Lies of the Old World
Brett P. S.
Copyright © 2017 Brett P. S.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Dianne coughed up a puff of sand as streams fell across her jacket from the hole above. Rays of evening sunlight leaked through the split open sinkhole, casting a soft glow that barely reached her. Dianne lay on her back, curled from the heaving smack of her body hitting hard sandstone. She cradled her arm, lurching to sit up with increasing success.
“Remind me to watch my step next time,” she said. “Oh right. I’m talking to myself.”
She pushed herself up to a sitting position, wincing from the abrupt jerking movement. She inspected her arms, running her fingers up and down the lengths of her forearm. She pressed down at certain points to check for any sore spots. So far, no lingering injuries, nothing a medibot couldn’t fix. She’d need to either climb back up or hail a transport crew, and the former didn’t look like a solid option. Dianne fished out her comm stick from her jacket pocket and held it up to the light.
“Figures,” she said. “Broke as hell.”
Her fall had cracked the case and nearly cleaved the device in two. Moreover, the power light wasn’t lighting up as it should have been doing. The rectangular stick was now about as useful as a brick, though its condition mattered little in light of her predicament. Transports would come eventually, and they would find her. Heaven forbid the Order lose track of Dianna Dubois or heads would roll.
Carefully, and against her overriding better judgment, she rose to her feet. The fall had cracked her shoes, and one arm had taken more of a beating than the other had. She clutched her left arm, the one that sustained most of the impact, with her right hand. It seemed fine enough laying down her side, though she should fasten something for it later.
She released her cradling gesture and dusted off her jacket before she unhooked the strap on her survival gear, a fine pouch clipped to her belt. She rifled through the contents, taking care not to slice open her finger on something sharp. Dianne grabbed a pocket flashlight with her two fingers and switched it on. She aimed the light into the depths of the chasm she’d fallen into and watched as the rays bounced off marble and sandstone.
“What’s this now?” she said.
Dianne hobbled over to one such marble structure. She’d heard of marble quarries before, but this wasn’t nearly identical in scope or nature. Chasm would have been a terrible term to apply to this particular predicament as well, especially on two points.
First, and most notably, her current confinements were quite small, even maze-like, with structures of stone leading off into pathways deeper into the underground. Second, and more importantly, as she pressed her hand against the softly carved white and black marble walls …
Dianne huffed as she walked down a set of corridors, walls lined in old plaster and stone. She brushed back a set of curtain rods, the cloth eaten clean to the bone from the decay of centuries past. The Order had claimed something very different from what she was seeing now, her flashlight revealing lost pieces of the old world.
She’d begun to recognize the architecture of the building. Some of the sculptures and pieces stood mostly preserved. It was a museum of some kind. She glanced across to her right as she entered another sizable chamber. Statues reminiscent of old Greco-Roman artists stood with chips and missing limbs, but they stood nonetheless.
She hummed a tune to herself to keep the pain in her arm at bay. Her better judgment had told her to stay put and wait for the transport to locate her, but the explorer inside begged to differ. What had started as a romp through the old desert wastelands outside city limits had turned into something of quaint curiosity, for better or worse, something more.
“I wonder how old you are,” she said, eying one such statue.
She turned and paced over to the carved sculpture. Dianne had always shown an interest in the lost eras. The old world had been something grand, or so she’d been told. That past laid buried in centuries of time and rubble at the dawning of a new world. People used to be so barbaric in those days, making war with grotesque tools. She ran her fingers across the grooves, feeling a metaphorical gap.
“It’s all so distant,” she said, kneeling down for a rest. “You don’t mind if I sit down for a minute, do you?” She paused, smiling. “Of course, you don’t. I’ll bet you’ll find any company pleasant.”
Good lord, she was conversing with a statue. Dianna checked her pulse and the temperature of her forehead. A little elevated, probably the adrenaline from the fall. It had occurred minutes ago, so it made sense that she’d be feeling the effects for a while longer. Especially still, as long as the pain and general discomfort refused to subside, she’d continue feeling it for hours to come.
