Sam is torn from his home in Ancestral Haven by a new breed of humans.
| Part 1
The sun meandered in the late afternoon as Sam raced down Midrow Ave, hugging the newly formed shadows that had been home to him for as long as he cared to remember. Despair had long since lost its novelty and seemed now to be nothing more than a daily visitor, like the shadows in which he found solace.
He felt at home in the waning light having always thought the day to be overrated. The noon hours cast a golden hue on everything he despised. To him, the dark offered possibilities beyond that which sight was capable of.
His stride seemed more measured and hurried than usual as his eyes darted feverishly from side to side, scanning the periphery. The hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention, and he felt the rasping and uneven undulations of his own breath.
“Gotta drop this Moca habit,” Sam whispered to himself. ‘Might as well record that and play it back every night. Oughta save my breath,’ he thought, attempting to mask the tension he felt stirring within him. It was a hollow effort.
Although he knew very well the monkey on his back had been responsible for the tension he felt every few days when the junk left his system, he could not account for the increased alertness and the adrenaline he felt pumping through him like a polluted river. It had come to the point where he could only vaguely discern the withdrawals from a real sense of danger. He knew he could not afford the burden of an Achilles heel such as that, but tried to bury the increasingly paranoid thoughts that so insidiously kept him from his goal. He was going to score, and that was all that mattered.
Despite the assuring propaganda of his self-talk, he nevertheless turned to face his phantom stalker, but saw nothing but a pale 21st century street light flicker a few times, fight for its life and finally illuminate the ground around him like a halo as it mercilessly cast away the shadows in which he hid, exposing him to all phantoms within and without. It was 19:00 on the dot, the time when all the lights that anyone bothered to maintain sparked to life.
“I really gotta kick the habit! I’m a wreck,” he mumbled as he reached deep in his dirty coat pocket and pulled out his Protector, whose soothing hum calmed him as it pulsed in his hand. He pressed a switch on the side of the little gadget, which caused a solid image to resonate up from its tiny screen into a cubic hologram the size of a letterbox. A single pulsing green dot bleeped faintly and marked his position relative to the space around him. The lack of any other dots soothed his nerves.
“Calm down Sam, you’re getting paranoid,” he consoled himself. Moca had been a part of his life for over two years, time during which he attempted nobly, albeit unsuccessfully, not to fall under its Shamanic charm. Its soothing and cradling warmth took him nightly to the halls of limbo towards the border of the diametric kingdoms, between what is real and what isn’t.
Ever since he had run from the safe but unsatisfying corridors of the luminescent upper city into the lower alleys of Ancestral Haven, like some decrepit fallen angel, he accepted hell as a permanent fixture in his life. The luminescent city glowed above and around him like some alien hive, harmoniously balanced and symmetric, contrasting heavily with the chaos of his haven.
Staying close to the shadows away from the watchful eye of luminous eyes that seemed to watch his every step, Sam sprinted towards the offices of Gil, Tech and The Doctor. There were neither signs nor subtle landmarks to guide anyone towards those ancient wooden offices, and Sam knew that had there been, the partnership of the Three would have had the thread pulled out from their precarious existence. Only whispers lead men to the promised land that opened nightly for the Ancestral shadows ready to face the light and take a whiff of anything other than sulfur and rust, if only for a short while.
The old neon lights buzzed around him, marking the spots where happy families once took their children to the movies. Where cabaret shows, coffee shops, and cheap take-aways once stood like altars to gluttony and freedom. Now the decaying structures represented houses of corruption where ominous activities and shadowy congregations, necessary for the survival of the wretched, thrived, and where on occasion Sam had found solace. There was pleasure to be sold to cater for everyone’s needs. Brothels and bordellos to satiate a soul’s need for companionship and lust, Opium dens for the dragon chasers who yearned to catch and ride one to an elevation where awareness exists without pain, and dog pens for those who craved a vicious amalgam of a lust for blood and the euphoric rush of a big win.
