The rain has stained everything. I can smell it in the air. The ground is slick like ice. I take cover behind some trees and notice it looks sprayed in sludge. It’s still dark, and it’s difficult to see, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone here. Odd.
In the distance, there is the pop and bang of an explosion. I can see flames erupt on the far edge of the city. I need to move. Advancing on the building, I spot an old doorway. Metal and rusted, but I can see the padlock is brand new, almost glittering against the aged door. Pressed for time, I need to sacrifice my cover. Pulling out the gun, I take a few steps back and fire. The lock shatters from the bullet. I kick the door open. The whole place appears empty. There are no alarms, no inquisitive guard. For a moment there is silence. Suddenly, there are sounds of pressurised gases, steam and smoke.
I work my way towards the centre. Drawing closer towards the sound that goes every two minutes or so and then silence, except for the sounds made by myself, walking across pressed metal floors and opening rusted doors. Some doors are unusable, locked, jammed or welded shut. I find myself climbing stairs that creak with age. I wonder why this site is empty and my thoughts are interrupted by a popping sound of another distant explosion. Then comes the sound of the incinerator. The closers I get the more detailed the sound becomes, the clanking of ancient machinery, the hydraulics pressurising, and the gas like hissing and the roar of the fire and then the clanking of machinery again.
I finally reach a door that gives, but still makes its protests known, creaking so loudly, the noises fills the cavernous room beyond. Ahead of me I see a narrow gangway. This gangway runs above the main incinerator, on top is a large metal dome, made of blackened metal, the same colour as the sky. To my right are the twisted and burnt out pipes that lead to the smoke stack. Walking out onto the gangway I look down below. There are six or so conveyor belts all leading to a centre trap-door that look like the jaws of a great monster made of steel and fire. Smoke rises from between the teeth of the twin doors. I survey the conveyors. They are filled with what I first make out as refuse, and then realise there are patches of red amongst them. Red books. Hundreds, possibly thousands of them piled onto the conveyor belts. Everything is fed into the incinerator. I step back and look over the other side of the gangway. In amongst the red books are other items, photo albums, photos, jewellery, furniture, entire music collections, paperback novels, portraits, the flotsam and jetsam of human existence, prized possessions and heirlooms. I soon begin to see the odd hand, foot or face surface among the refuse. Everything we have held dear has been cast into the fire and this becomes the smoke that blankets our city. It is the black rain that has poisoned our water and choked the life from everything it falls upon. Has the virus done all of this? Our method of control had only caused the situation to become much worse. How did I not see this? How long has it been between the days, when I saw the suicides and the murders to when I was here? Time has lost meaning here. I hear the clanking of machinery, the conveyors begin to shunt, their cargo quivers and shudders into motion. The hissing and pumping sounds of the hydraulics begin and then the Maw parts it’s black steel teeth, revealing a great mouth of fire. Tongues of flame lick the sides of the maw and the conveyors feed it once again. The pictures, keepsakes, treasures, prizes, books and bodies cascade in, melting into the white-hot centre of the mouth. The heat is unbearable, even from my height. I cover my face with my arm, my eyes searching into the very white hot whirlpool, as if I am poised on falling into it myself. Soon the clanking of the steel jaws shields the maw once again. Silence.
Stepping back, I felt my hand reach across my chest to my heart, but only feeling the hard lump that the madman Emmersen had given me. I reach inside my coat and pull out the parcel. Wrapped in dirty brown paper, I feel the square shape of the “weapon” Emmersen had given, apart from the pistol. I tear the paper away. It’s a black book. Roughly the same shape or size, but it appears as if it was handmade. The pages are uneven and made of different qualities. I flip through the book, reading what there is
Containment has been breached. While we have isolated ourselves in the western quarter of the hospital, time is running out for all of us. With half of us already gone, we are not hoping for an outcome that is favourable. Emmersen seems to be coping well, despite what he has done to himself. Julian has been working around the clock towards find someway to contain the virus before it plagues the rest of the city, though I don’t trust his methods. I remember there was a time when performing experiments of his nature was illegal. Van Beck and his team have not woken since yesterday, no matter what we try. Even adrenaline doesn’t work. I sent Kramar to look for Dean, but he hasn’t returned –
I skip the rest and flick through the pages to another entry:
This city has taken everything I have loved. My daughter. My wife. I have nothing. I have heard of people that have lived beneath the city. With everyone around practically infected, I figure why not. I have nothing else to life for.
Flicking the pages by it lands on two pages. In huge black letters is scrawled:
I turn the page
And turn the page
And turn the page
And turn the page
I close the book. Emmersen was right. Everything had become clear. I knew exactly what to do.
I look over the side, judging where I could get the book to land. I know in the back of my mind, I should get it on a conveyor belt. It might give me enough time to get away. Just as I prepare to drop the book, I hear a voice from behind me.
“I thought I would find you here.” It’s Ina. She is wearing dark shades that are covering her eyes.
I draw the book close to me, and at the same time, reach slowly around for the pistol tucked into my belt.
“I need to stop this, Ina,” I say, “I can do this and we can leave together.”
“You were always a terrible liar. I never thanked you for saving my life, but I guess I always knew I wouldn’t be leaving this place”.
I slowly draw the gun, pulling it to my side, feeling for the safety catch.
“You see I didn’t have a choice. They have –“ she seems to fumble for a word, “They have a machine. It is the only way I can describe it. It takes everything from you. Makes you empty. You become with it.”
“With what?” I ask.
“With It. The Echo.” She nods her head upwards to the sky. She reaches up for her glasses and removes them and then she looks at me. I find myself staring at her. At her eyes, or where her eyes used to be, now replaced by obsidian orbs that feel they stare in all directions, unblinking and unflinching. Eyes are as dark as the depths of space, inescapable.
“Ina don’t” I try to reason with what’s left of her and my arms tenses, ready to fire.
“I don’t have a choice. You will meet the machine and join the echo. Or. You will burn with the rest of them and join the echo.” She stiffens upon saying this.
There is a moment of stillness, like the calm before the storm. And then Ina charges. I raise my pistol and fire, but in haste, only grazing her shoulder. Ignoring the wound, she crashed into me at full speed. I fall on the metal floor of the gangway. The gun and book both slide out of reach. Ina is clawing at my face. Hands manage to catch them both, using everything I have, I push her off of me, hard enough she lands heavily against metal floor. I manage to get up in time, as Ina is quickly on her feet charging back into me. I have some hesitation about hitting her, but the feeling in the back of my head, tells me she is no longer the woman I knew. I block her hands with one forearm and let fly with a fist. It hits home, forcing her back. I take one step back, closer to the gun and book. She comes in again, I anticipate her charge, and counter her, forcing her back even further. The clanking of the conveyors has begun again. She is on the floor again and as she gets up I make for my weapons. Snatching up the book and the gun, I turn as she slams into me again. I can hear the hissing pressure of the hydraulics. The gun discharges into her chest. Metal scrapes on metal as maw begin to open. Ina with the last of her strength grabs for the book, I try to pull her away, but she has it. I push and she goes over the rail, tearing the book from my hands. I look over the edge into the light of the flames below and for seconds she her descend into the white. The maw closes.
Realising what has happened, I begin to run. I barely make it to the end of the gangway when the incinerator begins to rumble like thunder. There is no explosion, but instead, it feels like an implosion. Everything feels torn towards the collapsing incinerator. The floor quakes. Metal is bent and twisted so fast and fiercely it screams. I hit a metal staircase and fall down it, as the floor gives way and the world turns sideways