We came in skidding like a rough stone over sheeting miles of squid-ink black, layers of cloud shifting their level like dye dropped into a dirty
glass. I zoned out over the drumming thud of my panicky pulse, tracked the sleeting drops screeding across the plastic pane.
Said the engines.
If you are waiting. I am not afraid,
I think over and over as I take in the gasps, the little cries.
Patchwork dirt scabbed over and ochre, wet and gripped by Autumn, coming close, fast.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we welcome you to Denver International Airport. Currently in Denver, the temperature is 49 degrees, and stormy. On behalf
of all of the crew, I’d like to thank you for flying Redacted Airlines, and wish you a great day. For those who have connecting flights at this
time, we regret to inform you that all flights out of DIA have been cancelled pending further notice. Please speak with our representative at the gate
for alternative arrangements.”
It reeks of ozone and BO in the still cabin.
We file off the plane like zombies, the rain beating a frantic tattoo on the roof of our accordion tunnel to the terminal.
Said the wheels on our luggage.
When we emerged on the other side, it was so dark outdoors that the fluorescent panels overhead glared through the wan wash of bruised daylight. There
was a woman manning the desk; pale, harried looking. She was arguing with a couple who had been among the first to disembark, and she had a long line
to cope with after she was done giving them the bad news.
But it wasn’t my bad news. I had a rental car and a place to drive to in the SW where the skies were blue forever, and the desert drank in the sky.
I strode off past the pinch-faced statues leaning on their baggage, striking heel-toe onto the segmented walkway, flashing past the duty free
(kiosked) and the too expensive booze (nozzle-dispensed), clocking the ARR and DPT screens.
Two escalators down to the chiming corridor. Five notes (where do I know that tune from?) signal the arrival of the train to baggage claim. I am
transfixed by a sculpture. Noble man in a space suit, gazing off into the horizontal distance. There, at his feet, are the Earth and the Moon, bound
by a figure eight that describes the path of the shuttle.
“Or a circuit.”
Did I say that?
“She’ll be coming round the mountain?”
“Welcome to the Mile-High City,” says a buttery, fatherly voice, “The train to Baggage Claim, Concourse A, and Concourse B has arrived. Please
watch your step.”
I am at the furthermost door. When I step on, there is a flat yellow glare that slaps off the rear window. Tracks and beveled granite edges.
Stainless sheen handrails bolted into the dim concrete next to the narrow walkways.
“Uh, handicapped accessible? Why are they so high up,” I think before the Dad-voice tells me that the train is moving, and I should hold on
I try to catch all the offshooting passages as we are sucked at top mach to Baggage Claim. There are tiny fans whirring a pattern out on the wall. It
could be binary or morse code set off in some grand flurry of fluttery cryptography, the wind of the train giving breath to a secret plea. And then
there is a series of skeletal hands extending from the wall, chopping and cleaving in a full-body zoetrope.
“That’s #ing weird.”
(Did I say that?)
And then the train stops.
The lights go from solid bricks of yellow to a flashing red distress call.
The intercom is silent. We don’t get a pre-recorded stroke of reassurance.
The train slid to a halt. “We've arrived,” said the spook escort. The doors glided apart with a thin aluminum whisper. As he stepped across the
threshold onto the walkway, he touched a smooth black plastic device hooked around his ear. He nodded at nothing in particular, and gestured Dr. M.
toward an emergency exit.
The sign above the door had two red-lit arrows pointing at each other.
“That’s #ing weird,” thinks Dr. M.
He pushes the bar and enters a cyclopean corridor; two stories high, several dozen yards across, and stretching off to a distant vanishing point. The
walls and ceiling swallowed the nervous fluorescent glare, they appeared to be covered in enormous lead panels. More tracks ran along the walls. There
was a faint current of hot air ghosting against the back of his neck. He was alone.
He'd expected to be met by someone, was he meant to wait? He shifted a large portfolio from hand to hand, bored and uneasy by turns. He was glancing
at his watch for the fifth time when he heard a remote hum.
A compact little UTV zipped toward him, another black-suited spook at the wheel. “They all have the same tailor. And the same barber,” he thought.
“Hell, maybe even the same genes.”
Riding easy shotgun next to the driver was a man who Dr. M. was certain would qualify as a medical giant, clad in shirtsleeves and slacks and a very
expensive looking pair of cowboy boots. He exuded a casual dominance through the way he took up a lot of space: knees splayed, arms draped across the
back of the seat. Dr. M's hand was entirely engulfed in the rough grip of the Man’s handshake.
