Town of Light
While still seeking shelter within the sanctum of his mind, Rico could only find chaos and vivid illusions of a apocalyptic future. What perhaps could be labeled as visions became more of a reality within the microcosmos of the brain, his reasoning fleeting with worry and guilt, but perhaps the chaos that haunted Rico was not from within but from the outside as the interplanetary conflict grew as more people became afflicted by the demonstrations of violence. With London and the rest of England in total ruins and the rest of Earth sure to follow the collapse of human civilization, at least on the local UHA cluster seemed certain; albeit by human cause and not demonic or alien, it still ingrained the fact that ruin was ashore.
All of his actions, his prowess, his vigor and will have served nothing to make progress for the better, incapable of saving those who depended on him. Maybe all of this was a figment of his imagination, a strange way of dealing with trauma and stress that rested upon his shoulders, but the same stress was upon "Sharky", Hikari, and Lance, they all seemed quite normal. If only he could enter their minds and know what they truly felt, however, even if he could it was certain that none faced literally death in the face and experienced the true primordial fear of all men: the unknown. What he saw, they all saw, but only he made contact with it, or rather, it made contact with him. That contact left fingertips within the surface of his mind. For lack of a better term, his grasp of reality was slipping.
Despite of his erratic talk and shifting eyes, everyone commended his bravery, they did not want to deal with it themselves as long it was not a problem to his success in battle, which he quite retained in a trance state of numbness, feeling like a outsider seeing everything through a screen in front of his eyes, even as they saw and judged the mad rambler. To add irony he was placed in charge of the small squadron of Spec Ops. Remaining cadets that survived the onslaught of London. That honor meant nothing to him as did anything else. What he needed was answers, only those a god could deliver but even then all he received from his prayers to Jehovah was silence. The only voices he heard where those of scorn and those of the end.
Even so, Abasi was one of the few who let him know of condolences as he too sheltered pain for losing his squad, and Lance, who lamented the loss of so many people before leaving back to the UNCC. Sam had a dissonant serenity to himself, showing a rooted mind in the state of affairs, he preferred not to indulge himself with conversation regarding the incident, or why Marco was given a honorary discharge after escaping from rebel capture, it was all taboo matter to mention those themes. He was restless to be again in the field, helping the cause.
The days went on but the passage of time felt null, it all felt like walking through a unending nightmare realm with no shining light anywhere, demons haunting every shadow, but then came the day that a call was issued for all the new recruits to come for a new deployment and for that they were to be given direct order from the brass.
"You can not send those kids to battle again after all they've been through! They're just recovering from a huge trauma, they are not ready for a recon expedition within enemy territory. In fact this whole mission should not even happen. If something goes FUBAR it could mean the end of their lives as well the start of a new interplanetary Civil War! Can't you get that through your pretentious asses!?", Abasi reiterated the brass ignored his please knowing well of the situation as the team gather for the debriefing.
The mission was simple, a town near Seul went silent without any explanation possible. Due to logical concern as the conflicts grew nearer Korea and a scientific center developing research of Mithril thermo-applications, therefore having large reserves of the previous xeno-mineral, the situation served as a perfect excuse to send the recruits far from the location of that FUBAR mission. As for the rescue of Prime Minister Walker after his selfless expression of offering himself as hostage in exchange for the rest of parliament that would go to a more specialized squadron. For the moment what mattered was securing the Mithril and investigate the mystery.
While traveling via helicopter towards the abandoned settlement, the silence is broken as a young soldier by the name of Scott asks Sam, "Does he ever speak to others?", as he continued to stare into the empty-minded Rico.
"Then why is he always staring at nothing?"
Catching the attention of Alice, a Canadian medic who was with the supply team back in London which by miracle received rather low altercation throughout the disaster, she interceded into the conversation, "Well, it's clear he's had it worse than the rest of us. After all, he fought against that thing that wiped out Ralec's squad by himself."
