Fear The Dawn: Chapter 31

Excuse me, are you Steven?”
Karma half-opened one eye to see a short woman with black hair staring hopefully at him. He could tell instantly that she was not a stranger, not only could he see clearly into her blue eyes, but there was also something about her aura that was a bit different from theirs'. Was she Lapse? Somehow, she seemed slightly familiar.
Steven, is that you?”, she asked again.
I don't know that name”, he replied, trying to avoid her gaze. If she was Lapse, she obviously didn't recognize him anymore, which was probably for the best.
I'm sorry”, she said, looking disappointed. “I'm looking for someone and you look a lot like him.”
Another woman appeared from around a corner. “Oh, hey, are you Steven?”.
I already asked him.”
Sorry”, the second girl said, with a little bow. She wasn't one of the strangers either. If there were two of them here, there's no way that either of them could be Lapse, but he had to admit he was curious about what they were up to. Looking for someone in the morning, and based on their appearance? From what he had been able to determine, it seemed like whether or not two people wound up together in the morning was based on some combination of physical proximity and random chance, and whenever he had gone somewhere with Line or Banshee, he had recognized them not based on their appearance, but the essence of their character. It had never been difficult, either.
Who is this Steven?”, he asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
Oh, he's just...”
One of our friends!”, the first girl quickly filled in for her. He could tell they were nervous, though. They were definitely up to something. Who was Steven, and why were they looking for him? He wondered if he could get them to say more.
I'm looking for someone too”, he said, “but I'm not sure how to find them.”
Well, maybe we can help. Who are you looking for?”
He certainly hadn't expected that response. After all he had done, he had never expected that they would offer to help him just like that. Should he accept their help?
They don't know who I am”, he realized. They thought he was this Steven person that they were looking for, that was why they were being friendly. If they knew who he was then they probably would have run away or attacked him by now, and the longer he stayed with them the better the chance was that they would find out.
The person I'm looking for isn't here”, he said. “I should go.”
Well, good luck finding them.”
You guys!”, one of the women said, embracing someone else as a bunch of others joined them. How many of them could there be?
Hey, is that?”, someone asked.
No”, the first woman responded. “It's someone else.”
Oh well, shall we go?”
That first girl with the blue eyes turned back to him. “Are you sure you don't want to come with us?”
He shook his head. “I have something I need to do.”
She nodded with a sad smile and they all left together, talking away.
This isn't my place”, he thought, walking in the opposite direction from them. Still, he couldn't help but be a bit affected by what he had seen. They had all seemed so friendly and happy, it wasn't at all like any morning he had ever had. Could the mornings really be like that? Banshee seemed to think so, but she hadn't seen the things he had. She didn't know what the strangers were really capable of.
He couldn't make sense of it all right now, but it didn't matter. First he had to find Lapse. There was only one ship left now, so he knew where Lapse had to be. As he walked away from them, the world started to turn dark, and he eventually came across his ship, all alone in a place far away from the others. He climbed back aboard and immediately lowered the sails to put as much distance between himself and the other ship before they came back. Only once he was well underway did he allow himself to look back for the other ship. Eventually he spotted it, and using his spyglass he could now make out a woman with calico-coloured fur at the front of the ship. He had been correct, she definitely wasn't the one called Lapse.

He climbed down into the water using his rope and put his tail in the water to make sure he was going the right way. They had all scattered now, and this time he could definitely feel all four signals, but now it was difficult to tell which had been the lone one from before. He could tell which one belonged to the girl with the calico fur, but distinguishing between the other three was tricky. Two of them were coming from almost the same direction, while one of the others was separate. Was that the lone one? He had turned his ship around so much last night while trying to avoid them that the directions were completely different than they had been, and all of the ships were moving now, so it was much more difficult. He knew he was still close to where the three ships had gathered, so as long as they hadn't changed their course, they should both be travelling directly away from him. If he waited a bit longer and paid attention to how the signals changed over time he should be able to figure out which was which. He shut his eyes tight and tried to pay attention to even the most minute changes in signal strength or direction.