What Sam craved didn’t lie in the musky, damp rooms of the concubines, nor the sweat and blood stained halls of the gambling joints, nor the smoke hazed rooms of the Opium dens. All those pleasures only validated the pain of his existence. He craved consummate escape.
He turned into a lane by the side of Merlin St. Cinemas and ducked down a back alley, which was narrower than most and much filthier. Inconspicuousness had its price, and the grime stained trash that stank of ancient cadavers, rotted food scraps and stale beer paid its share of dues.
The door to the offices of the Three rested precariously on its hinges and would otherwise beckon squatters and junkies into its hallowed interior, but for the foreshadowing of an outcome reflected in the stench of corpses that permeated the alleyway. Sam knew within the weather-beaten entryway pulsed state-of-the-art security, which belied its exteriors’ dilapidated aspect. Any vagrant intrepid enough to brave its depths would have been shocked to death within the blink of an eye.
Sam waded in, holding the door steady so as not to compromise it further, and closed it behind him. He followed the musky, carpeted hallways until he came face to face with a security Orbit. A small tennis ball sized metallic orb appeared almost instantly, hovering centimeters in front of his face. The door through which Sam came was reflected in its lustrous frame. It caught Sam in the arc of its vision and bleeped a warning whose frequency pierced Sam’s thoughts. He never did become accustomed to that high pitched whine as much as he had to all the other misery around him.
Two approving, low-frequency staccato beeps replaced the whine as the pesky guardian whisked away into the halls from which it came, cocky in its departure as it had been in its approach. Sam hated the unfeeling, uncaring little construct and all others like it, big or small, lustrous or dull, intricate or amorphous; all were the same inside, soulless and mechanical. He believed he could hide from all such manifestations in the rusty corner of Ancestral Haven, but the unfeeling mechanical hand of progress appeared to stretch its synthetic arm into every heart and nerve of the globe.
The rotting alcove in which he now stood showed its age. The cabin smell of ancient wood, which mingled with the musky odor of mould, was a welcome sensory assault and seemed to unburden his thoughts.
“In here Sam!” A croaky voice bellowed from within a room down the hall. Sam followed it across the aging hallways to its source.
Tech stood at the center of his hi-tech workshop amidst the flashing lights of various holo-projections, which spewed out data and blueprints of his many unfinished projects. In a way, Sam thought, they reflected Tech’s mind, chaotic and complex, yet yearning for order.
“What mischief have you been up to Sam?” Tech chided jokingly.
“Oh, the usual Gil. All the sins of the flesh!”
Tech eyed him. “In other words, you’re still sane… good. I’d hate to lose a good customer like you.”
“I’d hate to ever lose your services Tech.”
“It’s good to know you care. What’s wrong with Steve’s stuff?” Tech asked, already knowing the answer, awaiting validation of the heights from which he regarded all his competition.
“Let’s just say it don’t come with a warranty,” Sam replied and Tech chuckled, “although I think one of your little contraptions is experiencing some difficulties.”
“Well now, I’m assuming an accusation like that comes with evidence.” Tech reproached.
“Well… I got a feelin’ your proximity detector’s a bit off-kilter.”
“I don’t consider gut feelings evidence Sam. You know that!” Tech chided.
“I know your stuff is the best in the Haven Tech… but I been getting’ a bad feelin’ in the back of my neck… the feelin’ like someone’s stalkin’ you.”
“Sounds like withdrawals to me partner… maybe you oughta do yourself a favor and ease up on the Moca.” Sam couldn’t really argue with that, although he knew what he felt now was not like the withdrawal symptoms he was used to; but then he was well aware of the tricks Moca could fool the mind and the extent to which it could taint the judgement of even those acquainted with its hypnotic influence. Tech studied Sam’s face and saw that he seemed more distraught than usual, observing a pallor he had not seen before, even on the worst days. He knew the best course of action was to assuage that panic whether it was grounded in fact or paranoia. Experience proved to be the cruelest but most effective teacher for Tech; he himself had rid his mind of a Moca addiction only two years prior. “Ok Sam, leave it with me; I’ll analyze it. Use a spare I have in the meantime.” Tech handed Sam an identical device, indistinguishable from his own. Immediately Sam felt a palpable sense of relief.
