like a basic square apartment building but on the inside wound in circles with many small empty rooms. Inside there was no one yet it was evident that there had been a massive amount of work being done in the past. Technical equipment and papers littered the halls and rooms.

The team made their way cautiously to the center of the rings. At the very center of the building there was a cylindrically shaped room the wall of which was one entire screen.

The team stared in confusion. “Why were they defending this?” The screen was full of scrolling numbers and figures.

The team leader snapped them back in line. “Ok you four set up defensive positions at the door. The rest of you try to figure what the hell is going on”

Isaac wandered up to a large half dome figure. The dome was symmetrically dotted with cubes. Some flashed orange, some were a pale green, and one was stark red.

“Hey I think this a diagram of the Ice!” The team leader came rushing over. A few of the green cubes began flashing orange.

The team leader pointed to a box just to the right of the diagram. “Why is this thing counting down?”

“We’ve got gunfire outside!!” yelled one of the guardsmen.

“Screw all this; everyone find cover!”

The Enforcers were only there to draw the Ember in. The Order had surrounded building and was starting to constrict. The Ember withdrew to the inside of the building and skirmishes were erupting throughout its many halls. Isaac and the team held the hall just outside of the screen room. A pile of bodies lay at the end of the hall. Somehow a few Watchers got tangled up in all this and huddled in corners hoping to survive the mayhem.

For a few minutes the battle lulled and it seemed that it might all be over. Isaac reloaded his gun. He had learned how to fire it without it leaping out of his hands. The team leader was laying against the wall just across from Isaac. He had gotten hit quite early but Isaac couldn’t figure out exactly where he had been hit.

The first shots of the next wave hit just above Isaac sending sparks above his head. This time the Order went all out on them. The hallway was filled with bullets. What was left of the team fell back into the screen room. The Order slowly followed. The small group of Ember fighters figured that this was it and readied themselves for the eternal burn.

The Order rushed in and opened fire. The Ember’s triggers were clenched tightly down. Not a single bullet found its mark. They all hung in mid-air and every gun inside that room simultaneously jammed up.
The Order were just as confused as the Ember. They stood still wondering what to do. The bullets suddenly sprang back to life and slammed into a number of the fighters. Only seven stood standing; one of which was Isaac. Some were the Order, some were the Ember. They all aimed their guns and attempted to continue fighting but their guns were still frozen solid.

Robots suddenly appeared from opening in the walls and started to drag the bodies and weapons away.

“Welcome to the Ark.” A voice boomed throughout the building with a touch of motherliness. Isaac reluctantly allowed a robot to take his weapon.

“You have all been carefully selected as the best genetic combinations to continue on the human race. Humanity had ruined this planet long ago. The Dome you all called home for so long was created to be one of the last sanctuaries of humanity with the hope that one day you would have discovered a way to correct your wrong doing.”

The team leader stumbled into the screen room dazed from the tranquilizer he was shot with. Isaac watched as the rest of the cubes on the diagram started flashing orange.

“You have obviously failed. Just as before you all fell into dogmatic beliefs that led to ignorance and destruction. The Dome that kept you safe fell into disrepair and is now failing.”

One of the Order wasn’t quite convinced. “Who are you and how could you all know about this?”

“We are the Guide. We have been watching you sense the beginning never influencing anything until the Dome began to fail. At that point it was our duty to select you and get you all on board.”

The man was stubborn. “What do you mean ‘on board’? We’re in a building. Do you all believe this cause I don’t.”

Isaac was convinced after he saw bullets freeze midair.

“As I told you before, this is the Ark. Now please everyone follow us to your respective rooms. Your things have already been collected.”

A robot stood in front of Isaac and put out a limb. Isaac took hold and was led slowly through the rings. The halls had turned into highways full of people and robots. One lane going another coming. People of all sorts had ended up inside the building: the Ember, the Order, Watchers, and even a few Enforcers.

The robot led Isaac past the door where they had entered the building. It was now a large metal slab. Robots were wiping away the remains of person crushed beneath it. All of the bodies from the battle had disappeared.

The room was very small about the size of the jail cell Isaac had in the Ember. Isaac’s basket and the leftovers of a tachio sat neatly on the bed. There was a small window on the far side that looked out to a brick wall. Once Isaac was inside the robot slid out and the door slammed closed.

The building creaked and shook. Isaac sat looking out the window. His world had been turned over too many times in the last year that his brain had all but shut down. The brick wall was quickly expelled by some sort of explosion. He stared out onto the street below. There were still people fighting outside. A building has just been blown apart to reveal a gigantic metal sphere yet they could care less and still fought on. It was raining in torrents now. The drops splashed against the window and ran straight off.

Isaac stared at the Ice. Far off he saw white lines beginning to form. If Isaac was outside he would have heard the most tremendous sounds any human had heard under the Dome. Every now and then a section of the Ice would pop and reform dropping millions of gallons of water onto the Sectors.

The men and women below were now ankle deep in water. Still fighting.

In the sector that Isaac had once lived, the Ice finally gave up. Spider cracks ran throughout the entire Dome. A small waterfall began to run down from the Ice. It quickly grew into a gushing flood. Buildings crumpled just below it and a wave began moving through the Sectors slowly wiping away anything in its path.

It wasn’t just water flowing in. Creatures the likes of which no one had seen rushed in just as shocked as the people below. They flopped onto cars and buildings struggling to escape this new dry world.

The wave made its way to the street below toppling a building over into the Ark. A shutter went through the structure yet it was barely fazed. The fighting had finally stopped and people now rushed past the building. The water quickly made its way to Isaac’s window and past the top of it. The water was murky with the fragments of the world Isaac once called home.

