Images & Words: Void the Light

Images & Words: Void the Light – Part 9


Image
Alley by Unknown

Words
Neal Ulen

When : Where
269 DE (2579 CE) : Terra / Techspire 1 / The Tangle


Preceded by Void the Light – Part 8.
This is part of a first draft novella entitled Void the Light which takes place in the Infinispace Universe.

The novella is set about 15 years before the events of Infinispace: Deception and is approximately 50,000 words in length. It will be posted in serialized format.

Parts:
1 - Martos
2 - Integrators
3 - The Rat...
4 - ...In The Cage
5 - Benize
6 - Taria
7 - Meetings
8 - Direction
9 - Lost
10 - Coming Soon

The ever moving trains were their only short term refuge. The Tangle never slept, it had a rhythm all its own. Humanity constantly seethed through it to and fro, like blood pumping through the veins of a massive organism. There were appointed sleep cycles within the daily rhythm, but the hours of night had only slightly less activity than the hours of light. In some lower levels of the Tangle it was almost impossible to know if it was even day or night.

The Spire also never slept, but it was tireless and ever watching.

Martos and Taria rode the mag-rail all night, spiraling inward and outward from the daunting base of the Spire over and over as the evening wore on into morning. They switched trains frequently and tried to catch naps during those times when the cars were moving and they weren’t being jostled awake by Citizens on their way to their Spire assigned duties. The train’s motion helped lull them in to a dull state of mind and they conversed little, saving their energy for the difficult day that was surely to come. Hiding in a perpetually circling train the rest of their lives wasn’t a solution.

After the long, weary night the light of dawn began to slide down the face of the Spire, to eventually be obscured by a low, thick layer of rain swollen clouds that quickly rolled in over the Tangle. It was going to be a soggy day.

Martos nudged Taria from her light sleep and indicated they should depart at the next transfer station. They had finally rounded back out to the Fifth Circle again after passing through it many times during the night.

As their car slid to a smooth and noiseless stop they both stood up and shuffled toward one of the doors in unison with hundreds of other Citizens. The doors opened with a hiss and the train disgorged its human cargo on to an immense platform overlooking the West Spoke. The tarmac of the Spoke, several hundred feet below them and extending miles radially away from the Spire, was a clog of humanity resembling a slow moving river of shifting colors and movement, most of it flowing Spireward.

“How are we going to get through that?!” Taria exclaimed, pointing down at the throng.

“We’re not. We’ll go around it.” Martos grabbed her hand and picked his way down the switchback of stairs toward the wide avenues of the West Spoke.

The hazards of the Tangle were varied, but generally dependent on geography. Crime was less prevalent as one traveled Spireward. Conversely, crime and violence peaked Barrierward. Off the beaten path of the Spokes and mag-lines, deep within the bowels of the Tangle’s artificial chasms, anything could happen, and almost anything can be encountered. This is where Martos and Taria found themselves as they slowly navigated unknown mazes to put distance between themselves and the thrashing mobs of the West Spoke.

Martos stepped gingerly over slumbering dogs, piles of refuse, and ever present panhandlers as he guided Taria through the claustrophobic ways that cut through the heart of much of the Tangle. This section would be undiscernible from another that was on the other side of the Spire. Their path snaked left and right, up and down, through tunnels and small courtyards. The sky was hidden to them most of the time, blocked by hundreds or even thousands of feet of cube tenements, structural buttresses, massive bundles of draping conduits, or hidden factories producing goods that may never be seen by anyone on Earth other than those who had a hand in their manufacture.

Neither of them possessed a portable light, so they stumbled through the dim paths as best they could by relying on the glow of impromptu lights and windows that overlooked some of the alleys. When it wasn’t being drowned out by ventilation systems or Citizens arguing, the sound of constant dripping and trickling water reverberated about them. They often found themselves splashing through musty, ankle deep water, or dodging water sliding down the side of structures accelerated by the pull of gravity.

Other Citizens they encountered along the way did not speak to them, and Martos made a point to give them as wide a berth as possible while shielding Taria with his body.

The Amaranth Bazaar was one that Martos knew, but he was having a difficult time finding his way through the unfamiliar part of the Tangle, and the minutes quickly dragged into hours. Fact was, ninety percent of the Tangle was unfamiliar to almost anyone. In his twenty seven years of life he had only seen a small fraction of its pathways … and he traversed them daily.

He abruptly stopped and Taria bumped into him. Another crooked four way intersection confronted him. This time he paused and looked in all directions and only saw more darkness staring back. There was no sun, or even sky, to guide him, and no direction markers to be seen.

“I’m lost,” Martos muttered.

Taria stepped into the intersection. “We’ll just wait here until …”

“There’s no waiting. We stop only when there’s no other choice … unnngh!” Martos grabbed his head and fell to one knee.

“Martos! What’s happening?!” Taria knelt down beside him and grabbed his shoulder.

“My … head,” was all he could utter.

“I don’t understand!”

Hunched over him was a figure shrouded in tattered rags pawing over his body. Mottled grey hands, laced with bulging black veins, frantically unzipped his jacket and hungrily plunged into pockets. Then it noticed the strange thing lashed to his wrist and began pulling up the jacket sleeve.

