Fade Out

MJG Science Fiction, Stories 7 Comments

They strapped a man to the ceiling today. I know him. His name is Wasari Ichimura. I tried to talk to him afterwards but he wasn’t interested, and I was too tired to give chase. Most days now, my muscles don’t stop shaking ’til past midnight. You’d think you’d get used to it. Even now, my last desk job 12 years distant, my frame swelled by 50 or so pounds, I still shake through the night.

My wife thinks it’s funny. Thought it was funny. Now it just scares us both.

Wasari is younger than me. I don’t think he has a family yet. He will. He has a job, now at least, and that means something. He just wasn’t happy. Isn’t happy, and it must have showed somehow, so they strapped him to the ceiling poles, Horiuchi tapping smugly at his laptop, and we spent the whole day looking up at him, wondering what he did.

industra

Image from here.


Walking back to my apartment, dusk, and I always feel like I’m going to collapse. My legs shudder beneath me, tendons quivering weak like weeds in the wind. I used to like it, the burn, the knowledge that I was getting better, stronger, that every day brought us closer to where we wanted to be. Now I just feel tired. I’m getting old.

My home is huge, and hot. All the windows stand open, but that just lets the hot air in, touching the dust of unswept, unlit surfaces, raising the humidity so it’s almost impossible to sleep at night.

Walking through the house is like visiting a graveyard. A world forgotten, full of our lives and what we used to be before the Fade. Photographs sit in frames, dusty, yellowed with the sun. Grey lines creep over the wooden floors where the curtains have been left open. The kid’s clothes lie raggedly around, dolls, cushions, remote controls, watched over by the wide-screen TV squatting like some sentinel gargoyle in the corner.

All pretty meaningless now.

My wife is cooking with the boiler. We get maybe half an hour a day through the grid. Power gets shunted to the battery cells, conservation blocks set heavy against the wall. Leads run out, into the simple hobs. We can’t use the oven unless we save up, and with children, there’s no way you can save up. I’d like roast duck, or a turkey at Christmas, but that’s not going to happen.

She smiles as I lumber in, shoulders brushing either side of the doorway. Holds a finger to her lips.

“The kids are sleeping,” she whispers.

“Unhuh.” Out the window it’s dark. I hadn’t noticed.

“Good day?” she asks softly, her back to me, stirring the whatever in the wafer thin pot. Some ghoulash of vegetables, seafood, easy to throw together.

I shrug, though she’s not looking. I’d tell her about Wasari, and how that makes me feel, but she wouldn’t understand. I’m not sure I do, either.

“Fine,” I say. “You know.”

She nods. “How’s your shoulder? They put you on the mill-wheel again?”

“No, cycles and squats today. I’ll be fine by Tuesday. That nearly ready?”

“Yes, and it’s going to be delicious,” she affirms.

I sit down at our plastic dining table.

“Squid?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“And beans? Bean paste?”

“Yes.”

“I bet the kids loved it.”

She laughs, quietly. More of a breathy shaking of the chest, stomach, than an actual laugh. The kids are sleeping. Soon, we will be too, and all the things I wish I could tell her, the important things I can’t explain any more, will be forgotten.

“It’ll put hair on your chest,” she says.

“Good,” I reply. “I need more hair on my chest. My chest isn’t nearly hairy enough.”

She laughs again.

*

My wife is Japanese. Her name is Ryoko. I met her at the top of Mount Fuji, 13 years back, when we were still young. I was with some other programmers from my company, boasting about our six-hour ascent. She was with some friends, all University graduates in English, and they overheard our too-loud American accents across the Ramen restaurant. She says they listened for a while, watched us some. Then they ambled over, sat nearby, and started talking in English too. Talking quietly about their four-hour ascent.

Of course we overheard. Anyone speaking English, anywhere, you notice. Cocktail party effect, just like someone calling your name. You notice. We got chatting. Friendly rivalry. I thought she was the cutest straight out, bundled up in purple layers, figure indistinct, lips and ears red from the raw morning cold of 12,000 feet. Her English was excellent.

We raced them back down. They beat us by 30 minutes. I don’t know how, but it was pretty impressive. After that, I had to marry her.

I’m not Japanese. I speak the language, I live here, I work here, but it’s not where I’m from. I was born in England, London, though I didn’t stay there long. I grew up in a whirl of different international schools all around the world.

