Martha sat in one of the chairs in a row facing the luggage dispenser.
Felix still had not shown up, and neither had Rossin.
She recounted her dream.
Lists she made while in the dream were still just as fresh as any other.
She closed her eyes - her message still written off to her right
['Had another dream.',
'That police officer was in it...',
'How can I wake you?']
She tapped her foot ideally, watching the luggage getting picked up
The people moved like ants.
A rhythm each individual wasn't aware of, but any outside observer was.
She fell deeper into her thoughts
It had been already an hour since she landed.
A small moment of panic hit her, she was stranded - in New York
'Where were they?'
['With no real money.'
'Maybe Felix is already gone.',
'Maybe Rossin would not wake up...',
She didn't write this list to the board.
She would have kept going except she heard a noise to her right
Rossin sat down next to her.
She turned to him
"What took you so long?"
He yawned and looked around
'I enjoy my beauty sleep...'
'I have no choice in that...
"About an hour. He's still a no show..."
'That is to be expected - he is probably eating now...
Which by the way: you should be doing as well.'
"I had a snack."
"A little power bar - dense calories."
He sat up
'One little power bar...
You need more...
She got up and matched his pace
'Come on, We are getting you more food.'
Rossin hesitated every so slightly in his step
He regained his composure a moment later
"I remember more of it now.
I think they, I don't know, pulled me out of mine and into theirs.
Captain Alacira was her name."
I - my author has not heard from the likes of her since, well...
Before you were born.
About forty years now...'
You know her?"
He mused to himself
He looked back to her
'My author did...
She was a console member...
Still is, technically, since she is alive...
What has she been doing?'
Martha started, gathering her thoughts
'What exactly was she doing?'
"She was sending me places...
First an old italian monastery, then some weird place with a bunch of gears...
I was finding things for her.
And they made these - patterns.
These shapes in my brain - I still see them."
She tried to fit those shapes into a list, but they refused.
Bulging out from that boundary.
Shattering the well-ordering of her thoughts.
No matter what she tried - they refused to be put inside.
And since she hadn't learned how to put anything but lists.
She tried just without the lists and to her surprise, it worked
//(IMAGE LINKS GO HERE)
They exploded out of the board to the right of her perception.
Fading into nothing - they were still burned into her brain, but that had.
Hurt - she had a splitting headache
And can you put these patterns on that board to your right?'
Martha asked through gritted teeth
So she is after that.'
'Are you alright, did that hurt?'
Everything was too bright, the sounds were too loud
She closed her eyes and covered her ears.
She pressed on her forehead to quell the throbbing
She had migraines before - but this was something else, something worse
She opened her eyes and her vision swam.
Panting she stumbled toward a wall, and slid down it.
Closing her eyes she focused on her breathing
Things grew more quiet and she could finally make out Rossin talking to her.
She couldn't hear him, interrupting she said:
My head is pounding."
He didn't wait a whole minute - but he did wait a few seconds
"...just - be quiet for a second...
I'm getting better just - hold on for a minute."
She opened her eyes
Her vision swam.
Corners had extra shadows that danced and stretched.
It was getting better, but slowly
'Felix is close, he is walking toward you - stand up if you can.'
She braced against the wall and slid up.
Felix came into her vision from around the corner
He was holding two ice cream cones, one of which he was licking.
He spoke as he approached
"I hope you got a good look - I'm not doing that again."
"You look like shit, good thing I have ice cream."
She took the cone
It was mint-chip.
Not her favorite, by a long shot
"Bad sleep, hardly any actually."
>>--ST -o --auto
She took a small bite
The flavor exploded in her mouth
She started consuming chunks of it
She didn't realize how famished she was
She realized as she licked at it
'And this is the best damn ice cream...'
Her vision was slowly but surely coming back to normal.
And a slow cold swelled in the top of her mouth.
She didn't care, it was just so - damn - good.
It helped with the headache - something to distract from it.
It was a new pain, harmonizing and smoothing out the sharper pain in her brain
"I assumed you would get food too.
This was desert, were you waiting all this time?"
['more pain is less pain.']
She saved that thought in a list, partly in irony, and mostly for practice
He held out his arm Martha linked with it
"We'll walk then, it's not far - grab something on the way."
Behind them Kent watched them link arms.
He wasn't in ear shot so he just followed them.
