Falling, I chanced to look upon the dark heart of this city.
(Damn.) Two soldiers, silhouetted there. (No way anyone could survive that.)
(They'll want a body though.)
(Hell, you want to go down after him?)
His arm trembles as he reaches up to that circle of light.
(Hey,) They turn as the rest approach, (the King is dead!)
I'm not dead.
(Hey, long live the King!)
No. His arm trembles
I won't let it end like this
His fingers grasp – but it's too far. (Laughter)
I'll get you.
They laugh as the light above fades.
I'll get you.
I pick a street and they all follow me, we all wander aimlessly. It's strange; so strange. Even without a guide, without fail we never go down the same street twice (but how would I even know?) Some are short. Some remind me of home. The others are intangible, incomprehensible and I try not to look, focus on moving through them as fast as I can. Moving on.
But always at the end. The square. The square. The square.
"Kr – "
"Huh? You mean the Captain?"
"Yeah." Isaac coughs. "How come he never gets any letters?"
Venn bursts out laughing.
"Wow. You mean you haven't realized."
"There's no need. For him to get letters."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Garrett stirs the fire. "He's from around here."
Isaac turns to him instead. "What do you mean?"
Such naivety. "He's pretty convincing, isn't he." Venn grins.
"He's a native." Garrett continues.
"A – what, really?" Yeah. A worm. "I mean," he tries to recover, "ah, I didn't know that was – possible."
They don't like to proclaim it, he knows. For fear of raising insubordination.
"Don't worry about it." Garrett drops another stick into the fire, watches it consumed. "In print he's one of us."
"Yeah." Venn adds to it, "'e's got it in his blood."
His father's father. Something like that.
"Is that why?" He won't.
"Whatever he thinks," Garrett shrugs, "he's proven himself."
I feel like a toy soldier. Like someone's lifting us up, setting us down in the same place. Locked in some insane kid's toybox. To start it all over again.
"I don't care." Venn snaps at them. "Why does it matter?"
A pause off-screen.
"That sort of thing. Why would I be worried about it?" Alex. Captain down to the last letter. "Could you imagine? Him doing anything like that?"
He listens. "If anything I'd say he's stricter. Than other Captains I've served under."
Inaudible words; Venn shrugs.
"Who am I to read his mind? Clearly he's seen the light. The true side of things."
It's dark. The sun is setting or we're walking slower. I don't remember. This part of the city being so big. When was the last time I was here?
(with _ )
I never realized. What it meant. Such a big part of it missing, all these ruins. Such a fire. Like in its heart.
(feel like someone's missing too)
"Why are you surprised?"
"I don't know. I didn't know – " Isaac repeats, "just that sort of thing was allowed."
"It's more common than you think."
"Just not in this city yet."
Still that troubled look on his face.
"You think it goes against the Tenets?"
"No, I mean – even He said that the integrated should be able to prove themselves. To become true citizens."
"A belief that's sorely being tested in times like these."
"In places like these."
"Time and time again they seem to prove."
"That such a thing is no longer possible."
"No." Isaac shakes his head. "It's not that." Not any of that, really.
"It's hard to explain."
Once in a street full of shadows. A noise and we group together automatically.
"What was that?"
"Sounded like – "
"It was the wind."
The wicked and wild wind.
None of them contradict me.
It's just that – when he got here it was different. Than what he'd thought it'd be. Isaac looks around – but only ashes meet his eyes. And what does that make them? These guys he's walking with. Shadowy, not quite ghosts.
He thought he'd be fighting (but who? There were no true enemies any more. They were all dead. Or dying.). Instead he'd only found people, people who just wanted to live. In any way possible, no matter how. Men (like Venn), guys like Lion who didn't give a damn, give a damn about this vision. Whispered, seen fleetingly, briefly, sometimes when he read at night, sometimes those beautiful words.
(out of the corner of his eye a flicker)
A brave new world. Maybe it would've been different if he'd been sent to the Front.
" 'Prove himself'," Isaac muses. What does that mean?
Here, in this city, there was only one man who'd even come close. To what he'd thought it might be.
(and when he turned to look it was gone).
I sweep my eyes around but I can't get a count, can't get a solid count in this light.
"What the hell?"
"Don't worry about it; it's their job. To enflame."
"He has not hesitated. He has not stepped out of line – "
" – even once."
"After all, that's just the point."
"How can you trust a man?"
"That goes against his own."
"That's crap. Trace it back; this is his blood too."
"And his brother?"
"He doesn't know. About that."
