Written by Chris (alcoholandaphorisms)
That moment, months ago. Crouched outside a warehouse in Sanford. That moment has passed, and yet returns over and over, in nightmare. Perhaps not just a memory. Perhaps so terrible that it can but occur again and again.
Nate is dead. Dave is somewhere inside this warehouse, along with who knows how many others. Supposedly part of a government policy, a chance to re-home, re-use people; It was a front for the machine that seems like an uncaring god in their lives. No help has come. No help will come. The police. The services are all just more pawns. It is down to them
Something finally snaps in Ryan, she lifts herself from where she was crouched, pushing the tears from her eyes and storms towards the warped entrance to the warehouse. Towards whatever is promised inside. Seeing a familiar determination in her eyes Sanjiv chases after “Take it easy. We don’t know what’s in there”
Sanjiv glances around, trying to find an alternative, something to suggest to keep Ryan from just blazing in. There’s got to be something, roof access, an open window. Some more discrete way inside. There is nothing. The windows are bolted down and secure. The roof is too far away, and shows no easy ingress. Something does catch his eye though. Catches both their eyes.
A beige coach, long abandoned, streaks of brown down its side – its window’s tinted, though by decision or by second hand smoke inside it is not certain. A faded National Express logo on the side managed to just about stand out from the muck behind.
What caught their eyes though was a small cluster of shoes just past it, stacked upon a pile of clothes, all layered upon the skips just outside the warehouse. Signs of human necessities, now no longer required. Rounding the warehouse, staggering into view comes a single figure. Shuffling in circles, it seems unaware of the two people watching him – a man with long scraggly hair, barefoot, but clad in ragged jeans. He moves with a mechanical stagger, almost falling with each step before the other leg comes around. For a moment it pauses, its head swinging around to stare directly at Ryan, its body only following moments later in inhuman motions.
With a flick of her wrist, Ryan extends an asp baton, changing her direction of movement without missing a beat, heading straight for this shambling figure. She can see it clearly now, it doesn’t look real, just like a papier-mâché mask stapled over a skull, hair mop like, or like weeds growing from inside, but worst is the mouth. Spinning gears, buzzing and grinding against each other, as it stumbles towards Ryan the sound of the gears rises to buzz saw whine.
Throwing herself shoulder first into the creature, Ryan grabs an arm and tries to wrench it behind the things back, pushing the baton into the crook of the arm for leverage. It is a simple motion and one repeated many a time, so when her world turns upside down, her mind skips as it tries to catch up. Her full weight landing on the ground, the baton bouncing meters away from her. The thing mounting her, inhumanly strong arms pinning her to the ground as hungry gears close on her, flaying chunks from her cheek and throat, blood grinding with the flesh and fed towards its mouth.
A crack snaps out, and her entire vision fills with Sanjiv’s foot smashing against the creature skull. The force of the impact thrown both Sanjiv and the creature away, Sanjiv tripping – off balance from charging full tilt at this thing, and left crawling backwards with his hands.
The thing, rolls over, on its hands and knees like an animal, dazed, its fake face crumpled inwards. Grabbing for the asp baton, Ryan raises once more and swings, nigh blind with blood, slamming the baton down again and again on the exposed creature’s skull, until it collapses – clockwork and gears spilling from the skull as the body twitches its final motion and then lies still.
Through the pain, and the blood, a newfound determination shines in Ryan’s eyes. A confidence that these things can be beaten. She raises her hand to her torn cheek for a moment then looks to Sanjiv “Come on.” is all Ryan says as she strides towards the entrance once more.
Present day. Or perhaps not. Elsewhere. Gwil is screaming. Zip tied, spread eagle to a surgical gurney, his vision finally starting clear from the third tasar shot smacked into his exposed belly. His hands shake, the electric current grounding easily through the metal that his wrists are strapped to. Security staff pace around him, passing the electroshock weapons between them as they take turns to press the buzzing devices into Gwil. Helpless, Gwil’s mind turns inwards trying to protect his already fragile psyche from what he is helpless to prevent. The last thing he remembers is the common room, the image in the mirror, trying to turn broken glass shards on his own eyes to purge the corruption of the demiurge.
As another taser plunges forwards he snaps his eyes open again with another scream.