They were walking apparently to wherever they were heading.
Which was a stroke of luck for him, not having to hail down a taxi.
He watched them stop at a hotdog vendor.
Felix flashing his phone and the vendor just giving them several hotdogs
They walked off without paying.
He stopped himself, to meet the vendor's glassy stare
It took a few seconds but suddenly he shook and asked what Kent wanted
Kent paid for a hotdog and hurriedly caught up
He watched them enter Idlewild Park and make their way up Brookville blvd.
They walked for some time until they stopped at a building.
Incongruent with the rest.
It was tall.
Thirty stories high when everything around it was nearly flat.
It was black.
And at the top it had symbols on it - stark white against the obsidian.
That's what it looked like on the outside.
Impermeable by light
Felix and Martha went inside.
Kent started to follow, but slowed
The building was so out of place, and those symbols.
They were almost like the one's Felix had shown him on his phone
'Were they there so people forgot about it when looking at it?'
Into the lion's den
Instinctively he padded himself down
Keys, wallet, phone, gun.
Hopefully he wouldn't need the latter
But more and more he was sure he would
He muttered to himself, stepping up to the building
"This is some bullshit."
'He was getting to tired for this shit...'
Felix Stepped into the dark hallway
They were on the 4th floor.
The elevator just opened to what he promised would be hundreds of peers.
Instead they found this
Martha stepped out of the elevator
Waiting at the threshold
Felix opened one of the doors in the hallway
Closing it again, He walked back
Martha nodded and he entered the elevator behind, pushing a few buttons
"Stay here, I'm going to see if there's anyone in the building at all."
Rossin walked forward
He waved at her to follow him
She hesitated only a moment - she too wanted to know
Meeting him at the first door, she pushed it open
Behind it - nothing.
An empty room with a chalkboard in the distance.
Several rows of seats but no humans
A glint caught her eye by the side of the desk.
A broken syringe, glass glittering towards the door
'I want to know what is going on.'
She looked down the hallway
'I think there is no one here.'
Martha glared at him then closed her eyes to focus
It was quite enough for her to hear her own heart beat.
And something else.
A rhythmic knocking, and a scratching - faint.
Off to her
"Do you hear anything at all?"
She moved towards the sound
She reached a door, second on the right and opened it
She was not prepared for what she saw
Behind the door were a row of students, missing their heads.
Well, not missing - just misplaced.
Differently placed if you will.
They sat neatly in rows, as if taking a school photo.
They were holding wooden pikes, Balanced against their still bodies.
At the top of these pikes made from broken chairs and desks.
Were their heads.
And seared into their forehead was a letter.
They were arranged carefully.
Space included to spell out the message:
'To the right: yes, coming from one of the rooms.'
Martha closed the door
But it was too late - details burned into her mind.
Their skin - their arms - were puffy and red.
Like they were boiled.
She noticed a steaming pot on a burner in the back.
What did they do in that room, what happened
She gagged a little, the smell wafting over to her finally.
She leaned back against the door and started to hyperventilate.
Rossin looked at the door, then to her
Rossin turned towards her
He took a breath himself
'Listen, take a few deep breaths.
Not shallow - or else you will pass out.
'Did he bre--- no.'
She followed suit.
Rossin breathed out, and she did as well.
In the quiet - she heard the scratching - it was coming from that room
'He did not breath - that was all for show, for her.'
"Someone's still in there."
Martha waited, and that's all he said
'That is what that scratching is.'
Rossin shook his head
"So shouldn't we...
Get them out of there?"
Martha shook her head.
She stood back up and steeled herself
But it was too late
She entered the room and called out
'No one here would do the same for you.
Whatever is keeping them inside - it is probably too risky to get them out.'
She avoided looking at the display of bodies in the center of the room.
Closing her eyes, she pinpointed the scratching down - it stopped
"Hello, is anyone in there."
It came from a supply closet on the left, close to the hallway
"Don't come in!"
She pulled at the handle of the supply closet
It was held fast
'Okay - so he is warning you not to get closer...
I just want to point this out when things go horribly wrong.
This is your own decision.'
The voice was frantic, terrified
"Don't open it, don't look at me!"
There was a pause.
An intake of breath, like he had been sobbing
"What happened here?"
The voice was pained
"I killed them - they killed themselves.
