Penance for James who wanted something on the fall of Salvation Tower.
Funny really, you never notice the good weather till it's gone.
My name is Charles Vanir; I'm one of the operatives assigned to guarding the salvation project. It's a fairly good job, no one wants the project to fail, it'll mean jobs for everyone, and a home for those who don't have one, I can't see anyone but crazies wanting to damage this, but hey, that's what I'm here for.
It was the sweetest job I've ever had till about six weeks ago when it started raining, they say it's down to the increased pollution that they've been putting in the air for so many years. I don't know, personally, I don't think that pollution converts very well to rain, I don't see how this much rain could fall without it coming from somewhere, and it isn't hot enough to evaporate the water that's already falling, so where's it all coming from? I don't know, I suppose one day the scientists will tell us, But I think there's a line in my contract about it, "Someone Else's Problem" it reads.
But I digress, my apologies. Our job is a straight out sweep of the construction site every day, they've pretty much finished it now. There's only a few windows at the top to put in, and some of the structural supports need reinforcing every once in a while, but there are people to take care of that sort of thing. As I'm in charge of the site, all the maintenance requirements and requests come in to me to be approved before a team is assigned to them, that way, any problems with the construction can be traced back to one man, in this case, me. It's a lot of responsibility to handle, but if you're up to it, the rewards are there for you to get, I suppose that it's the same all over really, the money is there for those who can handle the work that goes with it.
Anyway, start of the patrol, we start at the top level, and work down in two man fireteams, intersecting once on each floor, and there's quite a few of them, so we like to get it done early in the morning. Simmons and Michaels, my two lieutenants, report in nice and early with their teams, and we begin the mornings sweep. I pair up with Ripley, that's not her real name by the way, but the team saw this film with some hard nut woman in it once, and the name sort of stuck. She's got more nuts than most of the men on the team, so there's no hard feelings (well, one or two, but we'll not speak about them), and I figure what the hell.
First order of business is to make sure that the primary building lock down unit is functioning, it activates every evening at six, and should shut down at nine in the morning, ready for the work crews to get in. Looking over the main systems, everything seems to be fine.
"This is Team Leader, sound off."
"Michaels and Torkel here, ground floor secure, standing by at main doors" "Simmons and Jones, standing by in booth three, all auto systems on line" "Roger team, this is leader, disengaging lockdown........now."
There's a hiss as all the systems in the building simultaneously unlock and open, hydraulics whirr quietly, and the window shields on the lower levels retract smoothly, perfection in a can.
I pull up the days itinerary, there's a routine clearing of the reservoirs below the tower scheduled for later today and one report of an unidentified intruder from over the hill to the west. It breached the perimeter late last night, no lifesigns taken on the creature, but whatever it was, it was big. From the videos of the intrusion, it came in through the north perimeter, stayed just out of range of the main lights, and stood there for three hours, not coming any closer, not moving away, just standing there. Then it turned and left, must have been a trick of the light, I could have sworn that I saw more than two arms on that thing. No matter, we'll see if it comes again tonight, I'll have a team standing by to take it on.
The sweep goes quickly and cleanly, no problems to report, I check in with the civilians working in the building, they all seem cheerful, two more weeks and this place is open, and all our work will see the hard light of day. That of course, and the hard cash of reward, which always helps with these moralistic duties.
Ah, but still, one of the maintenance crews in neg. 2 has reported a bit of a problem. Neg. two is the second floor underneath ground level, and is one of the more concerning sport on the building, any problem down in this area can't be a good one. I take Ripley and take the express down there.
I reach the lower levels and step out onto the main gantry, below us is the accessway into the lower levels, I'm the only person with access to these levels, and the reason for this is that any messing about in these areas could undermine the structure of the buildings. I meet with the repair team and address their team leader
"What appears to be the problem?"
He shifts from side to side for a second before answering "We think there may be a problem in reservoir tank 2."
Curious, they don't have access to those levels, how would they know about such a thing "Do tell" I say, keeping my voice perfectly level.
"Well, the pressure differential is colliding with the varial axis against the structural integrity of the geothermic stabilising unit."
I pause for a second to see if there's anything else, then glance across at Ripley, raising one eyebrow.
"He said that pillar two may collapse if their readings are correct." she smiles, more than familiar with my distaste of people hiding behind jargon to get pay rises.
"And how do you figure this?" I ask, still keeping my voice level, there's more here than meets the eye, and I figure that the best way around this is to pretend ignorance.
"Well, we've been taking readings from down there, and it seems like there's something else down there as well as the water, there's no way anything could have got in there, but from what we can see, there's movement in the water?"
I wait for him to elaborate, he doesn't seem inclined to do so, so I prompt with a wave of my hand, indicating that he should go on.
