Fear The Dawn: Chapter 37

It was not often since he had returned that Karma had been in a good mood, but tonight he almost allowed himself to smile when he reflected on recent events. It had taken a lot of careful sleuthing, but his efforts were starting to pay off, he finally had a solid lead on finding Lapse. It seemed the others could be useful after all, if one knew how to utilize them correctly.

He looked up at the stars from his vantage point at the base of the sail. What was happening to Line in the other world? Was he still stuck in that moving room? He was starting to realize that some of the things that he saw in the mornings were not quite what they appeared to be, which only made things that much more confusing. Just as Pack's tormentors had come and gone with the sun, so too did he suspect that the explosion that sent them hurtling into the sea had not been completely real, either. When the sun started to come up, people's deepest fears took shape, and what scared Line the most was to leave that moving room. Or, perhaps, more specifically, that if he left that place he would never get to apologize to Lapse. Karma sighed. He was almost definitely still waiting there, unlikely to ever find his way back home. At least that would make it easier to find him again.

He wished he could remember his own time in the other world in more detail, he was sure it held some clues that would help bring Line back. He could remember most things that happened before he had gone away clearly enough, much as he might like to forget, and the events since he returned remained fresh in his mind, but the time in between seemed to be completely gone, as though it had never happened. Was it simply that the happy memories faded from mind the quickest? Somehow, he felt confident that he had been happy during that time, at least.

Karma dropped down from the sail, landing softly on the deck below. There were scarce few memories worth having here, that was clear enough. Looking out over the water, he briefly recalled the first time he had met Line, the dope had immediately made a fool of himself by dropping his plank in the water. Or had he done that on purpose? That was just the kind of person he was, at least when they first met. If not for Karma's influence, he probably would have made Lapse laugh instead of cry, and then he never would have gone away. And yet, somehow he had managed to hurt her again in the other world anyway. If only he had some idea what had happened over there, that might be the key to this whole thing.

Though he wasn't eager to experience it again, he tried to think back to the evening where they had met Lapse and Line had gone away. She had very nearly crashed into their ship, and Line made fun of her strange manner and absentmindedness. It didn't seem so terrible now that he thought about it, certainly she had gotten off easy compared to some of the strangers he had met, but she had been terribly upset about it. What was it that bothered her so much again?
Is that why I'm all alone? I'm too 'strange'? No one could like someone like me?”
That's right, he remembered her outburst now. It wasn't so much that what Line said was so hurtful, but he just happened to strike a nerve with her. Something similar had happened with Pack, too, the night she disappeared for good. He was embarrassed by her and she took it the wrong way. Line must have bumbled into it again in the other world, the poor sap. Still, perhaps that information would help them find Lapse, and if they could apologize for Line they might be able to bring him back. He'd have to make sure to relay that information to Pack if he saw him again.

We're going to figure this out”, he thought. He might be stuck aboard a floating prison filled with terrible memories, but somewhere in that ship was the key to turn it all around. He glanced over towards the hatch and shuddered at the thought of the destruction that lay below deck. Even if he had to brave that place again, he would manage it somehow. They were finally starting to have a chance.


As the morning came, Karma opened his eyes to find himself in a strange, desolate place. It was one of those places where the strangers tended to gather, with concrete floors and giant structures climbing up towards the sky, but it was unlike any such place he had ever seen. The tall structures were all in a state of disrepair, with giant cracks running up their massive walls and some had even had major sections cave away. The floor, too, was broken and uneven, impassable by those strange moving boxes the strangers used, though there were none to be seen. In fact, there was nothing around at all, no strangers, no trees or grass, just a thick brown fog that lingered in the air, coating the world and blocking out the sky.

What could have done something like this?”, he wondered as he walked through the empty streets. He suddenly had a terrible thought, and he raised his hands in front of him. He reached out towards one of the buildings, but nothing happened, the broken structure remained as it was. The Destroyer had not risen again, here he was simply Karma. He breathed a sigh of relief, but his breath caught in his throat, the ever-present brown dust filling his lungs and leaving him gasping for air.
This is a horrible place”, he thought. He tried to cough out some of the dust, but there was no end to it, he just had to try to breathe as lightly as possible. He hurried along the broken streets as best he could. At one point, he heard a loud rumbling and a large piece of one of the structures across from him started to come down. He quickly ducked down another street to safety, but even from that distance the impact shook the ground and kicked up another cloud of the brown dust. He didn't head back that way, he just kept walking. Eventually he came past the broken structures to an empty wasteland. The concrete floor continued, though it was even more broken here, with large pieces jutting out of the ground at odd angles, and beyond that there was simply nothing except for dirt and rock as far as the eye could see.

