She was leaning against the room’s central pillar, smiling.
“Hello darling,” she said.
I stepped inside. “Delilah… How did you…?”
“I’m unpredictable, remember?” She started forward and wrapped her arms around me. “How bland is it to sit worrying when I learn you’ve been evicted?”
A mixture of emotions churned in my chest. Happiness, fear, and regret. The winner, though, came rising to the top as confusion. “But how? How did you do it?”
Delilah stepped back, putting me at arm’s length. “You didn’t call me back. When I found out your apartment was up for lease, I remembered you told me about this place.”
“Christ,” I swore. “So you went alone into the blackout zone to find it?”
“You’re out here, you idiot.”
“I’m prepared,” I countered.
She reached back, pulling a black pistol from her pants. “What? With this? An empty gun?”
I broke away, backing up to drop down on the windowsill’s edge. Sitting there, I shook my head. “Exactly,” I said. “I already fucking shot a guy, Delilah.”
She tossed me the gun. The first frown I’d ever seen on her face sent a pang of guilt through me.
Delilah sat down beside me. “Listen, Frode,” she said. “You can’t live here-”
“I can’t go back,” I interjected.
“You’re majorly bumming me out, wise guy.”
“Am I?” Something about that bothered me. It was our usual back and forth, the soft jabs of chiding that had amounted to no more than shared misery in our relationship. Though it was sweet, the taste of it was bitter to me now. “What can I do about it?” I asked. “This is my life now…” I hesitated to say, staring at the stain of puke on the concrete, but I spoke my mind, “it’s better now. I believe that.”
“Better?” Delilah laughed. “You shot a guy. You’re homeless. I mean, I guess you got a cat now, right?”
Ashmedai hissed. “Yeah, I see the point.”
“Frode… You can get another job. I’ve been saying it for a while now. A better one, even. Then you can finally pay for a dinner date like a proper sexist.”
“It’s not about the job,” I said. She was trying to persuade me. But it wasn’t about me. “You know I hated Fong, but this is different. I have something that I’m working on here, and I can’t entirely explain it.”
“Just… I know it’s hard to imagine going back. There’s not a lot for me in this grind either, you know it? There are a few billion people around me and I just don’t give a damn. Not for any of them. But I came here, Frode.”
I stopped staring at my feet and looked at her. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Tell me you care. At least about yourself.”
“I care about you.”
Delilah jumped a little when the cat climbed into her lap. Ashmedai sat there, his twilight eyes locking with mine. Almost taunting. Delilah started petting him, completely unaware. “…Then help me make this work. You can come crash at my place while you look for a job. I have plenty of room,” she said.
God, I wanted that. But there really was no choice. I couldn’t go back. “I want to. I seriously, really do. But I have to finish what I’m after out here.”
“What is that? What’s so important?”
My mind ran blank. Every path of explanation which presented itself to me ran away into insanity.
The city is run by a legion of demonic artificial intelligence which took absolute power after the war. In league with them, the flesh traders systematically cull the masses, intentionally propping up the conflict between sub-factions in a system of human domination. They build horrors from the dead. One chief horror among them killed Wally. By working with other demons, I now know how to kill this monster. I will probably die doing this. But I would rather die than turn away from it.
I would have told her all of it if I had any courage. Instead, I said nothing. I simply looked back to my feet, murmuring, “I can’t.”
Delilah punched my arm. “No, I can’t. I can’t watch you kill yourself. When you’re out here, I’ll never know if the next text you send me is the last. And when you do go disappear, I’ll just never know why. And every slow reply or fucking missed call will make me feel that.”
“I understand.” Every word made me feel more like shit. “But…”
“Yeah…” she said, cutting me off. Delilah stood up, pushing Ash off her lap. “Then I guess I’ll just have to get over it.”
“I care,” was all I could think to say.
“Just text me, Frode.”
“I will. I’ll keep you updated.”
“You do your part, then. Let me know you’re safe. I’ll do mine… and get over it.” She stopped at the door, grimacing. It was a tense expression, masking another. “Hopefully you’ll change your mind, Frode.”
“I hope so,” I agreed.
When the door swang shut behind her, it truly hit me how insane this all was. To think I could have any say in this city, this megalopolis, was desperate fantasy. Yet I was here clinging to that instead of her.
For the first time since I’d seen those glowing red eyes in the dark, what I had been running from caught up to me.
I wiped at my eyes, sniffling. The rattling of my arm was like a rush of blood in my ears.
I remembered that emptiness. There was no going back.
No. I had come too far. I would finish this thing. My hate remained strong.
Everything was in place now. Once I finished my work here, I was ready to finish this. I could move as soon as tonight.
I would kill the moribund man.