"We don't know sir, the only way we can find out is by opening up the main door and sending people down there."
"I see, how long will it take you to assemble a team to go down."
"No time at all sir, but we'd like a fireteam to go down with us, for protection."
"Protection against what?"
"Well, whatever it is down there, its got dimensions of thirty/twenty/ten, with a mass index of five/seven/one"
I sigh softly, glancing at Ripley again.
"It's the size of a truck, sir."
I nod, taking a moment to consider this.
"Get your team together, I'll assign two people to you, and you can make the trip in there before they open up the tanks."
He nods briefly, turning back to his team. I motion for Ripley to stay with them and open a communications line to head office.
"This is control." the person at the other end of the line must be due for a break soon, I mean, judging from their voice, they've been there for a few months without one.
"This is Vanir, Salvation Project, Authorisation 11374, I need to speak to H-M" H-M is the informal term for Luis Morgan, head of the Salvation Project, and my immediate superior. There's a brief moment of silence and then three clicks as the blind relay kicks in.
"Hey Luis, this is Charlie, ST, we've got a bit of a problem here."
" Don't be saying that lad, I don't need to be hearing that right now."
"Sorry Miho, one of our RM crews just picked up an anomaly in pillar 2."
"Great, just great, what have they said about it?"
"Nothing yet, I'm just keeping you informed. We might have to make a hold on that reservoir dumping."
"Okay, keep me posted, but if we can, avoid messing with the plan."
"I hear you, Charlie out."
I head back to the repair crew and find Ripley already suited up.
"I volunteered to take care of it chief" She shrugs "Save time in the long run."
"Fair enough, are you okay to use standard underwater manoeuvre equipment."
"Nothing to learn chief, used to do this when I was a kid."
"Fine" I smile, not showing the concern I have about this whole thing "Stay in touch."
She smiles, the smile is dazzling, and one of those hard feelings returns, I access the main controls and open the lock, letting the crew in. The airlock cycles and they are released into the main chamber. Half an hour passes, and nothing is heard, then the airlock cycles again and the team step through, one man down, they drag his body back in behind them.
"What happened?" I look down at the body, it looks like a scythe cut most of his torso open, death must have been almost instant.
Ripley shrugs "We found the disturbance, one of the grills had broken off the main fans that circulate the water and air, Houson there found the fan. It was that that must have been causing the pressure differential." She shrugs off her breathing equipment "We'll be going down there again in a short while, get another grill in place, you might want to see if they'll hold off on that water clearance."
I nod, keying up the main channel to Luis again and informing him of the possibility that we might have a minor delay, he's not happy about it, but he says he'll put in the word to project central and see what he can do. It's more than I would have hoped for and I find myself thankful that Luis isn't one of the useless penpushers that most beaureucrats at his level of management are.
At the fencing perimeter, a small group of people with placards are gathering, they don't seem to be very organised, so I decide to defuse the situation dead on. Walking out to the main concourse, I point to the leader, beckoning with one finger.
"What is it that you want?" I keep my voice level.
He points at his sign and scowls, his face contorting as if someone has his genitals in a vice. I glance at the sign, "Jobs for everyone" it reads. I shrug, wondering what they hope to gain out of this.
"Right, so what do you think this is for then?"
"Only the oppressors will benefit from this, those of us still on the bottom of the ladder will never get a foot on it!" he screams at me, his voice a grating obscenity from long abuse of stimulants and a lack of closing his mouth often enough. This could turn nasty if people get wind of it, so I should nip this in the bud.
"You want jobs, right?"
"Yes, pawn of the oppressor, all we desire is the right to work and toil for our daily living!"
I shrug "Fair enough, come in, we've got jobs going." I open the gate and gesture for him to come in "Enough for everyone."
They weren't expecting that, behind him, the group is silent suddenly. "I......" their leader is now stuck in a position that he didn't plan for.
"Come on." I gesture a little faster "Plenty of work if you want it, pays not much good, but it's honest work."
I cut him off in mid sentence, finishing it for him. "We don't want to work." I smile, and the smile is not a cheerful one "I have worked my whole life for less than I am worth, and I have done it because I view work as a thing that a man should do to get the benefits he desires. You, on the other hand, have done nothing your whole life, and now you stand outside one of the greatest works that man has ever undertaken and you dare to show your petty little signs to me and say that you want to work?"
I gesture into the main compound again "I have work for you, if that is what you desire, all you have to do is cross that line and I'll pay you more than you are worth to do less work than you imagine."
The wind is quite clearly out of their sails, it's often the way with these professional antagonists, give them even the image of what they want, and their zeal evaporates like so many shadows in darkness.
"So come on then," I replace the smile with a mild frown "Do you want to work or not?"