They tried to kill me, I locked myself in here..."
He screamed suddenly, a piercing howl
And there was a thumping on the inside of the closet.
So violent it almost shook the structure
"I can't even remember their faces, they're gone...
Really gone...GET OUT OF MY HEAD!"
Martha ignored him
'Martha: you should back away.'
"I'm going to get you out of there.
"There is none."
"Don't you understand - it's in me.
Worse than dead."
The thumping stopped suddenly
'That thing inside your head...
It is inside his head too...
Or something like it...
Get out of here now - only a matter of time before...'
The closet door clicked open
Martha finally started to back away
Her neck threw every bit of blood it could to her brain, tightening as her heart dropped
'Seriously Martha, now...
Get out of here now!'
His words were slow - or her brain was cooled in adrenaline.
Everything felt like moving through pudding - but she had time to focus all her energy into the run.
Rossin was at the door, urging her to move.
Her feet felt wooden, the whole moment felt surreal
The door opened.
And a sixty year old man fell out
His forehead bloody - scratched to hell.
His fingers dripped with blood.
They had been tearing at a symbol scared into his head.
His eyes were wild.
Tears darker than ink spilled out, scaring the flesh with burns
He was panting.
He crawled on all fours - running at her with an uncanny grace.
Martha slammed the door on him - running for the elevator
It did little to slow him down.
Whatever he was now - still knew how to work doorknobs
She slammed into the elevator and pressed the down button
Then the up button a moment later
Any direction would do - she turned to face the man
He was on all fours - galloping toward her.
She waiting in anticipation
She braced herself and jumped to the side just as he did.
He slammed face first into the elevator
Her hearing was slowed down but not de-pitched
She ran back down the hall
On her hands and knees.
Fighting against time itself
"Rossin, can we switch?"
There wasn't much hallway, and that thing was striding towards her now
And I think that I would be ineffective against him anyway.'
She grabbed the door
It opened inward
She closed it just in time, and could almost lock the door
There was a pause - she could hear him rummaging around in the other room
The glass broke and his fist came through the now open panel on the door
He was holding a syringe
Martha ducked down - still holding on to the knob.
He clawed at her hands
The elevator dinged.
And she was able to lock the door.
She heard it galloping towards the elevator
'Duck into one of these rooms, they lock from the inside.'
She heard a gunshot, then a thud
Footsteps grew closer, no answer
She started to back away from the door, out of sight.
A head poked in, armed raised cautiously with a gun
It was that police officer from her hometown.
Martha could see the dark of the barrel, and his finger off of the trigger
'Oh shit: Felix...'
Martha slowly shook her head, he quickly glanced back toward the elevator
"What the hell was that, rabies?"
Again Martha shook her head
Again Martha nodded
"Weirder than zombies?"
Sudden relief flooded her.
Adrenaline still pumping and she giggled a bit at the absurdity of it all.
Her neck was still pulsing, her heart slowing and the world seemed to go by faster.
Stifling that down she sighed
"I've had a weird week."
Martha said nothing and Kent continued to wait
"A weird fucking week."
He asked, as he inspected his borrowed gun
"Are you going to...
Fill me in?"
"Do you want to tell me why you're following me..."
Kent looked up at her as she turned to Rossin
"Well, you broke out of the holding cell.
No one remembers you, and oh yeah, my friend is dead."
"I told you, we should have stayed."
He trailed off, looking at Kent
'We can bring him...'
'Or maybe not...
Maybe we should have stayed...'
He moved his head, peering at her neck
"Are you talking to Felix?
Do you have..."
Rossin went up to Kent, studying him
"One of those comms under the skin?"
Martha said. she was pretty sure under the skin comms was for movies, but
I'm not, and I don't."
Martha lowered her hands slowly, gesturing to his gun.
Kent lowered his gun
"Who are you talking to?"
"...Who are you talking to?"
Rossin perked up at that
"Well, his name's Rossin, he's a non-physical person."
'Right to the point.'
So a ghost?"
"More like a...
"Isn't that just a ghost?"
She turned to Rossin, who shook his head
"He's not made of ectoplasm...
Is that something that exists?"
"Yeah, that's not even a thing..."
"So he's a memory, like...
In your head..."
"He's like a computer program...
Only for brains."