“You aren’t supposed to exist, friend,” she said. “I have it on good authority that nothing survived the war.” She paused, looking up at the athletic man’s action-oriented pose. He seemed frozen in time, a relic of a forgotten age. “Of course, this would mean that the Order neglected to account for all relics, either in earnest or on accident.”
Dianne pressed her thumb to her mouth and bit on the nail. It was a troubling possibility, to say the least. While the latter would present itself as benign, the former evoked a much darker picture. She’d need to think on this some more, explore further into the ruins. See more of whatever lied outside the museum. Dianne rose to her feet with discomfort and dusted off her jacket.
“Well, good day, sir,” she said. “I hope we meet again soon. I should like to see you in a better kept museum.”
Dianne aimed her flashlight down the room toward set of old oak doors rotten to pieces from centuries in isolation. She trudged over and curled her flashlight tightly inside her fingers. With one good smack, she punched a crater of a hold through the wood. To her, it felt as if she’d pushed her hand through a cloud. The rest of the door came crashing down in a pile of fibers that spread through the room. The splash of dust blew across her face. She shut her eyes and mouth in time to avoid the sudden rush until the dust settled.
Dianne let out a cough and cautiously opened her eyes to look upon the sight, a deep darkness. A void as deadening as she’d ever seen, one her flashlight couldn’t touch. Outside the museum and by her feet, a set of steps retreated into the dark of the chasm. It was a city, and she stood on a hilltop museum.
“Now, this is more to my liking,” she said.
Dianna crept through empty streets, cold ruins of a city time forgot. The road by her feet lay cracked and overgrown with vines and moss slick to the touch. She wouldn’t be able to run well, though a steady stride did the job. She could walk much more easily now, more so once she’d climbed down from the hilltop.
Her arm still ached, a little numb, though it didn’t seem broken. She probably smacked a nerve too hard. Dianna wasn’t a doctor, but she knew enough about her body to assume she wasn’t in any immediate danger. Once the Order arrived on the scene, they’d take care of her. The Order treated its citizens well, however …
“I should exercise caution perhaps,” she said to herself.
Dianna paused at the sound of a flicker coming from her right. She turned and aimed her flashlight toward a pile of rubble that once was a tavern. She could tell from the burnt out neon sign, the gasses faded from a cracked opening. She walked across the street to the wreckage and examined the pieces in greater depth, her eyes perusing the wreckage.
Frayed wires sparked deep between blocks of concrete. She followed the arching path of the chords until they disappeared into the building itself. Dianna glanced across to her left and spotted a decrepit open doorway, the metal slider blown off the hinges. She folded her arms and smirked.
“Mustn’t be a rude guest,” she said. “I should pay my respects.”
Dianna sauntered through the narrow opening and into what appeared to be a tavern. She raised her flashlight to highlight the depths inside, but she barely managed the movement halfway before the electricity hummed through the establishment in full coursing power. She froze in place as lights flashed on and music from dead artists played. A disco ball spun around the center ceiling, causing flares of glowing colors to span around the tavern.
Dianna shrunk back as the chunk of ceiling the ball had been mounted to fell to the floor, though the motorized mechanism continued to spin the piece across the carpet. She huffed and stepped further inside, if not without some due caution. This waterhole was 2oo years old. Who knew what might fall next.
“Seems organized,” she said. “I recognize a fine establishment when I see one. What’s the phrase now?” She paused. “Bartender?”
Dianna spoke the words, having read them from a script in the Order’s archives. She hadn’t recalled much of what she read, content in not knowing much from the Old World, but her recent brush with death had piqued her curiosity. It was time to pry for something more. She waited as a mechanized figure rolled up from a storage hatch at the far end of the counter in front of her.
She took a seat at one of the stools, the one covered with the least rust, though they had all undergone serious deterioration. She took it as a precaution not to put all her weight on the stool. The drone, seemingly humanoid in appearance, rolled up to her and stopped with decent precision. It spoke to her in a mechanical tone.
