It was a city of bright lights and empty structures. That’s what he told himself as he drove across the rusted suspension bridge which led into the lethargic heart of his hometown. The massive cityscape which fingered the sky, at one time glorious and cultured, had become a dejected husk, half concealed a midst layers of toxic fog.
A radio tower dwarfed the poorly gilded ghost city, radiating its red light through the haze like a blurry warning beacon. That blinking light had been the only and last signal it had transmitted in nearly a decade; It was just as false as everything else trapped within the unforgetting borders of the man-made wasteland, reminiscing the glory of days long past.
The gradual decension of the bridge led his car gently through the fog and into the arms of the city. He let beaten, familiar roads drag him deeper into the pit while he watched memories play along the backdrop of decay. Multi-family homes, with cracked windows and rotten plywood boards sealing their entrances, lined the streets. Their vinyl siding had become sun-bleached with age and negligence, the color fading into the dismal realm of greys: Grey with a hint of violet, grey with a touch of yellow or blue, but mostly everything had fully conformed to a uniform shade of grayish grey. Torn roofing shingles fluttered and flopped down the sidewalks as they expertly navigated through the clusters of forgotten trash bags.
Old factory buildings replaced the condemned housing as he delved deeper into the city. The bricks, laid down in the times of human labor, were a pale red, chipped and cracked by the chisel of time. The mortar holding it all together had all but blown away: It was a chalky dust that formed sulking clouds on windy days as it returned to the earth.
Among these ancient, historical shells was a rundown car garage. Dusty with its own decomposition like the failing mortar, it contained hundreds of rusted, antique cars. They had all been left there during The Decline when gas powered vehicles, like his own, had spontaneously grown obsolete. He turned into the desolate facility and parked his outdated machine between two others which were already forsaken in the mechanical graveyard.
His feet pounded the eroded sidewalks, carefully avoiding the timeless trash that tumbled casually around. Sounds of his soles echoed throughout the streets like a lonely drumbeat. The industrial district shifted with each footstep: It was a peculiar experience which he felt each day, like the city was an elaborate treadmill, like he was never actually moving at all.
A sick, yellow glow cast itself over the greyed structures, spreading contrasting shadows into the crevices and evil places of the city. He glanced back fleetingly at the source; The sun shed its light through the veil of poisonous fumes creeping across the skyline, bringing a cold warmth to his cheeks.
Childhood memories followed the tainted light into his eyes. He chanced a voyage onto the outdated pavement and closed off his vision, letting the beauty of the past project onto his eyelids, and reflect back into his soul.
And it was over. The world returned with its glaring deficiencies. He pushed with his feet until the industrial buildings slid beneath him and the financial district was brought underfoot.
Towering, gridded glass monoliths blotted out the sky like obsidian daggers. In the reflective glass, he could no longer see himself: A strange greasy substance, spawning from oblivion and yellowed by sunlight, confiscated his image and swallowed it whole.
He dragged his fingers along the buildings, feeling the grime collect on his fingertips while viewing an inverted landscape inside the cleared lines behind his fingers.
Up ahead, the largest skyscraper touched the pinnacle of physics somewhere beyond the deadly clouds. It was the last remaining thing that still served a purpose. Working there by himself every day, he scratched out a meager living.
The fingers abandoned the encrusted glass walls, wiping themselves on the inside of his jacket before returning to their respective pocket.
The building loomed over him threateningly as he tried to recall the logic behind leading such a life. Two dirty glass doors whirred open, permitting him entrance. He stepped in and the maw devoured him whole.
The doors opened again only when all natural light was buried beneath the earth. Weak sodium lights flickered to a dull glow as he exited, overworked and mentally crippled once again. Tediously, he plodded his way back to the garage, eyelids dropping like warm blankets over his sight.
An eerie silence filled the chilled air. Even the lonely drumbeat of his shoes seemed to be eaten by the shadows. A bitterness gripped the city, gripped him, and everything had become indistinguishable in the darkness. Only outlines and vague shapes remained. The radio tower’s pulsing aura bled gratuitously into the sky overhead; Deviant shadows crept from their dark beginnings, assaulting his thoughts with relentless uncertainty. There was no playback of memories to mask the obvious nothingness that constricted upon him.
