Midnight Naught Exact

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LEVEL 129 - Flea rarely got the chance to see the world from such a height. Oddly beautiful, as ever. The sun was long set, leaving only a pulsing morass of neon beneath her dangling boots. A few arcologies shone like angular suns through their countless windows. Far more skyscrapers were entirely dark, cutting stark shadows against clouds. Hovering cars and spotlight drones flitted about. A few at her height, most far below. Beautiful. Alive.

The fist around her collar opened. She fell.

LEVEL 71 - In its scramble for safety, her mind grabbed tight around the history lessons jammed at the back of her memories. The cloudscape retreated in 3044. It left behind black steel skeletons. It abandoned strange factories. It disgorged chemical pools and smoking meteors. Humanity surged upward and rebuilt their empires with a furor unseen in anything but war. Years underground had not been wasted on idle tinkering. Cities sprouted like flesh. Cities metastasized like tumors.

The Great Lakes Megagrid rushed up to meet her.

LEVEL 28 - The wind stripped the band from Flea's bleached hair. It yanked the heavy coat from her body. It pulled at her, both her arms, both her legs. It muffled her panicked scream with its unending howl. An automated bus flashed by, algorithms dragging it inches away from her trajectory. No one inside looked at her. A passing drone did the same. The multifaceted camera slung underneath must have seen her. It made no move to help.

Webs of cables and trees of antennae passed on every side.

LEVEL 9 - Individuals in the crowd below stood out clearly. Pink hair fluttering in the damp air. Clothes crawling with animated characters. Halos of iridescent light fizzling against slow rain. People returning from their second shift. People leaving for their third. Most had their heads down, but someone looked up at her. Flea screamed again.

They screamed back.

LEVEL 2 - The streets were too bright. The people were too close. Everything was too fast. Her arms windmilled. Her legs kicked. Too fast.

Too fast!

LEVEL 0 - A yawning ventilation grate marked with yellow caution lights swallowed Flea whole.

SUBLEVEL 15 - The streets and sidewalks were but the flesh of the Megagrid. Its body extended below. Far below. That flashed past just as fast as the world above, only to a much darker depth. Orange lights illuminated service doors. Blue glows leaked out of exposed wireways. Pipes dripped. Giant rats scurried.

All fled upward from her.

SUBLEVEL 37 - Deep subway lines thundered past the ventilation shaft. Deeper ones lay dormant. A gargantuan worm crawled through the deepest still. Flea's throat hurt. Flea's eyes watered. She crashed through a sheet of pale fabric. Pale plastic? A pale membrane full of paler veins. Bits clung to her face. She hit another, and another, and a third thicker one. Her elbow caught in a dangling cable for a moment. Her feet hit another. A pipe cracked her ribs. A stone beat her hip.

Everything bruised, some things broke, but she slowed all the same.

SUBLEVEL 42 - Membrane. Membrane. Tarp. Membrane. Pipe. Pipe. Cable. Membrane. Cable. Cable. Membrane. Pipe. Cable. Cable. Tarp. Cable. Cable. Membrane. Membrane. Membrane. Membrane. Membrane. Cable. Pipe.


SUBLEVEL 44 - Trash heap.

SUBLEVEL 44 - Flea's mind finally let go of the history lessons. Its death grip on more pleasant times eased. It relaxed, as did her lungs. They heaved. She coughed. Everything hurt. No more hard thoughts, lest her body decided to die after all. She breathed. Bones ground against each other. She struggled to sit up. They ground louder. Being dead couldn't possibly hurt this much.

It wasn't so dark at the bottom of the shaft after all. A few emergency lights flickered at the dim perimeter of the trash sea. Things glowed at its surface too, lost gadgets and mysterious lichens. The foul tide shifted as Flea struggled to her feet, black boots sinking into the sludge underneath. Everything stank. Everything squirmed. Most of all, everything was illuminated by one giant sign and its furious light.


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