After a while, it became clear that two of them were definitely moving, and two were staying fairly still. The girl with the calico fur was on the move, but she wasn't important right now. Of the three remaining ships, the third signal had originally been coming from the same direction as one of the others, but now it was halfway in-between the other two. Its signal had also gotten a bit stronger while the others had gotten weaker.
That had to be the lone ship that hadn't been with the others, since it was getting closer while the others were moving away. But now he had so little time, if the three of them crossed paths he would be completely lost again, and the other two ships were both much closer to it than he was. He set his course to be slightly ahead of what he judged to be the ship's current path and hoped he could make it before sunrise.

Partway through the night he still hadn't caught sight of them, so he allowed himself to stop a moment to check the signals again. It seemed that one of the ships had changed course, or the ship he was after had slowed down, because two of the signals were coming from the same direction again. “They're probably going to meet”, he realized. He had to intercept them before they separated again or he'd have no chance of finding the right one. He looked over at the horizon, but thankfully the sun was still nowhere in sight. He returned to the deck, lowered his sails, and climbed back up to his perch. Through his spyglass he could just barely see the outline of two ships on the horizon, and the sun hadn't appeared yet. He was going to make it.

He was almost upon them when the worst possible thing happened: the two ships started to separate again. He scrambled for his spyglass, but he still wasn't close enough to make out anyone on the deck of either ship. The only thing he could do now was guess, so he picked the one that was closer to him. He turned his ship to pull as close to it as he could without being seen, and immediately realized he had the wrong one, as he could see the orange-furred one on the deck. He swore under his breath as he watched the other ship gradually pulling away from him, the only thing now he could do was circle back and chase after it, and it'd have a decent lead on him by then. He brought the ship around as fast as he could, but he was racing the sun now, and if it took him away who knew where Lapse's ship could escape to. He was almost close enough to make out the deck of the ship now, but his time was up, and he was being taken away again.


Damn it all”, he thought angrily, “every time I get close the sun gets in my way. Is this all some kind of cruel joke?”
He opened his eyes to find himself standing at the end of a long wooden table. A few men in grey suits were seated near him, while the opposite end of the table was empty. No one spoke a word, they all seemed to be waiting for something.
So it is a cruel joke”, he recalled the last time he had been in such a place, when he had humiliated those strangers as Banshee watched in horror. “I am to be tortured in a manner that befits my own crimes”. Lapse's ship was slipping away and he was stuck here being reminded of his past cruelty.
One of the other men in the room must have noticed the sour expression on his face. “I'm sure they'll only be another few minutes, sir”, he said nervously.
Karma was so bitter and angry about everything that he almost snapped back to his old self and fired the lot of them right there, but something held him back. “That type of behaviour is what got me here in the first place”, he reminded himself. He would just have to endure for now.

True enough, two men walked into the door shortly thereafter. He immediately realized that one of them was like himself, but of course it couldn't have been Lapse. “The orange-furred one again?”, he wondered, but it wasn't him either, this man had brown-coloured eyes. The eyes were the one thing that never lied, no matter what form a person took in the morning, so he took care to hide them from those of his kind. The other man had the darkened eyes of a stranger, one could almost never see into their eyes, perhaps they were simply too different to understand each other face to face. The two men sat down at the other end of the table, and the stranger cleared his throat.
Sorry for the delay”, he said, “and thank you all for coming. I'll now go over our quarterly sales results”.
The man was extremely nervous, but he had no shortage of things to say. Karma had little idea what he was talking about, in the past he would just watch their mannerisms carefully to see where they were weak, then pick them apart that way, but this morning he resolved not to do so. The other men seated at the table stopped the man a few times, but he responded to them and kept on his way. He actually seemed to grow more confident over time, even if Karma had tried to tear him down he might have been prepared for it. In the end, the man finished speaking and Karma dismissed the meeting. The stranger and the man with brown eyes quickly stepped out the door and disappeared down the hallway.

