Sleeper Cell

A bulb has blown in the room where I sit. It makes me feel like my eyes are failing. A wash of papers covers the desk. Beyond these walls, this screen, the Imagination stretches. Neon vectors recede into darkness…

I look up to see a rainbow-haloed moon above a red desert. Red, and radioactive — a lethal silt like fine toner, stretching to low hills in the distance, to the edge of the crater.

I am protected by a suit of some sort. It is an advanced technology that hugs the skin. Transparent and flexible, it uses molecular filtration to allow the skin to breathe, blocking particulates as well as radiation. Self-healing, it recovers from minor scrapes and scratches in seconds, larger damage in minutes. As a side effect of this healing mechanism, it will also staunch minor bleeding caused by an intrusion. To prevent this self-healing, conforming property from affecting the eyes and mucous membranes, special goggles and breathing filters are included. The membrane bonds with organic material at the edges of these devices, forming a perfect seal.

As I walk my shadow stretches out behind me, and my footsteps fill with a phosphorescent gel. Have I always been in this desert? I can not remember where I came from. The memory of it seems to lie just below the surface of my awareness like a word on the tip of the tongue. Was there an accident? Was someone with me? I glimpse fragments of fragments; they fail to lead me to recall.

It occurs to me that I am hungry, so I quicken my pace towards the hills up ahead. Perspective in this flat empty space plays tricks, and the hills prove further than I thought — and higher. At last, though, I begin my ascent, and the fine rusting powder begins to yield chunks of rock, soft and featureless, jutting from the side of the hill.

Exhausted, ravenous, and pushing back a mild panic at my situation, I finally crest the ridge. And there it is, a shimmering city, gently curving around the edge of a small sea. Lights of blue and orange trace the outlines of the buildings, and the lamps from the boats bob on the harbor. It is peaceful from this distance, but then I notice the fires burning on the edge closest to me. I descend the far slope of the ridge towards the city, hearing as I approach the wail of sirens and an occasional rumbling explosion. Closer still and there is screaming. I can see vehicles rushing about, flames merging and licking towards the sky.

As I pass the blackened farms at the outskirts of the city, my memory comes flooding back to me. I know what made the crater and burned the soil, and I know what it is I must do. As I stride purposefully into the streets of the doomed capitol, a wall of force expands around me, turning buildings, cars and people into powder. Half the city is on fire now. But I see nothing but light, my eyes rolled in my head as I approach the park at the city's center. The light grows brighter; I can feel its warmth as I focus the last of my energy into a white-hot ball that lights the hills and turns the sea to steam. And then it is dark again. The waves comes washing back in to the shore, phosphorescent with deep-sea life. A film of red powder floats on the surface. There is no more city, just the moon indifferent above, and no more hunger inside.

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