Kent interjected, but Martha cut him off
"The brain isn't a computer -"
Kent didn't smile, he did raise his lips into what could be called a grin.
"I said like...
Simile, it's similar."
"Okay, so you're telling me you have a ghost in your brain, sure...
Whatever - let's run with that.
Why are you in New York?"
"Okay - so that's a longer explanation..."
"Alright, let's start with that surprisingly spry old man outside - the not-zombie?"
Rossin walked between the two of them, facing Martha
"He was infected with a very bad ghost in his brain."
'This is painful.
Either just tell him everything or stop using ridiculous metaphors.'
She snapped, looking over him to Kent to say:
"What else am I supposed to tell him?"
Rossin cut over
Martha snapped at him as she flipped the switch
Martha unwound from that spinning wheel that traded their spots
Rossin stretched his, her, neck
So there are these things called namshubs..."
Rossin reached out his hand
I'm Rossin, nice to meet you: So here is what's going to happen..."
Kent raised an eyebrow
"First you're going to give me that gun."
Rossin, in Martha's body only stood still as a statue
"Why should I?"
Rossin stepped forward
Kent leveled the gun at him, her, with his finger still off the trigger
"Because we don't have much time.
Martha needs a reasonable explanation for that gunshot.
If anyone sees you here...
You're literally worse than dead."
"Any time now: Felix, the one with us, is going to come through that elevator...
With people in tow...
And you really don't want to piss them off by...
Your best bet is to hide in an empty room and stay quiet until we all leave.
Which may be a while thanks to all the dead bodies in the next room over."
Rossin took another step forward - Kent pulled back the hammer of the gun
"More than you want to know about.
Seriously - you are in way over your head here."
Martha watched all this from the shadow perspective studying Kent.
She was sure he was ready to shoot
Rossin looked directly at Martha
'Do not get me killed.'
Rossin turned back to Kent
"You're dead if they find him here, you know that right?"
The elevator bell rang down the hallway
Kent stepped into the room
He considered it fitting, as he also borrowed this gun.
Kent made a snap decision:
He unclasped the hammer and handed them the gun
"I'm not going to hurt you, or shoot you.
We'll give it back later."
Down the hall came a shout
"Fine, where do I meet you...
"Martha? Are you here? Are you hurt?"
Kent hissed in a whisper
Where in central park?"
Rossin replied, turning his head towards the footsteps outside the room
Kent made his way into a small utility closet
"South east corner."
He nodded back at Martha
They switched back
Felix popped his head through the broken glass
"Later - tonight maybe, just be around there."
He looked back toward the hallway
YOU shot him?"
Martha didn't even have to lie.
Just omit the truth
"He ran at me on all fours...
There's a bunch of dead people in the other room."
She walked out and led him further down the hall
She opened the door
Felix's face froze
He backed away, and closed the door himself
"I heard a scratching, and well..."
He made is way back toward the elevator,
"We should leave, right the fuck now."
Felix pressed the button on the elevator panel: down
At his feet was the person Kent shot
He turned him over, looking at his forehead
"What's going on?"
"This is bad..."
He turned to her
"Felix - what's going on?"
He pointed at the scratched out and damaged symbol on the corpse's forehead
"This is death...
Not just a little death: this...
When we reconstructed your neighbor - he was still mostly whole.
One collection tightly nestled in the link...
He snapped his fingers
"This is like a blender - everyone's memories of them: evaporated, like that!"
The elevator door opened.
They stepped inside
After a moment's pause
"Gone forever - completely mixed in the ocean...
You can't fix that."
Martha considered the word
Felix turned to her, then faced forward toward the elevator doors
He glanced back at her
"People that think they're Awakened - a honeypot for those that..."
Rossin paced back and forth...
"Develop this awareness on their own.
They meet on the internet - we keep track of them...
They don't actually know how to do anything, or can do anything...
Or recognize things...
But they think they do."
Rossin continued to pace and Martha fiddled around with the gun.
Locating and making sure the safety was on, she tucking it behind her pants
'This is not good.
He is considering if you are with them, infiltrating.'
She tucked her shirt over the gun into her pants
Felix studied her
"So what now?"
There as an elevator ding, and they both felt the gravity suddenly shift
"We're going to Flanagan's home, to get some answers..."
The elevator doors opened to the downstairs lobby and they walked out
"He's the one that made the undernet."