Agitated and panicked from the void, he dashed through the empty streets and into his car, then raced for the bridge. Worn roads punished the escaping vehicle with miniature ravines and ice-split craters.
The ascension of the suspended arch was sluggish; The sinister city loomed in the rear-view mirror, encroaching his deepest thoughts with its recurring red glow. Beyond the crest of the bridge was complete emptiness. There was nothing above and nothing below, nothing but the dead city to return to. His mind floated through the shadowland, operating the car autonomously.
It was a city of bright lights and empty structures. That’s what he told himself as he drove the rusted suspension bridge which led into the lethargic heart of his hometown.
Today he was wrong.
Countless people trudged across the arch of stone and steel. Hundreds, thousands, traversed the public walkway, the rest simply spilled onto the road and travelled there.
A sea of flesh barricaded the normally leisurely commute to work. The pounding of their shoes against the ground was comforting and reminded him of the old days.
He passed through their ranks slowly, carving a path of bare asphalt in his wake.
The nostalgia fizzled into a bitter taste once he’d realized all of them were victims of scientific advancement. Each person wielded an artificial limb or organ. That was the pinnacle of The Decline: The invention of mechanized human replacement parts. Originally designed for amputees alone, the replacement part would be attached and hardwired into the nervous system, allowing for instantaneous response times and a return to everyday life. Everything had become replicable, from simple things like fingers, to the brain itself. What sickened him was that nearly everyone had their bodies hacked apart and fitted with mechanical counterparts under superficial reasoning. Some did it for immortality, some did it for status, and others to conform. The remaining few, like himself, held their principles close like a weak candle, living with silent hatred towards the world around them.
He let beaten, familiar roads drag him deeper into the pit while poisoned memories of The Decline played along the backdrop of decay in real time.
He parked his car in the usual spot, but today the garage was barren; The tomb of the obsolete held only dust, his car, and himself.
The sidewalks were crowded, the wall of trash had been removed, the chalky dust swept away. Pale yellow light swam from the heavens and broke feebly along the brick-borne relics and steel obelisks. It reflected off of the fabricated, false bodies around him like a searing, white-hot flame. Those people obstructing the sidewalk and defacing the city with their presence…they didn’t belong in this timeless crypt. Memories of human progress deserting him fed on his soul like ravaging locusts. He closed his eyes to forget it all and erase the imposters of his bitter sanctum, but their footsteps commanded his ears and broke his will.
Quickly, he passed through the financial district. The sky-bound daggers had been polished to reflective perfection. He dragged his fingers along the glass, leaving behind trails of smears. Hundreds of mechanized strangers were doubled along the endless, mirrored windowpanes.
The day needed to start over. The day needed to be undone and recast as a clone of every day prior. He closed in on the building he loathed most. It symbolized the hellish lifestyle which he had chosen and later regretted. But not today. Today it was an escape, a validation that he had chosen correctly, a reminder that he was not meant for the world which invaded his private city so suddenly. He entered it briskly.
The building expelled him from its protective boundaries as darkness conquered the daylight. The yellow luster of the streetlights threw a nostalgic hue across the barren city; Like oxidized paper, the streets aged and felt timeless.
He walked through his wonderfully empty city, wondering why he had ever wished it otherwise, wondering why it had been otherwise.
The echoes of lonely footsteps reassured his soul and subdued the hungry shadows. He shook his head, dismissing the entire day as some fluke. The invaders of his kingdom had retreated. Somehow, victory had been achieved. He smiled amongst the yellowed emptiness despite himself.
The industrial district was in sight when darkness suddenly swallowed him. The yellow was gone. The shapes were gone. His smile was gone.
Blindly wandering through the darkness, he felt his way towards the garage.
Green-yellow lights gradually began spawning like fireflies igniting the night. They danced in pairs from far away, dozens of them. He paused, fear instantly striking him like a bullet. He knew what those were; He had seen them before, those artificial eyes. They swayed in the night softly, silently fixated on him.