“Shit.” Comes a voice, unseen by his side “He’s awake. Someone get the director”
“What the hell is going on?” Gwil screams in helpless defiance, struggling against the bonds. He can see the room now, institutional pale green, headache inducing florescent lights. In a mirror on the side he can see reflected an array of stun weapons laid out across the table.
“Shut up” one of the staff says, sniffing with disdain “Don’t make it worse on yourself”
Something leans over Gwil, a silhouette of turning gears that resolves into the figure of Control
“Oh Gwil. Gwil, Gwil, Gwil. What sort of state have you left yourself in here? Now if only you had taken my offer then..”
“Fuck off you gloating piece of crap!
“Gwil, What do you expect to achieve with this defiance?”
“Why don’t you tell me? You know everything!”
“Gwil. I told you, I do not know everything. I am only here to observe. I can’t see the reason for your actions. Think, this is just a brief respite you have been given here”
“You want to see what I do? Why don’t you let me go then? See what I do then? I can’t do anything like this!”
“An interesting proposition. If I let you go, then where would you go?”
“If I tell you , you have no reason to let me go do you? Idiot!”
“Hmm. Very well then” Control reaches out and where his fingers pass zip ties uncurl and release.
Free, Gwil sees that there is only a single Security guard left in the room. Facing the doorway, the tasers still laid out on the table behind him. With a smile Gwil lunges for a taser, but the movement is caught. The guard turns smashing his fist into Gwil’s face, Gwil stumbles back, but the taser is successfully in his hand. As the orderly presses the advantage Gwil slams a knee up, catching his gut and then grabs around the guard, taking them both into the wall. The guard’s hand pushes, trying to turn Gwil’s head away, fingers reaching for vulnerable eyeballs. Then the taser finds flesh and Gwil pulls the trigger. The man jerks and collapses, teeth locked and unable to scream. Gwil smiles an ugly smile of victory. Grasping the moment, Gwil rushes to the door, amazingly unlocked, the handle turns and he burst through to see…
Gwil is standing, a chair behind him, his heart still racing from the adrenaline and violence. Light is shining in through high windows. A circle of people around him, Sanjiv and Ryan looking at him expectantly. Eight feet behind him the doors are propped open, more light spilling through form outside. A bewildered psychiatrist looks at him. This is a circle therapy session.
Gwil pauses, eyes searching left and right, the smile slowly fading from his face.
“I. I need to get some wipes for my hands “He says “Where are the wipes?”
The psychiatrist, a man in a brown cardigan, jeans, Doc Marten boots and thick framed spectacles, looks at Gwil, somewhat bewildered and slightly suspicious.
“Gwil, are you ok? You were just in the middle of telling is about a breakthrough you were having, in who you are and how you relate to people?
Gwil pauses, before carefully saying “What was I saying?”
“You told us about your Father, and about the God Machine and..”
“I told you WHAT?”
“You were telling is about your relationship with your father, about the issues of abandonment and how you ended up joining the cult. Now, maybe you want to tell us more about that “child” you mentioned?”
“I didn’t say any such thing” Gwil says, looking for support at Sanjiv and Ryan, both who remember him saying those exact things “I never would. Never”
Sanjiv looks at Ryan, Gwil had just been talking about his feeling of guilt over the death of Nate, and his fears, about how the cult had control, leverage over him. About how he felt he could not talk about the “Child of all Sins”. This sudden memory loss seem more like the Gwil they remember from before the treatment. Rubbing his hands together in nervous twitch Gwil repeats “I need some wipes. Now. My hands are dirty, I need some wipes”
“Gwil. Gwil. please sit down, we will talk to Violet and we can get you some wipes. Then we can talk with Ryan about her issues with the police and Mr Grey”
Ryan looks over, face studiously neutral. She has never mentioned any of those things to her recollection. Seeing this, a woman sitting next to Ryan places her hand gently on her knee. The fingers on her other hand are missing, severed “Mr Bliss won’t be happy when they find out they know about Mr Grey. Not at all. Don’t trust Angel Violet. She isn’t human” As soon as the last words leave the woman’s lips her head lolls back to the front, a drugged smile rising and her eyes unfocussing to stare in middle distance, her hand slipping from Ryan’s leg.