“Speaking of Moca, is the good Doctor in?” Some color appeared to have returned to Sam’s face as the prospect of further relief tingled through his nerves. The simple mention of Moca was soothing in itself, like the titillation he felt from the smell of chemical agents that preceded entry into the Doctor’s study.
“He’s in his office Sam. And the next time you get the jitters, don’t project it onto my handiwork.” Sam smirked and raised his hand in acknowledgment as he rushed out of Tech’s room and towards the Doctor’s study, whose door stifled a warm, bright light, which, like a beacon, beckoned him towards its cold embrace. The timber hallways leading there seemed to elongate and stretch as he advanced closer to the source of the light. The musk embedded in the ancient halls resonated in his senses, blurring any distinction between them. His hand reached for the door handle, which seemed to withdraw from his desperate reach and stretch away into some infinite expanse.
The rhythmical breathing of the human Simulants that adorned the side of the Doctor’s office along with the disinfectant smell of hydrogen peroxide had been enough to make any unacquainted soul squirm, but to Sam they were the smells and sounds of relief.
The Simulants, designed to simulate the human anatomy and central nervous system for purposes of research and study, had been used throughout the decade before the Schism, and their unnerving effect on the wider public had led to overblown headlines screaming against such an affront to the sanctity of life. Lacking a mind, other than a simplified neural network maintained to communicate with their respective central nervous systems, the hellish images of the statuesque busts, which radiated life with every breath their sanguine torsos took, had defied the mob’s conceits of pale, undead monsters, and this had sent human rights groups into a frenzy. The headlines had screamed for the captives to be released from their imposed limbo, while the more extreme elements had demanded that the neural network itself is enough for the living carcasses to possess a consciousness, a self-awareness. The pious, allying themselves with these fringe groups, had asserted that a soul could attach itself to these busts, effectively rendering the Simulants equal to humans in the eyes of God. Sam was nostalgic for days where such dissent existed on the fringes like the tides that carried the waves back from their inexorable course.
The Doctor stood towering above a cadaver of an Ancestral vagrant Sam recognized from a prior encounter, taking samples and cutting incisions in various places on the body, his focus as sharp as the scalpel he used. While the ghastly apparition of The Doctor’s phantom limbs cutting into the lifeless carcass of a fellow vagabond Sam had seen alive not a week before was cringe-inducing, he found it difficult to turn away from those masterful hands that so hypnotically worked away at their organic art.
The doctor briefly turned and acknowledged Sam’s presence before returning to his craft, his eyes piercing the atmosphere and locking onto his subject. The focus was infectious and Sam found himself caught in it, his meditation interrupted by the Doctor’s deep measured voice, as slow and exact as the hands that now gracefully worked away at the carcass.
“What may I do for you Sam? Are you in need of some respite or some healing?”
“I’m always in need of healin’ Doc. This time I need respite from the healin’.”
“Of course Sam. This hemophilic existence can wear away at the strongest of us.” The Doctor’s sympathetic tone reached out its clammy hand, a kindred spirit as much in need of relief as it yearned to give.
“Yeah Doc, I need a holiday to reassert myself, if you know what I mean.”
The Doctor continued to work on the cadaver for half a minute before finally pulling a plastic sheet over the body. He glided slowly across the room towards a steel cabinet, twisted its handle, and opened the thick steel door, allowing the frost smoke to escape its interior.
The Doctor closed the door, which gave a sigh as the lock snapped into place, and lifted the container up to the light. He placed the small cylindrical bottle on the table next to him while Sam’s gaze followed it every inch of the way.