He could scarcely believe it, he had never thought that it would still be like this once he got away from the stranger settlement. “Is the whole world like this?”, he wondered. He tried to remind himself that things might not be as they seemed, that this might just be someone's fear, but being in this place it all felt real enough, and he couldn't help but be worried for Line. He hoped he wasn't in a place like this.
Actually, so far, it seemed that there was no one else in this place at all, as he passed through the area with the large structures he hadn't seen a single stranger, not even the remains of one. That was the most bizarre thing of all, although the settings and even his own appearance would change in the mornings, the one thing that was constant was that the strangers were always there. This time it seemed like he was truly alone in this world. Even though he spent most of his evenings alone, it was definitely a little unsettling. He found himself looking over his shoulder as he walked along the broken concrete path out into the wasteland.

Out here in the open the sun shone down mercilessly upon him, and he quickly found himself growing weak from the heat and the lack of clean air. He needed to find somewhere to take refuge, but there was nothing to shield him from the sun out here, not even a single tree. He was starting to contemplate heading back towards the settlement, but it was a long way away now and he wasn't sure he would make it. Any form of cover from the sun would do, he just needed somewhere to sit down for a moment. He finally spotted a rocky outcropping off to the side of the path that looked like it would do. He wasn't sure if he was imagining it from the heat, but it looked like there was even a little cave hidden beneath the rocks. He was tired and weak, but he ran towards it and flopped down underneath the shade of the overhanging rocks. There was indeed a little passageway leading down, but it was pitch black in there, so he stayed at the entrance, glad to be out of the sun. The air even seemed to be a little cleaner here, he took a deep breath to clear out his lungs and sprawled out against the wall of the cave, worn out from his journey.

What is the point of all this?” he wondered, looking out at the barren world. This place had been something once, he could tell that from the structures he had seen and the concrete path, but now everything just seemed broken beyond repair. Could anyone survive here? Would anyone even want to? He needed to find his ship and get out of this place. Perhaps he could wait here until the sun went down, then travelling would be easier. He looked up at the sky. Somewhere beyond the brown haze, the sun was still shining high in the sky. It was going to be a long wait.

His eyes started to glaze over as he sat there at the mouth of the cave, trying to imagine what this world might have looked like before it went wrong. He pictured green grass and a blue sky and strangers and their vehicles bustling along on the concrete road. Off in the distance, there was a spot that might have been a forest, or a river. His vision quickly floated away, replaced by the grim reality that the wasteland and brown clouds were all that remained. He sighed. The sun barely seemed to have moved at all.
Then he felt something behind him, and then it had him, grabbing him by the chest and mouth. He tried to struggle, but he was still weak from his earlier journey. Whatever it was bound his arms with something and dragged him into the cave, and the light of the broken world quickly faded away.

The tunnel was steep and dark, and he couldn't see where he was walking. He stumbled a few times, which earned him a sharp jab in the stomach from his captor. He tried to protest, but whatever it was still had his mouth covered. He soon caught a glimpse of a light up ahead, and at first he wondered if it was just another exit to the cave, but he soon realized it was not. The tunnel widened into a little opening down here, and there were 3 or 4 people gathered around a strange object that gave off a faint glow. Their clothes were dirty and tattered, they were terribly thin, and their skin was caked in a thick layer of the dust that blanketed this world, but there was no mistaking that they were strangers. His captor gave him a shove into the room that almost made him fall and then entered the room himself.
Chief! I found an outsider at the mouth of the cave!”
One of the men at the back stood up to take a closer look at him. He was not dressed any differently from the others, if he was their leader he did nothing to show it.
Hmm”, he said, looking Karma over. “Where do you come from, stranger?”
It felt very unusual to hear those words from a stranger, but perhaps to them, he was the stranger. In any case, he was in no position to argue the point. “Far away”, he responded.
The chief looked him over again and nodded. “Looks like it. Why are you in our cave?”
I was looking for somewhere to get out of the sun, and the settlement was too far away.”
What do you know about the settlement?!”, the one who had captured him demanded.
Only that it's a decrepit pile of rubble. What happened to this place?”
They looked at him like he had two heads, not even able to respond.
The sun must have fried his brain”, one of them said, shaking her head.
The city, and all you see around you was destroyed by the Great Cataclysm. Raging winds tore through the air, mighty tremors rocked the earth, and poisonous storms choked out all life. Plants, animals, humans, all were wiped out. What you see now is all that remains. We manage to survive, looting what usable materials remain from the ruins of civilization and seeking shelter where we can.”
And by defending our territory from outsiders!”, his captor added.
Come now, Royce, you know we haven't run into any outsiders for a long time now. I suspect most of them have died off out there. There's not much left in the cities anymore, we're all running out of time.”
I didn't see a single person when I was in that settlement earlier”, Karma said. “A big piece did fall off one of the structures, though.”
It sounds like we'd better make another run to the city, then. We're running low on supplies, and if that tower comes down we'll have even less supplies to pick from.”
She's right”, the chief said, “we'd better head out into the city again. It's past midday, the heat won't be so bad right now.”
What about him?”, his captor asked, jabbing him with his elbow.
He can't stay here”, the chief said. “He'll have to come with us.”
The chief pressed something on the lighting device and it went out, leaving the room in darkness. His captor prodded him to walk, and he found himself heading back out of the cave.