I don’t think I intended to stay in Japan. For a while maybe, but it was just a place to stay. I was sick of moving by 16. And a Westerner with good Japanese can really get ahead here in a fast-moving field like programming. So I was going to stay, work things through, then maybe leave when I was established in the international market. I never really liked the place that much. The food, for one thing. The erratic weather, rain all the time, for another.

I wasn’t going to stay. Even with Ryoko, and a tightening of those bonds, I never meant to stay. But then came the Fade, and the kids, and there was no way to leave.

*

I’m buttering bread alongside her when she puts down the ladle abruptly, turns to me and starts talking.

“I wasn’t going to tell you today,” she says.

I wipe my hands on a cloth, run them swiftly under the cold tap.

“Tell me what?”

“I just didn’t want you to worry.”

“Worry about what?”

“Or do anything crazy. I don’t know. It isn’t anything big, I think. It doesn’t matter so much, it should be good, maybe, but I wanted to tell you right.”

She’s talking too fast. When she’s nervous, she talks too fast, and she skips around the point.

I nod. “Fine,” I say.

She isn’t listening. She picks up the pepper shaker, twists it absent-mindedly. Black grains spatter out on the smooth white chopping board.

“This place is too big anyway, don’t you think?” she continues. “It gets cold, we can’t afford to keep all of it heated. And it’s going to be better for you, to get to work, and the kids too, have lots more people around. I think it’s a good idea. This place is too empty.”

I dump the bread and butter on a plate, set it on the table, look at her expectantly. She clears her throat, cuts the pile of crushed peppercorns into two neat lines.

“They’re moving us,” she says. “Localizing the grid, or something like that. Two engineers came round, measured stuff, asked questions. They talked too fast, but basically, they want to move us. Central, by the factory. Shorter wires, shorter commute.” She gives a little grin, then looks down at her black specks on white again. Smiley face.

“A new apartment, or house, or what?”

“I’m not so clear, they didn’t talk about that.” Nicer though, they said. More power. Maybe some heat in the winter. It sounds good.”

I nod. I don’t care.

“Sure,” I say. “Heat would be nice.”

She smiles, serves up the food.

*

I make better wattage than most of the other guys, but we still can’t afford heat. I don’t suppose it’s a problem most of the year, though right now I’d kill for air-conditioning. I can think back, and remember whole malls, department stores, lit up, cooled down, subway trains, airport lounges, football grounds, vast empty spaces frozen like giant iceboxes. It’s crazy to see the changes.

Ever since the Fade, the world has been on rations. Everything changed. The budget just kept getting tighter. Transport. Communications. Television. Lights in public. Lights at home. Heat. The grid, shrinking, as the world’s resources, this mountainous island’s resources, ran dry.

America closed her borders to trade. The Iraqis and Arabs
torched their fields in thick civil wars. Europe had already unearthed her last 10 years ago. Promises of some long and far-off atomic self-sufficiency had never come to fruition, as government nuclear programs collapsed and energy wars drove private interests to vie for control of the remaining plants, leading to chaos, violence, and meltdown. Everything began to shut down, because everything had been used that could be used.

I remember the riots. 2 long years of violence, as industry after industry collapsed. 2 long years of unemployment, depression, anarchy, starvation and death. 2 long years as the city fell to ruins at the hands of her people, once the second largest population mass in the world. Now a broken eggshell, promise unfulfilled, with no way out.

It started with individuals. People rigging up their exercise bikes with magnetic coils, hooking them up to car batteries, and there’s your generator, there’s your dwindling resource. Pedal for 10 hours a day and you can have heat for two. You can cook. You can have light. You can run your computer, try to connect to what’s left of the Internet. You can try and get a message through to your relatives in Hokkaido, Honshu, overseas. You can hold out a little hope that there will be a solution coming along real soon, and soon you’ll be back in the hot tub, Jacuzzi bubbles kissing your skin, sipping chilled Chu-hi, watching Jay Leno with subtitles 8,000 miles away.

It didn’t stay individuals for long. People have to eat, and to eat you need crops, and to grow crops you need land. Half the fighting in the early years was over land. The banks of the Tama river were awash with blood as gangs fought for control of the soil and the water. It was only a matter of time.

Men with power, men with private armies, guns, land, brought the struggling populace back under control. Raided gyms and construction sites for equipment to create human driven generators. Built the factories. Fed us. Paid us. Kept us alive, here in the city, those of us too afraid to take flight for the country and a chance at freedom. Those of us bowed with responsibility.

I used to be a computer programmer. It was my education, my job, and it was going to be my career. Right now, I can’t think of a more useless skill to have.

