Welcome To The End; Please mind the step
The platform looking down a long canyon with walls of steel and glass, a million hurrying screaming figures on the ground a mile below. Darkened figures rushed all around, their faces blurred and inhuman. Putting down a warm intoxicating drink and joining the others, the suits and ties standing inside a small capsule as brooding gorillas in black casing ran to and throw collecting and destroying the strange sheets of white that were everywhere. 'PROTOCOL-U5' The words blared out and resonated around, meaningless garble from a disembodied voice as the capsule sealed up and suddenly fell downwards. Down an endless pit as a hundred suns flew past in the opposite direction. 'PROTOCOL-U5'. Long halls of white walls and bright lights, figures clad in white with hard black faces with burning orange eyes, more capsules, smaller, one for each figure. The capsule sealed shut, hissing and screeching. 'PROTO-' cut off as the capsule cover closed, pressure building as the air seeped out and a new substance flooded in, sterile and unpleasant smelling that made the breathing slower and eyelids heavy. Eyes closed. Darkness reigns.
The man's eyes shot open, his mouth wide gasping for the putrid stagnate air as his hands reached out, meeting cold chipped glass stained brown and covered from the outside with inches of dust. He jerked his head around in panic, trapped in some tiny chamber, a prison maybe? An escape pod? Transport? His eyes fixed on a big red button encircled with 'emergency escape', the word's meaning lost on him but a big red button obviously having some important purpose. Slamming his hand against it, tiny shutters along the top of the capsule opened and more than a lifetimes worth of dust spilled in, followed by fresh air. His ears popped as the air pressure changed and the encroaching glass before him slid away to the side revealing a huge darkened space beyond. Stepping out cautiously with one leg his entire body lost all feeling the moment it touched the ground, his knees buckled and he slumped to the cold hard floor, letting out a groan and rolling onto his back. His strange prison had a dozen or more identical to it going on in either direction, all of them empty, the words “Cryo-4”, “Cryo-5” and so printed atop them. Looking around he tried his best to figure just where he was, barely able to see the walls of the room only some 8 or 9 metres away through the thick darkness and dust that hang in the air. Wires and cables ran along the floor and walls like vines, running between the capsules and a mountain of computers and screens.
It took a number of minutes before the feeling slowly came back to his body, through his fingers and toes to his arms and legs and eventually his whole body. His mind stirred and his temples burned, strange images and voices filling his head, not able to make sense of any of it. Stumbling back to his feet the man shuffled back to his tiny capsule, inspecting it closer.
TK Cryo-system v.11
register no: 429982153
Copyright Teksarb Corporation 2046
United Arms R&D Sector 5G
Cryogenic chamber 62
Occupant: Daniel Blackwell
To be opened: 07.10.2150
Most of the writings on the panel beside the opening made little sense but that name jumped out. Daniel Blackwell? Was that him? The name sounded familiar. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t remember his name, only fragments of what seemed like days before entering the strange capsule. So he saw no harm in taking that name for now. Looking in the other “Cryogenic chambers” it looked like their occupants had been released long before him. They all had the same series of numbers at the end of their panels so he assumed all the chambers were to open the same time. In which case why didn’t these 'others' get him out of his? And secondly if theirs had opened on time and his didn't how long had passed since then? It must have been decades at least, from telling the condition of their insides compared to his chamber which looked spotless -sealed off perfectly from the world for untold eons.
