55. Consumption

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Knuckles pressed against the cold glass, ribbons of rain curling back and forth, shifting with the wind as it battered the windows. An arm, pale and exposed, scarred along its length, pockmarked with a history of violence, led to a tired head resting on a pillow shrouded in a mass of hair. Drawn cheeks, hollow eyes that stared with helpless dread at the world beyond the glass, at the clouds threatening to destroy the sector, wiping away the present. A tempest waiting for her order, eager to fulfil her vision.

Tay blinked, dry iris, dry throat, chin stained afresh, black upon black.

The first of the towers fell while she watched a bird wheeling across the sky, wings flapping furiously as it fled the lashing rain, seeking shelter from the storm. She missed the second tower drop and then they were all going, implosions, explosions, walls erupting in clouds of dust and concrete, furnishings thrown to the elements, sinks and toilets hurled into the sky, chairs and televisions plummeting to the empty streets below. Buildings stripped bare until they were skeletons looming in the storm, spectral creatures stalking the land, lightning rods flashing as the storm ripped away at them, melting them from the core until they turned to slag and there was nothing left, just a barren landscape of smouldering ruin.

The rain fell, washing the earth, churning the mud and burying the remnants of humanity, until it exhausted its anger, and the storm withdrew. Green shoots burst forth, a fuzz at first but rapidly spreading until every corner sprung with life, tendrils wrapping around tree trunks as they soared and stretched bony fingers to the sky, filling the void with leaf and sound. A drizzle drifted back and forth, sprinkling the foliage with droplets that glinted in the slanting sunlight.

Tay blinked, a shutter closing, opening upon another birth, another turn of the earth around the sun. Another step in the endless procession of change that she watched unfold, knowing the pattern deep within.

The birds came first, filling the gaps with dazzling plumage, bright against the forest wall, startled by the intrusion of furry animals scampering along branches and leaping into the rivers that crisscrossed under the wide canopy. The floods came before humans had a chance, chasing them into the trees with their spears and ideas, crowding them in until they held their children up, heads going under and the screams of the innocent, the last voices heard for an aeon.

Chemical tears stung Tay’s cheeks, leeching the colour from the cushion, but she was unable to look away, frozen in place and forced to watch as the sector revealed its secrets.

The water kept rising until the landscape became flat and a sea spread from wall to wall. A giant pond of green water, the levels rising until it crept up the window and the light dimmed, flickering as the weak sun failed to penetrate the depths.

Tay felt trapped in a jar, staring helplessly, consumed with a sense of sadness for the lives lost. Existence having meaning, pain a reality despite the endless cycle of rebirth. They would forget, be reborn and cast anew. Their form different but the same. Repetition built into the system but hidden by the vastness of chance. They were down there somewhere, hidden from sight. Millions of souls, like grains of sand, agitating and growing, layer by layer until they shone in the depths. Memories wrapping around a core identity, polished smooth by rubbing against each other until the seabed was a field of stars going supernova.

A creature cried in the depths, the frequency shaking Tay from her slumber, stirring her to sit up, muscles straining and head shaking with the effort. Voices rose behind her, shadows on the glass, hands reaching for her as she left them behind. A cry of pain and then the death rattle as one of them toppled over, vomiting before falling still. Tay dismissed them as she always did, contempt for their wasted sacrifice.

A dark blotch grew in the gloom of the sea, expanding as it neared. Smaller creatures swam alongside, tails flipping as they dove and spiralled around the leviathan. A grey form darted past the window, Tay’s neck creaking as she turned to follow it, another appeared as they chased and played, flippers grazing the glass as their sleek bodies turned. All while the great blob neared unseen until it was right up against the glass and letting its bulk drift alongside the wall. Mouth wide enough to swallow Tay and everyone she knew, a toothless creature studying her with an eye that filled the window. It knew her, spoke to her through the water, questioning her right to think for the others, doubting her ability to choose wisely.

“I don’t want to,” Tay said, the words emerging as a column of bubbles that rose to gather around the light fixture on the tiled ceiling.

The creature slowly moved its fins, turning its bulk and drifting away on the placid sea.

Tay pressed a hand to the glass, wanting it to stay and tell her what to do. She had no ideas, no originality. Hers was a path made by others, she reacted to the world, she didn’t change it.

When Tay opened her eyes again, it was to a form she recognised, long hair drifting around a face from her dreams, green eyes on the other side of the glass.

“Tell me what to do,” Tay begged but the swimmer shook her head, hair obscuring her face, but leaving one green eye uncovered. Tay dove into it, desperate for something, some sign that she wasn’t alone.

The swimmer pressed her hand to the window and Tay felt their palms touch, the cold glass vanishing. A scream rent the air and with a wave of her hands, the swimmer retreated. Tay crawled from her cushion to press her face to the window, pushing herself against it until her cheek bones hurt, willing the glass to shatter and fall away, letting the water rush in and drown them all. The next scream rent the sea asunder, driving a wave that rolled away from the window, exposing towers that thrust upwards, filling the sky. Streets uncovered, cars and buses trundling along, free from the weight. Tay’s stomach lurched and she fell backwards onto the cushion, eyes unwilling to focus on the city and all its grimy truths.

The air stunk of vomit, it clawed at Tay’s lungs as the groaning wormed its way into her ears. People moved in the glass, pairs that lifted bodies clear and shuffled towards the door at the back, passing through rows of snake tattooed worshipers, kneeling with heads bobbing and eyes that bore into Tay’s back, but she watched it all in the reflection, refusing to acknowledge their suffering, to accept that she was their focus and the cause of their pain.

She was tired and no one’s leader.

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