When they had all gathered in the darkness, shoulder-to-shoulder and wordless, only then did Bence press the wire to the anode.
A tiny yellow dot glowed weakly in the LED, sipping at the dregs of the AA battery. It wasn’t much, and it wouldn’t last long, but it was sufficient to illuminate the small dirt chamber. Twenty men and women huddled in their hand-burrowed cave, hunched, attentive. Bence only knelt beside the huge battery, intent on his one job.
Handsome Levente nodded to his friend at the battery, then turned to the group. “My friends,” he began, then his arms hung at his sides. “What can I say? We’ve all heard the news. Hegyesd Network has fallen, Sáska Network as well. And now the warrens throughout Tapolca are being eliminated.” Men frowned deeply; women sobbed. “I know, my friends, I know. These are indeed our darkest days within recorded history. The hatred and prejudice has coated our land like a dense fog, suffocating all life, all joy.”
“Kurve eletbe.” An old man spat on the ground.
Levente raised his palms to the audience. “We’ve all lost something in this devastation, every one of us. Is this not true? We’ve lost brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, parents, children…” He drew a long breath. “We are helpless before the onslaught. Our art, our literature, our music, all of it is buried beneath the soil. To say nothing of our dreams.” One hand fell, the other curled into a fist and thrust at the low ceiling. “But is this our end? I think not, my friends. I’m not asking you to be brave and rise up, for we know this is useless.” Levente cast his glacier-blue eyes about the room, raising his noble jaw. “Instead, I’m asking you to be stubborn.”
Choked laughter came from the back of the room.
“Yes, stubborn! Stubborn enough to continue walking! Stubborn enough to continue hiding!” The leader’s eyes were blazing, and his audience slowly began to raise their heads. “Stubborn enough to hold onto one more−”
With a roar, the ground above them split and gave way to a row of enormous women’s toes. They were pale with deep red lacquered nails, and they wriggled through the earth into the room. They flexed, and the ball of the foot after them filled the chamber, mashing the horrified women and men into broken limbs and gelatinous pulp, driving their screams into the cold soil.
A woman’s voice laughed far overhead. “Assholes.”
Children played on the colorful pavement outside Nakagawa Junior High School. Little boys and girls in shirts of bright hues. Masumi watched, charmed with them all. Some were slow and dull-faced, some had huge eyes and rosy cheeks, some even had a propensity for domination at this early age. It never ceased to amaze her, as she studied children, how much of their adult selves was already apparent.
Her eyes returned once more, however, to her darling daughter, Aimi. Slight of limb and pale of complexion, Aimi had been born prematurely and the best specialists in Tokyo took great pains to nurse her back to health. She would forever be frail, they advised her, but Aimi used this trait to her advantage. She was a shy and lilting flower whose soft voice caught all ears, whose gentle touch healed the many hurts little children suffer in rough play. Masumi could see the confused expression as Aimi awoke feelings in little boys that they might not otherwise have experienced for another ten years.
Feeling her mother’s eyes on her, Aimi turned to face her. The little girl grinned with uncanny maturity, and Masumi’s eyes welled with pride and amazement at the miracle of her daughter.
Suddenly, a thick pillar of red shot from the sky and thundered into the playground. It rose and fell again, instantly squashing several more children. The booming voice of a woman chuckled somewhere in the distance, impossibly loud. Masumi was knocked off her feet by the impacts, struggling to recover, when she looked up to see the base of this pillar hovering in the air above her. It rose to connect with the stylistically curved sole of a shoe… she recognized this as a stiletto heel. Scuffed red leather, and plastered to the bottom was slightly more than half of her daughter, an arm, a leg, her viscera exploding from under her pale pink-and-white checkered dress. Her expression looked as though she were having a surprising dream.
Her daughter’s mangled corpse hovered in space before her, as the tremendous woman’s voice burbled something in cloying, mocking tones. Masumi couldn’t understand a word.
In HUSLAB, Helsinki, men and women scurried back and forth, barking orders to each other, seizing objects, slamming papers down. Chaos reigned.
“Dr. Jokela, that is less than helpful right now!” shouted a sharp-eyed woman.
“Dr. Pajari,” Dr. Jokela said slowly, “I would advise you to moderate your tone when speaking to a superior.”
“Iisakki, goddamn it…” Dr. Pajari crumpled her lab results against her head, her expression contorted in fury and helplessness.
Dr. Jokela’s face softened and he embraced his ex-wife. “I’m so sorry, Päivä. You know I would never pull rank on you.” He exhaled into her shoulder. “I’ve been up for 70 hours straight. We’re no closer to a solution, there’s so much left to do.”