Some of the ones at the back of the crowd are moving away, they can sense that there's nothing to be gained from staying here, the leader still looks as if he's stupid enough to try something else before he concedes defeat. "Pawn of the.." the shout turns into a gasp as my hand wraps around his throat.
"Oppressor." I finish his words for him again "Yes, you could say that, now, you go back to the shit hole you crawled from, draw your benefit, and die unnoticed by anyone. For I say now, as Mr Slayer is my witness, if I see you again, I will spend a little of my hard-earned money and save the state a weekly benefit check to a man who does not deserve it."
He gasps again as I release him and shove him back forcefully, he staggers back a few steps, then readies his sign like a club, two or three of his friends do likewise. I step back so I'm facing them front on, then sweep my long coat sideways and backwards, exposing the holstered cannon at my side. They stop at that, looking to the leader for orders, and I smile, tapping my fingers rhythmically on the handle, a mild smile playing across my lips.
"When you're ready gentlemen." I smile again. They remain for a second and then slink away, sulking in defeat. I wait till they've completely vanished, then close the main door and log the incident as one more thing to watch for. I wander downstairs to where the crew are now ready to go down and repair the fan bracing cover. Ripley is with them again, she shrugs as I wander down the stairs.
"Don't get much chance to go swimming chief." She smiles again, it looks good on her, it's a shame she doesn't do it more often. The team is into the airlock within a minute, and the repair work continues. I make a spot check of the building, taking a look at the news bulletins while I wait. Nothing much going on, a few more work riots, none of them serious, a documentary about the Shaktar and their customs, fifty seven channels of assorted crap, and something about the newly formed contract circuit. I've often thought about going in for that, I mean, it sounds like a good prospect on the surface, but I have a few friends who have gone in there. It's kill or be killed, and you do have to take life, I don't think that I'm comfortable with such orders. You may find that strange, me being in the employ of SLA Industries, but while I am good at fighting, there are others who are plain old fashioned stone cold killers, and it is they who tend to get the termination warrants to deal with. Ah, but I must be getting melancholy and philosophical in my old age, maybe I'd better get a pair of slippers and a dog to walk.
The time slips by faster than I care to notice, and the next time I look at my watch, an hour has passed and the repair team hasn't checked in yet. It's less than ten minutes to the clearing of the reservoirs, and I key in the frequency for them, receiving static as my response. Curious, that shouldn't be the case, I quickly make my way down to the airlock, as I arrive, the airlock opens from the other side and Ripley steps in through the door, locking it up behind her. My radio crackles into life, and her voice echoes through my headset, she's out of breath, and from the look in her eyes, scared out of her mind.
"There's something........something down there chief, it got the........the repair crew, it almost got me."
"What was it, easy now, we'll get the doors open in a second." I key in the sequence to open up the main lock and drain the water.
"Don't know, it was big, whatever it was............it was waiting at the edge of the fan, we thought it was one of the reserve fans, but it moved, it moved far too fast for anything normal" She's gulping in air now, trying to get over the adrenaline shock.
"Okay, okay, don't worry, you're safe now."
"No, you don't understand, it's blocking the airways, without them, the reservoir can't be drained."
I don't understand, that wouldn't be a problem, we can always empty them later. There's a loud metallic clashing noise from behind her and she spins around. The door is still closed, but the machinery is starting to move. "You've got to stop the drain operation!" she screams, I glance over at the panel and see that the water is not draining from the airlock chamber.
There's a hiss from inside the chamber and the water level starts dropping, I don't understand why she's so scared.
The answer becomes apparent a half second later, the water is draining, but no air is being pumped in to replace the volume that is being taken out, all that will be left is a vacuum. Ripley curls up on the floor, trying to stay under the water, but the liquid is gone all too quickly, she gets up, clutching at herself in agony. I see her veins suddenly stand out all over her body, and realise that the vacuum is inside the airlock chamber as well, whatever is draining the main chamber is also draining the airlock. I watch in horror as she fumbles at the air mask over her face, realising that the only way to survive any amount of time in vacuum is to evacuate all the air from your body, but she can't, the mask won't let her. She falls back to the floor, holding her torso as her internal organs balloon under the lack of pressure. Her mask clouds over with blood as the veins in her face rupture, the sight shocks me from what I'm seeing, and I draw my pistol, putting one round into the glass of the airlock, it ricochets and embeds itself in the wall, not even scratching the glass. I dive to the glass, smashing at it with my gauntlet to no avail. Inside the chamber, Ripley is crumpled on the floor, her bloated body not moving. There's a soft groan as the metal in the airlock bends and I understand now her concern. The vacuum will be present in all the underground chambers, and Salvation Tower has nothing but these under it, previously, the water was helping to reinforce the stanchions of the building, now there is nothing there, and the vacuum will only weaken the already damaged structure.