That seemed simple enough. Could it really be this easy if he just let the strangers do their thing? He turned to look at the other men in the room, but they must have left when he wasn't looking, the room was empty now and the lights were gradually dimming. “Time to get moving”, he thought, stepping out into the hall. He had hoped to find his ship out here so he could get back to his search for Lapse, but although the hallway was very quiet it was still brightly lit and it didn't seem as though things were going to change anytime soon. He walked towards the window and looked out. The sun was shining brightly outside, and a lot of people were gathered far below. “I guess that is where I am to go”. He walked towards the end of the hall and pressed the button for the elevator. It arrived a moment later, empty save for himself, and he pressed the button for the ground floor. When he arrived at the bottom, he followed the light to the door.

Outside was a swarm of activity as a hundred or more strangers bustled about. The commotion seemed to be centred around a large table with a black machine at one end, so he filed in with the rest, keeping an eye out for the brown-eyed man and the stranger. There was a strange, oddly familiar scent coming from the machine that he couldn't quite place. Most of the strangers seemed to be carrying flat white trays, so he took one as well.
What will you have?”, the stranger manning the big machine asked him.
From this side he could see the contents of the machine and he suddenly realized where he recognized the smell from. The machine housed a flame, and above it they were roasting the the innards of some creature. It might not have been from a stranger, but on a few occasions he had seen those flames consume the body of a stranger, and they gave off a very similar smell as they burned. He had enjoyed it then, but now he felt repulsed by it.
Beef? Chicken? Hot Dog? Tofu?”, the man continued.
No”, he replied, quickly. “None for me.”
No meat?”, the man said, confused. He handed Karma a fluffy brown thing that split into two pieces. “There's toppings over there if you want to make a sandwich.”
He took a few other things from the table and quickly left that place, glad to be away from that smell. He sat down at one of the large tables and tried to locate the stranger and the brown-eyed man. He couldn't quickly spot them at any of the other tables, though there were so many people there it was hard to check them all. All of the strangers seemed to be chewing on the things they had taken from that large table. He knew from before that the strangers called this “eating”, though he had never had much experience with it himself. Strangers were always very vulnerable when they were eating, and some of them were even afraid of being eaten themselves, though even back when he was a monster the mornings usually tended to end before that could happen. Karma looked down at his own tray, which had that fluffy brown thing, a few leafy green plants, and some odd yellow coils that he never would have suspected were for eating if he hadn't seen someone else take them. He picked up the brown piece and bit into it. He knew a bit about taste, too, the blood of the strangers had a thick, rich taste that he had once enjoyed, but mercifully this was nothing like that, it was dry and bland and hard to swallow. The green stuff was cold and crunchy and reminded him of grass, but he forced a bit of it down as well. Satisfied that he had done enough to deflect suspicion from himself Karma went back to searching the crowd.

He finally spotted the stranger and the man with brown eyes coming out of the door, along with a third man who hadn't been with them earlier. He wasn't sure how they got behind him, but they quickly went over to the large black machine and then took a seat at another table. They didn't seem to do much afterwards other than sit there and chew like everyone else. Karma decided to try one of the coils, still not quite convinced that they were for eating. He noticed that most of the other people were using white knives and some other type of tool to pick them up, but he didn't have any so he just used his fingers. The coil was actually surprisingly soft and pleasantly flavourful, and he had a few of them as he kept his eye on the others. They just seemed to be enjoying themselves, and he wondered if he had the wrong idea about the mornings after all, but then the man with the brown eyes got up and dashed away into the woods. No one seemed to pay that much attention to it, but Karma instinctively chased after him, leaving the tables and the other strangers behind. As he reached the edge of the woods, the sky darkened and the tables gradually seemed to disappear into the grass. He pressed on into the forest.