“Welcome to Beecher’s Pub, ma’am,” it said. “How might I serve you?”
Dianna paused and sized up the creature. It spoke with surprising accuracy, despite the ache in its gears. The voice box didn’t compare to those in the Order’s patrol drones, but for two centuries late to the party, it wasn’t too bad. Mechanically, it stood tall with a solid silver torso and two posable arms for service functions. Judging by his lack of mobility, she assumed his ‘services’ boiled down to pouring drinks, preparing dishes and accepting funds.
“I don’t believe you’ll have anything on your menu that I want to sample today,” she said. “But I would like to ask some questions, if you please.”
“Of course ma’am,” he said. “I will answer to the best of my knowledge base.”
Dianna smiled. “A fine drone.” She paused. “What can you tell me of your last day in operation?”
The drone whizzed, as if contemplating the question. “Specify, please. What factual information would you like me to recall, ma’am?”
Dianna rested face against her palm.
“Oh, you have to be difficult, don’t you?”
Dianna perched on her seat, pushing the brunt of her weight on the stool by now. She’d grown more accustomed to her surroundings, despite the shoddy state of the architecture. She examined the drone, silver face with some rust around the edges. The Order presented a very different picture of the Old World. They’d left some things uncovered, as it were, evidence to the contrary, considering the tale they’d spun.
“What was the date of your last day in operation?” she asked.
The drone responded quickly. “December 22, 2086.”
Dianna smiled. Good to hear. The date he mentioned was about one year into the global conflict. The city must have shut down abruptly once the bombs fell. According to her geographical knowledge, this city would have been in the Old World’s Central America. The underground locale presented more questions than answers, however.
“Is this city subterranean?”
“Excuse me ma’am?” the robot asked. “Please clarify your question to those within my knowledge base.”
“My apologies,” she said. “Was this city underground during your last day of service?”
He hummed and whizzed. “No. I have no recollection of such an act.”
They buried it. Dianna bit her lip. This was a troubling scenario for her, as she’d stumbled onto something much deeper than she’d expected. It would have been easy enough for the warring factions at the time to find a city in the middle of the States, easier still for the Order to bomb these ruins into the dust.
“Let me ask you something, robot,” she said. “How many people are currently registered as living in this city?”
The drone processed her question with considerable difficulty before it spoke. “As of December 22, no individuals currently resided in Chicago. Evacuation began on December 19.”
“Evacuated a whole city in three days, eh?” she said. “Why clean house? Why stave off the inevitable?”
“I am sorry, ma’am,” he said. “My knowledge base does not allow for much in terms of extrapolation. Can I offer you a cold beverage?”
“No, thanks,” Dianna said, sidestepping the comment. “What was the official news headline the day of the evacuation?”
“Specify source, please.”
“Little machine,” she said. “The most read one, I suppose.”
He retrieved the information with more difficulty this time. The circuits blazed and gears grinded inside his metal body. The drone stood on his last leg since her arrival, but these inquiries of hers only served to accelerate the process.
“Beware the Blood Order,” he said. “City-wide evacuation in process. The Blood Order claims Europe.” He paused. “The aforementioned were front page headings.”
Dianna stood up from her seat. She watched the stool crumble beneath the wake of her movements. She took a few steps back as the robot whizzed, and the last breath of life sparked free of it in a pile of smoke. That was all she was going to gather from it, but the statement left her with a cold chill in her inflamed arm. She clutched it to feel the warmth from her hand, a futile effort.
“The Blood Order,” she said. “Now, that’s a name I’ve never heard before.”
Just how much did the Order cover up? Moreover, how much of what they claimed was actually true? She thought on the matter for a moment or two, but the silence of her thoughts and the hum of the tavern broke abruptly with the sound of sirens. Drones from the Order. They’d come to rescue her, or at least she would have considered it moments ago.
Dianna paced over to the open, rotten doorway to the tavern and peeked out into the dark void to spot tiny red and blue lights in the dark of the chasm, accursed beads in the belly of a forgotten world. Dianna stepped out into the street. She turned away from the drones, and she ran.