Floor 93-AA: Prometheus told me, “Sometimes it’s hard to understand the world when I’m not hurting. Sometimes I don’t even realize that there isn’t any pain.”
I liked him. I liked him a lot. I talked to him for a while. Then the vultures came and they opened up a door.
It is dark.
The sun is dead. The moon is dead. There are a few stars, high above. There are things of faint phosphorescence moving through the trees.
But it is a jungle, and it is terribly, terribly dark.
A 12-year-old girl pushes her way between two trees, steps over a gnarled root, and staggers onwards. Then there’s a flare of light, so bright it makes her eyes instantly water and blink closed, and in the fraction of a second of vision she has, she can see the wide and awful maw of something reared up high, and striking down. Then it is dark again. She rolls to the side, scrambles around a tree, and hears a thump not more than five feet to her north. There’s a hideous, resonant chittering. She can hear the scraping of great mandibles along the ground. She holds her breath. She does not move. Something massive and furry moves past. She counts off the seconds in her head. Five. Ten. Twenty. Then she bolts.
Floor 93-AH: The city was paradisiacal, but I let this aberration pass, because I could feel it in the air. Something was wrong with this place. So I bought myself new clothes in their stores, and ate good meals in their restaurants, and learned to hold my pinky out while drinking tea in posh shops by the avenue. And I watched. And I waited. And eventually I learned its secret: they were throwing people away.
It started with criminals. There were tubes in the ground. They’d take the criminals to the tubes. They’d open the tubes. They’d throw them away. Down into the dark. And the insane, of course. The rebellious. Homosexuals. Adulterers. Drug users. Blacks. Arabs. Soldiers—that was the best. They had a draft. They’d call people up. But when the soldiers came back, they knew how to be violent. And they were embarrassing to the fine nation. So if they didn’t have particularly valuable skills, if they weren’t anyone important in the community, they’d just open up the tubes and throw them away. Flutter, flutter, flutter, down to the world below.
It was fun watching them throw things away.
Unwanted cats. Used prophylactics. Eventually, me.
Her name is Ink Catherly. It’s short for Incandescent Universal Love Catherly, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth. She’s dressed in white samite. She’s carrying a journal.
She stumbles through the dark. She scrapes her wrist against something rough and harsh. She doesn’t look to see what it was. It wouldn’t help. She walks on. Hours pass. Then there’s a flare of light, and her eyes hurt, and she flings up a wrist to guard them, and in that moment of brilliance she makes out the shapes of people, hung from every branch, their bodies ripped open and their insides eaten out. Or maybe they’re just the pods of the great trees. It’s dark again. She can’t tell. She goes up and tries to touch one, but her hand can’t find it. So she walks on.
Floor 93-X: It’s strange that it was so like my home.
I didn’t stay very long. Floor X . . . the people there don’t seem to have ever had the idea that other people were human. It was absent from their philosophy.
It turns out that you can get pretty far with enlightened self-interest. They had a society. It was in some ways better than my own. I asked my keeper why I had survived. He said, “Children are an important resource to the state. Your insanity will pass; your utility will not.”
It is part of an explorer’s duty to be impartial, but I cannot be. Their eyes were monsters’ eyes. Every pair of them.
I wish I could have killed them all.
Ink moves through the forest. There’s a flare of light. She sees a violet-haired girl, standing on a soapbox, not far into the forest. She’s moving and her eyes are smiling but her lower jaw and chin are in the process of falling off. There’s a hissing of what might be a dozen snakes, and Ink dives to the side, and five distinct things—teeth, or spears, or bombs, or corpses, or meteors; Ink’s imagination provides an endless list of possibilities—land hard on the ground where Ink had been. She waits. Five seconds. Ten. Twenty. Then she bolts.
When she is far enough away, she sits on the ground and struggles not to cry.
Floor 93-AI: It is very dark and terrible here. I have lit a candle so that I can write this but I dare not leave it long. There are horrors waiting for me all around the candlelight. I think I have found Hell, but I am not yet sure.
Further reports when convenient,
correspondent Ink Catherly.
There is a strange scent in the air, like the jungle is ending and opening onto a plain. Ink stumbles forward, and suddenly, for the first time in days, there is no press of wood around her.
There’s a flare of light. It’s not quite as bright. The sun is rising. The stars are out. Her eyes water and flutter, but do not completely close.
Then . . .
Suddenly emerging from the dark there is a form.
Suddenly, there is motion, there is a body, there is a hand and a glint of white teeth and flesh.
Before her, in that first moment of vision granted by the dawn, there is a man. There is a good and gentle man. He is looking at her. His hand is extended as if to pull her to safety.
But he is a thing that has appeared in a flash of light, and there are no trees.
It is all Ink Catherly can do, as he reaches for her, to keep from screaming and screaming until the stars and sun go deaf.