"Well, yes, but that doesn't explain why he is always mumbling to himself, even in sleep.", Scott continues as Sam overlooks towards Rico in the background then continues staring to the scenery. Following that statement, the remaining three soldiers were now enthralled by the talk with Hikari adding,
"Listen, a man who faces death in the eye is bound to be changed for better or worse."
Taking pity upon Rico, the other sniper in the team, Sydney, speaks, "Well, I guess the saying 'What doesn't kills you makes you stronger' but in this case it appears it is quite the opposite. He just seems broken."
What does that mean in the face of immortality.
"I don't know what was that thing that attacked us but I've heard it was perhaps a demon or even a god.", Scott adds while still peering his eyes to Rico without letting go of his sight the man.
With a touch of sarcasm in her speech, Alice remarks,"For what matters it could even be a ogre or maybe even Nyarlathotep. What I care is that we're alive at the moment."
Rising from the silence Eduardo exasperates, "Do not use the name of the daemon sultan in mockery. Right now the signs are not aligned for his summoning into our realm."
"Don't get started with that cultist crap now Ed! I swear, your people are even worse than Scientology and Swamp Ogre worship." Scott rapidly says knowing Eduardo is quick to jump in defense of his family's religion.
"All I'm saying is that..."
Cut short of his explanation by Scott, Ed falls back into his silence as Scott rambles, "All that your cult does is to be obedient idiots that throw money at their 'priests' looking for a chance for 'retribution' or something. Right?"
With that Sam proceeds to quiet Scott by saying, "Listen man, I'm not a huge religious person but I was taught there is one loving god in the heavens and to follow his example of acceptance. If people want to believe in something, let them be."
"But that's the problem, religion is one of the major sources of terrorism and conflict. Just look at the death of Rodriguez by that 'messiah' Jaeger which coincidentally appointed himself as 'Son of Nyarlathotep'. It is people like that that lead us to wars like this! If there was no religions, nothing of this would had happen!"
Breaking silence once again, Eduardo directs himself at Scott, "Those terrorists are not affiliated with the Church of its tenets. You cannot call yourself a retributionist if you wish upon others harm and all the things we repute."
"Sure, but they do it in your god's name. That brings me to my point."
Samuel decides to put both in their places by bringing up the scenario, gathering everyone's attention but Rico's. "Shut up already, will ya? Listen, we got a mission to partake in as soon as we touch ground so we need to be all in the same plane. If stupid arguing like this continues the our entire safety and of the operation is compromised. Now, I'm gonna be clear with you guys but it burns me to know the prime objective is not the localization of civilians but the securing of the Mithril reserves up in the town so we have to be quick."
"Do you suspect Rebels, Shark?" Hikari comments while looking at the same decorated helmet of his.
"We don't know, that is why it is as it is, but to be honest, this doesn't fit with any of their MOs nor have they made any demands. That is why they are sending us instead. Consider it a test by the brass. Are we clear?"
"Understood", they all gesture in unison as Rico shifts his gaze towards Samuel's Shark decorated helmet which he holds as he gives the speech in his arm. Taking notice of this, Sam looks back discreetly back at him as he thinks, Damn, this is your job, Angel. Better put your head together man, please. Dropping to the ground, the team decides to stick together in case of emergency.
As the helicopter leaves the scene, Samuel looks up to the sky wishing he could take in the fresh air from the serene ambiance that surrounds them while the wind blows gently, the sun shines bright into the visor of their helmets, and the silence preludes their entry with stillness.
Sure is a beautiful day., he reasons as he beholds the unfazing calmness of nature, it can remaining dissonant of human aggression and effect to an almost eerie effect.
Through the road, cars are parked as if in a mundane morning with vehicles stationed at the local elementary school parking lot and the bakery beside it. The houses are undisturbed, the windows opened and the doors unlocked, the content of the rooms untouched. Telephone lines and bus stops still stand the same. The outside trees's leaves flow as the air passes between them and the roses bloom at the start of the day, but where should be people there are none, where there should be motion stillness prevails and where should be anything none is found. Every sign of people is gone as if they never existed, only their trails of life but not their tracks.