“How much do I owe ya? Don’t tell me inflation’s hit again.”
“This one’s on the house. I got lucky with a few shipments this week, and God knows you look like you could use some new clothes.”
“Doc, you’re a lifesaver...” Sam started, grateful but concerned that he exuded something which had prompted such charity.
“It’s alright Sam,” The Doctor interrupted, “we all have to look out for one another here occasionally… and I hate to say it, but you’re in worse shape than I’ve ever seen you in before.”
“Here’s hoping I get to return the favor some day.”
“Let’s hope the day I need your help never comes.” Sam sensed in The Doctor an unease that he could relate to. A cold shadow loomed over the weeks leading up to that point, which made the long winter days all the harder to bear. He felt justified in his agitation when he realized The Doctor, the one voice of reason, the epicenter of a calm, collected core, evoked such uncertainty. He didn’t allow his mind to indulge those thoughts any further and felt the bottle on the table call out to him as his hand instinctively reached out for it.
Expecting it to be cool to the touch, Sam was surprised he felt no distinct change in temperature as his fingers wrapped around it. He noticed for the first time how his cold, pale hands blended almost perfectly with the whitewashed, sterile walls and décor of The Doctor’s office.
“Take care Sam, don’t stray too far from the shore… ok?”
As Sam left the offices of The Three and turned the corner, he was filled with a sense of abject terror that washed over him like a relentless wave. An insane and desperate vagrant grabbed him by his lapels and screamed into his face, while the cataclysm of horror passed from the deluded, tormented soul into him. It took several seconds for the shock to subside and for Sam to realize that he knew the man. It was one of the many vagrants he had passed frequently between his lodgings and the offices.
Denny. He remembered his name. Denny… when had he last spoken to him?
Sam felt strained under the oppressive weight of his overtaxed nervous system, and it took a couple of seconds before he felt adrenaline push him back into action. He pushed the man away.
A couple of other vagrants Sam recognized from around the area ran to restrain Denny, while Sam reached in his pocket to ensure his prize was safe and stepped back to allow himself a moment to regroup.
“Sorry Sam, Denny’s been in a bad state lately, he’s been hitting the Moca a bit hard.” One of the vagrants said as if Denny had been under his direct supervision. Sam didn’t remember his name but was sure they had spoken before.
“It’s alright. Thanks for the hand, y’know… came as a bit of a surprise.” Sam attempted to conceal his shaking hands by stuffing them into his coat pockets and felt his left clutching the bottle in his coat pocket. He felt relieved Denny’s two charges didn’t stay around for conversation; instead, while leading him away, he took the opportunity to make an exit. It was already dark, and he had not counted on having his inner demons reflected at him like some twisted funhouse mirror, at least not until he had his Moca fix when he would be ready to face them.
What was it the vagrant said? Denny had been hitting the Moca too hard. Sam had never seen side effects that extreme in anyone before. Mild paranoia and the shakes were the most severe that he had witnessed in others, but he had also accepted that a life in hiding had a way of fogging up the window to the world outside. Sam felt sorry for Denny. Having been chewed up and spat out like himself and all the other Ancestral Haven residents and vagrants, but with the added grief of having watched the lives of his wife and three children snuffed out by the relentless hand of progress before his eyes, the part of him that died that day had taken with it a couple of the puppet master’s strings. The reality and hopelessness of the situation and the relentless ghosts of the past almost always chipped away at the residents’ mental fortitude, leaving only rubble where even the sturdiest towers stood. Sam wondered how long he had left.
He hurried along and reached Chalmer’s street where, on the corner, the familiar shattered glass of a long abandoned furniture store window emancipated the ghosts of long deceased voices through its cracked mouth. The faint sounds of couples arguing could be heard amidst children’s screams and protests, their staccato whispers tapping away in his head, narrated by the senile and age worn librarian of his memories’ tomes.