A loud clang echoed out from some distant part in the bowels of this desolate metal dwelling which sent a chill down Daniel's back and brought him straight back to focusing on his wider surroundings. Was he underground or above ground? Was he alone? He opened his mouth to speak when he realised he didn’t really want an answer to that, firmly shutting his mouth again and walked slowly over to what seemed the door -his legs still weak-, a few large holes dotted the walls along the room revealing all sort of circuitry and wiring and glimpses into the parallel rooms, all identical to the current one. The corridor outside stretched on for what seemed like forever and no natural light was in sight, he had to be underground. But how far down? He walked aimlessly through the decaying walkways for over an hour, lost in the darkness in search of a map or directions on the walls, but it looked like they were displayed on computer screens rather than printed on the walls, computer screens that had long ago burnt out. He continued on in one direction for as long as he could, passing through huge rooms filled with fantastical machinery and appliances the original purpose of which he couldn’t figure out for the best of them. All manner of unpleasant unnatural sounds emitted from all the rooms and side-halls, which Daniel had no intention of investigating their source. He stopped in a large lobby area filled with ancient machines and plastic benches and counter-tops the surface of which seemed to shimmer and move about in the extremely faint light, some strange moss that had slowly invaded the area, their spores slowly dancing in the air which made Daniel pull his sleeve up and cover his mouth. It was only then he actually looked down and noticed what he was wearing. The nicest suit he had ever seen, made to measure with the finest wool and smoothest silk, faintly embroidered with a mix of floral and tribal patterns, it must have cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.
Looking up again his eyes caught the attention of a series of double metal doors. Elevators? Had to be. He rushed to them and ran his hands along the cold metallic surface which crumbled and flaked away to the touch and tried to remember just how to use the machine. Looking to the side he saw a pair of buttons and stretched out his hand to press one when he froze and his eyes went wide.
Printed right above the buttons. Did the B mean basement? It couldn’t possibly. What kind of building goes 94 floors below ground. The ceiling had to be almost nine or ten metres tall at places in the rooms Daniel passed through. If all the floors were like that he could be almost a kilometre below the surface. Only then did he also realise the pointlessness of pressing one of those buttons, there was no power on this floor, there'd be no power on the other floors. He stepped back from the elevator, searching around in a panic for any other way out of this rotting crypt of decaying metal and plastic. Beside the elevators stood a doorway, the door hanging from its hinges which crumbled to the floor with a tap from Daniel's foot, he stepped over and into the stairwell the other side and peered upwards seeing the stairs seemingly going on ad infinitum. Looking downwards a shiver ran down his spine upon seeing the exact same scene, it had to flooded and was merely showing the reflection of what was above he thought - only when he dropped a piece of rubble and saw no splash, and then no sound of it hitting the ground after a minute did he conclude the stairs really did go on downwards just as far as they did up. He grasped the stair railing and jumped back as it creaked and fell away down into the darkness below deciding it better to stick as close to the outer wall as he ascended and began his journey up.
He gave up trying to count the steps between each floor to try and work out how long this endeavour would take him as it seemed each floor had a different number of steps. This entire facility just felt...wrong, like it had been purposely designed to confuse and disorientate intruders and unwelcome guests. Half an hour passed and the view up and down the stairwell looked identical to when he started, peering through the door to the floor he was on it also looked near enough identical to the floor he started on. Had he moved at all? Maybe somehow looped? No, that was silly he dismissed. His musing was cut short when a loud guttural roar emitted from somewhere deep below and seemed to carry up the stairwell. It couldn’t be decided if it were a natural sound or from man made device, but Daniel had no intention of sticking around to find out, quickly setting of again up the steps. The lonely mood in the stairwell gave way and the darkness seemed to cling to him tighter as if it too were afraid, the air behind slowly began coursing upwards along the stairs as if it wanted to hurry him out of his horrible place. He quickened his pace and continuously looked down below but still saw not a thing below he didn’t let that slow him though, beginning to run up the stairs and began taking the steps two at a time and then three, bounding up the stairwell and panting ,the quicker he got the more scared he got. He was sure he was not alone now in this stairwell, looking down again and again at the floors below and still seeing nothing but his eyes playing tricks on him, a shadow shimmering or a railing creaking as if someone were holding it while walking along. They had to be tricks of his nervous mind , he refused to believe something was in pursuit. Then why was he still running? He came to a stop and leant against a wall to catch his breath and the tension and fear seemed to dissipate instantly. He smiled to himself over coming his foolish fear of the unknown and prepared to set off again when the roar sounded again, louder than before, immensely louder in fact, it could only have come from a few floors below. Back into a headlong run he went, and then a sprint, climbing a floor in a second or two. His mind was racing and his concentration wavered, slamming his foot into one of the steps and tumbling up them in a heap. Quickly rolling onto his back he was ready to meet his pursuer, maybe he could kick his feet at it fruitlessly. A minute passed and he hadn't moved, no sign of any other living or non-living individual was apparent. Was there ever a threat? He thought, had it just go off into one of the floors perhaps. Maybe to cut him off! He quickly realised and looked up sharply to the floors above and to his surprise only seeing ceiling. He looked round to confirm it and see through the doorway to the floor natural daylight seeping in in the distance.
