Heaven Below a Scorched Plane

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Chapter 15

It was in the fitness room where it happened. Normally that room was just a stop on the perpetual schedule. You walk in, you walk on a treadmill for thirty minutes, then you leave. It was a simple arrangement, one that left very little impact, to the extent that some days I would forget this room even existed. Other than treadmills there were a few sets of weights, but they fell into disuse fast, collecting a thick layer of dust. Other than that it was a pretty spartan room, and it was rare to see more than three people at a time using it.

Anyway, when I woke up I felt the desire to break tradition. Normally, I would eat first, then go to the fitness room to get it out of the way. This time however, I decided to visit the fitness room first. It wasn't really a decision made for my own satisfaction as it was a decision made from impulse. I knew it wouldn't change anything, and yet I still felt this need to act in this way.

There was one other person in the room, a woman. She was short and wide in the waist, almost like a teapot on legs waddling around. She was walking slowly on the treadmill furthest from the door, and while she turned her eyes for a moment to observe my entrance, she quickly acted as if I wasn't there. I responded in kind, moving to the treadmill immediately to the left of the entrance. I started the thing and began walking.

I felt like a statue, walking. My limbs moved with a frustrating level of inaccuracy and sluggishness, as if life had input lag. I felt separate from myself, far away. Despite that my body shook. It demanded to move with ferocity, to rip and tear and destroy. I was both wholly absorbed and distant, I couldn't take it. Even writing this now the feeling creeps back. I just want to communicate this rage, this hate. It's like a coiled spring, locked into place by the limits of my body, by the limits of being human. I keep stamping my foot, slamming my fist on the desk. I just need to feel like I'm here, that I exist at this moment.

Well then. Maybe I should quit with the fist slamming. It's drawn blood. Despite that it doesn't hurt. Well, it does, but I don't perceive it as bad.

Swing it back, fight against momentum.

Anyway, that was basically my emotional state on that treadmill. I got off for a second, pounding the ground with my foot, trying to align my mind and body. After a few minutes I got back on the thing, not really feeling any better, but resigned to the task nonetheless.

I started raising the speed, at first in increments of 0.3 but eventually by entire whole numbers. I wasn't running so much as my body found ways to propel itself forward. I stamped down on the tread, hoping to break the damn thing, prove my strength to be above this hunk of metal.

I don't remember what happened next. I woke up to someone's voice, a man's voice.

"Good, looks like you're not dead,"

My eyes took a little bit of time to come into focus. It was him. That man, the maintenance man. The man who bagged Emerson. He was holding me. In the fitness room, I saw the treadmills.

It was at that point that I noticed the extreme pain emanating from the back of my head. It seared like fire, and even now it aches pretty badly.

"What the hell were you thinking?"

I moved my eyes across the whole scene, now fully aware. On one side of me was the treadmill, spinning wildly. It hummed loudly, clearly at its limit. On the other side of me was a metal rack, with red liquid smeared on one corner. It was then that I had fully processed the scene, or at least all the most relevant details.

"Are you okay? How many fingers am I holding up?"

I flipped him off. He helped me to my feet wordlessly and led me down a series of hallways. When we stopped we were at another room, the clinic, as far as I could tell. I was in here once I think, when the flu made its rounds really early in. Nothing like that's happened since, so the place has mostly gone into disuse.

The maintenance man rummaged through some of the cabinets before pulling out some bandages.

"Do you run everything in this place?" I asked in a somewhat mocking tone.

"The guy who's stationed here never shows up. No requests,"

Even now the implications swirl through my head. Yes, obviously there have to be humans managing these bunkers, but after a while you take for granted the level of automation used in their design. Somehow it never clicks that living things have to do anything at all.

I asked him about Emerson.

"Cases like that are rarer than you'd think. Only had a couple before that, nothing too major,"

"You talk pretty nonchalantly about suicide,"

The man looked up from his work to give me a dirty look.

"Don't give me that tone. You think you get to stand on some sort of high horse when all you do is wake up, eat, and go to bed until the end times? The first time I saw one of them, I almost lost it. I've made peace with this life, like it or not. You better hurry up and do the same,"

I slapped my hand onto the table. "You've made peace?! You've made peace with rotting in this tomb, with being buried alive in the stench of humanity's lost potential? How can you possibly find peace in that reality?"

He slapped me across the face. I didn't strike back. No point.

"You shut the hell up right now. You're rocking the boat, and we're all liable to fall off. We are in here, that is a fact. Set your expectations. Otherwise, you can mope and whine to yourself, because I ain't hearing it no more,"

He finished bandaging my head. I would have walked out right after that but he beat me to it, storming off in a huff.

Set my expectations? Where can I set them that will reinvigorate my spirit, where is the new baseline of humanity? Honestly, he's probably the best of any of us though. He's ignorant enough to live with this.

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