I wake with a start on a metal floor. Turning over I find myself beneath the twisted wreckage of the metal staircase. By some miracle I haven’t been crushed. Crawling free, I see the damage that I have wrought. The incinerator is in ruins, nothing more than a smoking shell of steel. The metal dome is gone, so I can see the sky. It’s pulsating and heaving as if attempting to keep together. But it’s dying, I can feel it. I’m still high enough to see parts of the city. Most of is in flames, and the distant noises of explosions and fighting can still be heard.
I climb the stairs carefully, hoping the now fragile construction does not give way beneath me. I reach the ground and immediately notice the black car parked nearby. I hear steps in the loose gravel behind me. Turning to see who it is, but I am too late as a solid punch sends me to the ground. “You had to do it,” A voice says coldly.
Hands reach down and pick me up and I look up to see who it is. Mandlebrot. “You killed Ina.” Behind dark shades burns a rage I have never seen before in anyone. Black streaks run down his face. “You destroyed everything we built.” With one arm he lifts me up and reels back his other, readying another punch. His fist catapults into me, so hard I fly through the air. I hit a tree, feeling ribs crack as I land on the ground. The black water that had settled on it now showers onto me. “You killed our God.” Mandlebrot steps over as I try to get up. His fists come at me. I try to block where I can, but he still lands blows upon me. His last one sends me closer to the river shore. Trying to remain conscious, I get to my feet again. I can taste blood. Mandlebrot grabs me drags me to the river. I struggle, weakly trying to fight him off, but he is far stronger than I ever imagined. “You may think you have killed the Echo. But it will live on in me. And in you.” His hands come around my throat and then he sends my head into the dark waters of the river. I cannot breath. All of Mandlebrot’s strength and will are focused on my death here and now. My vision goes as I begin to drown. With my last ounce of strength, hand is searching for something, anything, in the soft riverbed. Somehow I feel a hard lump of stone move into my hand, pull it free of the water and strike Mandlebrot in the head. It’s hard enough to make him release his grip and stagger backwards. I rise out of the water. Mandlebrot looks at me, with black blood pouring down his face. This time with both hands, I hit him with the river stone again. He goes down. I don’t stop. He tries to get up so I strike. He raises his arms. I strike. Each time he moves I hammer down the stone. Again and again and again. Bludgeoning his skull, crushing it more and more with each hit until I realise that I’m not hitting him any more, but the stone is landing to the soft soil of the river shore. With heaving pants, I cast the stone aside. I stand, wiping Mandlebrot’s blood from my face with my sleeves. Searching his pockets, I find the keys to his car. I weakly get to my feet and begin to stagger towards the vehicle. I cough and my whole chest hurts. I look at my hand. My blood is a dark crimson. I make it to the car, open the door and fall inside. I pull my legs in and put my head back on the headrest, closing my eyes. I need to pull it together. I cough again, tasting the iron tang of blood. I open my eyes, close the door and turn the ignition.
Mandlebrot’s vehicle is a well-tuned machine that is a blur on the empty smoking streets of the city. Good parts of the city are destroyed. Her buildings and monuments are still ablaze from the fighting. Bodies, rubble and the empty shells of vehicles are strewn through the streets. The canals are filled black water and the dead. Naked, leafless trees line the roads. Everything has been touched by fire. I constantly find bridges that have been destroyed and have to rethink my course. The heavy smoke makes it difficult to see. I pass by the empty shells of what used to be homes. Now this place is the Netherworld. I wonder how many have escaped. I drive by a cemetery, which strangely looks untouched. There near the edge of the road is a statue of an angel. The recent storm makes it appear as if she is weeping black tears. I cannot be the only one left alive.
I stop at an intersection trying to decide where to go next. I hear another vehicle approach me, its loud engine growling through the thick smoke, like some jungle predator. A red convertible pulls up beside me. It’s top is down and I see a young blonde woman, her long hair waving in the wind. Another figure leans forward to see me. Behind a mask of splattered black-blood is the razor smile of the Doctor. I stare back in horror. The girl smiles and the convertible speeds off into the gloom. I attempt to match their speed to keep up, but their lights have disappeared. Soon another light appears. As I get closer I can make out a pillar of fire beneath a mound of some description. I soon realise what it is.
A giant pile-up of cars burns before me. Just beyond the mound is a great gap in the wall to freedom. The pile-up must have been made by the last desperate attempts of survivors. For one reason or another they crashed into each other and burned, a final punishment from the thing above. The mound of burning wrecks is like a singularity. I can feel the pull towards it. I can feel the thing above. It’s does not want to let me go. It needs me to stay and die here. I speed towards the fire and the broken cars. My body has turned to stone, my vision swims, becoming hazy. Everything is a blur. Suddenly, as if I’m going to slam head on, my white-knuckled hands jolt at the wheel, my foot mixes brake and accelerator, causing me to slingshot around the burning cars. Flames lick the side of my car. I can smell the burning petrol. Free from the gravity of the wreckage, my car speeds through the hole in the wall
and plummets down an embankment. Landing hard on the rain soaked ground, the car crashes through young trees and low branches. I lose count on the times it rolls. Glass shatters, tyres burst and car is shedding parts. I see a large oak in my path, I cover my face with my arms as I slam into it. Everything becomes black.
Regaining consciousness I see the windshield shattered, branches and green foliage poke through the cracked holes. I stumble from the car. My legs, my entire body wanting to get away, I try to run yet something feels heavy in my chest. I begin to cough. Something won’t leave me. My fit causes me to fall by a creek, my knees landing in the water. Finally, my heaving dislodges something, as I vomit it into the waters. I open my eyes and find a black oily mass flowing downstream as the creek takes it away.
It takes a while for the realisation that I am finally beyond the city walls to sink in. All around me the verdant green of the forest blooms around me. I wash my face in the clear waters. It’s cold but I don’t care. I feel alive again. I hear a noise, a rustling from the nearby woods. A deer, a young buck, his antlers have just started fanning out, steps clear of the tree near the creek. It gets closer to me, so close in fact I could almost reach out and touch it. I remain still as it sniffs the air around me. Then, as if losing interest, it bounds back into the forest.
Crossing the creek, I step into a clearing and look back at the city. It’s once formidable skyline is cracked and broken. Smoke fills the air, but the clouds that once enshrouded the city begin to break up showing the dawn blue sky. I look to the east and, for the first time in what feels like years, I see the sun rising. Tears run down my face.