At long last.
Flickering Lights has begun.
Here is Flickering Lights: 1 Light from Chimo.
There are only two necessities – oxygen and light.
Some may argue that one can survive on oxygen alone, that light isn’t a crucial component of life, but an existence without light is a hopeless existence.
Oxygen for the body.
Light for the soul.
Marcus sprinkled some flakes into the aqua-lantern and crouched down beside the lantern stand. Winston, his darkwater fish, seemed underwhelmed by the flakes floating on the surface of the water. “Winston,” Marcus said. “You need to eat. It’s been what, two days? You can’t keep this up, or you’ll starve, and I’ll have to buy a new darkfish”
Winston floated in the middle of the aqua-lantern, apparently unperturbed. Marcus rubbed his eyes before pulling his nocturnals on. “Eat! Your light is already starting fade a little!” And the darkwater fish had indeed faded. Usually, Winston illuminated Marcus’s one room pod so nicely that Marcus didn’t have to wear his nocturnals to see.
He stared at the green, glowing fish, wearing his nocturnals as he had the last two days since Winston had gone on a hunger strike. Marcus’s wrist alarm dinged, and he rose with a sigh. He shrugged into his jacket before swiping Wintson’s aqua-lantern from the hook and plunging into the darkness outside.
The streets of Chryseis were crowded in the typical morning rush to work. Three city blocks separated Marcus from Chryseis Enterprises’ oxygenation research facility. Three blocks of trying to avoid colliding with the other million people trying to get to work. Wonderful, as per usual. Someone shoved past Marcus and almost knocked Winston out of his hand. He bit back a curse.
His steps began to drag, and he paused at an oxygen station. Low blood oxygen was the last thing he needed today. He swiped his wrist across the screen, paying four digits per milliliter of pure oxygen. Expensive but necessary. He reached for the mask and inhaled a few gulps of pure oxygen. His head cleared, and he held Winston higher.
Aqua-lanterns with darkfish four times Winston’s size dotted the city like colorful stars, but their attempt at light still left Chryseis in a dark twilight. When he came to the Meloway Bridge, he noticed a group of people leaning out over the southeast side.
He held Winston aloft and worked his way to them. “What’s going on?”
“Rumor has it that light is coming from Chimo,” one of the men replied. He leaned out farther, as if by straining closer to the Chimo, the prison island, he would catch a glimpse of the light.
Marcus stepped up to the railing and peered through the jagged Chryseis skyline. “That’s ridiculous. Chimo is a hundred miles off the coast, and it would be the most ludicrous place for light to appear. The beacons of Chimo can’t be any brighter than the beacons of Chryseis or Kindle.”
“I know it sounds crazy.” The man paused and glanced at Marcus. “But a coworker of mine said she was at the coast last week and saw light shining from Chimo.”
Another onlooker snorted. “I want to be on whatever she’s on.”
“Look!” a woman cried, pointing.
Marcus looked, and for a second his breath was stolen. There, gleaming like hope incarnate, blazed a fragment of light. And then it was gone, lost in the shifting shadows of Chryseis.
“It was just a trick of your eyes,” another person said. Gradually, the crowd trickled away, but Marcus was frozen, staring out over the Meloway Bridge. Would the light shine through again?
His alarm went off again, and he sighed. He tore his eyes away from the cityscape that faced the coast, and beyond that, Chimo. Could it be possible?
He held Winston up and shoved off from the bridge. He chewed his lip as he glanced towards the southeast again. Perhaps he would take the rail home to see if he could get a better view from up there.
After distractedly checking through security at Chryseis Enterprises, he bypassed the line to the lift and took the stairs two at a time. He had lost more time on Meloway Bridge than he’d thought, but maybe it was worth the upbraiding from Cal.
He tried to mask his labored breathing as he slipped onto his floor and through the aisles of tiny box offices. Ducking into his own cubicle, he hooked Winston’s aqua-lantern to the wall and plopped down at his desk. He ran a hand over his close-cropped black hair. Maybe a visit to the oxygen station on this floor would help the burning in his lungs.
“You’re late, Marcus,” a familiar, cheerful voice said.
