There is a place in the future, possibly earth, where all life exists in a great labyrinth of metal. Millenia of construction blocks out the sun and caverns miles deep engulf its populations. Within one of these many thousands of artificial caves, we see a nomad, a man, with a body half-mechanical, attempting the great accent towards the sun.
A suffocating heat pushed itself through the ventilation channel and around Ivsen as he clung to the supporting rope. He had climbed halfway up the machinery, there would be no surviving a fall from this height, he had learnt to put such thoughts out of his mind though, the heat did not bother him either, a festering heat accompanied all of life, anything that could not tolerate the heat died long ago, and it was a very long time ago, the life of a calm breeze had been utterly pulverised beneath the rock and forgotten.
Ivsen could not see the way everything was covered in an emerald light, his retinas were set to correct his vision towards something more tolerable, the same could also be said for what he could hear and taste, he was conscious of this interference, but his senses were still his reality, with these altercations, he could live longer. Matters of comparison were of no concern to the solitary nomad, untampered humans were by far the exception.
His climb ended leading into a long service walkway, the machinery at this height looked slightly different, everything was electrical and more fragile, electrical circuitry, kept behind steel shutters covered most of the wall space and at equal intervals, metal panels marked codes, KB015, KB016 and so on, stretching down the passageway forever. Ivsen placed his hand on one of the bulkheads leading out to the side of the passage, he felt no pressure change on the other side, he turned the mechanism to unlock the door.
He had found a dwelling, fungi were growing on one of the walls, it looked edible which made him glad. A short creature was sitting at a desk and looking right towards his direction, it was an imp, Ivsen felt at ease, such creatures were natural slaves, perhaps a colony of imps had been tending to the long passageway.
“From below?” Asked the creature not flinching as Ivsen helped himself to the store of longstems he had eyed in arrival.
“Yes, do you live here?” Ivsen replied. The imp shook his misshapen head and took out a whistle from his top pocket. No sound came out as he blew through the instrument but quickly Ivsen could hear a dozen small footsteps approaching the workshop.
“Visitor,” the imp explained to the curious heads pocking around the door to the far side of the room. A roomful of the creatures soon crowded around Ivsen, looking up to him as children would. They were a working branch of their larger colony, what an imp colony was doing so far away from the rest of their kind was unclear, but Ivsen knew they were here for a reason. The creatures were not shy about their work, they pulled on his suit as they led him out of the room and further into their dwelling. The place stank of copper, computer hardware had been disassembled over every surface and spread out to the floor, the creatures knew what they were doing and their small arms and wrists were bread for fine motor activity, allowing them to solder the circuitry with decent precision; small boxes extruded from their heads, working as transceivers for a larger network and their beady eyes were small camera lenses that would catch the light from time to time, they indexed everything they saw and everything they needed to know was fed back to them, no computer would be left unfixed, every part of their biology directed them towards their purpose. Ivsen wondered how far back their line stretched, if their lives were commissioned a decade ago or if they had been living, working, and dying for thousands of years, had he, unwittingly, walked into a place out of time. He leant down towards the group.
“What are they for?” He asked gesturing at their work.
“Data banks I to L,” they replied, singing their words.
“What data is kept in them?” Ivsen continued, far from satisfied. But the creatures could not give an answer, he also realised that the question he asked wasn’t fair, he could simply find out for himself.
“Is there an access terminal anywhere?” He finally asked. The innocent creatures were happy once they could keep answering his questions.
“Upwards, use the main passageway out of here, a terminal is two floors above, easy to find,” said the oldest.
“Thanks,” Ivsen responded, checked his equipment, and headed out of the workshop.
Many other workshops existed too, every one of them dedicated to a specific task and formed around a rectangular atrium with a large hydraulic system. Their dull faces all pointed towards Ivsen, their black eyes looking at him as if an exotic creature had come back to life and was walking around. In entertaining this thought, Ivsen decided this was close enough to the truth. He came up a staircase and entered the top level of the settlement, he climbed upwards for a long time, the sounds of his steps reverberating as the metal in his boots collided with that of each step until the vibrations trailed off in either direction. The uneasiness he felt beneath his feet went away once he reached the top, he checked and opened another bulkhead into the terminal. The hall beyond the door was like what he had seen when he first arrived, lights from hundreds of memory cards shone through the grates as they did before, the biggest difference was the complete lack of sound from the imp community below, stranger still was the presence of large air vents that were forcing the heat out of the passageway.