Out in the distance where birds should be chirping Rico sees a wavering light that travels as it searches the homes. Resonating within his third eye is a hushed voice that incites his presence to which he begins to feel the claws of a being deep rooted in his thoughts. He then follows it while the rest focus on looking for clues of any human activity. Seeing Rico leave, Samuel calls him out but to no avail as the former focuses on catching up to the fleeting shimmer.
Finally catching up to the floating luminescent orb, Rico tries to approach it only for the light to avoid the touch and speaking, Meet me at the church and we'll talk..., with those words zooming out of view through a flash and disappearing from his sight. Deciding to set foot to the chapel, Rico loses the following Samuel as he begins to see other dim flashes throughout the town, all going in the same direction.
"The answers are in the light." He sets foot down the glaring road.
As the others search for any signs of the missing people or rebel activity, Hikari enters a house's room where a portrait of a family lays atop of a wood table, clearing off the dust from the frame she takes a look at the picture. In it, a young woman is shown holding a boy of approximately 6 years holding a plush brown bear with a microphone as the father rests his arm upon their shoulders. Putting it aside, she notices the same plush bear in the bed besides it as well blood soaked paper towels in the floor. She continues to satisfy her impulse as she rummages throughout the house, only to find scattered blood soaked tissues around the floor and couch. She is only interrupted by Scott as he reads the atmospheric readings,
"Ash? Why is there ash everywhere?"
"Huh?!", she asks as him while holding a piece of silverware in her hand which she hastily puts back in the kitchen cabinet.
"Haven't you noticed that everything in this town covered in ash. There's no active volcanoes around this area..."
"I just find it strange. It's only inside the houses from what I've seen," with that he turns on the flash from his weapon to reveal all the particles in the air shining bright when the light reflects upon them in a variety of colors, mostly yellow and white, "and as far as I know dust doesn't glow like this."
"So what makes you think it's ash?"
"Check your readings."
Looking at her own readings she sees a alarming rate of organic particulate within the air making it nigh unbreathable. Taking notice of the particularity in the dust, in that it is pretty much invisible without a external light source upon which once taken away it still retains the newfound visibility, she contacts Alice in the next room to take samples.
'Never seen something like this before.', she murmurs to herself as the light show continues to manifest itself in a way reminiscent of a Aurora Borealis darkening the outside until the leave the house and see the massive influx of lights all going towards the building up in the hill. As the spectacle continues, one of the tiniest lights in the air falls on top of her and dissolves, falling down from her helmet like bioluminescent water until she catches a drop in her gloved palm and inspects it as it lowly hums.
Following the trail set by the flashes, Rico continues to walk down the deserted road until he sees two lights, one smaller than the other, enter together a daycare with swings in the patio playground. Deciding to enter, his eyes are caught by the same colorful ash that reflects light back at his helmet revealing a small smudge of blood in the wall in a otherwise dimly lit meeting room.
There the two lights meet another slightly broader one as they converge into one shining singularity hovering above the ground as he approaches it carefully, his steps barely making a sound that could disrupt the melody of their reunion. As soon as he gets into proximity the light dissolves into three different figures of height similar to a woman, a child, and a man, the former two sitting down and the latter standing in front of them. The transcendental event captures Rico in its grasp, setting hold of him as time becomes bleak and the day as dark as night.
"Good morning, mister Appleton.", says the female figure to the male one as the child continues to play by his own.
Speaking with a British accent, "Please, you can call me Reverend or Jeremy if your prefer."
"Ah, a clergy man, I see. In what can I help you in your appointment, sir? Don't suppose you want to inscribe a child of your own."
"Thank you, I would appreciate if I was offered the opportunity to be able to meet this town's children. I figured that here would be a perfect place to start interacting with the youth of the community."
"Well, I would like to remind you that here we do not teach the children about certain subject and religion is one of them unfortunately."
"Of course, I am not intending that miss. What I am looking for is to simply be able to know the people of this town and I thought by starting in good paces with the children."