He pulled his nocturnals off for a moment to rub his eyes. “I got held up on Meloway Bridge, Leela.” He shuffled through some glass files. Maybe if he looked busy she would go away.
“Ah.” She leaned against the wall and cocked her head. Her nocturnals made her look like a sickly thin insect with buggy eyes. She nodded sagely, “I suppose you heard about the light that is supposedly coming from Chimo.”
Marcus looked up. “You’ve heard of it?”
“Now that the word has hit the streets, it’s spreading like a carbogen drug through Chryseis.” She popped her nocturnals in the way she did when she was about to share some of her deep insights. “Most everyone is hearing about it this morning.”
“And?” Marcus raised an eyebrow. She was itching to share her wisdom on the subject so badly she almost popped her nocturnals a second time.
“I think it’s ludicrous,” she blurted. “How in darkwater could a few beacons on Chimo be that bright? They’re all thieves and murderers there. There’s no way in the deeps that they would have light brighter than the beacons here.”
“Don’t swear, Leela. You know how Cal doesn’t like it.”
She waved a dismissive hand. “I mean, did you hear about that beacon who was the leader of the Highlight on the west side. Apparently, he had an affair with some girl that worked for him who is also a beacon. And then I heard about a beacon in Kindle who – ah, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that it’s sick and gross. If that’s the best kind of beacon we can get from Chryseis and Kindle, Chimo has to be a pit.”
She snorted. “And to think we’re all supposed to become beacons and be ‘the light of the world’. No way in the deeps you’ll ever find me in a Highlight or becoming a beacon. We’ll find our own light without that precious god-being the beacons serve.”
She paused for a second, probably considering the depths of her own wisdom. “Oh, and did you see that those crazy terrorists derailed the Antigone Rail into the Antigone communications station?”
It was an amazing thing, how she could make a conversation a monologue faster than a carbie could get high on carbogen.
Leela puffed out a breath. “That means no long-range communication with Pollux or Kindle until they get it fixed, and if you ask me, there’s no way in the deeps that they’ll be able to cart enough darkfish or oxygen out there to fix it anytime soon.”
She glanced at Winston before Marcus could reply. “Oh my goodness!” She pressed her face against the glass of Winston’s aqua-lantern. How traumatizing. Poor Winston. “What’s wrong with him?”
Marcus leaned back in his chair. He would get a word in edge-wise, how wonderful. “I don’t know. He hasn’t eaten for two days. I already have him on those slime drop things that are supposed to help his immune system, but I don’t know what the deal is this time.”
“Oh, poor little guy.” Somehow, Winston garnered far more sympathy from Leela than an actual person could.
“Any suggestions?” Sure, it was stupid to encourage her and she’d probably be condemning the whole human race before she finished, but he’d have to hear about it anyway. Best get it over with.
Leela’s hand went to her hip as she turned from Winston to Marcus. “Well, what do you have in the lantern? Tap water? Marcus. That’s terrible for him.”
Here we go.
She threw up a hand. “Do you have any idea how many chemicals they put into the Chryseis city water? Something like four different kinds of bleach along with several vermicides.”
Marcus opened his mouth to reply, but Leela was off again.
“That’s your first problem. Second, what kind of food do you have him on? It’s probably that chock-full of chemical reek from Kear’s, isn’t it?”
Calm thoughts, Marcus. Calm thoughts. It’ll be over soon… maybe.
Marcus picked his jacket off of its hook and Winston from his. He adjusted his nocturnals and took the lift down. After Leela had finally left him in peace, he had worked his way through several glass stacks of oxygenation research. Twelve hours of the work tended to make his head more like mush than anything else, and while he made his way to the rail station, he paused at an oxygen station. After getting a shot of oxygen he took the stairs up to the rail platform with a spring in his step.
His seat on the rail was hard, and he almost regretted not walking home. But then maybe he could see more light during the rail-ride. He locked Winston in the aqua-lantern holder rack and rubbed his hands on his pants. With winter creeping into Chryseis, he would have to start wearing his hat more often.
Light flashed on the edge of his vision, and he jerked to watch the two brightest beacons he had ever seen board the rail. The Chimo brand on their necks marked them as violent criminals, yet their light was brighter and purer than any beacon or darkfish Marcus had seen.