"And if he did – "
" – it wouldn't make a difference."
"If he doesn't know at this point he's only lying to himself."
"What does that make him then?"
"One of us."
The cackle of a dying engine spatters in the air.
"Damn it." Lion swears again. She's on her last legs.
"It's this damn dust." May adds, inhaling a mouthful. She hacks it back out.
"It gets worse and worse."
She wraps her scarf more tightly around her mouth. "The further we go in."
Now it looms up around them, the dark heart of this District. The city itself.
"We're your friends!" May calls out, muffled.
Reading his thoughts, as usual.
"Is anybody out there?" he echoes.
Perhaps that's why. There's this presence – but not focused on them. Somewhere else (although nearby).
"We'll have to turn back," Lion says to himself, "we're almost out." Of fuel, of food. Everything they've eaten for the last few day's tasted like ashes anyway.
The map they've lost was useless anyway. All the buildings, what's left of them at least, look the same. Maybe they're just going in circles. And for the first time, the first time he's come to this city at least, he feels it.
"Don't be afraid."
How ridiculous. If after all that, this is what'll get him in the end.
"You don't be." She wraps her arms around him.
As if on cue, the cycle spits again.
"If it breaks down – "
" – we'll walk."
"If we get lost – "
" – we'll find our way."
"If we run outta food – "
" – we'll eat rats."
"No we won't." He snaps.
She laughs. "Okay then; just try again."
Damn it. He picks another deserted street to zoom down.
Some Couriers we are.
"But think about it."
"You didn't have a choice, I imagine."
What did you tell them when you were gone? Back then. Training, I said; no questions asked.
Only her I told.
Shelley. And only after I'd finished, heard the last echoes I knew.
"Everybody knows. It's okay."
There's always alternatives – even if we can't see them. Whenever a new door opens the old ones close (a law of conservation). Imagination, what's the use? It's easier to imagine, easier to just do. Speculation, speculate, speculate, speculate.
"It's not human."
In another street full of shadows. One of them comes alive and Lion pulls up suddenly.
The cycle obeys him, screeches and brakes – and stops. Finally, fatally. Leaving only the two Couriers and him standing there. Stranded there.
That strangely familiar figure.
It's good; she freezes too. So you saw it? It's good. He thought he might've been imagining things.
Him. It's strange. So strange. Even coated in ashes, that man –
"Hey !" May jumps off the cycle before Lion can stop her. "Hey there!"
"Don't – "
"It's okay." She shoots a grin back. "He's a friend, right?"
And it all falls into place.
What they said.
"Serve or die."
Gray, fences, diamond wire. Cold up here. Of course I knew that it was good to be a good person (easier at least). The loneliness of a lone tower guard, watching the trains come in. Abandon all Hope ye who enter Here – or better yet give up and give up the ghost. So I don't have to. Just because you can doesn't mean you should, or have to.
"You couldn't have gone against everything."
Everything I'd ever known. What kind of life is that? Guarding dying people, what a hotshot you are. It has a purpose as everything does. They look cool, you wanna be one of them. How could you let people do that to you, I want to know. Let them lead you away like. Into like. They knew what they alternative was. And people just want to live, in any way possible. The usual thing, they always believe (they're going to be the one. Even if everyone else). We all have dreams, but they're not for everybody.
"You didn't have a choice."
Of course I had a choice, you idiot. I could've chosen to die damn it, let them kill me or myself.
Stop trying to make me into a tragic hero, damn it. I don't want to be and you can't make me.
K. shifts his broom to his other shoulder. "You recognise me, do you?"
"Of course." She stops before him, suddenly shy.
"You – " Lion comes up next to her. Leaving the cycle back there to fall over, onto its side.
In all this dust, his eyes are a speck of green. In a sea of grey.
"Where were you?" Lion blurts. It's meant to come out one way – but just comes out hopeless.
"Why'd you let them burn it?" May adds, "all of it. The Old Town."
Examining them with cool green eyes. "My, my. The questions you ask."
Where were you
When they –
When just a word –
just a word would have
"Listen." K. tilts his head. "Do you hear it?"
Below them, a faint rumble.
"Do you hear it too?"
And they fall silent, straining to. An earthquake? Barely a tremor, ever so faint.
And then it's gone.
"So." K. approaches the pair. Look at her carefully and tips something into her hand.
"You'd better go." With a smile he walks past them. "Better go find them, children."
There's always an exception (me). Try to come up with absolutes: there are none. Wait – the only one. Me.
A paradox. Pandora's box.