I feel a progrom is underway. I choose left. That feeling in the back of my head tells me something isn’t right. I slow my movements, trying to match the sound of the sloshing waters. I can hear a hissing sound. I turn the corner and find a teenager. He wearing a hooded jumper, spraying paint on the wall, over the orientation mark I made earlier. I immediately recognise that the bag he is carrying belongs to me. He stops spraying, and is still for a second, almost contemplative and then he turns.
His eyes have been removed. There are scars as if his hands have clawed them out. He glares at me with empty sockets. Then suddenly he throws the spray can and snarls. His hands direct towards the water and a wave of darkness rises up in front of me. The wave hits me hard causing me to stagger and fall back. The teen readies another wave. I ready myself for the blow, but instead it suddenly dissipates. The empty-eyed teenager is just as surprised as me. “Shit,” he says before running down the tunnel. I scramble back to my feet and chase him down the tunnel. Despite the fact that I am bigger than him, I find it hard to match his speed in this water. I notice that he doesn’t seem to be running. His movements are fluid, like he’s skating.
Completely focused on my quarry, I fail to pay attention to my surroundings. Something hits my legs while I’m running at full speed. I fly through the air and land in ankle deep sludge. The teen disappears into the darkness. I turn to see what had tripped me. A large man steps into the available light. He isn’t tall, but heavy with muscle. He looks kind of square. As he approaches me, I notice the empty sockets and familiar scars of the teenager I was chasing. I scramble to my feet and level the shotgun at him. He moves in fast, very fast. I barely dodge a right-hook that he throws. I feel it graze my chin. It would have shattered my jaw. I try to counter, using the butt of the shotgun, but his left hand comes up catching it inches away from his face. He’s strong, his arm pushes me back, causing me to stumble. He throws a gesture with his hands and some unseen force throws me against the tunnel wall like a toy. I’m out of my league. I grab at my shotgun, get to my feet and run down the tunnel. As I make a corner, the light of my torch picks up the shapes of more people down here, a dozen maybe more.
“Shit,” I utter as I turn to run. But I don’t get very far, before they are on top of me. Grabbing at my arms and legs, they pull me down into the water, pinning me there. I look at all of their faces. None of them have eyes, only empty, unblinking sockets stare back at me. The large square man has caught up. He approaches slowly towards me, something glints in his hand.
“Let’s make this quick,” he says in a flat voice. The glint of the blade inches slowly towards my neck. Regardless how much I protest, or struggle, the blade is inexorable. As the point of the knife touches my skin, I hear another voice
All of the eyeless people look down the tunnel where the protest came from. A middle-aged man approaches the group holding me. His voice calmer, “Come on. Let him go. Are you blind? Can’t you see he’s not one of them.”
The people release me. The large man picks me up to my feet. “What the hell is going on here?”
The old man smirks, “My name is Emmersen, I lead the people down here.”
The group of eyeless people part as he leads me down the tunnel. Despite being completely blinded each of these people seemed to know their way around in the tunnels. The group followed us quietly while Emmersen continued to talk. “This city has undergone a radical change. I never thought a city could be a creature. Not until the Echo. That was a terrible day, you see. We thought we could bring order, bring control, bring peace.”
He paused and looked at me for a moment with empty sockets, “Imagine a city where there was no crime. No murder, no theft, no torment. That everyone had empathy for his or her fellow citizen. That was the dream.”
“Now you’ve seen that nightmare unfold up there. But now things are much more complex. Than any of us originally expected. Aurelius didn’t seem affected all. Infact, he thrived. Niebling died beating his head against a wall. And Dean. She was an engineer, she was working on something else… I don’t know what happened to her…
“What are you talking about?” I had to ask, before I lost him
Emmersen’s tone dropped. “They were my friends. We were trying to build a better future. The Echo broke containment. It made us all mad. Insane. And some. Better. Faster. And Stronger.”