*

“There’s no potatoes in the whole city,” says my wife, without looking up from her bowl. “Maybe all of Japan. So you can stop thinking about them.”

“I wasn’t thinking about potatoes,” I say innocently.

“Yes you were. Potatoes and baked beans.”

“No,” I say. “I was thinking about the kids. How’s school going?”

She sighs, looks up.

“It’s not so good.”

“What’s the matter?”

“You know their favorite teacher? McAdams? You remember?”

The name strikes a chord.

“Maybe,” I say. “What about him?”

“He quit. I went to see the head, picking them up. He’s leaving. Leaving the city I think.”

I think about this for a minute.

“McAdams? Isn’t he the guy that brought them back that time?”

“Yeah,” she says. “I’m worried.”

“But they’ve been going, right?” I ask, old concerns drifting back to my mind. “They still have paper for the logs, yes? They still take attendance?”

“They’ve been going, most of the time. But that’s since he became their class tutor. Now he’s gone, the school’s down to 11 teachers for some 450 kids. It’s just not enough.”

“They’re too young to be anywhere but school.”

She says nothing for a moment, and my words hang like a heavy fog between us. Then she says it. We’ve spoken about it before. She knows I don’t want to hear it.

“Kenji wants to join the factory,” she says.

“No,” I say immediately. “Not a chance.”

“We could use the hours,” she reasons, “you know it’s getting difficult now.”

“I don’t care, 11 is still too young, I can work more overtime if we need it. He’ll stunt his growth. Besides, I want them to learn.”

She shakes her head slowly, slightly.

“Learn what, Dray? What matters anymore?”

I slurp noisily at my ghoulash. There’s little more to be said. It always comes to this.

“They stay at school,” I say. “That’s it.”

She falls silent. Dips her spoon down, up. That’s it.

On my way to bed, muscles trembling down the hall, I peer in on the kids. Kenji, 11, already big for his age, dark long shadow in the blacked out room, only moonlight creeping round the curtains. Strong kid, willful. In the next room there’s Yukako, 9, and it’s her I worry about the most. She isn’t strong. She even enjoys school, but her brother pulls her away. It’s difficult for me to be there for them. It comes down to them or the factory, and I don’t like it, but it’s how it is. If I don’t work, then there is no food, no light, and no heat. There is no choice, really.

A year ago they weren’t going to school. They intercepted all information coming to us about their truancy, the little that there was. They were off with the street gangs, vandalizing anything they could. Areas not worth policing by the scanty private security forces left. I had no idea. I was working even harder then, making up for injury time with a strained back, and I barely even saw them at night.

McAdams brought them back. He’d left his class and gone to look for them. Found them. Brought them here while I was at work. Since then, he was their class tutor. Now he’s gone.

*

The next day, up and out before the kids are awake, I’m looking out for Wasari, but he isn’t at his station. Shunted to the far reaches, perhaps, along the lines of the factory where you lose a few volts in transmission to the counting wire. It’s an overcast day, so the place is dim and gray and humid.

For lunch they provide steaming carrots on rice, and plenty of it. Sometimes there’s meat, but not often, and even then not much. Carbohydrates are the key, and rice has plenty. The carrots are just a garnish. They’d give us just the rice if they could. They’d distill the rice, burn the ethanol, and bypass us completely, if it was practical.

But distillation takes too long, and yields less. So they need us.

*

A man of average strength can keep a 100 watt bulb lit for up to 10 hours straight. That’s one kilowatt hour. A strong man can produce two, maybe three times as much.

I average four kilowatt hours a day. With my pay I buy food, energy for cooking, energy for infrequent phone calls, for flashlights, energy for water, and the rent. I work normally over 10 hours a day, rotating through the machines in my section.

The factory has it all. Everything scavenged from gyms and heavy industry, rigged to the counting wire. Exercise bikes, bench-press frames, rowing machines, lateral presses, canoe tugs, bicep isolators, squat presses, calf lifts, pectoral decks, stair masters, running machines, thrown in together with the weights or friction removed and electromagnetic coils added.

70% of this country’s power, an amount vastly diminished from the peaks of 11 year ago, comes from the factories. 70 %. Horiuchi keeps us informed, parading around with his laptop a clear reminder of what I once had, of what the men with weapons have now. The rest, he tells us, intemperate and fickle, comes from nature; geo-thermal, solar, wind, hydro. Impossible to control. The opposite to us. Humans, all we need is food. Here’s your food, he says.