Ivsen came up to the terminal at the end of the path, the name ‘Arvon’ was printed on the monitor casing, the system was protected but getting access was only a case of finding the correct password. He took off his backpack and connected himself to the terminal, he could faintly smell something burning as he waited for his decryption system to finish and within a few seconds it had found the correct password, it had been set by a machine, it was fifty characters long and unreadable. The terminal revealed everything to him.
“Very impressive, only a century and you’ve rediscovered how to get into my system,” an uncanny voice came from behind Ivsen, a tall figure dressed in a black overcoat was standing at the entrance of the databank, it was an overseer.
“I’ve been watching you since you came up from Bastille, I always look forward meeting a new member of your kind,” the overseer continued, his smile was too wide across his red face, his eyes had that characteristic green shine too and he had opted for a long blade attachment on his right arm, Ivsen wondered how many imps the blade had claimed in its time.
“Please, go ahead read everything you can,” the overseer requested. Ivsen followed this and studied the monitor. The data was all there but it meant nothing, everything was written in a foreign language to him, and it was in that moment which he realised that the overseer was also speaking in this language, Ivsen began to question how much he had experienced since arriving was genuine, his body would have automatically responded in this language to the imps as well. The overseer looked to sense this paranoia in him, his glowing green eyes making no attempt to hide the demonic will within him, that same will which every overseer seemed to follow.
“I saw you in a nightmare long before you arrived, I was told a nomad would arrive from below again and that on your arrival I would be embarrassed,” the overseer surprised Ivsen with his statement.
“What do you mean?” He asked, deciding that going along with him would be the safest course of action.
“Do you understand what an imp is? They aren’t alive like you are, they have no human instincts, they are trained animals, less than animals, they are pure life…” the overseer trailed off, he took off his dark coat and hung it on a hook protruding from the wall, the fixture creaked under the weight of the large item; his skin was red like his face, most breakpoints over his body had been replaced with mechanical parts which could operate and slide past one another without making a sound, the overseer moved towards Ivsen in complete silence and as he walked, it was almost as if he didn’t exist at all, he was a mirage.
“I am separated from the imps, I am a part of a greater whole that puts me above them,” he finished, now standing tall his monstrous frame blocking the exit away from the terminal.
“Are you referring to your gods?” Asked Ivsen, he was feeling calmer now, the creature before him was obviously not going to murder him as he had initially feared.
“Yes, you know, of course, they show themselves to us and they give order through the wire, very few species can survive severed from the divine link, your independence has shown me my servitude after so long,” the overseer stared intently at Ivsen as he explained.
“I can see your genealogy, you are also infected, aren’t you? You aren’t the pure form I feared but tell me, why are you here?” He asked.
“I’m travelling upwards to the sun, going through your settlement was the fastest route on the maps,” Ivsen replied honestly knowing lies would be detected.
“And what will you do about me?” The overseer asked, Ivsen understood the significance of his responses, his answers in the mind of the overseer would have divine implications, Ivsen had no idea what the wire relayed about him, its machinations were beyond his grasp. The world above was stranger than he had anticipated.
“I won’t do anything because you’ve already been told to let me go, right? I won’t translate this either, it doesn’t matter to me,” he responded again frankly, the overseer did not respond visibly, Ivsen felt as if their entire conversation had already been predicted. The overseer pointed towards the right side of the room at a narrow ladder.
“Climb the ladder,” the overseer ordered and turned around back towards the colony. Ivsen did as he instructed. He opened another service hatch out into the base of a large steel plateau, the ground was flat and curved off into the horizon, the walls, impossibly far away, were all lit up with small lights and formed a concave shape leading upwards for what felt like miles and as the walls met each other above his head, his vision was obscured by a bright light that shone down into the plateau. Ivsen continued towards the walls leaving behind the ancient settlement.