A single sliver of moonlight pierced the room like a hot-edged blade. He opened one eye and stared at Mota's sole satellite in the sky, looking cold and unforgiving amidst a sea of stars, each whispering to him. Each trying to tell him something...
He turned away from the silver light and stared off into the darkness of his chamber, where once recognizable objects had been transformed into lumps of shadow, like faceless, misshapen demons crawling about. It was a hot summer night, made worse by the fact that air conditioning was a luxury no one could enjoy anymore, due to the demise of Mother Brain.
She had been both a blessing and a curse to the people of Mota, but she had been their sustenance, nevertheless, and now, the entire land was beginning to die without her. He knew, though, in his heart of hearts, that it had to be this way. Palm's destruction had been orchestrated by none other than the masquerading machine herself; who knew how much more she had planned for them?
On sleepless nights like these, he often let himself drift from one ponderance to another, swarmed by his own thoughts like a swimmer caught in an inescapable current, flowing forever into the depths of madness. The insomniac nights were always the worst. Hour upon hour spent tossing and turning, like a mannequin that was being manipulated infinitely for amusement. He would hear her scream in his head, only masked by a veil of brutal indifference as he would shut that part of his memory away, and lock it so he wouldn't have to deal with the pain anymore.
He became less than human in the nights of unrest, devoid of compassion, intellect, and soul. He felt like an automaton that just kept on going for no purpose and he would realize this, and sit up, awash with horror at his own reality. Confused thoughts fluttering in the darkness like startled bats would cloud his mind until finally he would drift off into uneasy slumber, dreaming of a time when things were different and life was moving at a furious tempo, stopping for no one...
He knew he looked like an ill man. He stayed mostly in his home now, and his face was always most and sallow, with a pensive expression locked forever into his features. His eyes were the most revealing about his own troubles. Like the hackneyed but adequate expression, they were truly a gateway into his soul. And at certain times, he would get up and walk to the mirror hanging on the wall outside his bedroom, and stare at his thinning figure, once proud and strong, now withered and decaying like... Like an ill man. He was, for all purposes, an ill man.
On this particular night, he heard the voices screeching in his mind, beseeching him to end their sorrow, and as he clutched at his head, trying to silence them, he felt tears trickle down his face as he thought of all the losses he had endured in the past year. He stared up at the moon again and felt his tears blur most of his vision until he saw nothing but a pearlescent nothingness like the eye of a blizzard.
He smelled the acrid stench of burnt bodies in the cold corridors. He saw the clouds rain blood until there was no more death. He heard the cries of thousands of voices as they begged him to end it, begged. And he stood up, shivering in his nightshirt, damp with cold sweat. He walked over to his desk, bathed in the moonlight, and began to write.
* * * * *
Amy Sage left Saint Alis Hospital at noon to go get a bite of something to eat. The temperature was rising by the day, she noted to herself as she felt a trickle of sweat run down her leg. She would need some less bulky clothes soon. She took a deep breath of the sticky, humid summer air and walked down the streets of Paseo, once a bustling metropolis, now transformed into a ramshackle collection of residential areas, boutiques, and whatever other organizations managed to stay alive after Mother Brain's collapse.
It was a most dreary time to be alive -- Mother Brain, after all, had been Mota's nursemaid and caretaker for centuries. Living on their own was a very intimidating prospect. Amy respected all those who continued on with their lives as best as possible, especially the rest of the staff at the hospital.
She decided to stop by the Grove today, and get a small sandwich or something. She didn't feel very hungry, anyway.
The Grove was a popular hangout in Paseo for young people, and though Amy didn't feel very young despite the fact that she was less than a quarter-century old, it was a nice place to just be in, even after Mother Brain was gone. There were only a few people scattered here and there in the restaurant today, but Amy was glad. At least there would be some quietness for her to sit and think as she ate, like she often did.
She ordered a kitedragon root burger and a mila just to sip on the side. Kitedragons were very peculiar tree-like creatures that dwelled only on Mota; they were both flora and fauna. While being sentient, the only actual part of them that was alive in the truest sense was their core, which glowed with orange light and served as both their heart and brain. The rest of them, however, was just like a regular tree, albeit with a faint sweet taste and powdery residue. Kitedragon root burgers were a favorite of Amy's.
Mila, on the other hand, was the juice of a thorn palm, highly spiced and served hot. It was the perfect drink to wake somebody up, and Amy felt like she really needed something to energize her.
She thought about the recent going-ons in her life as she ate by herself, next to a window that overlooked the inner city streets. In the distance, she could make out Central Tower, cloaked by a thin layer of lower-atmosphere fog. Algo shined on it sleek blue titanium surface, and it reflected the light dully.