*

Today I’m on upper body. Yesterday was lower, and today is upper. Tomorrow will be lower again. Lower body days pay better, just because the muscles are bigger. Lower body days, it’s harder to walk home. Upper body days, it’s harder to hold my spoon and sup down my ghoulash when I get home. Sometimes my wife does it for me.

End of day I scout round the perimeter, but Wasari isn’t to be seen. A few other of my colleagues smile, muster a wave as I pass by, but no sign of the man I’m looking for.

I stop by a friend, Toshi, younger than me, works a later shift so he’s fresh now and spinning the max on a rowing machine. He tells me Wasari was strung up for incitation to strike. Had some union group planned, his high school friends throughout the city, lots of factories, trying to bring the whole thing to a pay rise. At least that’s the gossip, says Toshi. Tells me he wouldn’t be surprised if he’s skipped the city already, heading out for one of the farms and all the work he can handle.

Seems like everyone’s leaving, I tell him.

He smiles.

“Just be you and me left, eh man?”

I smile back.

“I guess so,” I say. One last look round the factory, I don’t know what for, then out and going home.

*

My wife is by the cache waiting for me, sitting in the long grasses, face red.

“They haven’t come home,” she says, and I see panic shot through her eyes. “They were due back 6 hours ago.”

I hurry to her, hold her in my shuddering arms, and she starts to cry again.

“I knew this would happen,” she stutters between sobs. “I knew it.”

I stroke her hair, her back.

“What does the school say?”

“That they can’t look after every truanting kid. They were so useless about it. They just don’t give a damn, Dray. Kenji got mad, god knows why, something he hadn’t done, so he got up, grabbed his sister from her class, and left. They didn’t even try and stop him! They didn’t even call us! I waited an hour, and then they wouldn’t let me in the factory, and I didn’t know what to do!”

She presses her face, hot and wet, against my chest.

“Where did they go last time?” I’m asking.

“The Nanbu line, I think. One of the shut down ones. Breaking things. But I can’t remember!”

“Shh,” I say. “It’s OK,” and I hold her tight.

I don’t know where my children go. I barely speak to them. It could be anywhere in Tokyo. I just don’t know.

“Has he already left?” I ask.

“Huh, who?” she mumbles.

“McAdams. The one who found them before, the teacher. Has he already left?”

“I don’t know.”

“You have his number?”

“Maybe, I- maybe.” She rustles in her bag, pulls out a wad of paper bound with elastic.

I take his number from her, tell her to wait, and head back into the factory.

They make me pledge further overtime to use the phone. Horiuchi, fat sweating pig, laptop spewing sick green light across his face, writes me up for extra time with a smile. I dial McAdams’ number, and pray that he keeps his phone charged.

*

Out Ueno way, waiting for McAdams on the Yamanote line where he said to meet, I wonder: my kids run away, and I call another man to help me find them.

That isn’t right.

He pulls up, a tall white guy. Not so tall as me, and not nearly as big, but he’d pull over a kilowatt hour I guess, even on his first day. Blonde hair, blue eyes, beard. Smiles at me as he comes up, holds out his hand. I’d almost forgotten about that, old customs from the West, unused for the longest time.

“Thanks for coming,” I say.

He smiles, says “sure.”

It takes about 9 hours to walk the Yamanote loop, he tells me. Round inner city Tokyo, used to take less than an hour express on the train, before public transport got shut down. McAdams says, this is where they always go. Kids like this, this is where they go to disappear.

*

I`m tired. An upper body day, but still I`m tired. I walk slowly, but he matches his pace to mine. We talk as we go. About my children, mostly. He asks me questions, I ask him questions.

He tells me he is leaving the city because he wants to have children. I tell him that was the reason I stayed. He says he thinks the cities are dying, fading out, and he’s given up hope on a new resource. I say that without the cities, there’d be no hope at all of a new resource, there’d be no energy, and there’d be nothing left but disconnected farms and tribal war.

He smiles. Says that maybe, I was right.

We walk on. Through the concrete jungle of Shinjuku, underground and dark, passing through smaller local stations and switching lines. Every step, up and over the rail sleepers, leaves me hopeful and worried and tired, all at the same time. McAdams found them before. He could do it again.

“What did you do before the Fade?” I ask him, clearing the end of the station pilings.

“I was a professor,” he says. “Mathematics. But with the Fade, it just fell apart. It didn’t seem important. Besides, the campus became a target. They had an accelerator, and- well. I didn’t want to stay around. So I moved to the schools.”

“So why leave now?”

“I don’t know. Can’t answer that. Same reason I left the campus, I guess. The time had come.”

“Huh.”