Jumping to his feet he quickly ran through the doorway, still trying to catch his breath back and finding it extremely hard for some reason. He breathed in deeply but no oxygen wanted to enter his lungs. He saw a huge pair of doors surrounded by walls of glass with blinding sunlight spilling in and hurried towards them but the closer he got the harder he found it to breathe. His pace slowly and his heart slowed incredibly until he was up against the doors, falling to his knees and his face sliding down the glass as the glaring sunlight faded away behind a cloud and before him he saw his first glimpse of the surface. His eyes widened and he choked, the burnt husks of a thousand buildings crumbling and dilapidated as far as the eye could see, with black girders barely holding them up stretching up like fingers into the sky begging for help. The giant glass doors slid open and Daniel collapsed forward, his face hitting sand that now seemed to cover the land. He gasped and choked breathing in again and again but no air entering his mouth, at least no air he was used to. His vision blurred and his head pounded, his arms twitching and feeling round the floor and only feeling the coarse sand. His eyes slipped shut and his mind went blank just as he swore he heard a distant shout inaudible to him.
A hand slapped against his cheek and his eyes shot open and he his mouth wide open gasping for air, as sweet tasting fresh oxygen flooded down his throat and filled his lungs. Blinkingly he looked around in a daze, a figure standing over him with a darkened face and covered in bags and satchels but all still blurred to recognize fully. He felt as his face a glass cover over the top and a metal and latex mouthpiece that led to a canister filled with his precious oxygen. He tried raising his arm to his rescuer but his body to weak, his eyes felt heavy again and he lapsed back into the darkness.
He stirred and shifted about on his back, his mind a blur of images and sounds the same scene from before awaking in the cryo chamber replaying again but making no more sense than the first time. And then his journey through the damned underground facility though his mind interpreting it differently, some dark unholy figure infact chasing up up the stairwell that never ends. He was laying on something strange that shifted and moved about beneath him that lulled him gently and made him want to go back to his sleep when he slowly sat up. Looking down slightly confused at some strange contraption walking along in the sand, some four-legged robot covered in big bags and containers. The closest thing he could describe it as was a horse, but with no head and a giant spherical camera at the front that constantly shifted and watched the ground, adjusting itself and walking forward perfectly in the uneven ground. A rope wrapped around it's 'neck' ran ahead to the hand of a figure leading them forward. His rescuer he presumed, dressed in a long khaki coloured woolen robe that came down to his knees, dark grey combat trousers beneath stained brown with mud from years of use and a pair of hiking boots that could fall apart at any moment. A satchel hung by his left side and to his right slung over his shoulder was a sub-machine gun kept in remarkably well condition, and atop his robe a white hood that was pulled over his head to keep the sun off. Daniel cleared his throat and spoke
“H-Hello?” He almost didn’t recognize his own voice at first, the mask over his face distorting him. The figure stopped and turned his head back, his face lighting up upon seeing Daniel awake, stopping the robot and walking over.
“Almost thought I lost you back there” He said cheerfully, looking him up and down “Are you thirsty? I have lots of water” The figure was a mere boy, no older than 16 or 17 he wore a similar mask to Daniel and could see his eyes that seemed so innocent and full of life unlike this new world he had found himself in.
“Water would be nice” He replied, his eyes scanning his surroundings and seeing there was more sand here than before, unable to see the first floor of a lot of building and only seeing rotted shop signs sticking out the top of the white floor beside street lamps and the very top of trucks and buses.
