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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2071974-Heat
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #2071974
A post-apocalyptic story: Steve has answers and abilities he no longer knows about.

Steve had been dispatched to shut this part of the city down. He took his wrench and twisted one last revolution. The hiss and spit of the pipe came to a stop. "Do you see it? Follow the tilde -- I know you have the logic card. You look just like him." Steve flinched at the sound of a voice behind him. People were being evacuated -- who was still here? The old man was hunched in the shadows, working at a drawing desk on some tangle of blueprints. His hair was straggly and wild over one side of his face. His eyes bulged with the Heat. It was obvious he was not in his right mind -o or wouldn't be soon. Steve should call someone, he thought.

"The tilde -- you see it. I know you do. It's right there on the wall. Follow it. You have the card." The old man continued his babble, shifting a pair of drafting dividers over the plans again and again, as if those measurements and repetition would reveal some answer to him. Steve was afraid to turn his back again. He might end up with that instrument in the back of his head.

Steve listened to the wails of the night. He hoped to hear some sign of the police or Emergency Crews coming his way. Surely someone would come check his job, to make certain the area had been contained. But it seemed nobody was coming. There were so few people to spare for the smaller jobs. So few that would volunteer. There were Crowds to deal with. Crowds of people so far gone with the Heat that they were little more than mindless violent throngs. And the true temperature outside was only getting hotter. It had been that way for years, a steady incline. The hotter it became, the more violent those afflicted would become. They would rip each other apart if contained, quarantined... but they seemed to eventually overwhelm all forces thrown at them, all walls intended to keep them secured.

But the old man continued to slump in his chair. Steve had strange feelings looking at him. It was as if the inside of his eyes were reflecting too much light, keeping him from seeing something. He wanted to help the old man -- but he was terrified at the same time. The man almost looked familiar to him. And no one had ever looked familiar to Steve. He had been one of the few survivors of the first Heat Mob, three years earlier. He had no memory of what had happened before that. He had been told he didn't want to know. He was almost certain they had been right.

But one thing the man had said was also right. He could see something on the wall in front of him. It was like a safety beacon -- leading him towards an exit? Whatever the man meant by logic card Steve had not understood. But he saw the 'tilde' clearly - actually, it was more of a dancing arrow - flowing back and forth and up and down above the center panel of the metal wall. As soon as he tried to focus on watching it, it would gain speed and shoot off down the panels of the hallway, bounce at the corner, and shoot off to the left. "Follow the tilde.", the man had said.

And now Steve was truly shocked. There was no longer a man in the chair. He glanced all around him suspiciously, unintentionally in panic -- was he about to attack him? N0. The dividers were there on the plan -- surrounded by a fine black ash and a few recognizable bones. Steve's heart caught in his throat as he formed a sickly realization. Half of the old man's disintegrated skull lay at the foot of the swivel chair. His clothes were partially collapsed in the seat, covered in fine powder and streaked with black marks that went up the back of the chair. Steve had never seen this before. He had heard of it once - from someone already going mad. The man had contained his Heat for so long he had simply disintegrated in one place. Steve felt a pang of regret, almost as if he had truly known the man who lay in ashes before him.

He feared contamination. No one understood yet how the Heat was spread. It wasn't exactly by contact, or even by blood. No matter how violent the victims became, their victims either lived or died - and only a very few of them would succumb to the Heat themselves. It seemed to be an entirely random pattern. Steve was curious of the man's strange familiarity and also by the suddenness of his departure. "You look just like him." he had said. Just like who? Steve leaned in as close as he dared to look at the plans on the desk. The man had been dancing the dividers through three sections, Mechanical 1A, Security 1B, and a room that was filled with only a solitary thin-lined 'X;, as if it was unfilled space. Steve memorized where it was in relation to here. He was good at maps. That was why he was here -- out in the maze of the uninhabited City. He had always found his way home again.

And here was something that was leading him away from home - away from the entrance of the building and into its depths. And yet, he was compelled by all of the events he had seen to follow it. It didn't even make sense -- all electricity had been cut, there should be no power left to operate this signal system at all. But there it was, all the same. The tilde continued to bounce at every flicker of his eyes. It was waiting like an exuberant small dog, begging for his attention. Steve moved carefully away from the remains of the old man. As he did, the lettering on the old man's lab coat caught his eye. "William Tamis." "Tammy", Steve said under his breath, before he could catch himself. The man's face sprang to his memory, sans the effects of the Heat, normal, animated -- discussing and pointing at some group of springs and wires. He could remember the man laughing as something fell apart. It was too much for Steve to comprehend all at once. And the memory flitted away from him just as soon as he tried to focus on it. Like the tilde.

Steve had made up his mind. He gripped one hand hard around his pipe wrench, as if it was all that now lay between himself and the Heat, between himself and the unknown beyond that hallway. Keeping a cautious eye around him for other silent survivors in the shadows -- Steve began to follow the little arrow symbol down the hall and around the corner.

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