“What about you? What did you do?”

“Computers.” I point at the rail lines underneath our feet. “I worked on the Keio trains tourist site, in English. Real nice site.”

“So how did you get into a factory?”

I shrug.

“Just one of those things. Coupla other guys in the office walked out one day, sick of their monitors crashing, servers freezing, power cutting out, and they didn’t come back. A few days later one did, said he couldn’t handle it, that he’d rather sit at an idle computer screen than tug weights all day.”

“Can you blame him?”

“No. But they wouldn’t give him his job back. He started to cry, right there in front of everybody. So I gave him mine. Went straight down to the factory and signed up that day. That was that.”

Almost halfway round an old drunk yells at us from the side of the tracks. We didn’t see him, bundle of old papers and blankets under a bench, but he saw us. He insults us, called us Nazi NASA dogs, wasters, and why did we have to go throw all his ‘juice’ into space.

We ask him about the kids. He raves. We ask him again. I pick him up and shake him. He goes on about Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong being the doom of humanity, and if only they hadn’t made those first steps on the moon, we wouldn’t have wasted so much energy on space travel. Something like that. So I hold him over the railings, tilt his head to see the moonlight dappled from glass way down below us, and ask him again. This time he listens.

Yes, he saw them. Few hours back. Walking the same way as us, talking about Ueno zoo. He remembers, he tells us, because the boy was carrying the girl on his back and he thought they looked like monkeys and that had made him laugh. He’d laughed out loud and the girl had flinched, but the boy reassured her and they kept on.

“Yukako,” says the drunk, “he called her Yukako. Little monkey Yukako!”

I drop him, he slumps ragged at my feet, and we go on.

We find them near the old lion enclosure. There must be hundreds of kids, the youngest, difficult to tell with wrinkles etched in sweat and dirt everywhere, perhaps four or five, the oldest well out of their teens. We ask a few questions, don’t get many answers. We start shouting. I`m not sure it will help, but McAdams thinks so. It does.

They come towards us, happy, but it seems like when they see me, something changes. They shout something, stop moving our way. I can’t make it out, it doesn’t sound good. McAdams moves over to them, gestures for me to stay behind. So I stand, scrutinized by the kids camped out around me, and wait.

*

He brings them over maybe two hours later. They’ve been talking all this time.

“Hi Dad,” Kenji says.

“Sorry,” says Yukako.

“We didn’t know what to do,” says Kenji. “We don’t wanna be trapped like that.”

Yukako starts crying and hugs my leg.

“We’re sorry,” says Kenji.

On the walk back, Yukako in my arms, muscles stilled under her weight, Kenji trailing behind, McAdams tells me the reason they ran. They’re afraid. They’d heard rumors, that the families of factory workers would be moved to new apartments and locked up, to keep the fathers at work.

I tell him that that’s ridiculous. He shrugs.

“It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it sounds to you and me,” he says. “If it sounds true to them, then it’s enough.”

I ask him where they heard the rumor. Other kids, he tells me. Just kids. All of them with fathers in the factory. Trying to freak each other out, score points, be the big guy. That, he tells me, plus they’d seen some papers on our kitchen table about moving to a new place, and they’d wanted to ask me but I was never there. He says it added up to enough.

The walk back takes another 3 hours. I thank McAdams. He tells me he is leaving tomorrow. I shake his hand. Say goodbye. He says I should think about leaving too, while I still can. It’s a joke, I guess, but he doesn’t smile. Then he is gone.

At home I collapse on the sofa. My wife insists we all sleep together in the living room. She isn’t angry, she says. It will be like a big sleepover, she says. She throws quilts and pillows on the floor. Kenji protests, but I think he’s enjoying the attention. Yukako is already asleep, snuggled alongside her donkey doll, comforter light over her slim shoulders. I want to talk to them, explain things, my job, the move, but there isn’t time. I’m waking up for work in 3 hours.

Close my eyes, head soft on the armrest, and I’m out like a light.

*

I dream of a dark room with no color and no heat. My wife and my children are trapped somewhere, I can hear them screaming, but I can’t see them. I start running, searching the shadows, but I can’t find them.

“You’ll have to go faster than that,” says a voice, could be Horiuchi, McAdams, a blur. “You`re not even grossing a single Watt.”

I can hear the screaming recede. My muscles are pounding, my head aches, I feel ready to drop to the ground.

“100 watts, Mr. Strongman,” says the cold voice, clinical in my ear. “100 more Watts and we’ll be there.”