The chief had said it wouldn't be as hot anymore, but Karma still found the temperature outside terribly oppressive, and after breathing the cleaner air of the cave he wasn't happy to head out into the dust again.
What are we looking for?”, he asked, purely to make conversation.
Food is the top priority”, the woman said. “Cans, boxes, packages, anything edible that hasn't gone bad. Beyond that, clothes, any functioning technology, and even just sturdy pieces of cloth or leather are also useful.”
Food's getting much harder to find. We'll have to move on soon at this rate, and I'm not sure if we'll find another place like this.”
Don't worry, chief, there's still places we haven't explored yet”, his captor replied. He was holding a large piece of wood, idly swinging it about as they walked. “We'll find more food”.

Karma was already sweaty and tired by the time they reached the settlement again.
Wow, look at that”, the woman said, pointing to the big pile of rubble. “That was really a huge piece that came down.
They all looked up at the structure it had fallen from. The interior was exposed from where the piece had fallen off, and it wasn't the only part that was damaged, towards the top of the building more pieces had caved away.
It doesn't have long left”, the chief said, “if we hope to get anything else out of there it'll have to be now”.
Karma certainly wasn't looking forward to going in there, but he knew he had no choice. “At least untie me, I can't do anything like this.”
The chief nodded, and his captor removed the bonds. “I'll be watching you”, he threatened, striking his palm with the big piece of wood. “Don't do anything stupid.”

The interior of the building was even worse than the outside. He wasn't sure what kind of place this had been, but the walls were full of holes where they hadn't fallen down, broken pipes and wires hung down from the ceiling, and the floor was littered with little bits of wood and plaster.
We've already cleaned out the first few floors, we'll have to head higher if we want to find anything useful.”
How are we going to get there?”, he asked.
Well we'll just push the button and wait for the elevator, then we'll just fly up to the top floor”. His captor waited a moment to make sure he hadn't taken him seriously. “We take the stairs, numbnuts.”
Somehow the stairs managed to be even worse than the ground floor. They were very narrow and steep, and broken in all sorts of places, giving him an extremely unpleasant view of the floor far below. He had been in all manner of horrible places, but never had he felt more assured of his own demise than in that stairwell. Somehow, the others seemed unaffected by it, hopping nimbly across each pitfall and deathtrap in turn.
Step on the outside, that's the safe part”, the woman advised, as he came to a stair where the inside had completely caved away, leaving only enough space for him to place his left foot. He quickly leapt up to the next stair. At one point three or four stairs had crumbled away entirely, and they had to walk across a wooden plank that had been laid across the gap. It wobbled about when he stepped on it and he was sure it was going to slip out from under him, but somehow he made it across in one piece. Beyond the plank the exterior wall had crumbled away, so he could see across the settlement. The view might have been impressive if he wasn't so concerned with falling out the hole.
I'd stick to the inside on that part”, the woman helpfully advised him. He clung tightly to the wall as he rounded the curve to the next set of stairs.
His captor finally advised them that they had reached their destination. They couldn't have hoped to continue on, anyway, the ceiling had caved in above and the rest of the stairwell was completely blocked. Karma was extremely relieved when they pushed the door open and left that horrible place.