It had been a while since she had heard from her old friends, and she thought that she might want to pay a visit on Hugh one of these days, to see how he was doing. Amy knew he and some others were working hard on Mota's restoration, but she just wanted to see a familiar face and maybe talk for a bit. Just to talk...
A young couple strolled past the window, and she stared at them as they moved out of view. They looked so happy and content with each other. Perhaps what she really needed was a boyfriend.
She took another sip of the mila. It burned like fire in her mouth, but tasted like clover-honey after a few seconds and smelled like violets. Sighing to herself, she finished the last few bites of her burger and stood up by her table, looking for a waiter. Her eyes glanced across the room as calmly as an owl poised to glide from a tree branch. When one of the workers finally noticed her, she motioned for him to come over. She needed to get back to the hospital soon.
After she had paid, she left the Grove quickly and strolled down the sidewalk for a few blocks, looking up at the skyscrapers and other places of interest in Paseo like she was a visitor. But that was almost implausible. Visitors were very few now that the teleportation networks were down. Nobody trekked between towns on foot, as it was a very dangerous thing to do, with all sorts of wild creatures on the loose. Even Arima seemed so far away...
Finally, she found herself standing before a massive aquamarine building with glass doors and an impressive statue of a long-haired woman standing in the courtyard before it. She paused to admire the statue, something she liked to do. It was really beautiful. A small plaque at the bottom had the words "Saint Alis Landale" engraved in them.
Whoever the sculptor was, he or she was definitely skilled. Whenever she stared into the stony eyes of Saint Alis, she felt like she was staring at a real person that had cement poured over her so that the finest details stood out. It seemed silly, but it was an intriguing thought.
Amy walked into the hospital and past the receptionist's desk. It was cool inside; still rather warm for her liking, but much better than outside, at least. She walked through a heavy, creaky door and went up several flights of stairs that smelled of mold. It was tiring to go up and down like that, with no elevator service, but it was also somehow worth it. The entire eastern face of the building was glass, and it gave her an increasingly panoramic view of the city as she walked up the steps.
Finally, on the fourth floor, she stopped to rest for a moment by the wall. She sat down on the marble floor tiles and looked at the whole of Paseo laid out before her. The multitudes of buildings large and small, wide and thin, tall and short were like a bestiary of little square creatures. The city was so full of life, yet so dead at the same time. It was rather sad to see.
"Amy, you okay?"
Amy looked up and into the eyes of Nat, a colleague of hers. She was obviously winded, and he was grinning at the sight. "Yeah, I'm fine," she said, standing herself up with the support of an arm. "It's just so exhausting going up and down these stairs."
"Ah, you're out of shape, my dear friend," Nat said, his grin getting even wider.
"You sure about that?" asked Amy, raising a fist in the air threatingly. She smiled at him.
Nat scratched the back of his head. "Well, if you're all rested up, then you should come with me to the records archive. We've still got more work there." He began to walk away.
Amy rolled her eyes and followed him down the carpeted hall that smelled of medicine. She was always impressed by the number of unfinished tasks there always were despite the lack of working computer terminals. She guessed that there'd just be more problems if the terminals were up.
It was a dreadful bore working with the records. Numbers, numbers, nothing but numbers! Compare this, check that, relay this, cancel that. Over-charged, under-charged, misplaced, displaced. There were ridiculous amounts of clerical errors, but as she thought about the heavy-lidded secretaries employed by Saint Alis Hospital, she could understand why.
What she couldn't understand, though, was why she had to be the one who corrected those errors. Wouldn't she be useful somewhere else, with her medical skills? She never asked her superiors, though, because she knew the answer -- where else would she work? The hospital was only able to accomodate several score people at a time, and the extent of their treatment was always limited to Nares and trimate for now.
Amy was going through the usual stack of papers to check for obvious misprints that placed patients' birthdays a century too early or had children twice as old as their parents when something caught her eye. It was a name. Rolf Oslane.
What could Rolf have come to the hospital for? she wondered. But even before she looked over the scribbled notes on his case, she knew. She had known for a long time now that Agent Rolf was mentally ill. It made her heart ache whenever she saw him. She had paid him a few visits since the disaster on spaceship Noah, and had always found him wandering about his own home like a zombie, mind and body a mess.
He seemed very much like a lost soul. Lost in the world, trapped in another's body, a maddening world that shattered and re-united day by day...
She gripped the paper with a trembling hand and set it down in the pile of checked records. It was very disturbing to see someone decay before her very eyes, and the paper had just reminded her of how worried she was about him. Maybe she would go check in on him sometime.
The silence continued for another few hours, with only the shuffling of papers to be heard. Amy rubbed her eyes, straining to see in the fading light. There were no windows in the room, and since there still wasn't any working electricity yet, her job ended when the sun went beneath the horizon. Nat broke the silence with a yawn that seemed to stretch on and on. "Oh, man," he mumbled. "What time is it?"