I can’t hear my family anymore. Just the cold voice in my ear, counting down the Watts, and the pain in my body. It doesn’t end. The dream lasts all night long.

*

Before I leave for work in the morning, eyes bleary, exhausted, I look over the papers for the move. My wife has already signed. There isn’t so much. The move is tied to my contract. Not so far from here. Seems nice, high-rise, brand new maybe 17 years ago, full of all the latest modern conveniences.

I don’t mean to detour on the way to work, don’t mean to come in late, but my mind is wandering with the waves of drowsiness pulling through it. I keep seeing Kenji’s face, when he saw me at Ueno. Fear. Anger.

My own son.

I’m at the new apartment block before I know it, few miles north of the factory. Towering over me in the pre-dawn light, moon and lightening stars reflected all the way up its glass façade. I wander round. There are no fences, no bars, nothing like that. Everything seems normal. No kind of prison.

It is hot. I feel like I’m wading through cotton wool. There is nothing to see, and I leave.

*

I’m late. Horiuchi grins when he sees me, points to the ceiling poles. I don’t understand, until they’re rolling me onto the ground, and my body is wrapped in rope, and I’m being hoisted, one, up, two, up, to the roof of the factory.

“Pretty funny, right?” smiles Horiuchi from below, tapping at his keyboard. “You’re a special one, Dray. Overtime, and then this. Enjoy.”

Eyes are on me, I know, but I don’t care. Everything keeps going dark, then light. My mind is dizzy. Too many things at once, too fast. The afterglow of his green laptop screen, reflection in his eyes, still fresh in my sleep-numbed brain. Slowly though, it all fades away, and soon, the webbing around me becomes a comfort, my eyes close, and I’m sleeping again.

*

I dream that Wasari is talking to me. He tells me, if only we hadn’t wasted so much, we’d have plenty now for heat and light. I’d have no problem seeing my children in my dreams, he says. He tells me he blames Hollywood, too many movies, too much energy for leisure. I smile, sip my Chu-hi, agree.

He tells me, the only thing for it, is to chop down the tent. And the cache. He has an axe in his hand. He tells me, I’m the strongest man there. I am the strong man at the circus. It’s my job, my performance, to entertain all these people with some fireworks, bring down the tent, bring down the cache. That’s what he says. It’ll be beautiful, he says. In the distance, I can hear the lion-tamer cracking his whip. I can hear the roar of the crowd.

The dream is comfortable. It makes me happy. I am not pleased when it ends, and the real world begins.

I am coughing on smoke. My eyes sting and water. There is shouting and gunshots. Screaming in the dark. I can make out the rush of figures, wisping through the smoke on the ground below, vaulting fitness equipment, rolling, fighting. I see muzzle flashes, hear the echoed report of powder caps exploding. It’s a riot – or the end of one. There’s some shouting, repeated shots and screams, but the worst is over. There are still calm periods of nothing, then sudden shouting, repeated shots and screams, but the worst is over. There is no wind, and no light. The factory remains shrouded.

“Dray,” calls a voice, distant through the smoke. “Dray are you alive up there?”

“Who is it?” I call down, my throat hoarse with the acrid smoke.

“You’re alive,” calls the voice, heavy with relief. “Thank God. Hold still, I’ll have you down soon.”

“Who is it?” I call again, but no answer. Then I am moving, breeze on my face, and descending through the fog.

I’m on the ground, and it’s my friend Toshi. Bandaged at the shoulder, blood-spattered, but Toshi.

“I was sure some stray shot would have taken you out,” he says, unraveling the ropes. “Are you OK?”

“Yes.”

“We can’t stay here, it’s chaos. But then, hell, you know better than me, you had a ringside seat. Jesus. Like a movie, right, from up there?”

“I didn’t see,” I say. “I fell asleep.”

He looks up, down, disbelieving.

“Fell asleep? Hanging upside down with the whole factory staring at you? No way!”

“I was tired,” I say.

He grins.

“You’re a crazy one, Dray. Damn. So, you missed the whole thing? Wasari walking in with a trunk full of guns behind him? You missed it? Brilliant moment, that. Everybody stopped and just stared when he came in. Wish I’d had a video, would have filmed it myself.”

“What happened?” I ask, rubbing sleep from my eyes, shaking blood through my veins.

“Wasari and his boys. Told you I thought it was a strike, yeah, pay rise or something? Well, all that changed when they strung him up. He went nova. They already had the guns cached, see, they just weren’t sure if they needed ‘em. So they cut him down, he went home, then today he comes blazing in here, on his own, handing out guns to the guys. Tells them the same thing is happening in every factory, round the city, and it’s time to take the power back. It was crazy. People just started taking them, standing up, and all these guys that was generating one minute is just shooting up the place the next.”

