The Contaminated and the Fallen

She suspected, though she had no proof one way or the other, that this fallen realm in which her dream had her trapped was underground.. Perhaps it was the ever-present shadows and darkness, the days as the nights, whole and unchanging that led to this belief. Her existence here was immutable unmarked by any sense of the passage of time. She imagined a world of caverns, hollowed out and reconstructed into this strange habitat that seemed to her without purpose. A dream within a dream, she realized, and perhaps it was just the dream state thwarting her senses and not allowing her to comprehend all that she saw.

The last words of the voice came to her mind, dimly and half-remembered, as though that were the dream and not this. She was following one of her usual trails toward a dispenser that she was knew was still working. After that, if her dream went as it normally did, she would go above to one of the higher rings where there was a large room filled with desks with screens. Some of the screens still worked, after a fashion, and she would sit and watch them flashing their information and images, until she grew restless and started moving again.

This time, compelled by the words, she continued on along the ring, chewing on the block of foul tasting food the dispenser had given her. She often felt ill after she had eaten the food, though this dispenser seemed to agree with her more than the others. It was clearly degrading, as everything here was, and part of her knew that it was only a matter of time until all the dispensers failed entirely. Would her dreams allow that to happen, would her mind compel the machines to continue to work or would the logic of situation play out as it should? And what then?

Not wanting to dwell on that, disliking the sensation of dreaming and yet aware that she was in a dream, she pressed on, ducking through corridors. Rather than taking one of her usual paths, the ones she knew were safe and abandoned, she went to those areas that the Fallen inhabited. Not all of them were unhazardous, she knew, so she went with care, always checking each door she passed through to make sure it had not sealed behind her allowing her no escape.

One of the machines confronted her as she went, looming up out of the darkness, demanding her authorization. Its voice was disturbingly similar to the one that questioned her when she was awake, though they all sounded more or less the same. The flat monotone, parched of emotion.

“The area is contaminated. Please exit immediately. You are not authorized.”

She ignored it, ducking around its bulky frame and moving down the black corridor, the machine sounding an alarm that no longer functioned. The corridor ended at a door that was jammed, which she pushed and pried apart just enough so that she could slip through. She waited a moment to ensure it did not close on her and then turned to go further down the corridor, her path illuminated by a blinking red light along the ceiling. Was this the alarm the machine had started after her breach into his realm, she wondered, or was it from some earlier calamity?

There were a few doors off the corridor, but she knew by the shape and the markings on them that there would be nothing of interest in them. They were small rooms that had perhaps been used for storage or for those who had left to sit in and pass their days. Now they would be empty, or filled with the uninteresting refuse of the decay. At last she found what she had been looking for, a larger door than the others with symbols above its frames. It was open, its automation having failed, and she stepped through into a large chamber.

It was cavernous, the ceiling stretching up past the far reaches of her sight. There were giant tubes, fragile seeming cylinders, and pipes that curved and wound around on themselves, sheltered behind protective glass. Some glowed with dim activity while others were dark. The flashing red light was brighter here, more insistent, if that were possible. She ignored all of that, ducking around the artifacts of this previous age, looking for one of the Fallen. They would be here, she knew, the smell of them was undeniable.

After some searching she managed to find one. He leaned against one of the glowing cylinders, seeming to rest his head against it as he stared off into the distance. In spite of his faraway gaze she felt his eyes upon her, no matter where she stood as she considered her approach. At last, realizing that he would already have seen her anyway, she walked up to him directly. The heat coming from the cylinder on which he rested was tremendous. Instinctively, she crouched down as she moved forward, as though that would protect her from whatever force lay within the tube should it somehow be loosed.

Nothing happened as she came face to face with the Fallen man. The cylinder did not explode, as she had feared, nor did the man rise up and seize her. He continued to stare off into the distance, a leering grin marking his face. She eyed him warily, still unconvinced that this was not some manner of trap that he had lain for her. When he made no motion at all, after she had watched him for several minutes, she moved within range of his grasp, poised to flee at the first instant of motion.

None came and then she wondered if he were waiting for her to speak, to make plain her intentions. How did one address the Fallen? She had no idea, the machines mostly did not respond to her, perhaps it would be the same here. In this realm it seemed she had forgotten the tools of speech, though words still seemed to form as thoughts in her mind. She wet her lips and reached out to touch the man, thinking that if there were no words to speak, then this gesture might be enough.

Her hand had just brushed the cloth of his uniform when one of the machines seized her.

“You are not authorized. The area is contaminated.”

from Dream Logic

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