“Here” A hand with a canteen appeared before his face and Daniel took it, unscrewing the top and putting his hand on his mask to take it off to drink before his rescuer shouted out and slapped his hand away, instead unscrewing a similar top on the side of the mask.
“Put the container to that and tip it up slightly.” He said and Daniel did as instructed, and swallowed the water that flowed in with a slight metallic taste from the mask.
“Never take your mask off outside. How can you not know that?” The boy said, half jokingly “In fact why didn’t you even have one? There's no way you could have gotten all the way out here without one. And venturing into 'that' building, you must really be a mad one. So tell me, just where did you come from?” He enqueued and tilted his head curiously, taking back the canteen from Daniel and placing it back in his satchel.
“I... don't honestly know.” Daniel confessed, trying to figure out again the moments leading up to entering the chamber. “I think I came from inside 'that' building”
“Impossible!” The boy dismissed “No one can ever enter that building and came out alive. Only the rats and the beasts dwell in there. And you look like no beast I've ever seen. Well.. I’ve seen none, none I've heard about then. Your clothes make you look like you just came out of the Termini high offices, but that cant be, none of the politicians ever venture outside.”
Daniel tried to make sense of what the boy was saying but just couldn't, having to slow him down and start at the beginning.
“Just...where am I?”
The boy looked to Daniel and squinted at him trying to determine whether he was joking or just insane.
“Did you hit your head or something? This is Jersey City, more specifically Hoboken. The 'Scorched shores' I think they call this place. You won't find many others here, they all live over on the island where the land is more fertile and there’s more room to make the towns. You can see it if you cross a few streets over, along with the protector of the city, but getting close to the water around here isn't advised. Nasty unnatural things come up to see who disturbs them if you do.”
“What year is it? When did... all this happen?!” He asked, still gazing around half unbelieving at his surroundings.
The boy turned and continued to walk, tugging at the rope and the robot which had sat still quietly making whirring sounds and looking around with its camera began following again, Daniel still not feeling much up to walking and the strange metal creature not seeming to mind him riding atop.
“The year? I don't know. No one does. The books of the past of which I read only go to 1980 so I know it is not then. But how long after I cannot guess. They talk so feverishly of some strange brutal creature from a distant land called Soviets, and the fear that they one day go to war with the people that once dwell this land. Perhaps they had something to do with all this. Who is to know”
“Soviets? No. No, where I come from they no longer exist”
“Oh, so you know of them too? It is rare I meet another versed in knowledge of what has passed. You never did tell me where you came from? I won't accept that building as an answer friend.”
“I come from here. But, this isn’t how I remember it at all. I... I entered some strange capsule, a chamber. And now I’m here.”
The boy stopped again and looked over his shoulder again at Daniel, an eyebrow raised sharply.
“So your a uh.. time traveller?” He chuckled and continued walking. “Didn’t think I'd ever meet anyone else that had read HG Wells”
“I'm serious. There were hundreds of similar capsules and had the words 'cryo-chamber' inscribed above each one with a number following after. It was somewhere deep in that building.”
The boy scanned his memory for any references to “cryo-chamber” in any of the science fiction books he had read but couldn’t remember it mentioned anywhere. And he had no idea what lay underground in that horrid building, those that had only ventured a few rooms deep into the building had returned with all sorts of fantastical machines the likes of which no one in this land could create. Perhaps this strange man wasn't lying.
“Okay. So if you come from the past. WHEN did you come from?” The boy asked, deciding to humour the stranger.
“I'm not entirely sure but... after 2046 and.. I think I was meant to be awoken in 2150. That is the date it says for all of them to be opened again- and they all had been except mine.”
“Why'd they leave you behind?”
“I don't know. But I intent to find out. Where are we heading?”
“Home. The bunker. It don't sound like you know your way around here you're hardly equipped to survive this environment. You're more than welcome to stay.” He thought for a second the smiled “I've never had a guest before. Oh yeah, name's Owen by the way.”