“Shooting who?”

“Guards, called in by Horiuchi before Wasari got to him. Private army, uniforms and Uzi’s. We took ‘em though. Coming in to protect the counting wire, seems like it’s more valuable than us, to them.”

He points to the wire, great bronze dome in the center of the factory, hundreds of dials ranged around its beaten surface, every dial connected to a cable, leading off to a machine. But the cables have all been cut.

“Yeah, they shot through all the links,” he says, watching me, “this place is closed down for a week at least, and then it’ll be us in charge. Cool, huh? But now, we better get out, there’s still fighting going on somewhere.”

A distant shot punctuates his sentence. He takes my arm, pulls me to my feet. The rush of blood to my head unsteadies me.

“You ready?” he asks. My vision settles, and I realize he is watching me, waiting.

“Ready for what?”

He grins again. “The good news. Wasari’s saying any man strung up is gonna be a supervisor. That means you, man. Plus, when I told him you got a history in computers, he says he wants you to maybe do that, too.”

“Do that too? What are you talking about?”

He shrugs, winces at the sudden pain in his shoulder, then grins at the whole thing. He’s having the time of his life.

“Damned if I know. Computer stuff. Control something? Probably get Horiuchi’s computer, something ‘bout the distribution, the cache, but I don’t know, sounds like he’s got a plan.”

“What about Horiuchi? It’s his laptop, right?”

“That,” he says, grin splitting his face wide open, “is the best bit.” And he points again to the counting wire. My eyes stray up, follow the line of his finger, way up to the domed top and the golden spike jutting into the cache relays, strung along the rafter struts. Horiuchi.

“Wasn’t easy getting him up there, I tell ya’,” blurts Toshi happily. “Dirty pig was fighting with his nails and everything, cursing us all out. He didn’t like it so much though when we started taking pot shots. Damn!” He slams his fist on the handlebars of an exercise bike. “You seriously telling me you slept through all that?”

“I guess so,” I say, numb. I don’t know what to say now. Toshi is exuberant.

“Well, look, we better go, Wasari’s waiting for us.” He takes my arm, tugs gently, but I don’t move.

“Wait,” I say, thoughts clearing. “Now? I can’t go now. I have to go home.”

He tugs again playfully.

“What are you talking about? We just overthrew the man, we’re gonna start the whole thing up again. And Wasari is asking for you personally. Of course you’re coming now.” He tugs again, harder, but I’m feeling solid on my feet now, and I’m the stronger man.

“I can’t come yet,” I’m saying, and his face belies his surprise. “I have to go home.”

He tugs one more time, angry, then lets go, takes a step back.

“Well you better come soon. Wasari’s the new boss, now. He gives the orders now, and he asked for you personally. Hell, Dray. You’re gonna be a big man, supervisor, all that other stuff. Do you really want to mess it up?”

“There’s just something I have to do,” I say. “I’ll come soon, it’s OK.”

He is angry still, frustrated, but there’s nothing he can do.

“On your head be it,” he says, turns around, then back again. “He wants you alive, so be careful, yeah? Go by the cache, it’s pretty safe round there, they gave up trying to dig it up after the first two guys got fried. I’ll see you later.”

He gives me a meaningful look, then gambols off through the remnants of smoke.

“Later,” I say, in his absence, wondering if it’s true.

On the way out I stumble over several bodies. In places the floor is slick, with blood I suppose. A few of these men I recognize. Most I don’t.

*

He’s right about the cache. There are huge gouts of soil like intestines spilled over the road. There are shovels lying abandoned on the pavement. The rushes are trampled flat. Two bodies lie in a shallow ditch around the humming metal of the cache, and I catch the faint smell of burning meat. I walk on.

*

By the time I’m home, there is no sign of the riot.

In my house, my family is asleep. Children snoring gently, Kenji’s covers kicked from his body, Yukako snuggled in tight. My wife has left a stew on the table, and a note, says she left me 5 minutes in the oven, enough to heat it through if I cook it quickly.

In our bedroom, she lies asleep. Nightdress shifted over the exposed curve of her leg. I can see her face in the moonlight, hair drifting in fine layers as she breathes.

They don’t know. It seems impossible, but they don’t. The power came through the same. They couldn’t hurt the cache, they couldn’t get to the wires buried underground, so the power came through the same. Maybe they just couldn’t hear the gunshots, or they thought it was more thunder.