He came across the man lying face-down in the dirt. He watched him for a moment, but he didn't even stir. Against his better judgement, Karma cautiously approached him. He waited another moment to see if he would suddenly get up and attack him, but he just groaned slightly and feebly reached up with one arm.
What's are you doing?”, Karma demanded of him.
Lapse...”, the man responded.
Lapse?!”, he repeated, momentarily forgetting himself and shaking the man with his paws. “Do you know Lapse? Where is she?”
But the man just went limp and said no more. He was back to his true form now, a very round man with grey fur. Karma looked back at the edge of the wood, which has now begun to disappear as well. He shook the man again, but he wasn't moving. Having no other options, he scooped the man up in his arms and began searching for a ship. “He knows Lapse”, he thought, “if I can get him out of here he can tell me where she is.”
He looked about frantically for his ship, but he didn't see it, and the woods were slowly disappearing around them. He tried to run, but the man was too heavy for him to move very fast. He thought he saw something up ahead. It wasn't his ship, but perhaps it was the ship belonging to the brown-eyed man. He moved as fast as he could, but it was getting too dark, and he wasn't going to make it...

A furry brown face dropped down from above, upside-down. It had shaggy fur and mismatched eyes.
Lapse?!”, he tried to say, startled. “Listen, I need to speak to you”, but no sound came out.
I didn't hear you arrive”, the man with grey fur said to her. She dropped down onto her feet and messed up the fur on his face. Karma tried to reach out towards them, but he didn't seem to have any arms, he couldn't even turn his head. Lapse dragged the grey-furred man away and he followed them involuntarily.
What's going on?”, he wondered. He tried to call out to Lapse again, but it was futile. “It looks like I can only watch for now.”
She took the grey-furred man up to the deck, where she hopped on the railing, like she had done when they first met. She said something about the stars, but Karma couldn't hear her all that well. She hopped down and the grey-furred man caught her and they laid on the ground together for a while.
The grey-furred one must be a good friend of hers”, he realized. “I guess if she has him now it turned out all right.”
There actually seemed to be a lot of others around too. They got up, then spoke about something or other, then the two of them walked over to the side of the ship. He followed along again, but this time he was much closer to them and he could hear them more clearly.
Come with me!”, she said to him, trying to drag him along, “there's so much I want to show you!”
But the grey-furred one refused to go with her, and Karma saw her poor heart break in two. “I thought someone liked me...”, she said sadly. “I'm always all alone.”
He tried to reassure her, but the light washed over her and she was gone. “Lapse!” the grey-furred man yelled after her.
Where is she now?!”, Karma demanded, but he already knew the answer.
Gone”, the grey-furred man said, as though he could hear him this time. “Oh, Lapse...”
The sun blanketed the whole scene in white light, and he found himself back on the deck of his ship. The grey-furred man and the other ship were nowhere to be found.

So that was how it was. It was too late, she was already gone. He thought she had been happy, but when he saw the fearful look in her eyes he knew that was real truth, she was still lonely and afraid on the inside, right until the very end. “That's partially my doing as well”, he thought. There was so much blood on his paws and no way to make it any better. It was too late to apologize to her. It was too late to make amends for the things he had done. It was too late for him to do anything.

Karma walked over to the railing of his ship. He must have been away for quite some time, he could already see the sun starting to peek over the horizon again, ready to show him some other cruel vision, to make him see just how horrible he had been.
All right!”, he declared, facing the sun. “You win! I'm a terrible person! I brought pain and suffering to everyone around me, and I never did anything good for anyone! The best thing I ever did was when I left this place! So why didn't you just let me stay dead?! What more do you want from me?!!”

His throat was sore, but his outburst went unanswered, the sun continued to climb ever higher in the sky, just as it always did. It seemed there was more torture in store for him yet. Perhaps it would go on forever, until he was just as broken as those around him had been.
I left once before, I can do it again”, he thought. There was nothing left for him here on this derelict prison ship, whatever purpose it might have served had ended long ago. He was just the last relic of a story best forgotten, an unpleasant memory returning unbidden to one's mind despite all efforts to push it away. “Farewell”, he said, as the sun rose in the sky for the final time.


