Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fragment

She inspected her sac, reassured to find three lamps still remaining. In the three days since departing the small city at the shaft's base, she had found herself increasingly forgetful of what she had taken with her. Running out of light halfway up the shaft might not seal her fate, but the prospect of climbing in darkness, navigating strictly by feel, filled her with a rare dread. Sometimes climbers never came back, and she'd set off fully expecting to find their remains littering the regularly spaces balconies that lined the shaft's interior. So far her trek had been mercifully lacking in macabre thrills; her life had taken on a monochrome aloneness even more pronounced that that in the city, where her only compatriots were the whimsical bioconstructs excreted by the factories and tweaked by human workers.

In the glum light of the lamp, Dep located the ladder: a dark tracing of cast iron that stretched vertiginously up and beyond, rungs caked in scruffy moss and pebbled with insect eggs. Her hands made contact with the rungs and she experienced an unexpected surge of energy. Teeth clenched against vertigo, she resumed climbing.

#

She reached the next balcony much later. Dep immediately collapsed, supply sac pressed against her side like a malignancy, limbs splayed like spokes in a senseless mandala. Her breath hissed dryly in her throat as she fumbled with her water bottle, wetting her lips and tongue before snacking on a handful of edible-looking larvae she found suspended from the bottom rung of the next ladder. Still chewing, she looked up and found a disc of salmon-colored light peering down at her, cyclopean and unheeding. Almost as suddenly, she noticed that the usually smooth concrete of the balcony had become gritty, soiled with dust and bits of unusual-looking rock that shone redly in the biofluorescence of her lamp.

The skeletons of small, unfamiliar creatures littered the balcony like grim talismans. Their contours reminded her of the pseudo-organisms harvested from the reclamation tanks so perilously far below. But her inner logic told her these were genuine, relics of whatever biology persisted above. On impulse, she scooped several of them up and dropped them into her sac, hoping to sell them to gene merchants upon her return. Perhaps having something tangible to show for her unannounced exploit would take the sting out of her homecoming, or at least dull the awkwardness that typically greeted those who had transcended the shaft's depths.

Hugging her scabbed knees to her chin, Dep studied the gently curving wall. She recognized glyphs etched in the flowing, organic style of her native vocabulary and other, decidedly alien markings that might have predated her fellow travelers by millennia. She spent indeterminable minutes attempting to decipher them, frowning in disgust when her efforts met only failure.

She turned to the vast black pool and chanced a look down. The abyss wasn't as frightening as she had expected. Instead, it filled her with a perverse confidence and sense of giddy infallibility. She stood on the balls of her feet and let her face expand into a feral smile, imagining her lithe form superimposed against rapturous darkness. Dep closed her eyes, concentrating on the tickle of her lank hair and the welcome ache of her muscles.

#

When she awoke, the lamp had burned itself into a pile of vaguely luminous ash, which she brushed aside with her palm. She watched it descend, wraithlike, until consumed in night. For a moment she longed for the nebular lights of the city below, the familiar rhythms of the life-giving machines, the antics of the chimeras that roosted among the derelict towers and rotting gardens.

And then she was climbing, and she knew this would be the last tier. The pink light above ebbed and flickered as she ascended, toying with her shadow. Within a few hours she could feel a foreign breeze circulating. Migrant insects and pale, nameless organisms with pliant skeletons and mottled wings thrashed, shrieking, amidst tendrils of orange dust.

1 comment:

Boris kreiman said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading what you all have to say


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