It seems impossible. Horiuchi is dead. Many men, people I knew, are dead. The factory is ravaged. The same thing may well have happened all over the city. Hundreds may have died. And here lies my family, blissful, sleeping. They didn’t even know.

It makes me angry. I don’t know why. I have the sudden urge to scream, wake them all, tell them what I saw this night. Of course, I don’t. Neither do I crawl into bed and sleep, though I am still tired.

I plug in the television. I don’t know why. My fingers find their way easily in the dark, though it has been years. Pick through the videos to my favorite, tattered tabs and scratches, pull it free with a wisp of dust. It slides into the humming machine easily.

Static crash. I turn it down on the set. The remotes have no batteries anymore. Press play.

It’s at the end. There is no time to rewind. I just savor the moment. The color. The tail end of Kenji’s first steps. Then it is over. A flash, and gone. Cold food tonight.

*

I sleep for a time but wake before the dawn. There were no dreams. There have been enough already. I wander the streets, feeling random, but I know where I am going.

*

Horiuchi’s palace, five stories, the other end of the factory. Wasari’s now. Men with guns stand sentry before it. I walk up, and they recognize me. They are men from the plant. One smiles, jokes about my comfortable day on the poles. I merely walk on.

In the living room, there are revolutionaries and guns lying everywhere. The men are asleep. I pick my way through them, seat myself at the table, and there it is. Horiuchi’s laptop, docked in a charger.

I open the case. Lights race to life. I press a button, and the screen illuminates. I check the modem, slotted. Words, then colors, then windows lighting up blue, then icons on a glowing green desktop.

The disc slides in easily. It auto-loads, and immediately gibberish rushes up and over the screen. Soon enough, the visuals crash and sputter and die.

It is easy. I barely have to think. They are sleeping, while I tear down the factories with my bare hands. Strongest man in the circus, and I am setting them free. I am only setting them free.

*

I’m back at home, and my family is still asleep. I walk in, kiss their foreheads, and for the first time in years, feel like what I should be to them. A man.

“We’re leaving,” I tell them, one by one, in their beds. My children murmur, roll over, sleep on. My wife stirs, hugs me tight, asks me what I mean, where’ve I been, what’s going on.

“We’re leaving,” I say, stroking her downy cheeks with my fingers. “We’re free.” My hands aren’t trembling, and I feel stronger than ever.

END

DARK FICTION

You can see all MJG’s stories here:

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Comments 7

  1. Hello! I followed a link to your Haikyo series, been lurking around your site for about a week now. I like your site, it’s full of interesting pictures and insight of ruins, and hey, you can write, great story! From now on your site is a daily visit! Thanks for the wonderful posts!

  2. Post
    Author

    Leongoon- Hey, thanks a lot- that’s great you liked my story! They’re the least read thing on my site- no photos I guess, but also the thing I most wanted to get read 🙂 Anyway, cheers, and will continue trying to put something interesting up every day.

  3. Leongoon- Hey, thanks a lot- that’s great you liked my story! They’re the least read thing on my site- no photos I guess, but also the thing I most wanted to get read 🙂 Anyway, cheers, and will continue trying to put something interesting up every day.
    Oops, should have added good post! Waiting for the next one!

  4. Hey Mike,

    I’ve just read the into to this, but it has really caught my attention and I’ll finish it when I get back from Ultimate (here in Japan…you should come…)

    But I just wanted to say that the art (by Martin I assume) is fantastic and it really draws the attention to the story. That and the first line about the man danglling from the beams really makes anyone who just glimpse at it think WTF? I gotta find out more…. So really good idea if you want to get more attentio to your stories.

    B

  5. WOW! Holy crap! Amazing story and great writing. I really enjoyed reading it and totally got sucked into the storyline…I was rudely awoken when I came down to the comments section! 🙂

  6. Post
    Author

    Brady- Cheers, the artist there is not Martin but somebody whose work I found through a Google Image search. I’m glad it grabbed your attention and had you read the first line, will certainly continue to post for as long as I have stories back-archived.

    Lara- Wow, thanks! I’m totally pleased you liked it, thanks a lot for stopping to comment 🙂

  7. Excellent story mate! Absolutely gripping!

    That artwork – if it is yours, may I post it on my Facebook, to give everyone an example as to the sort of ruined city I am creating in my upcoming novel?

    You will be fully credited then and upon the release. I’ll have different artwork (My own) at that stage, but you still will be credited.

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