Ryan takes a deep breath “Guys. We have to go.” Turning to the psychiatrist she continues “We have to go, people are waiting for us. I remember”
“You shouldn’t go. You are doing so well. You volunteered for this, you came of your own free will, because you know you needed help”
“Yeah, well how drugged were we?” Gwil says “‘cos that doesn’t count”
“You were not drugged. You agreed in full understanding”
“Well. I’m going now” Gwil says” And I’m putting through the nearest wall anyone who tries to stop me”
Ryan rises from her seat “Well. We are here voluntarily, or were, we are now leaving and no one can stop us”
The Psychiatrist frowns “Well, at least talk to Mrs Violet. You have been doing so much better, we don’t want that to go to waste. All those delusions you have been having about a god machine. Please, you are here to get better”
Gwil is already half way to the door, hands still pumping, fingers clenching as he tries to ground the adrenaline still running through him. Mid step he hesitates, before swinging round and grabbing Sanjiv by the arm. “Come on, let’s go”
Ryan follows, calmly walking out. Gwil pauses before turning to the others “You should watch out. I just got out of here a minute ago then ended up back here. It may revert again”
On hearing this Sanjiv sways, legs folding below him, the floor coming up rapidly. Something entering his mind, forcing its way in from outside. He sees a hospital, like the one they are in now, but it seems small and fragile – like a wooden dolls house stacked atop a clockwork edifice that looms from the dark. The vision sink, deeper into the clockwork, following hundreds of bodies, fed into the machine, lubricating its turning gears.
Somewhere else. Chief Inspector Grey stands, pushing a phone, a Nokia device into a brown envelope, addressed to the Bishop’s Gate Institute, Mersey Island, Essex.
Somewhere else. Ryan lying in the rain, blood mixing with the water as it drains away, taking her life with it. A figure, looming above, clockwork and metal wings, leans down to Ryan and touches her. The whimpers of pain still, as does Ryan’s body. Then Ryan is gone, and just the machine remains, wearing Ryan’s body. Then they are both gone and just the rain remains.
Somewhere else. An endless scream, rising from a child, tree branches impaled through its body. Flies pour from the holes in its body, spilling from mouth and eyes. The tree and the child as one, and as one they are fed into a vast dark engine. Then there is nothing.
Sanjiv opens his, eyes, awake, to see Gwil and Ryan looking down at him with concern. He can feel the floor behind him, flat on his back.
“I just saw… something.” Sanjiv says “A, tree, mixed with a child. it was horrible. It was screaming over and over, as they fed it into the gears of a machine.. Gwil, was that what I think it was?”
Gwil face is white, jaw slack “How do you know about that? I never described it. I would never describe it” He edges backwards, shaken, the abomination that has stood against the god machine seemingly crushed by it. “We need to go. Outside! Now!”
“This building, it is one of theirs. I saw it”
“Then we run, if it amuses this thing we can run. The controller was amused so it unbound me before. We have to run now, before we can’t”
With that they turn and run headlong through the institute corridors, blindly turning left and right as chance takes them. As they run a ring tone chirps out, echoing from Ryan Winter’s pocket. Slowing, she pulls out the flashing phone – an old school Nokia 1820, green screen lit to display the words “Withheld number”
Pressing the answer button Ryan holds it to her ear “Yes?”
A clipped voice comes out from the phone’s speaker “PC Winters? We don’t have much time to talk. This is DCI Grey. I owe you a favour. I know where you are and I’m coming to get you and your friends. This is a risk, it is a trap of course, but we are taking that chance to get you out”
Ryan’s heart leaps, for the first moment in recent history she believes she will actually get out of this alive. “Hurry” is all she says, holding back tears of relief as she hangs up
The headlong charge through the institute continues, all three of them barrelling through. Some people try to stop them, but their number is few. Some patients just stand staring into space. Staff members stand just stock still, cables clipped into ports at the back of their skulls, the wires trail up snaking along walls and through ceilings. The wires move, twitching, almost organic.
It’s getting clearer for Sanjiv, between the periodic thumps and the suction sounds, the whooshes of air rushing into a vacuum that seems to repeat in the floors above, he is seeing a pattern. Through that he is seeing what is actually there. People dangling from the ceiling, hung by cages around their heads – cables pumping liquid into and out of their body. The walls around layered with rust, bricks falling away to reveal gears grinding away.
Looking to the others, Sanjiv realises they can’t see this, as they are about to walk into the crushing gears. “NO! Not that way. The machinery is that way. We have to stay away from the mechanisms. Follow me. This way!”