"Hmmph, well unfortunately for that to happen I would need the consent of their parents due to the fact it is prohibited by law that the kids meet with outsiders while within our care."
"Oh well, in that case I do not mean to intrude. Sorry for my inconvenience Miss Yeul. I should be leaving."
"Don't you want to say goodbye to the mister, Kim?"
"Goodbye, Kim. Take care, Miss."
"You as well." With that the figures disappear and the outside begins to be shine like day again. Turning around rapidly, his mind filtering all the sound that has entered suddenly, Rico looks for the exit and proceeds to leave through the same door that he entered. Covering his face with his hand from the sun, he sets again for the path uphill through the tree line while observing the same light accompanying him up the front.
Following it up to a building with a caduceus sign in the roof, he enters through the clear crystal door unto the waiting room, filled with seats and magazines. While looking around for the little light, he observes around the place, the floor littered with blood clots and soaked tissues, still he does not see the light. Entering the doctor's room, Rico encounters the orb floating mid-air like in the previous building, humming until approached, the vibrations reverberating through his body making the heart beat following a dissonant rhythm or alien signal, his body becoming weightless.
As soon as the orb dissolves, two masculine figures appear with the same British voice as before speaking first, "Hello there Robert, I was told you wanted to meet me as soon as possible."
"Yes, Jeremy, thanks for coming. You see, in this passing weeks I've been having a massive influx of patients up in the hospital. I was hoping you could come with me this evening."
"Yes, of course. I've heard from others this is something about a flu epidemic. Seen folks walk around with masks here by the town when I went for groceries last week. To be fair, there wasn't many outside of their houses, the few that went by the church last night were only there to pray for loved ones."
"Ah my friend, I've seen many cases of flu throughout the years and this is definitely no flu. Granted, you haven't felt any major headaches or had nosebleeds this week, have you?"
"Not really, but say, what do you suppose it is then if it is not the seasonal flu?"
"To be honest, I have no idea. What I know is that the symptoms don't match up with the regular influenza virus and variants. Like I said, it all starts with intense headaches, then migraine and nosebleeds, then it all goes downhill from there. It started only with the elderly but now it has spread to children and even healthy adults at a alarming pace. So far there have been no confirmed deaths but last night I've heard that Miss Suk was nowhere to be found as well Old Mr. Kyung and his wife. All three were reported to be afflicted with the disease."
"And have you concluded whom perhaps are in greater risk of contracting the disease?"
Taking a deep breath of air, it beginning to become course through the nose, the other figure then continues his speech with a rasp voice, "From what we have determined the prime candidate for infection is pretty much everyone with contact to water; in fact I'm surprised you haven't noticed or felt anything for the past few days."
"Well, I've been lately stuck with clerical work, you know, with all the prayers to the sick. Also, the church runs on a independent water source from the town so that might have helped a little."
"Well, I'm glad that at least you're alright. To be honest I don't know how I could handle this. There is no apparent treatment or cure. All that we can do is wait."
"Oh dear God, your nose."
While searching for Rico, Samuel comes across a small pond at the end of a water canal surrounded by fresh green grass that holds blossoming yellow and red flowers, the trees providing cooling shadows amidst the oasis of translucent still water. He decides to enter the pond as his mind soars to the memories of youth when bathing in lakes at family meetings back in Florida peninsula at warm temperatures and air untouched by mechanical filth, but then his eye catches glimpse of metal. Inspecting it he sees a gas bomb resting at the bottom floor beneath the water, undetonated and without harm. Trying to contacting the team to no avail, he decides to take photographic evidence of the device, etched on the sides the letters Government of South Korea.
Past the experience and at the doors of the chapel, Rico is expected by the light which proceeds to reveal its last memories before dissipating into nothingness.
"No one else remains, then why do I alone remain? Is it punishment for my sins? For hiding like a coward behind these doors as people suffered, refusing them shelter at your house for my own sake? If so, just tell me, give me a sign! If eternal damnation awaits me then so do it already and this torture.
