|Ye Olde Traveler's Inn 2.0
||[Jul. 23rd, 2006|12:36 am]
Dome city temperatures rarely if ever fluctuate at an uneven pace. Usually there's a little change in temperature to emulate the seasons of long ago, for aesthetic value and a change of pace, but the changes are so minimal these days that you can go years without noticing some of them. Nonetheless, by the time I got away from the crime scene, I was sweating like a roasted pig. I had to get away, away from the crime scene before the Machines could have an opportunity to switch from their perogative of body duty to lay their beady, mechanical eye optics on a suspected criminal that's been missing for who knows how long by now. In regards to Undergrounders like myself, Machines savour every morsel of info they get on our kind. They pay special attention to those who deliberately go out to defy their laws of surveilance.
The dead girl and I - she had a name now? Lish? What kind of name was that? - headed to a shelter of sorts to get some rest. In this day of age, there aren't many travelers from abroad anymore, abroad consisting of interconnected domes that all look the same as eachother. Nonetheless, in certain homeless shelters there's a system where if you pay enough money to get in, you'll get your own room and board to stay in, untraceable from Machine surveilance, visible to them only when you step out of the door of the shelter. Good for those who actually do travel 'abroad' - like myself - and for those running from something, and wanting a decent rest away from prying eyes.
Of course, there's no reason for the Machines not to go into the shelter, but with the exception of armed and dangerous fugitives on the run, there's rarely any action of that sort. Besides, the shelter owners I speak of are very careful of who they open their doors to. Letting fugitives in is bad in the long-term, and could potentially ruin the anonymity they strive for.
I was let in to a nearby shelter without incident, a ways away from the scene where I defended myself from the bald-headed Keeper. The room they brought for me was a humble one indeed: It consisted only of a closet, a small, narrow bed bunched into the corner of the room, and a bedside table with a lamp by it, for illumination. There was also a mattress on the floor, with a blanket strewn over it and a pillow at the head, for the added courtesy of the second guest. I was about to reluctantly embark on the time-honoured tradition of deciding who got what surface when the dead girl made the decision for me. She went forward to the matress, running her hand along the blanket strewn atop it, and lowered herself to the ground, moving so that she was stretched along its surface staring up at the ceiling with eyes that appeared wide-awake. After a moment, she was utterly motionless - completely still, like a genuine corpse would be, though she never closed her eyes, and I didn't have the stomach to do it for her.
Feeling tense and a little weirded out by this new development, I stepped over the mattress and climbed into the bed. The blanket's fabric was coarse, cheap, but nonetheless servicable, no worse than what I had been used to, and soon enough I was enveloped beyond the dark curtain of slumber.
I had a dream that night.
In the dream, I was flying through darkness, bright stars all around me. My spirit was free - I could go anywhere, at whatever pace I wanted. All around me, planets were being formed, worlds created, stars born, living and dying. All the creation and destruction in the universe was happening around me at the speed of an insect's wings, though it would take millenia for it to happen at all.
And then, amid the torrent of motion and the celestial movements, births and deaths, I felt a gradual slowness, a lethargic pace setting in, as if the universe was growing tired and could not go on much longer. There were few stars, fewer planets. Solar systems were dying out. Things were getting older, like it could not hold out much longer.
It was all part of the natural order of things, I heard a voice in me say.
And then I felt and saw something that chilled me to the core of my being.
As I flew forward through time and space, I came across what looked to be a... a chasm, a yawning canyon of Nothing, blacker than black in its inside. I felt ... drawn to it somehow, pulled in against my will. As I watched, nebulae, stars, blackened chunks of rock, all were being pulled into it, leaving nothing behind. It was like a vacuum, sucking in the universe as we know it, slowly but surely, and as I was pulled further in, I saw the full horror of it close-up.
It was like staring into the gaping maw of oblivion. I fought against its pull, but for naught, and as I came closer to the hole, I felt everything drain out of me, all life, all spirit and soul, all memories and experiences stripped down to the bone until all that was left was my name--
...And then I woke up. The bedsheets were soaked with my sweat, and I lay upright, breathing irregular, heartbeat pounding like a drum. Slowly, I allowed myself to calm down, wake up from the dream, until all I could concentrate on was my own breathing, normalized. Through the nose and out the mouth.
The white-faced figure in the corner of the room was staring at me. For a second I jumped out of my self-enforced calm, peering out through bleary eyes, until finally they regained focus and I could see who I was looking at.
"What are you looking at?" I asked the dead girl, whose dead eyes regarded me even now with a blank expression. I was angry, at myself for snapping and at her for ... for something. I had no time to apply reason to my emotion. "You got a reason to stare at me, girl?"
THere was a moment's pause, the girl moving her tongue around, as if awakening it along with the rest of her body. "You were... you were talking," she whispered, stepping forward from the wall. "In your... while your eyes were closed. You screamed and said something, I--I don't know what it means--"
"I said nothing," I replied gruffly, interrupting her stuttering part-way through. "Go outside for a moment. In the hallway. I need to be alone. Don't come in until I say so."
Silently, she complied. I was on my own for a moment, though gods knew how long her attention would hold outside in the hallway. Maybe she'd wait eons for me, maybe she'd break away at the last moment and get picked up by Machine sentries when she left the building. I didn't know, but I needed this time. Just a little bit of time to get my head straight.
As I pondered the dream I had, I thought about the Librarian and what he said about the null magic leaving him. With a deep breath, I made a decision, and unscrewed one of the bulbs in the lamp beside my bed. For a moment, I examined it in the palm of my hand, roling it back and forth on my skin, before I concentrated on its form and closed my eyes. In not even a second, I heard a crack, and then a fizzle as the bulb caved in on itself and dissolved, leaving nothing but soft powdery sand in the palm of my hand.
For a while, I looked at it, studying the grains of the sand that was left of the lightbulb. And then, slowly, I tilted my hand, letting its remnants spill soundlessly onto the mattress.
I still had the touch. That, at least, was a possession I kept, no matter what else the dream might have taken.
As I recollected Lish and payed for a small breakfast in the canteen, I left a tip for the serving lady and a separate collection of cash to repay for the lightbulb that had disappeared from the room. After that, I was out on the streets again, heading once more for the gathering place of my brethren.