After the Lightbulbs Fry
rating: +35+x

A ladder extended from top to bottom. A metal cylinder wrapped around it, two meters wide, several hundred metres deep. It had that slightly rough sheen of something newly made but uncared for.

A woman stood at the top of the hole. She had just opened the hatch at the top, and was staring down below. She couldn't see the bottom. There were no lights on the journey, just the electric bulbs shining from the top and whatever it was that lay at the bottom.

She took a deep breath, and did not move.

She took another deep breath, and moved.


Maureen Philips swore, for the seventh time that day. He had arrived. The Devourer's chains had broken, the door had been breached, and seven kinds of hell had been let loose on the world. Site 181 was breached, and the greyscale screens before her showed a hundred demons tearing on her position.

To put it lightly, it had been a hell of a day.

But Maureen Philips just laughed. A thousand thousand days of life lived under a perpetual axe-wound had frayed and shredded her nerves. She typed away, whistling and singing, activating every trap she'd lined her fortress with.

"Ma'am, we have to get out of here."

Strange. Why was this man talking to her? There was devils to contain. She waved a hand, dismissively. She was suited to power. It surged through her like a flame, consuming all within and without.

"M-ma'am, I have to wait for you. You're the O5. I can't let you-"

Maureen flipped a switch, and pushed a button. A rumble that could be felt through miles of steel and rock shook the base. The aide behind her licked his lips, nervously.

"Wh-what was that, ma'am?"

"That was something ending, Brian. And what comes next is something new."


The woman climbing down the ladder was not Maureen Philips, nor was she like her in any way, save one. She was thinner, to the point of looking almost gaunt. She had one of those faces where the cheeks seem to weep, while her eyes bulge like great dark diamonds. She was not what one would call pretty, but attractively sharp instead.

One foot, two foot, right foot, left foot. It had become a rythym, a clattering on the floor of each rung, descending into the dark. She knew that at the bottom of the hole was a light, and it would shine. She wasn't sure that she wanted to see it.


It was night, and Agent Kyle Sobieski was smoking a cigarette. It was 1959, and he was on top of the world. He'd been waiting for something like this since Korea- a chance to really, truly, prove his mettle, as the screaming metal lines came clattering around him.

The sun itself had melted everything, turning human faces into fetid sobs of half-remembered fat. Great marshes of unjust hierarchies were spreading across the world, making nonsense into sense and removing all the fat and bone. Kyle wasn't a fan.

So here he was, in a bunker under the earth, flipping switches and making lines go to black and white. He didn't know how they'd manage it, but the sun had been right once and could be again. Enough bodies, programmed in the right way, inserted into the thousand clusters of jelly and hell scattered over the Earth- he could do it. Genetic codes melding into genetic codes, twisting things back the way they were. This is what the sun should do to you. Accept that.

Or maybe that wasn't what he was doing at all.

The machine was vast. He didn't understand it, but he thought that he wasn't supposed to. This was a restricted corner, with screens boring into his head, and he thought that it was controlling him more than he controlled it. He remembered when they'd found that body, miles deep. This was many more miles beyond that, and he'd seen many more bodies since then.

Take those two, over there. A middle-aged woman and a young aide. Skeletal, decomposed, wasted. Whatever purpose they'd served had been done long ago. He wondered what her name-badge said, but the machine was gripping his human mind and altering the parameters again.

The sludge died that night. It would live again.


The light was visible now. Pale, green, sickening. She kept her cool, one hand on the other, descending this one-way pathway into places that couldn't be concieved. Floors and doors occasionally appeared before her, but she knew they weren't the right ones.

As soon as she'd entered, it had been clear. The room at the bottom of the cylinder, with its entrance at the third corridor to the left, 5th floor of the upper portion. This place went on forever, but that was perhaps necessary when containing an infinity of infinities in a single metal bunker.

She reached the bottom. She raised a flashlight.


"More weight!", roared the sailor. This was the right place. He was sure of it.

He'd come here from another place, from a hole in a cave in a wall. Him and the others. The winds still howled and tempests roared but there was no life in the air, nobody who understood. Just bodies, slowly dying. Just the rot.

They'd found a boat, and it'd taken them onwards. It had taken them a few days to work it out, when Carlos came back from a visit home. He'd taken something with him, and there was nothing to go back to.

So they did what they had to. What they'd been trained to. Only the winds and the waves were left to oppose them, and this world wasn't quite the same. Oceans where they shouldn't be, bodies where they couldn't. So many, nestled upon each other, a ladder of death that stretched from shore to cosmic shore.

"More weight!", he yelled again. They needed to scuttle the ship. He didn't know why, the others didn't know why, but they had to do it. The parts would be needed. Clouds lumbered overhead, frail rain spat in their cold and numbing faces, but they moved and moved the rocks to the edge of the ship, smashing and hollering and trying to make her sink.

He peered over the edge. Black water. Skeletons, rising up, preserved in some ungodly stasis. A suit and a box of cigarette, as if from a world that could never exist again. And below them, below it all, was a light.

A green light.


She moved forward, to the terminal. Everything was silence. She wondered if there was anyone else in the world with silence left.

The text was pale, sickly. It flashed at her, over and over and over again, its inevitability pouring out of it.

WELCOME, DOCTOR GREEN.

The body of a sailor, skeletal and brief, sat next to her on a wooden chair. The dimensions of the room began to shift, in and out, in and out, like the motions of dark waves.

Her turn now.

You didn't need a building that replaced humans. You needed a machine that created new realities from the wreckage of the old, and contained within it every nestling thing, every conception of dying timelines that had never been. An insurgency. A snowfall. A dying Orthotan screaming for a new world.

They were all drawn here, in the end. To the machine beneath the world, the bunker between the worlds. The place you had to come.

And they always came.

Dr. Green took a deep breath. The letters on the screen changed.

IT'S TIME FOR THE NEXT ONE.

They were always meant to come. The masquerade breaks, it does not break, the eel devours, it spits you out, the city calls, it does not call. The machine did not restore the world, it drew it in, containing each reality as it had done all those before.

She moved her hand and pressed the Enter key. Gears began to whirl as her mind was devoured. A strange scraping removed her consciousness and melting it into a motherboard of flowers. She didn't move, or talk, or speak.

She remembered.

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