They sat down beside each other. Marcus glanced around the car. Others were staring at them too.
They were almost too bright for Marcus to look at, and so he pulled his nocturnals off. One was huge, muscles popping out of everywhere with tattoos covering his bare arms. He was all intensity, but there was brilliant light there nonetheless.
The other was smaller, happier. The light illuminated his greenish eyes and olive complexion. Curly, dark hair brushed his ears, and he sat benignly, like a good child. He smiled at everyone who came onto the rail and looked like he was about to burst with joy.
A voice announced their departure over the coms, and the rail began to slide forward. He double-checked Winston and clutched his nocturnals in sweaty hands. Should he go talk to them? What would he say? No, talking to them wouldn’t go well. Beacons could be so rude. But then maybe these beacons were different because they were so bright.
Gunfire split Marcus’s thoughts.
He hunched over.
The glass behind him shattered and sprayed him as bullets tore through the rail car. He rolled to the ground and covered his head with his hands.
He tried to curl up, tried to make himself small.
Light flashed and moved. Oh, right, the beacons. Marcus squeezed his eyes shut.
Blood, so much blood.
Marcus forced himself to look up. Who was doing the shooting?
So much screaming.
Three shooters emptied round after round into the rail car.
The bigger beacon threw himself at the deadly trio. The terrorists paused for a moment when he knocked one to the ground, but then they turned their weapons on him.
Someone screamed. “Keaton!”
Marcus whipped around. The smaller beacon shielded a girl with his body. The gunfire came to an abrupt halt. Without thinking, Marcus launched himself at the shooters, swinging blindly.
Pain ignited in his hand as it connected with flesh. The terrorist grunted and turned his gun to Marcus.
Marcus ducked and threw his body into the other man’s stomach. The man fell backward, and Marcus wrenched the gun away and brought it down on the man’s head.
He beat him madly, striking anywhere he could.
Then the other man was still, and Marcus slumped to the ground. The rail car seemed suddenly silent.
Blood trickled down his neck.
Somewhere, it registered that people were still screaming and crying, but without the gunfire, the rail car felt still. It took him several minutes to notice the other terrorists lying motionless a few feet away.
Marcus’s ears rang.
The bigger beacon was slumped against one of the seats. Blood surrounded him and covered most of his body, but his light was brighter than ever.
Marcus dragged himself to the beacon. His head pounded and his shoulders ached with the effort.
So much blood.
His hands shook as he tried to wipe some of the blood off of the beacon’s shirt.
The beacon jerked and grabbed Marcus’s hand. Marcus jolted but didn’t pull away. The beacon opened his eyes and tried to speak.
Words. Words. Was there anything comforting he could say?
The beacon swallowed. “El Roi.”
“What?” Marcus leaned closer.
“D-do you know-w-w El Roi?” The beacon’s voice was weak but calm.
“What? I – no –”
“He is t-t-t-the most important thing you can know.” The beacon’s eyes were half-closed, as if he was on the edge of sleep. “The great hope. Murk’s true Light.” The beacon’s voice began to waver, but his light didn’t dim or fade. If anything, it grew more vibrant. “He is no myth. I-I-I-I’m going to see Him now.” He shuddered and relaxed.
“No! No!” Marcus gripped his hand. “Don’t die! Stay with me!”
With a bloody cough, the beacon’s hand went limp and his eyes went still. Only then did his light begin to fade.
The blood on Marcus’s hands contrasted his dark skin. He sat back and realized that he was quaking. He tried to think, but his thoughts were a sludge of blood and fear as he slipped into shock.
At some point, he was vaguely aware of medics and sepios rushing onto the rail car. Voices ricocheted around him, and then fingers pressed into him. Hands lifted and dragged him outside. They laid him on a blanket on the ground. He stared at the blank, black canvas of the sky.
White light slipped by, and greenish eyes surrounded by dark hair pressed an aqua-lantern into his hands before being pulled away. Winston floated in the aqua-lantern, and Marcus stroked the glass.
A single thought crystalized through the fog.
So there had been light from Chimo after all.
Read the next installment, Flickering Lights: 2 Hermes Glass, here.
What do you think? Is it anything like you thought it would be? Are you surprised? Disappointed?
I want your feedback. :)