He began to slip through the streets and alleys, trying to become invisible to the imposing lights. They swirled about madly, drawing closer from all sides.
As he sprinted into the car garage, the entire building became illuminated by his assailants’ ghastly eyes. Turning towards his car, more lights appeared from inside it.
There was no way out.
Racing to the top floor, he desperately searched for a place to hide. More strangers appeared from the stairwells, quickly surrounding him with hive-mind precision.
His back touched the edge of the garage and he turned to see an ocean of tiny lights frothing from far below, awaiting his descent.
Red light blared through the city. The radio tower coated everything with its luminescent influence. Along the streets and deep in the alleyways, hundreds of shadowy figures formed around the glowing, yellow spheres.
Suddenly, they were upon him, pushing him over the edge. The world spun chaotically, and the stars and false eyes melded into a single, spiral sky.
He felt dozens of cool, metallic hands catch and restrain him. Something was jabbed into his arm and everything became a fuzzy blur of nothingness.
Synthetic lights stared down upon the world. Perfect, white light illuminated the unknown environment that surrounded him. Machines whirred continuously, luring in fresh components with their conveyor systems and striking them with an additional form. The grinding, the winding…it was everywhere.
He spun around in a panic, the building circumscribing him in the process. The conveyors, the unborn robotics which traversed them, and the dazed mechanized people who whirled about in similar confusion, it was all absorbed by his frantic eyes instantly.
While those around him appeared fully artificial, their false eyes reflected primal fear.
No one spoke; Words held no gravity, no knowledge, no truth. The photons which touched their collective gaze whispered dark scriptures in sound’s stead.
He crossed the white tiled room in a stupor, uncomfortably aware of each step he took.
Where was he?
What happened to him?
There was a pale green door in the corner of the room. It felt like it held all the answers, the way it seemed to draw him in.
He approached it carefully, the others followed with discretion. Standing in front of it, just before pushing it open, he hesitated. He stared at the flaking wooden door, begging for its secrets with every ounce of his body, but at the same time something whispered within him that he didn’t really want to know.
His hand touched the brittle, splintered barrier. A source-less energy surged through his fingertips and deep into the farthest reaches of his stomach, where it sat and coiled and burned.
The door swung open without any real effect, and a dark new world was presented unceremoniously through the vacant doorway. Icy rain plummeted from a black sky and the roads were irrigation systems to nowhere. Thunder echoed masterfully over the chaos.
Tiny rectangles of light began to open up amongst the dark silhouettes of skyscrapers, revealing more displaced, perplexed people. He watched the human shapes leave their shelters one by one and brave the storm. Attempting to survive the torrent, he joined them underneath the cascading downpour.
Lightning severed the sky.
For a moment, daylight was cast upon the city. Two-dimensional thin black polygons revealed their true identities: Glass towers struck upwards, reveling in the pseudo-sunlight so perfectly that they appeared like jagged teeth chewing apart the sky. In the back ground, a hollow monolith reigned supreme among the sinister clouds. Night crushed the light into oblivion once more and the radio tower returned to the impenetrable veil of shadow.
This was the city.
This was his city.
But the buildings were too tall, too perfect. The roads were too smooth, the factories too advanced and efficient.
He knew where he was, but where was he, really?
What happened to his hometown?
Malevolent, red light grew like algae in the air, thriving and feeding upon the darkness which it replaced until it became a dense, red blanket encompassing everything. Red was everywhere. Red was everything. Red was god.
Synthetic lights watched him from above. Machines whirred and replicated robotic technology with autonomous ease. The grinding, the winding…it was everywhere. He was back in the factory, the brittle green door still cracked open to the storm.
Immediately, he could feel that the radio tower was evil. It had created this alternate reality. It had taken his city and re-imagined it. It had taken humanity.
He burst through the pale, green door and became soaked by the storm. His ears trembled with thunder, and his eyes reminisced the beauteous, holy light thrown from the sky. But all he really saw was the tower. He trapped it in his sights as he dashed through streets which feigned familiarity. Unrecognizable buildings flowed by in a sweeping blur as lightning carved a path through the blackness. Thunder rippled omnipotently overhead as he reached the gate surrounding the tower.