Click-click, click-click.
Karma opened his eyes to see what his final morning had brought him. He was sitting down on a small brown chair in some tightly enclosed space. There was another such chair beside him, then a very narrow isle, and two more on the other side, and in front of him there were many more such rows of seats. To his other side was a window, and outside he could see the sky, which was only barely light, as well as a few buildings. There were a few other people seated inside the room, though they were paying no attention to him, most were either holding white papers or looking out the windows. There were also a door at one end, which was wide open.
Strange setting for my last journey”, he thought. Before he had time to puzzle it over, there was a loud noise and the door at the front closed, then the whole room shook a bit and started to move. He looked back out the window to see the buildings slowly start to fall behind, and he realized this room was some kind of giant vehicle. After a moment the shaking stopped and the vehicle was fairly still, save for a soft, rhythmic clicking sound as it went along. Karma settled into his seat and looked out the window again as more buildings passed by outside, giving way to an open stretch of land with nothing but a few trees. “They're taking me away”, he thought. That was fine with him. He had had enough of the mornings and the trouble they brought. The open fields slowly gave way to a forest, and Karma found his focus fading. The rhythmic bobbing of the large vehicle and the soft clicking sound lulled him into a peaceful state, and after all the intensity and action of the preceding nights he found he was quite weary. His eyes slowly drooped, and he rested his head on his palm for support. Gradually the world outside started to fade out as the vehicle carried him away from the world that he knew.

Click-click, click-click.
Click-click, click-click.
Even in darkness, that clicking sound persisted. At first it had been easy to ignore, but now it was burrowing into his mind, commanding his attention. He opened one eye again. Out the window, he could see the land give way to the ocean, yet still somehow the vehicle kept on going, rising up above the water, flying over the sea.
Finally I'll get to see what lies beyond the ocean”, he thought. He looked towards the front again. The others didn't seem impressed by the miraculous flying vehicle, they just continued holding their papers and gazing aimlessly out their windows. Karma idly wondered whether or not these other people were the same as he was, others who wanted to escape the mornings. Could this have been where Line and Banshee had gone, riding this flying vehicle beyond the sea? If so, he actually felt a little better, this didn't seem like such a bad way for things to end. Maybe he would even see them again when the flying vehicle reached its destination. He found himself growing a bit excited, for the first time in a long while he felt optimistic about what lay ahead.

Click-click, click-click.
Click-click, click-click.
And yet there was that sound, over and over, preventing him from enjoying the ride. He shut his eyes and covered his ears and tried to block it out, but it only seemed to get louder. He angrily stomped his feet into the floor to try to convince the noise to die down, but as he did so his foot struck something. There was a little alcove underneath his seat, and there seemed to be something under there. He bent down and reached between his legs and tried to pull it out, but it was really tightly in there. He tugged on it as hard as he could, and part of it slipped free, he found himself holding a thin black bag with nothing inside, but he could still feel it behind his foot. Precariously balancing himself on the side of the chair, he lowered his head down beneath the seats so he could take a look at whatever it was.

Click-click, click click.
There were some things in the mornings that he did not understand, like how this vehicle was flying over the ocean, but Karma instantly recognized the bomb underneath his chair. It was a large black box with a green timer that was slowly ticking down, and it seemed to be secured to its spot somehow, refusing to budge no matter how he tried to move it. Worst of all, the counter had very nearly expired, and he knew what would happen when it hit zero. “It looks like there's no escape for me after all”, he thought, sadly. Perhaps that was only fair, he hadn't exactly done much to deserve redemption, he was being brought out here simply to be blown up and purged from this world. He pulled his head back out from under his seat and resigned himself to his fate. But what about the others on board the vehicle? Were they monsters, like himself, having earned their destruction, or were they just most innocent people who would suffer for his crimes? They didn't seem like monsters to him, they were just minding their own business, some of them were even talking to each other and having a good time, unaware that it would be their last.