Gwil looks, untrusting, then shrugs “Screw it. One way is as good as another. Just run”
Following Sanjiv they move with purpose now, he can see the ways and paths through the Institute. Within minutes they spring out, to the final room, the reception, the point of entrance and now egress.
In front of them steps a woman, at six foot five looming over them, casting a long shadow that bars the way to the exit. She is clad entirely in violet clothing, lip stick and eyes matching. Only her blond hair breaks the pattern, hanging slightly to the right, her head sitting slight askew upon a long neck. She slips a pen down, attaching it to a clipboard in her right hand and stares unblinking at the three figures that have just approached her. Her jaw slackens, dropping open, unleashing what sounds to Sanjiv to be the clicking of a connecting modem.
The others hear English words spilling out “You are not authorised to be here. Turn back and rejoin your therapy group or you will be terminated”
“That’s not going to happen” Ryan says
“Oh, why is that?”
“Because I say so” Ryan says, grabbing a fire extinguisher from the wall and check it for heft.
“Because you can’t stop us” Gwil adds with a growl.
“Careful” Sanjiv says “It’s one of them”
“Whatever” Gwil says “This aint any more dangerous than any other place in this hellhole. It is just as dangerous being back there”
The violet woman inclines her head the other way “No. I am far more dangerous than that”
“Sod it” Gwil says, spitting on the floor “Worst you can do is kill me. It’s worse back there” grabbing Sanjiv’s arm he drags them both towards the door. He gets two steps. Mrs Violet is there in an instant, twisting his wrist and rotating his arm around to his chest, pain flares and Gwil collapses, pinned beneath a grip like steel.
“I could break your wrist from here. I can separate the bones in your hand, or I can wrench your arm from its socket. You will comply or I will maim you”
Struggling and failing against the grip, Gwil grimaces as he says “Go on. Your boss wants to see what happens when I make a choice. Don’t you want to see what happens when I step outside that door?”
“Control?” Mrs Violet says, confused.
“Yes, Control” Says a voice from the darkness, Control stepping out in his white suit and white panama hat. “These people are under my control. they are a personal experiment”
“That is not your mission”
“I’m afraid it is now. I was sent here by my compatriots”
“No” Mrs Violet says “You have fallen. This is an irregularity, you must be contained”
“No my dear, I’m afraid that Mr Grey and Bliss have you surrounded”
“This is impossible. This is infrastructure. I have done calculations and…”
Mrs Violet is cut off as bullets converge through the air, trisecting her skull and detonating. Her body slides to the ground as two more figure step from the shadows.
“You may call Me Mr White now” The being once known as Control says “This is Mr Grey” The familiar face of DCI Grey smiles at them and nods “and this is Miss Bliss”. The final figure, a British African woman stands, two smoking barrels on the guns in her hands “Owright Geeze” She greets, and then slides her twin pistol away
“I suggest you come with us” Mr Grey says
Sanjiv looks at them, and he sees not the shells as the others do, but their true forms. Mr White an impossibly tall creature of alabaster skin, his head hollow and the spinning gears barely covered by his Fedora hat, his ribcage holding back a burning ball of plasma and his fingers reaching into multiple unseen worlds. Miss Bliss a huge gavel skinned colossus made of pistons and burning oil. A juggernaut that could tear apart buildings. Mr Grey, a blue hued sparking creature. of electric arcs and broken clockwork.
Ryan has collapsed, the adrenaline worn off, exhaustion forcing her to the ground. Sanjiv looks to her, then Gwil, then back to the three creatures and he nods. Gwil sags, holding the edge of a table with his undamaged arm, but still with defiance in his eyes “I was leaving before, and I’m leaving now. Why should I trust you any more now?”
“We’re offering you a way out” Mr White says
“And what is this? What test? What do we have to do? What do we have to sacrifice? What do you want from this?” Gwil says, close to tears.
“He fell” Mr Grey says. “He is not one of them any more”
“What? How? HOW?”
“You were too irregular” Mr White says “You did not fit the program. None of you did. You. I watched you a thousand million times, more than I could comprehend. You made me see something in humanity I did not see before. You surprised me, and I could not do what the machine wanted”
Mr Grey steps in “He has fallen. We have all defected. We have to leave now. I have no interest in staying in the Infrastructure and being caught”
“Have a little faith” Mrs Bliss says, drawing her weapons “Lets go”
and they go, the three fallen and the three mortals – charging out of the doors and into the open white light.