Someone was already there, glistening with their fully mechanized body, pointing and giving orders to several repair droids and the radio tower’s base. The stranger froze, as did the bots.
Rain fell quietly between them, landing on cloud-reflecting puddles as if trying to fall back into the sky.
Leisurely, the stranger turned and locked eyes with him.
Information began pouring into his skull like a telepathic, one-way conversation. In an instant, he could finally see it all. This stranger, some nobody from the ghetto, had discovered how to utilize radio waves to hi jack the nervous systems of artificial body parts, using those connections to gain control of anyone and everyone. It started with a radio tower, spreading like coordinated wildfire until the entire planet was under his singular influence. Hundreds of years elapsed in an informational flash, and his city was reconstructed in stop-motion memories against the radiant flicker of every missed sunset. Factories were gutted and refitted with new technology. Homes were torn down and replaced by automated maintenance structures. The skyscrapers had their windows replaced by transparent solar panels. He watched as each satellite launched from earth in a monstrous swell of glowing exhaust. Each one shrunk into the sky, too far to see, too strong to avoid, positioned in a systematic geo-synchronized pattern like a death grip on human free will.
His, everyone’s, precious world had been demolished and rebuilt by the will of a single man, but with their own hands. Even now, satellites were striking down enslaving commands and only the intensity of the storm overhead shielded them. Soon, the storm would pass. Soon, he would be lost again.
The radio receptors in his head ceased to receive signals as the controller shot an expression of empathy.
The grinding, the winding…it was even inside himself.
He glanced down into the rippling reflection of a puddle. There he was, staring back with eyes that glowed a greenish-yellow. There he was, staring back at himself, hundreds of years past his expiration date. That night, when he was chased and cornered by human marionettes, was his last of flesh and bone.
His heart, brain, hair, nails, skin, they were all fake. He wasn’t human anymore.
The simple thought of it dropped him to his steel knees. His free will was gone; The one thing that made him human above all else had been robbed. He punched the pavement viciously. A small crater splintered and blasted apart beneath the force of his alloy arm. Behind him, hundreds of others watched and realized and felt with him.
Rage frothed within like boiling calamity. Tomorrow, he would become a puppet once more, but right now…right now his strings were still cut.
Right now he was human.
He dashed forward and landed a wild punch across the self-proclaimed leader’s face. Circuitry erupted from the man’s cheek and streamed across the night like shooting stars. Immediately, the repair bots restrained him from further assault.
The mastermind stumbled backwards, holding his face with agonized fury. The fury melted into horror as thousands of his slaves swarmed the tower.
The robots were tossed aside and pulverized into magnetic dust. The gate was bulldozed by their force and the controller was quartered into electrical brilliance.
The very foundation of the radio tower shattered beneath their onslaught. Its support beams crumpled from tireless fatal blows. Its base twisted and caved and folded in on itself. Arcing across the sky like the hand of destiny’s clock, like a crashing redwood tree, he could feel the magnitude, the energy of the moment and his life.
It dropped like a guillotine upon a giant, beautiful, evil building, ripping through the glass and frail framework with ease.
Victorious, bloodthirsty cheers filled the streets. He smiled silently as the mob spread forth like a hive-mind leviathan; Magnificent structures fell like wingless flies under their fury.
Memories of his youth played along the backdrop of destruction as the rain relented.
The green-yellow glow of ten-thousand pairs of eyes dancing through the darkness, with love, with life, with unfiltered emotion…It was a city of bright lights, he told himself.
He could feel the internal mechanisms within surrendering to the automated willpower of the satellites. He felt like crying, but his false eyes, illuminated with such love, and life, and unfiltered emotion, were unable to perform that last human task.
The last clouds drifted away, lazily unaware of the struggle below. A pale crescent moon gazed pensively upon the city. The satellites had no signal left to send, their master now dead; The people stood in the streets, frozen mid-motion like gilded statues, the souls of their eyes forever locked in combat with the half-demolished buildings around them.
It was a city of bright lights and empty structures.
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