Amy shrugged. Nat walked out of the room for a moment, and then he popped his head back in. "Judging from the look on the secretary's face over there and the view from the window over there, I'd say it's less than an hour before night totally sets in."
"Really?" Amy walked over to stand by him and took a look at the two items herself. The sky was already beginning to darken above the towers of the city, and the secretary's face showed that she had been in the building several hours too long for her liking already. "Wow." she said. "That went quick."
"Hmmm. Not for me." Nat replied. "Must've been your lunch."
Amy chuckled. "Whatever."
"That's what mila does to you, anyway."
"Thank you for notifying me. I'll be sure to stay away from it next time so my afternoon can be as boring as yours."
"Always the jokester, Amy." Nat said with a smile.
Amy returned it and ran a hand through her red-orange hair. "Do you wanna call it quits for today, though?"
"Sure," said Nat, pleased that she had made the offer before he began complaining.
"Alright," said Amy, with a yawn of her own. "Let's go down." She led the way to the staircase and went down the same four flights of steps until she was on the ground floor. As she pushed open the glass doors of the main entrance, dusk was beginning to give way to full twilight, and a few stars shone in the sky. Nat was still behind her.
"You know," he said hesitatingly, as if unsure of how to broach the topic. "At least there's one good thing about Paseo nowadays."
Amy cringed, but only slightly, and she masked this as best as she could. She didn't like it when others talked about the past months as "nowadays." It made the times before Mother Brain seem so distant...
"You can actually see the stars at night." finished Nat. He pointed at the incandescent silver dots in the sky, like shiny beads against black velvet.
"It's beautiful," she said quietly. It was. But she was in no mood to talk at that moment.
Nat walked her home. They lived only a block apart, so it wasn't too out of his way. Amy secretly smiled to herself about how gentlemanly traditions held out in such a chaotic time. "Thanks for coming along with me," she said to Nat as she opened the door to her apartment building. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, Amy," he said, as he watched her disappear inside. He stood for a while longer in the streets before turning to go home himself, knowing that criminals of all sorts crawled out at night without street lights to ward them off.
Amy's apartment was on the ground floor of her building, fortunately, so she had no more steps to climb. She walked in and rubbed her eyes, tired after a day's work but still vaguely aware that she needed to prepare dinner. She decided it could wait; her stomach didn't feel very hungry, anyways.
Throwing her things on the small couch in her living room, she strode over to her bedroom and plopped down, listening to the quiet sounds of nightlife as she fell asleep.
It seemed like she was only asleep for a moment or two, but some time later, she was startled awake by something. She wasn't sure what it exactly was, but felt perturbed nonetheless.
Amy stood up from her bed and balanced herself before groggily going to the living room once more. What had made the noise? It had sounded like...a knock! A quick glance at her battery-powered clock on the wall revealed that it was about an hour before midnight. She had dozed off for longer than she intended.
Who would've paid a visit to her at this hour, though?
A spark of fear ignited in her and she slowly made her way to the door. She pressed a drooping eye against the peephole...and saw nothing. The hall was completely empty, and dark as well. Deciding not to investigate further, Amy was just about to turn around and go back to sleep, or make herself something to eat, when she noticed something.
It was lying on the ground, and looked thin and rectangular, though she couldn't be sure in the dim light.
She bent down further and realized that it was an envelope. Her name was scrawled rather messily on it, and the whole thing looked rather smudged and a bit dirty.
So it wasn't her imagination after all. She wondered who the letter was from. Picking it up, she tore it open and tried to read it. It was too dark in the room, though, and with no working electricity yet, there were no lights to turn on. So she went back to her bedroom, and crouched down on the ground near the window, which was illuminated by moonlight, and began to read the shaky handwriting:
I know it's been a while since we've talked, but I'm afraid that we won't get another chance. I've...grown weary with life. It seems so pointless now, and sometimes I wonder, if there really is a god, why would he allow this much horror in my life? No matter. In retrospect, I wish that I'd taken more time to fully appreciate what we had before, but musings about the past won't do much good, I'm afraid.
I can't keep living like this. I won't keep living like this. Sometimes, I feel so alone in this world, miserable as it sounds. But no matter how you look at it, masks are masks, and I can't keep this one on. Not even for myself.
I just wanted to thank you for being there for me, always. I'm sorry this couldn't have worked out any other way, but I'm deciding to end the pain now. It's for the best. Goodbye.
With a muffled gasp, she let the letter fall from her hand and onto the dusty carpet below.
|Bittersweet, the silent breeze
Descends upon the gnarled trees.
This world of gray is still as death;
Colder than a corpse's breath.
Amy stands there by the graves
Thrust up from earth like silver blades.
The voices cry out in a siren song
Of eternal unrest, eternal long.
Will they find peace in the land beyond?
Or is life still too strong a bond?