This was the place where that big piece of the building had caved away earlier, the entire right wall of the room was completely gone and there was a large segment of the floor missing as well. Beyond that, though, the room almost looked like something had once been here, though the cave in earlier had destroyed parts of the roof and there was still a lot of water damage from broken pipes, there was still recognizable furniture in this room.
Fan out and look for anything useful”, the chief told them. The woman quickly located a drawer with some old clothes, some of which were still intact. Karma checked inside an old desk, but all he found were some crumbling papers. “That's of no use to us”, the chief said, “whatever those papers might have had to say lost all meaning when the world fell apart”. They also took an old, hard cushion from a chair, which Karma couldn't imagine would be pleasant to sit on, but they reminded him that it could be cut up for fabric. They didn't find any food.
There was another door at the far end of the room, past the missing wall. The wall leading into that room was intact, and when they tried the door, it didn't open.
This is what we've been looking for”, his captor said, licking his lips. “No one's been in here, it's probably full of all kinds of good stuff.” He raised his big piece of wood and prepared to strike the door. “Stand back”.
Are you crazy?!”, Karma protested. “This place is completely unstable! If you break down the door this whole place might give way.”
If that happens, be prepared to run to the stairwell. We have to take the chance, it's the only way to survive in this world.”
Wait just a minute”, Karma said, returning to the desk he had found earlier and rummaging through the top drawer. He found two little metal clips, which he bent into a straight line. Walking past the man with the wooden plank, he pushed the two metal sticks into the lock and nimbly pushed and twisted them until he heard a click, then he turned the handle and the door opened.
Woah”, the woman said, “you know how to do that?”
He's worth keeping for that alone”, said one of the other men.
Yeah, yeah”, said the man with the plank. “Let's just check this place out.”

This room also contained a desk, like the room outside, but it was more elaborately furnished and seemed to have withstood the weathers of time much better. Karma plucked the cushion from the chair, which was much softer than the one they had found earlier, but the others were much more concerned with some boxes and containers that they found under the desk.
Food!”, his captor exclaimed, but when they opened it a horrible smell filled the room and a ton of little bugs scurried about.
Fuck!”, he exclaimed, throwing one of the boxes on the ground. “It's all gone bad! Goddamn fruity crap! We came all this way for nothing!”
There were some other nice materials in the room, but they were all disheartened not to have found food.
Don't trees grow from that stuff?”, Karma asked, looking at the rotted fruit.
Um, hello, numbnuts, where are you going to plant a tree in this hellhole? This shit is useless!”
Then where are you going to find food?”
I don't know, we'll check the next building.”
Don't you get it? The chief is right, you can't go on like this forever. You've got to try to find a way to start living again rather than just scavenging forever.”
I fear he's right”, the chief replied, “our food supplies are dwindling by the day. We can't afford to stay here any longer, we've got to try to find a new source of food.”
What you need to do is try to rebuild this place. Everything you need is right here, it just needs to be put back together.”
There's five of us, idiot”, the stranger said. “That's nowhere near enough.”
You said there were other outsiders as well. If you could all work together then maybe it could be possible.”
There's very little food and water, the last thing we need is more people to share it with.”
There was a great clap of thunder from outside the building. Karma darted out of the room to see that a storm had brewed up while they had been inside, darkening the skies. Rain began to pour, and it blew inside the room from the open wall.
There's the water”, he said. “If you could find some place to plant that tree you would have the food.”
I guess it's worth a try”, the woman said, “we don't have anywhere else to go.”
You don't really think this could work”, the stranger said.
We have to give it a try”, Karma replied. “Otherwise we'll just be stuck like this forever.”
The rain was coming down so hard that the water level was starting to rise in the city below, but the others didn't seem to notice. He could finally see his ship off in the distance, he just had to find some way to get to it. He certainly didn't want to go down those terrible stairs again. He looked out the window again, then he remembered that he was still holding that cushion.
I'll trade you”, he said to the woman, swapping the cushion she had for his. “That's the good one.”
He then made a run for the stairs. “This is the stupidest idea I've ever had”, he thought. As he reached the stairs, he jumped and sat down on the cushion. “Good luck!”, he shouted back to the strangers, but really he was hoping for good luck himself as the hard cushion slid down the broken staircase at incredible speed, bouncing and skipping over the broken stairs. He grabbed onto the railing every time the stairs bent around, making sure to hold it extra tight when he came to the hole in the wall. It was almost exhilarating in an insane sort of way, he flew past the plank and the broken stairs, and out the open door at the bottom of the stairwell. The were now a good foot of water on the ground floor, and he flew off the cushion and into the water face-first.
I'm not doing that again”, he thought, sitting up in the water and putting his hands on his head so it would stop spinning. When his senses came back to him he walked to the door and finally left that horrible place, and waded through the water to where his ship was waiting for him.

Back aboard his ship, he dried himself off and reclaimed his favourite perch atop the sail. But he didn't stay there long tonight, there was something eating away at him. He dropped down from his perch, and walked over to the hatch that lead below deck. He climbed down the ladder, and another one of the rungs broke, sending him crashing to the floor. He picked himself up and entered the nearby room with the large cabinet. Inside he retrieved a hammer and some nails, and started nailing the rungs back into the ladder.
I have to try to put this place back together”, he thought. “Otherwise nothing is ever going to change.”

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