‘You come here on your motorcycle, Frode? Good. Let’s go for a drive.’
Chest pain and anxiety were razor butterflies in my chest.
After waiting in Dag’s apartment long enough for the cat and I to dry, we had headed out again. Deep into the lowest, ugliest districts. Deeper into the blackout zones than the Orpheum, by far.
The road conditions and cat in my jacket would have been enough, but my state of mind alone made driving almost impossible. My eyes were wide, weaving this low-lane traffic. There was a specific back route he had in mind.
The rain was ongoing but at this point I had gotten tired of complaining.
‘There’s something you need to see.’
Very soon our two motorcycles had only rubble and derelict vehicles to dodge. Even here, though, the vending machines glowed, vandalized as they were.
All told, I’d never left my sector before. This was three over.
Dag’s tail light led the way in front of me. I slowed as he did, taking an unexpected turn into a downsloping alley. The walls grew uncomfortably tight as it went on.
Suddenly the alley dropped down into an arched tunnel. Part of the old underground, back when the city had been built on actual ground. The black depths swallowed us.
The cat’s claws dug into my flesh with every major bump.
Up ahead there was a singular light. We slowed to a stop underneath it. There were old gas pumps standing in its halo, static playing on the video screens above them. Dag hopped off and turned them on. No card swipe.
“These pumps are just here?” I asked, killing my engine.
He didn’t answer. “Fill her up.”
As I hooked up my bike and took in the visual and audio static the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. There was a kind of smell on the air. A sound. An indescribable sensation that fell on me.
Expansion and collapse like a breathing mind.
Footsteps played against the dark, beginning to echo from every direction.
“Dag?” I warned. Someone was coming.
He drew that familiar microwave gun from his belt. “How’s your day?!” he called.
After a moment a gruff voice came back. “…It’s ghostly yet idyllic.”
A stocky man came into the light. He was dressed in vagabond clothing, his hair black and whitened, his face aged. He had his hands in his pockets. “Put that away.”
“Percy,” Dag said, “I’ve brought someone.”
“I noticed.” He was displeased. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“He needs to see.”
Percy pinched the bridge of his nose. “You just make that decision?”
“Yes.” Dag had tucked away his gun. “Is it awake?”
“You need to consult with us. I don’t know if he’s trustworthy.”
“You want to put it to McCrea?” Dag sat on the silence which followed, nodding to himself.
“I have seniority.”
“That’s a no.” He pushed me to start walking. “Go, Frode.”
“Should I…?” I started to ask. “What?”
I stepped past the grimacing old man and into the dark.
Dag pushed me again. “No, don’t speak. Actually, don’t think, either.”
I could hear the rain against the tunnel roof above. As we walked on into the abyssal dark my hesitation grew stronger. We just kept going.
“How much further?”
The descent went on until time became a blur. I lost all sense of how far down we were. The passage was seemingly endless, bottomless.
Only then did our paired footsteps fall silent.
Deep in the ground, now, I could finally see by a faint grim light. My eyes were drawn immediately to the dead end of concrete at the bottom of this depth. There I saw something ghastly.
A pile of dead bodies ten feet high.
Its stink immediately hit me. Their mouths were agape, heads open wide. Music was playing from each of their maws, a chorus of discordant foreign pop music. As my eyes widened it reached a higher pitch, a feverish ascent in a feedback loop of my rising terror.
“Oh, God,” I said, unable to scream.
Dag shoved me. I hit my knees, gaze cast down at the cracked foundation of the building. I was paralyzed with the image still on my mind.
Just then the cat took its chance and jumped out the collar of my shirt, dashing forward.
My eyes followed her up to a completely different sight.
In the bottom of this partially flooded pit a mass of dimly lit metal lingered. A massive humanoid robot sat crumpled and rusting where the bodies had been. Its eyes glowed red, the only light. Its armored body was a self-melded wreck, but its head tilted in curiosity at me.
The cat had climbed up onto the robot’s shoulder, sitting and looking down on us from the haunting perch.
My hand extended, outreaching with its rattling.
The machine’s mangled arm rose up and towards me from the water.
In the red glow I saw life.
I whispered in horror as I understood.
“No…” Dag replied, “…a Demon.”