The Third Sdhlain: Sdhlai 2

Dropping to the floor of what seemed a rarely visited storeroom, I considered my options. I could attempt to fool the searcher--I had done so once before in another situation. But the stories were far more common of those who failed. I moved along a row of crates toward the room's only door. Before I could reach it, the spherical machine floated through the window I had entered, confirming my fear. Its blinders flashed at me and the standard recorded voice broke the room's silence.

"Citizen three zero two five seven, you are away from your assigned post. A recording will begin in approximately one minute. This recording will be relayed to the employment center for human review. You will then follow this searcher back to your post."

I began to feel ill. Whether it was fear or the real or imagined effect of the device I still carried I couldn't tell. My ID had doubtless already been relayed, but if I could think of a way out of this situation now, I might not cause a stir at the center--

"Resistance has been detected in your emotional state and recorded. If you do not cooperate, you will face automatic charges. The recording will begin in thirty seconds."

One machine was already trying to kill me, and the other certainly would be if its owners knew who I really was. I had no more time for thinking. With a single motion, I tossed the melter onto a crate and fired a disruptor at the searcher. So quickly as to seem preemptive, the searcher's four arms snapped outward and I felt a paralysis charge strike my left arm and right leg. As I fell to my knees, the searcher clanged to the floor before me. My nausea increased as I moved back toward the window as fast as I could manage. I had programmed the melter blindly in my pocket, hopefully without error, but in any case, I needed to leave this room immediately. With only one functional arm, I was fortunate to find a box to shove under the window and dump myself outside. I landed on my back and lost my breath.

A few pedestrians looked my way as I got up and awkwardly hopped into an alley, but I doubted that any of them would be too curious--when a normal citizen saw something strange, he knew that it was best to pretend he hadn't.

It took me much longer that usual to reach my temporary home, and I immediately sent off a message to have the device retrieved yet again. I still didn't feel well, and I was asleep in minutes.

I dreamt.

I dreamt of a sky with stars. A few of us still vaguely remember them, those of us raised on the furthest outskirts of the ever-growing urban sprawl, but most of the world has never seen a star in the sky. The nights have been nothing but the bruised red of light pollution for years. Even our precious oceans are covered with floating industrial plants and residental areas. It makes the waste much easier to get rid of--simply pump it into the water. Beaches lay unused, covered in a thick oily carcinogenic sludge that looks awful and smells even worse.

I dreamt of a forest, a plain, and dew on the grass. Not foreign to me, to be sure, but things I had not seen in fifty years.

I dreamt of dancing around a fire.

Fires . . . fires, I know much of.

Consciousness came slowly, and with it came a dull awareness of heat. I opened my eyes to see the flames already licking at the door, the smoke already overtaking the overtaxed ventilation system of the complex.

The windows were locked, but a few slams with my shoulder forced the old wood around the pressureglass to give way. I dwelled on the fact that, along with the smouldering ashes of the walls and furniture and people that would be left on a roughly square chunk of sprawl, a few thousand pristine blocks of pressureglass would slowly sink into the embers. They would eventually be pulled out and reused somewhere else. Come nuclear war, the only things sure to be left on the planet are cockroaches and pressureglass.

I leapt onto the balcony outside, only belatedly realizing that the balcony had fallen off a few years earlier. Flailing for a second, I managed to catch a piece of steel that still jutted out of the side of the building. The world was a deep red, the nearest building reflecting the burgeoning flames. I looked down. Three stories.

Deep breath.


The landing was better than it could have been, considering my already-weakened state. I felt an ankle give way, and then I tumbled into darkness.

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Last Updated: 2002.10.20.2302