Click-click, click-click.
Karma wondered whether he should tell them about the bomb. Even if he did, what could they do? He couldn't get the bomb out of the compartment to throw it out, and he didn't see any way to open it, either. He looked out the window. It was just water down there, and it was a long way down. Even if he told them, there was little they could do, perhaps they would prefer to enjoy their last few moments in peace. He recalled the scene from a few mornings ago, where the female stranger had been so heartbroken after the little stranger was struck by that vehicle, and the promise he had made then. He had managed to avoid hitting that stranger, true, but yet it had happened anyway. Perhaps rather than trying to stop it himself, he was supposed to have warned that female stranger instead. Maybe then she could have changed things. He had never even contemplated trusting or working with the strangers before, not after what they did on that night so long ago, but now, at the very end, it hardly seemed to matter anymore. He stood up in his seat.

Everyone, please do not panic, but there is a bomb underneath this seat.”
His request not to panic was completely ignored. “A bomb?! There's a bomb on the train?!”
We're all going to die!”
A man in a blue uniform quickly appeared from the front. “What's going on?!”, he demanded.
There's a bomb under that seat!”
Get rid of it!”
Can anyone defuse the bomb?!”
Stop the train!”
The uniformed man hurried over to Karma's seat and made a futile attempt to remove the bomb. “It's stuck!”, he declared, “and there's hardly any time left! We'll have to abandon the train!”
There was a horrible screeching sound, and the vehicle came to an abrupt halt, nearly knocking Karma off his feet. The man in the uniform forced open the door and looked out. “We're going to have to jump!”, he told the others.
Are you crazy?”
We must be 50 feet up!”
Maybe it won't even go off!”
It's our only chance!”, Karma told them. “Do you want to be blown up?!”
The once-peaceful vehicle had become a horrifying scene of chaos and panic, but one by one, the strangers started to jump out the door. The first ones landed in the water with a distant splash, and at first he feared the worst, but then a moment later he saw a head bob out of the water. They were alive. Perhaps they could really survive this after all. His own escape might not be coming tonight, but somehow by watching the strangers fight to survive in the face of an impossible situation he had found the strength to keep going. He watched the rest of them jump, until he and the man in the uniform were the only ones left. Karma took one last look back at the vehicle, and prepared to dive back into the ocean, back to his world. That was when he noticed one stranger who was still in his seat. He hadn't budged at all the whole time.
What are you doing?”, Karma demanded, getting into the seat beside him and grabbing his arm. “We have to get out of here.”
Go ahead”, the stranger replied. “I'm not leaving. I have to stay here.”
Did you not hear me? There's a bomb under the seat! If you don't get out, you're going to be blown up!”
I can't leave”, he repeated, turning to Karma. “There's this girl, and I have to apologize to her, and this train is the only way I can see her again.”
What are you doing?!”, the man in the uniform demanded of them. “There's no time left!”
Go on without us!”, Karma yelled back at him. “I'll handle this!”
Forget it!”, he said, “I'm getting everyone off this train!”
JUST GO!!!”, Karma bellowed, the intensity of the Destroyer returning to him for just a moment. His forcefulness kowtowed the man, and he begrudgingly left them alone on the doomed vehicle.
Karma returned to the stranger. “Don't be stupid! If you get blown up, you'll never get a chance to apologize! The only way you'll ever get another chance is if you get off right now!”
Don't you get it?”, the stranger replied. “The bomb is going to destroy the bridge. This train will be closed for a long time, maybe forever.”
What difference does that make?! Anything is better than being blown up!”

He tugged on the stranger's arm, but he was firmly planted to his seat, even with all of Karma's strength he couldn't move him. The stranger glanced out his window at the ocean.
This is probably my fate”, he said, turning back to look at Karma. “You see, I hurt this girl in another life, but I never got to apologize to her. I finally found her again, but I messed up, and until I can make things right I won't ever leave this train, even if it kills me again.”
Karma's grip on the stranger's arm loosened as he stood there, dumbstruck.
There was a deafening blast from the back of the train and the entire car shook with a fury unlike anything he had ever seen. Karma caught a glimpse of his old friend's blue eyes as the flames engulfed them, burning everything away in an instant.

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