The lights have gone dark in a downtown block in New Manhattan. Special Unit Bain is sent to sort it out before the Bots arrive and go public.
Echoes | Far Flung
“Oh Hell!” Bain was hurled through the door by the explosion of darkness. A brooding face had emerged from the soul of the distant past, and broken onto the landscapes of New Manhattan.
Several days earlier Bain had woken from a troubled sleep and stared from his 30th story apartment out to the blinking lights of the dark city. His titanium arm, generally a boon, often woke him with the itching of metal against flesh.
‘You’d think I’d be used to it by now.” He mused, rubbing his arm tentatively, remembering the grim transformation from amputee to experiment, so many years before.
The windows of his apartment stretched from floor to ceiling. The view was magnificent. The place was owned by the NYPD special agency, and strictly on loan. But he had helped with so many cases it felt like home, for now at least.
As he looked out, the sea of darkness swelling below, he noticed a cluster of lights fall silent, somewhere near the Financial district.
“Odd.” He grunted, and reached for some clothes. He knew he’d receive a call, so, best to be ready. As he yawned, and pulled the tunic over across his muscular frame the cellphone next to his bed buzzed.
“Yep.” Voice activated the response was immediate. A set of co-ordinates was registered by the phone, and the chip in Bain’s arm, so he stood, rubbed a palm across his face, stuffed his old-fashioned pistol in the back of his breeches, and heaved himself towards the door.
Barely requiring the command to open, the door clicked ajar, well trained as it was to his swift exits in the middle of the night, and hissed shut as Bain leapt out, heading for the simple stair case that led to the elevator on the floor below.
His cellphone buzzed again. This time it was the grumpy tones of Pickman, the only DI authorized to deal with Bain, whom most in the Police Department regarded as dangerous and deluded.
“Ignore the co-ordinates. Meet me at the corner of 14th and 11th.” Bain entered the lift and wondered what sort of life Pickman inflicted on his family. He’d obviously received the call before Bain, wrenched himself from a pitiful few hours of sleep, left his family, and stalked the dark streets of the city, terse and morose.
* * *
“So, you made it at last.” Pickman was consistent, at least.
“Good to see you too.” Bain nodded as Pickman managed a half lift of a smile. Collar up he was cold, something Bain was rarely afflicted by.
“It’s over there.” The weary Inspector motioned with his head. “The building with no lights.”
Bain peered down the narrow street. At 3 am the noises of the busy city were suppressed but in this neighborhood they were almost absent. And the light noise of the street lamps was faint. In the middle, on the South side of the block was a small apartment building with perhaps 15 floors. The blocks on either side were peppered with lights, mainly in the hallways and stairwells, but not this one. Everything has shut down. The darkness seemed to suck at the lights.
“Powercut. What’s the big deal?” Bain looked back at Pickman who managed to yawn and frown at the same time.
“Walk with me a little and you’ll see.” They sauntered down the Northern side of the street, covered by the shadows of the buildings around them, and stopped in sight of the darkened apartment block.
“Ah, yes.” Bain saw a melted flow of mortar and brick that fell from the open mouth of the building like a large, melted tongue.
“The maintenance bots are on their way. I’ve rerouted them. They’ll take an hour. I need you to clear this up before they arrive. Once they make their reports there’ll be too many questions. As usual.”
“Yep.” Bain pulled his gun from the back of his belt. “I guess you’re the lookout then.”
Pickman grimaced in response, “Go!”
Bain ran quietly over the road, and shuffled up to the melted brick. He looked around, but seeing no other way of entering decided to chance the tongue and clambered up finding footholds of broken brick.
“God, this is a mess.” He entered the lobby to find everything misshapen, gravity pulling the walls and the ceiling down in a long, slow dance. The elevator too was melted to distortion, although the ancient metal grills remained undamaged. A tiny green light blinked invitingly. He took the stairs instead, gingerly placing his feet on the swollen steps, straining his neck, looking ahead, watching the floors slowly warp in font of him.
A slow moan emerged somewhere above. Bain whispered into the chip embedded in his arm.
The moaning was quiet but a long, single sound. He had heard this before, he knew it to be a chorus of voices, overlapping each other, swimming around in murmurs and whispers.
“Er, minor problem,” Pickman’s voice crackled into the heaving silence. “The maintenance bots have rerouted themselves.You’ve got 20 minutes.”
“Great. You should see this place.”
“No thanks. That’s why you’re there.”
“Don’t complain. I know you enjoy it.”
“Hah.” Actually Pickman was right, and Bain grudgingly agreed as carefully he turned a corner. “Oh, here we go.”
In front of him the corridor was a leap of waves and butchered matter, what had been a floor, with walls now resembled the inside of a train wreck, dark fluids dragging from the ceiling, bulging intrusions, shifting rhythmically in time to the steadily increasing groan. Now he could hear the multiple voices, and slipped his way through the revolting corridor.
He passed several apartment doors, none of them accessible, except for the last one which lay partially open.
“Room 519.” Bain whispered.
“Ten minutes.” Pickman’s voice curled up from Bain’s arm.
He pushed at the buckled door. The voices ebbed and swelled, but there was nothing to be seen, just a gorge of darkness, a pit, a vast well without light. But somewhere deep within the voices rose, and seemed to detect him. He could feel a subtle pull within the cells of his body, as though something were trying to pull them apart. He realized what the dark fluids in the ceiling were, the remnants of human forms, separated from their solid state.
He dropped to his knees, his feet still clinging to the door frame, pains creeping across his limbs, his flesh shaking and separating. He pulled a small cube from his tunic, and began to reverse out of the room, his gun held aloft.
“Ok. Ok.” Bain grunted. He was losing his balance. His legs could not support him any more. The voices from within the room began to overwhelm his senses, and the vast darkness rose before him.
On the floor now Bain shuffled back, using his unaffected metal arm, struggling out of the room, pursued from the distance by a dark formlessness, now bellowing its huge call.
Bain shouted, “Now!” A massive burst of light broke in a wave from the little cube he had left in the room. He managed to squeeze his finger on the trigger of his pistol, and as the blast of energy from the cube lashed across the face of the darkness, the fierce retort of the gun flung Bain backwards, directing him out of the window on the fifth floor, watching the white light burn back into the receding gloom, and detonate the entire building which folded back on itself, consuming the dark malevolence which unravelled and screamed, this time with the utter, eternal fear of an ancient creature returning to its origins.
Suspended in the air, hurled backwards Bain watched the building disappear. As he began to fall, blacking out, the thirty foot Mainentance Bot lifted its gigantic hands to cushion his fall and set him back down next to Pickman, on the opposite side of the narrow street.
The dust crumbled around sending great blooms into the night sky, bringing normality and noise back to the street.
* * *
“Shall we tidy up now sir?” The Maintenance Bot kneeled down and checked for instructions. The building had all but disappeared, just the misshapen rubble as evidence of its existence.
“Yes, yes, and let’s get this man to the medics.”
“Is he the cause of the mess sir?”
“Oh yes, but he’s one of ours. And without him we might all melt into the darkness.”
“If you say so sir.”
Pickman looked up at the Maintenance Bot and wondered if they learned insolence from their makers, or perhaps it was just a natural response to the absurdity of life.
He walked back to his family, and filed a simple report.
“Situation dealt with. Nothing significant left. Special Unit Bain’s assistance invaluable. Instruct standard payment to be made.”[ends]
More in two weeks, (next week, comes another slice of “What is Time?”)
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