“Hello, son,” he boomed, “Welcome aboard! Have a seat.”
Dr. M places the portfolio carefully on his lap as the cart zooms away down the corridor. He notes the dock doors and the side passages every few
hundred yards. “Jesus,” he thinks. “This place must be huge.”
“Oh, it’s huge all right,” says the Man, chuckling. He cranes around to grin at Dr. M, who is startled, not only because it seems that the Man
has responded to something Dr. M. didn’t say, but by the disconcertingly foul state of the Man’s teeth. They were bone dry, outsized, yellow and
cracked, as though he wore dentures harvested from a horse’s skull.
The Man turned to the front again, and continued, “As you may have already guessed, this isn't going to be just an airport.”
Dr. M. smoothed an imaginary wrinkle from his trousers, said: “It’s also a spaceport, right?”
The Man chuckles again. “Clever doc. That’s half right. Your work with gamma resistance in cellular tissues is very impressive. Have you read
through your briefs? You know what you’re here to do?”
“Yes,” Dr. M replies, no hesitation.
“Do you have any questions? This is the last opportunity you’ll have to ask them.”
“Yeah. Who am I working for? The government?”
“Well, that’s a very good question, doc. I’ll tell you something about the Man I work for.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
The Man snarls, “You wanna shut your mouth and open your ears, son. You already signed your ass over to us, so if you don’t want to get rendered
into tank nutrient your first day on the job, you’ll listen close to what I have to say.”
“Now,” he proceeded, his tone even and jovial again, “The Man I work for has a chunk of Jack Kennedy’s brain preserved in lucite on his desk.
He uses it as a paperweight. And the Man he works for? Isn’t a man at all. And that’s everything you need to know about our employer.”
There is another cart driving toward them from the opposite direction.
Dr. M. feels the preliminary throb of a migraine pulsing above his right eye. “You understand that I’ve been retarded in my progress by certain
restrictions. Is that going to be a problem here?”
“Oh, don’t you worry your big brains about that, Doc. We have an inexhaustible supply of vessels waiting to receive our Science.”
The carts hum past one another, and Dr. M. gasps. “Masks,” he thought, “Surely, they were wearing masks.”
Good short stories E23, the second one/part I liked more because it sounded like it may get more interesting. However I am pretty sure they were
masks. I am pretty sure there is a logical reason why they were wearing masks. Right? Oh so suspenseful.
And the first part, I never heard of Redacted Airlines. It must be a smaller airline, that or some sort of joke. Oh and the noises your wrote down,
really reeled in the audience and fleshed out this story.
The girl is curled up in her crumpled napkin smock in the corner of the cell. Her hands twitch like feeble birds, her eyes flicker back and forth
under milk-blue lids. A thin fluid seeps from the implants in her shaved skull.
Her cell is one in a line of several reinforced plexiglass cubes, only two of which are occupied. The other subject is a boy seated in the lotus
position, erect and serene. He is slightly older, perhaps 15, and has a string of jacks protruding from his spinal column.
She comes to with a sharp indrawn breath, sitting up suddenly, hands flying to her throat. She draws her knees to her chest, begins to rock back and
forth. Silent tears run tracks down from her eyes, twin streams to the discharge from the holes in her head. She hears a voice, clear as a chime.
“Don’t think. Be still. Listen.”
She turns her head toward the boy, is about to say something.
“Be still. They are watching.”
His lips are motionless, he doesn't acknowledge her in any way.
“It’s me, but you have to be quiet. And I don’t just mean you can’t talk. When you think at me, try to send it in a cone aimed directly toward
the spot between my eyes. That way, maybe they won’t hear.”
She resumes rocking, puts on the thousand-yard stare. Focuses on compressing and directing her reply: “Like this?”
“Yes, that’s good. Do you know what you’re here to do?”
“No. I think they give me something to make me forget.”
“Here’s how it works. The world is sustained in stasis by all the people in it agreeing to see it in a certain light. Everyone is on the same
page. What goes up must come down, for everything there is a season, that which is born must die. We all agree that this is so, and so it is. The
Story, and the way we uphold it are like a wall against the Things outside. A wall of light.”
“The people who took us and made us what we are want to use us to breach that wall. They think the New Man lies beyond the limitations of the Story.
They haven't been where I've been, they don’t know what lies beyond. They are being used, just as we are.”