Pillars one and two are now empty, there are eight pillars under salvation tower, Slayer only knows what will happen when all eight are empty. I punch in a level one emergency and access the emergency line to Luis. He doesn't answer, so I run from the basement, it's possible that the machinery is blocking the transmission, I try again, the line answers.
"Yes" The voice is deep, almost sibilant in its resonance.
"This is Vanir, ST, abort the reservoir drain, immediately."
There's a soft chuckle from the line "I don't think so."
"What? What sort of joke is this? Abort reservoir drain, immediately, authorisation code 11374."
"You don't understand." continues the voice "It's under control."
"I...What? What's under control?"
The line is dead in my ear, I hear the other reservoirs draining, and a low groan from the metal supports reverbrates through the building. I switch my communications to broadband, full building broadcast.
"This is Vanir, priority one, all civilians please evacuate the building in an orderly fashion." I keep my voice level as I make the announcement "Meet at fire drill points, please consider this to be a performance test."
Almost immediately, people begin filing out of their offices, not wishing to appear tardy to their lords and masters. As the reservoirs empty, I hear the groan of metal again, and the people evacuating realise that it's not a drill. The calm that was there evaporates and an orderly evacuation becomes a stampede. I clear the stairs to the control tower and view the scenes of destruction throughout the tower, bodies trampled in stairwells, and the fence at the edge of the perimeter torn asunder. I punch in a level one emergency code and open up the cameras on the reservoirs, watching as one of the primary stanchions fails and the tower drops five feet in a second. The power fails and I find myself in blackness, a second pillar fails, and all the windows shatter as the tower drops again.
I flee to the roof, standing before the five feet railing that runs around the top of the roof. Looking around, I can see the chaos as it starts, the power lines connecting salvation tower to mort downtown power station have been torn free and jerk across the landscape like the snakes of purgatory. Tiny bodies, looking for all the world like childs playthings, lay strewn about, and I see that the tower has indeed dropped a least a single floor as the main entrance can no longer be seen.
I look over to the west as another low rumble takes my attention, a second building is falling towards this one, the weight of Salvation tower falling has destabilised the foundations of the whole sector. Part of my mind irrationally remembers the dimensions of this building, weighing more than four million tons, it is the heaviest building in the World of Progress. At the time of reading those facts, I took pride in the fact that this most magnificent of buildings was under my direction, now I curse the folly of those who designed it.
Looking down again, I see one of the underground stations buckle and rupture as the tower sinks further, two towers to the east fall, and the keening screams of a hundred thousand souls echo through the night air. I see an eruption of water, fully seven hundred metres in the air, and see that one of the other tower buildings has fallen into the reservoir where all the water from under the tower went. The water subsides instantly, falling away into the ever deepening holes now appearing all over the landscape. I see in the distance other buildings twisting and breaking under the strain, and realise that all around, nothing but blackness can be seen, the power outage must have followed all the way down, but it shouldn't be long before backups are activated. Fires have sprung up in the remains of many of the buildings, and looters run riot through what were minutes before, peaceful streets in Suburbia.
The tower finishes its headlong descent into the earth with the dull boom of finality, the ground shudders, and the remains of those buildings still standing collapse to the floor with the quiet pattering of masonry falling. The screams of the dead and dying echo upwards into the sky and as the dust and noise settle, I realise that I cannot hear or see anything of the emergency services. I thumb my com unit into life, and realise that it's not working. Taking it off, I see that the unit it still working fine, but all SLA comms in the area have been dislocated from their operator, probably a side effect of all the electrical equipment shorting out.
I wait there for a minute in the darkness, hoping against hope that I might see something coming to help. But there is nothing, whoever was on the end of the line when I spoke to head office knew about this, they knew that this was going to happen, and they let it happen anyway. No matter, I have to see what I can do to help those that are suffering now, I stand straight and turn to make my way out of the building.
As I turn, a shadow detaches itself from the side of the building and stands before me, the combination of the pale glow from the fires and the fading light of the evening cast a red pall over the creature in front of me. Standing over fifteen feet tall and with more arms than a spider, it stands there like the unholy effigy of a deity twisted by the minds of the people who worship it. As I watch, it unfolds four arms, each one of them ending in a huge scythe, and now I know what did the damage down below. It stand between me and the exit, not moving, only watching, through lenses as soulless as the gun I carry at my side
It speaks, no lips to move, but sound nonetheless, like the whisper of a dying man over the tombstone he seeks to avoid.
I nod silently, knowing now that there is no way out, I will die here, but it will be in a manner of my choosing. I step back, facing the creature head on, then sweep my coat back over my cannon, letting it hang behind it, tapping gently on the handle. I look death in the face and smile, meeting my fate as a man should.
"When you're ready.........."