She hugged him back, nodding. “I know, I know. We’re all being pushed to the threshold. I really need…” She caught herself and blushed.
“Dr. Pajari?” He smirked, recognizing that blush. “Is there something you’d like to share?”
She looked around: everyone else was in a frenzy, completely absorbed in their work. “I just feel like a good, hard fuck would clear my head right now.”
Her supervisor and erstwhile lover grinned at her. “Sometimes I think this whole lab would have fallen apart years ago, without your pragmatism and humor.”
“I’m serious. I’m about to steal those Tinies from 3rd floor and take a late lunch.” But she grinned at him, then started to unfold her lab results. “This is what we got back from Gene Expression in Tokyo this morning…”
A young man burst into the lab. “Dr. Pajari! You’re here! Oh, Dr. Jokela, good!”
Dr. Pajari’s head snapped up and her face assembled itself. “Young man, I would advise you to moderate your tone when speaking to your superiors.” She turned very slightly to share a wink with her ex-husband.
Undeterred, he flung himself at the brushed steel table in front of them, slamming down a sheet of paper. It rang so loudly that most of the staff jerked from what they were doing and stared. “It’s done! Dr. Aalto stabilized an iteration of IGF-1(c)!” Aged Dr. Aalto had been punishing himself over CRISPR for longer than Dr. Jokela had been awake.
Dr. Jokela seized the printout and gawked at it. “St-stabilized? Longer than 12 hours? Surely not!”
“Longer than 30!” The young lab tech laughed hysterically. “It’s good! Human trials start in 20 minutes, if you want to come watch!”
Dr. Pajari’s eyes widened. “KELA would never approve this. They’ve been obstructing funding, denying this ever since Tampere went offline,” she said, using local media’s euphemism for total destruction.
“The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health bent KELA over a pool table and−” He clasped his hands over his mouth and apologized to her. All staff in the lab began to congregate around them, cautiously giddy.
She smirked at him, liking his spirit, and looked at the printout. “So we have a defense. Is that what you’re saying?”
Before the young man could confirm, the sole of a tremendous leather sandal flattened the entire facility and the city block around it. Load-bearing pillars exploded into dust, electrical wiring flared with blinding brilliance, and highly educated men and women were compressed, rent asunder, and absorbed into the dust of their ruined laboratory.
Far overhead, a woman’s voice rolled like thunder: “Ha ha, idiots.”
Enzo sipped his cappuccino slowly, forcing himself to focus on its acrid bite. He never could get used to coffee, but Léa loved it and so he would learn to.
Speaking of, where was his girlfriend? He rested the pale cup upon its saucer and checked his watch.
If one had to wait for a late partner, this was the day to do it. Another lovely afternoon in Paris, in front of his favorite café, just north of the Jardin. The air was sweet and warm, glowing with that particular pollen-like magic that, rather than stinging the sinuses, instead infused the body with optimism, love, and joie de vivre.
Enzo grinned at the old man behind the counter, busily wiping off the milk steamer nozzles. He grinned at the young woman across the street, bending one knee playfully as she kissed her girlfriend, a tiny schnauzer dancing at her feet.
A young man walked past his table, hands in his pockets. Enzo felt an aura around this chap, that the young man did not wish to be noticed. Fair enough, thought Enzo, making a show of not noticing him. Yet he felt the man’s eyes on the back of his head, after he passed, and he started to turn in his chair to look back at him.
The black and chunky sole of a gargantuan boot descended from the sky and buried the northern half of Paris a dozen meters below ground level. There was no time for shock or pain or anything: the centuries-old, glorious legacy of the City of Lights was simply eradicated in an instant.
A miles-tall woman strode overhead, giving no sign of having noticed where she’d placed her foot.
In a small village outside Abalessa, Karim placed one hand tenderly upon Imène’s shoulder. She smiled up at him warmly, her hands cupping her swelling belly with consummate tenderness.
“And how is little Mohamed doing?” His voice was heavy with love for his wife, more beautiful with each day. “Kicking you very hard? Giving you a rest?”
Her teeth flashed brightly in the grin that ever beguiled her man. “Or Yasmine! You don’t know! And yes, she seems to be sleeping now.” She rested her hand upon her lover’s, and she marveled that such a world, such a life was capable of dispensing such illimitable joy.
The atmosphere bellowed as a colossal bare foot broke through the air. The callused sole of an unimaginably huge woman pulverized the entire landscape.
“Fuck you, losers.” Laughter.
[Image by tj013579]