She clenches her fists under her knees, thinks, "We're not even human anymore, are we? I hate them so much.”
“Hold on to that. You’ll need it. In the meantime, be obedient, grow your abilities, try to remember. Survive. In time, there will be
others here with us, strong like we are, and we will do the only thing we can do to preserve the Wall.”
For the first couple of decades, before they built the airport on top of the base; the Order had to rely solely on a special division of mercenary
psychics to keep the kids in line. Due to the highly specialized nature of the position, they found it necessary to cast a wide net in the recruiting
stage. As a result, they had to make do with an assortment of flawed products from previous projects, a sprinkling of sinister monks and hedge shamans
thrown in-- unreliable, disloyal and prone to every kind of degeneracy and mental aberration.
The kids could work around those, though, they found plenty of ways; but the tech caught up with the kids quick.
No more travelling. That was one of the first measures the Order took to secure their wards: spidersilk threads of copper laced a scintillating
hatchwork mesh through the walls of their cells.
In a room nearby, two men sat monitoring their biometrics, paying careful attention to any anomalies in the transcranial lightshow array. So no more
The process of holding the breach open burnt out a lot of transistors, but there were some who adapted, some who survived.
Eventually, the technicians found it expedient to keep the kids immobile around the clock, all sensory input stifled: the deprivation in conjunction
with an exhaustively fine-tuned medley of psychoactive substances and electromagnetic stimulation induced the state most conducive to the process.
What the Order couldn’t know, what wouldn't register with any of their instruments, was that the driving forth could be channeled both ways. When
the kids played host to the breach, their souls stretched across the screeching event horizon --the soft spot in the skull of the world-- being
hyperextended outward allowed them to simultaneously dive inward; slipping down the chain of the particulate sea until they were sunk in
the quantum substrate, directing force along strands of entanglement, plucking currents in the deep.
Somewhere, there was a loose string that would pull the whole fabric apart.
You'd think the doors were locked shut. I looked at the rubber seals, recalled the hydraulic hiss of closure.
Wedging my hands in between, I heaved. They slipped open so readily I almost pulled something in my chest. The moment my foot touched down on
the walkway, the lights went out.
-- in the pitch black.
And then the lights kicked in.
I uncurled my fingers from around the handle of my bag and drew my other foot out of the train. Standing still for a long second, my head got caught
in the searing current that blew down the tunnel. Heart caught up, breath leaped the hitch. My arms and legs tingled, pulse stampeding over the muted
baritone howl of the wind.
I walked down the tunnel. Every 200 steps, a door. An emergency exit sign each time, two unlit arrows pointing together, invariably locked. Staggering
down an incline with no egress, I got the message pretty quick.
No way out but down.
Edging a corner, I staggered into the path of a giant in a freshly pressed uniform and an elephantine gas mask. It gripped onto the hand-rail,
lurching toward me. I seized its lapels, and swung. It flew slowly out into the gap and landed like a feather on the rails, on its back, arms
and legs pedaling fitfully like a stop-motion roach.
Walking, walking, no sound but my own breath, my vision washed with bloody scarlet light.
Down at my feet, I see a grate. At the merest tap with my foot it flies away in a slow cyclone of rust.
No way out but down.
I remove my coat-- it is too hot anyway-- get on all fours, and crawl into the passage. There is just enough room for my shoulders, just barely enough
room to inch forward on hands and knees without discomfort. The vent (?) inclines downward.
My ears start to ring, tinnitus to the nth degree. I feel my heartbeat being subverted, perverted into an alien rhythm. The metal bearing my weight
softens the deeper I go. I know I'll punch through soon, so I stop.
I drop like a bead of mercury into open space. The sourceless light is searingly bright, scalding fluorescent permaflash. There are bleached horses
curled in cells, hexagonal, transparent, one atop the other beneath the next ad infinitum.
They look like untended larvae.
There is one right next to me. I touch its brittle mane. It crumbles into swarming white ash, battening against the walls of the cell. I see the glint
of copper threads, I smell death.
There is a place in the SW where the sky stretches a royal blue radiance from one edge of the world to the other. The desert splays out under the sky,
the chaparral sends up a holy scent and the frontier longs to be pursued.
It just gets softer the deeper you go here. The people get stranger. Time slows, you can watch the age collect and flake away on your skin.
I will never see the sky again.
edit on 4-11-2013 by Eidolon23 because: 3 dqys too late.
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