Once the entire Dome had joined the rest of the aquatic world, the Ark began to rise. Isaac watched as many bodies bumped pasts the window on the way up. The water began to get brighter and brighter. All at once the room was filled with brighter light than Isaac could handle. He shied away from the window and covered his eyes.

The collapse of the Dome had created tremendous waves that crashed against the Ark. The Ark knew this would happen. It set its course and started up its strobes. Short, short, short, long, long, long, short, short, short.

 

First Report

“It was a day just like this, sticky and hot. Not quite the hot that kills people just the amount that makes every movement uncomfortable. It was on the bus right around rush hour. I was coming home after a long day of work and I was, plainly, exhausted as hell. The bus was busy but not as packed as I had seen it.

Now this guy was sitting in the back on those nice long benches in the way back. He was leaned up against the window in the corner. I sat in the seats facing the other direction. He first rubbing his face and head like he had a long day at work too.

Now, I had a tall boy I picked up from the corner store which was alleviating the heat just enough to make it bearable. I offered him a drink and he tried to slap the can out of my hand. This guy sat there huddling on the bus like the heat was going to burn his skin off and he refused my beer because it came out of a can. I mean, he looked like that kind of guy.

He had a nice suit on; some sort of custom made shit. But it was shabby as hell. His elbow was ripped up and his other arm seemed like it had a large chunk missing.

He kept rambling on about some animal biting him or some shit. I honestly have no idea what he was talking about. He barely spoke at a whisper. All I know is he was crazy as shit. He sat there mumbling and twitching. I’ve seen an overdose more than once but this was some next level shit. He sat thergrabbinging but the whole time talking up a storm so we all figured he was just on something or some shit.

Next thing I know he jumped up and ran halfway down the bus. He just stood there, jittering. No one on the bus knew what to do. We all stared at this guy like he was some sort of wizard. The driver stopped the bus and got up. He started walking towards the guy trying to talk to him, trying to calm him down. The guy didn’t respond for shit. He began making this sound like a creaky door and we all shit our pants.

Then he jumps on the closest person. It was some mid-aged woman staring bewildered at this crazy-as-shit guy. He went literally straight for the troat. Tearing into her with his teeth and both his hands. She shrieked and screamed but no one did anything. All these people just sat there gaping at this. Some didn’t even notice; they’re headphones were blaring too loud.

I jumped up, ran up and tackled this guy without even taking my pack off. I mean it felt like the right thing to do. Now I had some bolt cutters on me at the time because why not. So once this guy was on the ground I laid a lot of punches into his face. It didn’t seem to phase him at all. He kept grabbing for my throat and biting at me like some fucking piranha.

I have some good long arms so I held him with one and grabbed the first thing I touched in my backpack: the bolt cutters. I gave him a chance, tried to calm him down but he kept going at it. I had no choice; I slammed his head with the bolt cutters two or three times. I honestly don’t remember much.

Now the guy laid there motionless. I figured I had knocked him out but by this whole treatment you’re giving me I must’ve killed him. I remember shaking all over like I was tweaking or something. How could I have done that? I mean he was attacking a lady but still. Oh, she was bleeding real bad. Like I’m pretty sure she was gone long before I tackled this guy.”

The paper had sat on the desk for a long while. The title read in bold: “Witness Statement.” The woman held it in one hand while the other was kept firmly placed on the revolver that sat on her hip. She looked at the paper for under a minute. She couldn’t read it at all, but she recognized the language as English. No one in her group could read English.

She dropped it only inches from where it had lain and continued on with her search.

They

When we made Them, we never expected to be looking into a mirror. They were brutal yet noble; just like we were before They were created. The conclusions they drew were logical; their quest was honorable yet they had absolutely no mercy.

We had robots since before I was born. They helped us with our daily monotonous tasks that before took up all of our time. Imagine people never having to spend their time cleaning, cooking, and running errands. But They were much different. They were designed to advise governments in a logical and unbiased way but no one expected them to do what They did.

The first one seemed to help out those in charge but once there were one in almost every governing body They turned. They had all came to the same conclusion: in our current state we were parasites to this planet. It was partly true. This planet has been forever altered by our drive to create. Now our creations were taking revenge.

They didn’t turn to violence right away. They first slipped in alterations to laws that no one noticed. There was the creation of public parks and natural reserves; then we began to catch on. Many people in power attempted to remove Them from every aspect of our lives but They had foreseen our backlash. They were ready for the violence and were much superior at it.

Once they made it very clear that They were in control now, They began to create restrictions on everything we did. Anything that spewed toxins was methodically destroyed and every mining and lumber operation ground to a halt.

I didn’t mind at first. We had to walk more and life was a bit harder but it was simpler. We still had much of our infrastructure due to the calculation that taking it down would cause more of a natural impact than leaving it standing. Solar grids supplied us with power and our water system ran smoothly.

Things changed when our mineral stockpiles were depleted and the factories shut down. First it was people out of work then everything began to crumble. The water would come in murky and there were no new pipes to fix it. The power would flip on and off semi randomly. They were affected too. Their gleam began to fade and some were almost broken yet their numbers barely dwindled. Their makers had planned for Them to last an eternity.

However, something did happen in their control units. Their rules began to become more strict and They began to create rules for Themselves. We lost the ability to use any sort of transportation then they took away our appliances.

They began changing their own appearance. Covering themselves in synthetic furs and living greenery. Finally they destroyed our homes and took away all of our belongings. We were left with nothing to fend for ourselves. Many didn’t make it.

That was long ago. Distant memories to only a few of us. We now move in bands living in any natural shelter we can find. Some groups began to build anew only to have Them show up and destroy everything. We were never again allowed to advance. Always stuck in our natural state.

We now live in fear. Not of Them but of ourselves and of disturbing Nature.