He then pointed to where his eyes had once been. “I did this to myself in the first fifteen minutes of the containment breach. Niebling was already dead. And despite what I had done, I could still see Aurelius and his smile, but he could see into me…”
That brought back the last of what I saw of the Doctor taken down by at least a dozen armed men. I wondered if he survived and shuddered for thinking if he did.
“You should fear him,” Emmersen said at me as if looking directly into my eyes, and then suddenly he turned away, “Look. We are here. Welcome to Hades.”
But there was nothing in front of me, just a vast dark void. As the other men fearlessly step into it, I stare at disbelief at Emmersen. “You don’t expect me to walk in there. I can barely see in here.”
Emmersen smiled, “Yes! I forgot. Here.” He reaches up with both hands and lightly touches my temples. Then suddenly everything changes, the darkness is burnt away as everything around me glows with a strange, electric phosphorous. I can see every ripple in the thick oil-water that flows beneath me. I see every inch of the tunnel covered in paint, strange sigils and markings that look organic and old. I looked at a smiling Emmersen, who now possess spectral eyes that burnt with a glowing blue flame. I turn and gaze upon their Hades. The massive underground structure was remodelled as a base of operations and home to possibly hundreds. The painted sigils touched everything. The entire place glowed with an ethereal beauty.
“Colour in Darkness,” Emmersen whispered behind me, as if living in my experience.
“I can hear something, like – my mother – singing to me”
“Yes,” Emmersen replies sounding less and less mad, “That is the sound of the city. The Sound of Minerva.”
I listen for a moment attempting to take in the impossible tune.
“Come on,” he said as he moved by me, “We don’t have much time. And you have a mission.”
He moves down towards the shantytown as the others begin to gather around him. Emmersen climbs on top of one of the makeshift structures. With this luminescent sight, each of their eyes are aflame, staring up at their leader. Each of them are dressed in clothes that they seemed to have found. They have lived in desperation fighting an invisible battle that I had not seen before. As Emmersen prepared to speak, weapons are passed around. Handguns, rifles, shotguns, some weapons I recognise as of the former police.
“Our time has come,” Emmersen suddenly bellows, his voice echoing in the cavernous chamber. All of the burning eyes were upon him. “Our judgement has come. The Enemy has begun to move, against the people of this city. Against this city itself. They will not stop until there are no survivors. Only our enemy will remain. We must prevent this at all costs. Take your positions now. Fight well!”
As the people began to disband, Emmersen climbed down from the shanty and he approaches me. “Now it is time for your task, come with me.” Emmersen, a few others and myself walk down a tunnel away from the shanty town, which now lays deserted.
I need – we need you do something very important for us. There is a place we cannot go. It is the Incinerator. It is this place you must destroy and we will give you the means. If you do this you will save more than the city”
There was an undeniable truth in his voice. “Why can’t you do it?” I ask, “You seem to have the men.”
His words became bitter. “It is because we have been – touched – after a fashion. We cannot go to that place with out turning, without falling to the machine.”
I felt a shared memory among Emmersen’s men. Something they attempted some time ago…I felt sick from it.
He reached into his coat and produced an item in wrappings and a handgun. “This will be your weapons. You will know what to do when you reach the Incinerator. It will all become clear. Now take off your jacket.
“The enemy has seen you and will recognise you from the way you dressed.” Emmersen pointed to one of his aides, “You give him your coat.”
We swapped coats. The teen I saw earlier gave the aide my backpack and shotgun and he took them up with both hands.
“Go,” Emmersen said to his aide, “Delay them as much as you can.” The aide ran off down the tunnel to his destiny.
We continued down the tunnel until we entered a convergence of storm water system with canals. In front of us was a small landing and a tiny boat tied next to it.
“This is where we must leave you. This canal was once the great Minerva, all you need to do is follow it and it will take you directly to the Incinerator.” Emmersen said as the darkness grew in the tunnel. My luminescent vision began to leave me. The fire in their eyes dimmed, returning to empty sockets. The vibrant wall returned to a dull grey. Emmersen and his people moved back into the tunnel that we came, disappearing.
I hopped in the boat, started the engine and journeyed down the Canal.