My time in this world is shortening, my lord, I don't want to die without knowing if my words carried any meaning, if they were listened to. Please, answer me! Have I been forsaken in this land? Please, I beg you! Anything! I just don't want to be alone anymore."
Entering at last into the altar he is greeted by small flames decorating the borders of the seats as all lights congregate upon his presence. Suddenly his mind is lifted, liberated from his mind and begins racing across time and space to a place parallel to that of his all within his own cosmos. A moon hovers, reflecting light upon the field of Mithril roses that decorate the floor, the crystal petals hued with a tone of light-blue in contrast to the red light resonating from the sky disk. In the back strange shapes and bubbles occupy the starry sky, immense orbs of energy floating while strange beings play flutes in unison as a wrangling mass of tentacles sleeps far away in the nucleus of all.
Atop the hill, a slender, black suited, dark skinned figure stands tall with his gaze fixated upon the same blood moon dwarfing everything else. In its back are countless yellow light tentacles forming vast wings the span of the satellite itself. Reciting a strange verse in a even stranger language, all of the remaining lights conjoin into the wings as the music ends abruptly and the silence sets ahold.
"I was expecting you would come, Vratski. I am sure you have many questions. Come, do not be afraid, we have much to discuss" Turning his face towards Rico, his face changed from a featureless white facet into a more convenient one with mouth, eyes, nose, resembling a old white human male with graying hair carefully combed in check with his immaculate governmental suit and polished black shoes, the claws transforming into a pair of five-digit hands and the bright wings its back disappearing in thin air.
A silver wind blows gently into Rico's hair as the air becomes cold and grey, "Who are you? What is this place? Why do you want to meet me?"
"Mortals, always seeking answers to questions they do not even know. I have many names, many forms, what you call me is insignificant. I simply am. As for what this place is, this is simply existence at its purest form: entropy. This is the center of it all.
Truth be told, the simple reason I wanted to meet you is because curiosity."
"What curiosity could have a being such as you for a human?"
"Simple, you seem interesting. If you are wondering if you are the first person I had contact with, no, you are not the first. Nor are you my favorite, that title goes to a certain man of science from centuries ago. Taught him how to handle electricity and the power of creation from the old into new, but his genius wast untrusted back in the time. What you are is the first in centuries to have the honor of coming to understand what comes, a gift you stole from my son."
"Your god cannot reach you here. This is not a place of light. I sense your doubt, rightly so. I never understood why someone would adore that what is treacherous, asks for unfading devotion but never gives back in return, immobilized by sadness and wept. That is what your god is, what your light represents, a sleeping tyrannical god. Instead, I give tangible results through action. For example, were it not for that man of science, my protege, your species would have not come this 'far'."
"Then why do you seek to destroy humanity?"
"Your misconception of chaos is a common one. For you, chaos is synonymous with simple destruction and cessation of existance, but for us ones that perceive reality from the outside chaos means a clean slate, a opportunity for new creation while allowing the old to become more, to ascend. Your species is not the first but for once it is the one to have negated my own creation, the son I engendered. He was weak, he underestimated the Mythoclast, his opposite, the one who can defeat his blade, but despite that it was you that took the eyes of Yog-Sothoth."
"I feel you are implying something."
"You are clever minded, I am starting to like you. Yes, I propose we begin to work together for a common goal. Together we can bring the end of the sleeping god and bring a end to his tyranny and selfish hold of paracausal power. We can bring the apotheosis of your people."
"You want to kill God?"
"Can you not sense it as well? He keeps to himself that power in his sleep selfishly. He does not cede the throne to us the rightful heirs. I want to bring in change, if he is incapable of ruling the cosmos anymore in his slumber, then so shall we take his place. It is time for the frail and old to die and his children to take his place as rulers."
"You must. Do not worry, I will be keeping a eye on you Mr. Vratski. Remember that all it takes is the right man in the right place at the wrong time for history to be written. You will understand everything when the fire begins. For now, rise and shine, your story awaits."
