People gravitate together, Skrimp thought. Cities were the logical conclusion. Even within them, that gathering force would make pockets of density. There would always be the spaces in-between, then, for shadows to gather.
That’s where they’d gone to meet up with their own people. All of them now strangers to the light.
He could already make out the van ahead, sitting in the only patch of snow streaming down from the broken roof above. The abandoned structure around them groaned as their echoes passed through.
Such a massive building’s dark corners became depthless, and in the pit of Skrimp’s stomach, he felt the weight of that vastness. They would be going even deeper into the blackout zone tonight before all was said and done. He was ready to brave the abyss.
Dag brought them to a stop twenty yards off. He dropped the stand and dismounted, Skrimp quickly following. They left the bike behind them without looking back. On their approach, the van doors opened for them, three people stepping out.
Each of them was clad in black paramilitary gear, carrying automatic weapons. Dag grabbed one such weapon as he approached, quickly going through the motions of checking the chamber and magazine. Skrimp was also offered one, but he simply shook his head. He wasn’t confident about handling it; his pistol would be enough.
He could tell that one of the three was a woman, but beyond the glossy sable of their masks, he could make out nothing.
“This is the resistance, huh?” he asked.
One of them replied in a rasping voice. “Ten thousand strong.”
“We’re decentralized,” Dag said. “We have the power to start a riot or burn an entire district, Skrimp, but the system is slow. It’s literally word of mouth.”
“I was in deep with the Puritans and the Seekers. I never heard nothing.”
“By design.” Dag stepped into the van, extending a hand.
As Skrimp was pulled in he looked back at the faint shine of the black bike. Suddenly he realized just how far those days were behind them.
The door slammed shut once each was inside.
One of the faceless threw a heavy mask into Skrimp’s lap. He turned it over and inspected it. “Put it on,” they said. “If any of us can be tracked, all of us can. The demons are smart that way.”
There was night vision included in the optics of the mask, but nothing more. There would be no radio communication, Skrimp knew. It’d only screw them in the long run.
“We stay tight and we keep our eyes peeled,” Dag said.
“What’s our goal, here?” the woman asked.
“The leader. A Frankenstein’s monster. He’ll be bigger and faster than you expect, Charlie.”
Doesn’t make any sense, Skrimp thought. Everything is run by the fucking machine. Doesn’t matter how scary he is, he couldn’t be running it…
Dag nudged him. He led Skrimp’s eyes to the woman sitting across from him. “Charlie,” he pointed. Then on to the next, the driver, “Fanta.”
The man simply gave the okay-gesture back at them.
Dag kicked the last one. “And this here is Liddy.”
“Down from the mountains of madness,” they said, dragging a finger across his neck.
“Well fuck,” Skrimp laughed. “At least we’re not strangers now.”
“Not long now,” Fanta called. “We ain’t far.”
Suddenly Skrimp realized, there was a phone in his pocket. Not his own, but the one Frode had called them with. Seeing that it was signed in, he opened the photo-app.
His jaw clenched as he scrolled back. Photos of Frode and Delilah at the mall. Of the mall at Christmas time and his smiling face in a new, bigger apartment. Back further he saw their school. There was a long period without pictures when Frode was talking with no one. Some of them were of empty alleys. One was of a hand they found; they’d worried it was Wally’s.
Finally, he found one that they had taken while out on one of their rides. All four of them together, grinning in some underground party. All of them high as fuck on life, if just for a night.
Skrimp was glad the other’s couldn’t see his face now. It twisted between emotions. Rage and sadness flashed by. The rattling from the shitty road beneath them, the smell of gun-oil and his own stench, the ache of his teeth, it all grounded him.
I still have time to rip and tear. Revenge against the machine.
Dag put a hand on the phone. “Can’t be having that,” he told Skrimp. “Besides, we need you focused. I need you with me, Silas.”
He fought to keep his stutter down. “I couldn’t be more ready for this.”
It was another fifteen minutes before Fanta stopped the car. “We’re here.”
Charlie immediately readied by the door. “Rock and roll, sunshine?”
Dag motioned forward, silently.
The command was clear.
The five of them poured out of the van as the door rolled back. Quickly taking in the gloomy sight of the building ahead, Skrimp was wary. This street was barren, its structures unremarkable. There were too many windows from which eyes could be watching. He almost didn’t even notice the two figures stepping out.
“Let me guess,” one of the two, a young Japanese man, spoke. “Friends of the recently deceased? We half expected.”
The second, a strange robot with legs crossed, leaning in the threshold, mocked. “These sweet darlings are here for revenge, Ryou. You’re right.”
Where Skrimp had frozen in place, gun drawn, Dag hadn’t even stopped moving. He raised his rifle without speaking.
The feminine robot spread her arms. “You might want to take a moment to think here, honey.”
“I’ve thought about it.”
Dag let out a blaze of fire.
Liddy let out a howl as the bullets started flying.
The entire street was blanketed with deafening gunshots.
It only took Skrimp a second to break from his shock at the suddenness. The time was now.