Martos fell backward and landed with his back against a slimy wall. “They’re coming …” he panted between deep breaths.

“Who?!” Taria asked, but already knew the answer before the word stopped echoing down the alleys. Someone would always be coming for them.

Martos didn’t respond. As Taria watched, his eyes slowly rolled up in his head and he slumped sideways onto the cracked and wet paver stones.

“Oh … no, no, no!” She grabbed the front of his jacket and shook it in an attempt to revive him. Then she felt Martos’ neck and was at least relieved that she felt a strong pulse.

They’re coming.

A need for motion flooded through her. She grabbed their bags and ran back the way they had traversed, finding a set of stairs that receded down into pitch black. What lay at its depth? She didn’t care.

Taria threw the bags into the black pit, and she heard them roll down with muffled thumps. She then ran back to Martos’ unconscious form. Hunched over him was a figure shrouded in tattered rags pawing over his body. Mottled grey hands, laced with bulging black veins, frantically unzipped his jacket and hungrily plunged into pockets. Then it noticed the strange thing lashed to his wrist and began pulling up the jacket sleeve.

“Get the hell away from him!” Taria screamed.

She ran the last few yards and kicked it full in the shoulder. There was a loud snap and it sent the scarecrow thin figure sprawling into a puddle, sending water splashing in all directions. It turned its head to look back at her, but she could see no form of face under the veil of dripping rags draped around its head. It let out a hissing moan, extracted itself from the puddle, and scurried back into the shadows of the Tangle holding its left shoulder.

Now the Spire is sending ghols to find us? No.

A low hum began to sound in her ears, emanating from the alley to her right. She grabbed Martos by the arms and began to drag him back to the descending stairwell. Once there she carefully pulled him down far enough that they were both out of the line of sight of the alley. A stench crawled up from the darkness that was repulsive enough to cause her to vomit.

She waited, suppressing aftermath coughs and gags. The hum slowly grew louder, and Martos’ breathing became more rapid.

Mark of the Triocracy

The smell of clean.

The color of green.

I was a captive in their rat cage again. An Integrator must have found us, meaning Taria might have also been subdued and laying prone next to me in that dark alley. I made a quick scan but saw no sign of her persona in the lush, park-like setting. Surrounding us were trees and grass dimpled by the shadows of leaves swaying in the breeze. Standing before me, exactly as before, was the elderly man holding his haphazard stack of papers. He clutched them messily against his chest as if the illusion mattered to him, even though paper only existed in history records and relics of the past.

“Citizen Martos. You have not yet met your obligation to report to a sterilization center. This is a reminder that you have twenty four hours to obey.”

“Never,” I spewed through clenched teeth. “We’d rather die first.”

The man looked bored. “Not my concern. In twenty four hours the Tangle will absorb you. Becoming an Uncitizen is enough, the Spire need not take any additional action. What you do between then and now … I care not. The choice is yours, and that is to either comply or not. The rest takes care of itself. You still have a choice you know. One leads to demise, the other leads back to normalcy.”

I knew there was no reasoning with these faceless monsters, so why give them the satisfaction of showing weakness or pleading with them.  He stared at me, waiting, looking directly into my eyes.

“Normalcy?  A lie. A denial of fact. Normalcy doesn’t exist,” I said.

“What do you know of normalcy, other than the one we provide for you? Until yesterday you accepted your daily life as ‘normal.’ It’s the only normalcy you’ve ever known, and you’ve always accepted it according to my records. Now, suddenly, that sense of normalcy has been turned on its ear? Please. This is the state of normalcy you’ve always existed in. Either accept it, or be expunged,” he sneered with contempt.

He actually had a point. All Citizens, including myself, were products of this system we were born in to. We allow this system to exist, yet were powerless to change it as individuals. So we accepted it, sometimes even embraced it. Benize is just such an example. Some complacency of blame resided with me, with all of us. I’d hit an inflection point of complacency, brought on by a need that far outweighed my own.

“Are you done with me?” Stealing my mind had happened to me twice now, and it was already growing tiresome and dull.

“No, there is another option,”

I remained silent.

“As the sentence stands now you face two certainties … eventual death or termination of your child and relationship, but a return to said normalcy. I will offer you a third option, but you must make the decision now.”

This piqued my interest and loosened my lips. “What’s this option?”

“You, your mate, and your child shall remain citizens but will become direct property of the Spire. It would mean leaving the Tangle forever.”

“You want us to be your slaves? You want to offer me that which you already possess?” I sneered.

“Mmmm … in away, indirectly.” He tilted his grey haired head in a mockery of agreement. “But it is better than certain death, because I can tell you will not give up your mate or child.”

“What does this servitude entail, and leave the Tangle for where?”

“I’m not a liberty to divulge all the details,” he replied coldly. “Your choices are binary. Death in the Tangle, or life in the Spire. That’s all I can offer. Choose now.”

“So, die on our feet or live on our knees? I choose neither!”

I spit on his face, but it only sailed through his now incorporeal form and landed on the ground. He must have remembered our last meeting.

He chuckled and slowly shook his head. “I suspected you’d feel this way, but protocol must be followed. Now, we are done.”

His voice and face began to fade from my mind, but not my memory.

To be continued …


Words © 2022, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).


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