"Rico!", Samuel yells as he sees Vratski standing still in front of the fallen cross. Turning around to greet him, Rico sees the rest of the team awaiting outside the church's doors. "Don't just stand there! We got to keep moving and find the Mithril reactor ASAP."
"What time is it?"
"It is 15:35, goddamit! We need you here, Rico, with us."
"Sorry is not going to cut it man. I don't really want to do this but I'll have to report your actions back to the brass when we return and they won't like it."
"Don't worry. After this I won't be on the military anymore. There are too many questions I need answered."
"Huh?" Gesturing with his hand, Rico leaves Samuel behind as he exists the church to greet the others.
Reading trivia while waiting for the two inside, Scott decides to ask the group, "Did you know that Nikola Testla's is technically the father of Mithril processing? Only when exposed Alternating Currents is Mithril able to release the energy from its raw state. That way people were able to utilize Mithril as a efficient energy source back in the middle of the 24th century."
Quick to note out, Eduardo replies with, "Uh-huh? That's public knowledge. Besides, we aren't here to reinvent Mithril harvesting of anything. We're just here to secure the reactor."
"Have you ever seen what happens when a organism is subjected to Mithril without proper protection?", Hikari notes as she looks at the deposited spoon in her F.L.O.A.T backpack.
"Huh? I've never heard of what happens. Care to explain?", asks Alice.
"Well from what I heard, and don't quote me on this, but because Mithril a form of ultra superconductor it causes the human body to literally become overflowed with energy as the person bleeds out through every hole in the body, mainly the nose and later dies or something like that. Then again, don't quote me on this but is what I've heard from common rumors throughout the internet."
"Alright, let's move." Samuel says as the two exit the building.
"Finally, was getting bored." Hikari retorts as she rolls her eyes inside her helmet.
Upon reaching the centre they begin to search for any signs of incidents within the records as well locating the cache. While looking at a terminal, Sydney reads the notes of the main reactor's AI by the name Nyaruko,
Paracausal activity detected in August 23, 2540. Range: 0.000667x1098 seconds; Inconclusive results of mass-height ratio calculations-Denote presence of Unknown Grey Matter in area. Object describes itself as [Redacted]. Classify: Threat level-Keter, Denomination: Samael, Status: Midnight Exigent, Execute protocol-On progress Code Ouga. Proceed to reformat morality structures and close Terminus and Yuga bunkers-power preservation at 98%. Adhere to 97% possibility of complete military blackout and defense nets. Declaring Epoch Sundown-Sapiens Date: August 24, 2540 of Standard UBW Year.
"What's wrong, Sydney?" Samuel asks as her eyes widen with each stroke of the mouse.
"This AI was programmed to destroy all sources of Mithril in the event of a breach or threat to the safety of this center, but look at this. This note is dated 20 years in the future in the calendar of UBW, not Earth; it apparently detected a doomsday level event and decided to follow protocol on its own behalf. There's no reserves left on the reactor meaning a meltdown took place, that would also explain why there is nobody left in the town. I guess everyone evacuated safely, at least I hope so. Still, that wouldn't explain the never gas bomb you found."
"Maybe it was deployed by accident in mistake of the same AI breakdown." Scott adds as he observes the two nearby.
"No, the message was apparently sent by the AI but by a man named Randall Flagg. The problem is I found no indicators while digging the records of any employe or town resident for that matter by such name. Furthermore, even though deactivated, the AI suffered no signs of rampancy or defection. It effectively cut itself before experiencing the effects of whatever caused this signal in the first place. It just doesn't add up."
"What about the lights we found earlier? Anything about those?" Scott continues to ask.
"Nothing that I noticed."
"In any case, the Government of Korea will have to respond a lot of questions. Bombing a non-threatening residential area without verifiable reason is liable for conducting trial in international court in the case of war crimes. The UHA is not going to like this. Alice, Rico, found anything?"
"Not really, wait, Rico! Where you going?" I think he found something."
In the other room Rico sees a bright reflection at the corner of his eye. Upon entering, he sees something peculiar atop the CEO's desk: a Mithril rose.