He pushed past the voices, turned the corner, and ran down a set of stairs at the base of an apartment building that led to a door below street level, his hand feeling for the balustrade to support his already weakening frame while the other reached for the handle of the door. His eyes not yet adjusted to the darkness, he allowed his memory to guide him.
He clutched the cool, rusty doorknob and reached in his pocket for his keys, feeling for the familiar shape of the one he needed. He ritually unlocked the door and pushed his way in. The darkness in his cold and spacious apartment swallowed him up, and he closed the door behind him. Finally alone with the familiar and illusory feeling of safety that came with the sound of the slammed door and the click of the latch, he desperately reached for his bottle in his deep coat pocket, his hand almost uncontrollably shaking.
He nervously felt for the lid of the bottle, unwound it, and felt the familiar texture of one of the Moca pills between his thumb and his finger, his ticket to a return ride on the River Styx.
Sam felt his way through the pitch black void of his apartment until his hand found the switch on the wall behind his couch. He flipped it and a gentle, soothing blue light filled the interior, bathing the room with a moonlit glow that gave Sam a strange yet familiar feeling of comfort, one he could not attribute to any conscious memory of his past.
He flicked the pill in his mouth, feeling it roll once on his tongue, and felt its bitter taste wash down his throat as he swallowed.
Half an hour had passed, and Sam was beginning to feel its effects physically and mentally. He felt the familiar calming, soothing sensation pushing its way through his body as the threatening shadows in the room began to take on more benign forms in his imagination, and as time progressed became friendly and amiable.
Where before he had seen only a single shade of blue, the shadows along the wall now revealed to him all the gradations along the blue spectrum.
The buzzing sensation he had felt as the drug’s initial effects swamped his mind became a clear, gentle intonation, communicating to him in a language he could intuitively understand.
As reality fought against the iron grip of meaning, he felt his anxieties subside. Broken hopes and unfulfilled dreams without meaning became benign and trivial. The release from the chains that bound him to that world had come so suddenly, he felt his spirit sing out in relief as it tore itself from its cruel bonds.
Somewhere deep inside him, Sam heard a voice repeatedly warning him that a contract is never easily annulled.
After what had seemed like an eternity, Sam felt himself being pulled away from the expansive nothingness as the meaningless forms scrambled over each other to form simple and familiar concepts.
Fragments of ideas and the relationships between them began sawing themselves together, like a tapestry that somehow knew its original formation. Sam! The name, the sound, the word unfolded itself before him along with all the memories and ideas that tenaciously clung to it.
That very moment signaled to him that the prison door was about to shut and that soon after the last bolt for freedom, a final attempt at complete emancipation, would be futile.
Sam’s waning strength gave way, and the fight that he dared every time he came to that peaceful and forgiving place turned into a resigned apathy as he felt himself pulled back through the tunnel towards the heat where light had once been.
Sam was back in his room and recognized the smell of the dark stagnant musk of his prison walls and the bluish hues which swam in his vision. He clang onto the feeling of release he had been granted earlier, which he knew over time would slowly wash away with the tide. Only the memory, empty and devoid of form, would remain.
For the first time in what had seemed like weeks, Sam felt tired. He allowed himself to slip away again as his eyelids became heavy and his vision blurred. He allowed himself to fall into the deep restful sleep he so desperately needed.
He slept peacefully and pleasant dreams consoled him, until without warning, they were interrupted by the weight of strong arms holding him down. Panic stirred inside him while a jolt of adrenaline brought him back to full consciousness. A gloved hand clamped his mouth while his teeth caught leather as he instinctively attempted to bite it.
His attempt at catching his bearings only revealed formless shadows caught in the lamps interspersed with the blue outline of the walls.
He saw a larger shadow appear before him and heard a click immediately followed by the sudden appearance of a small white light directly in front of his eyes. Like a train’s headlight, it seemed to come directly towards him. It seemed to make him dizzy, and more so the closer it came, until it dominated his vision. Once again he felt his consciousness slipping away, this time far more abruptly.