“Wow. Kieran… Kieran! Come and look at this,” Sarah exclaimed, an air of excitement in her voice.
Kieran eyes opened and, in front of his face, a butterfly was dancing its way towards the sky. Its effervescent blue wings fluttered with such grace that not a single particle of air seemed to be disturbed by its presence. Black details splayed across its wings and Kieran, entranced in its elegance, stretched out his fingers to touch the creature. Before he could reach it though, its graceful wings forcefully exploded into life, soaring into the safety of the treeline.
“You idiot! You scared it away,” Sarah accused playfully while placing her hand on his back.
The pair stood upright from their crouched position and, looking around, they took in their surroundings. Green, vibrant leaves swayed from the tops of tall brown trees that surrounded them. A gentle stream flowed to their right and a well-trodden path lay before their feet. Feeling adventurous, the two of them decided to explore further, walking hand in hand down the pathway. Exotic birds cawed, camouflaged frogs croaked and buzzing dragonflies swooshed. The air was full, bulging with a cacophony of sounds, intertwining with one another like a blanket that covered the trees. Sarah was smiling, and that made Kieran happy.
In the distance, a low rumbling was growing with each new step. Soon the pair recognised the sound of water cascading into rock and, without knowing it, their stomachs began to bubble with excitement. The sound resonated with their beings; causing their blood to rush and their hearts to pound. As they approached the source of the sound, its rhythmic pattern was broken by laughter. One, two, three people were upstream. Glancing at one another a smile simultaneously broke across their faces. Excitedly Sarah burst into a run. Kieran followed as fast as his legs could carry him; he chased her through the trees but she quickly disappeared. Alone and exhausted, Kieran finally reached the end of the path and all that stood between him and the now rapturous laughter of Sarah and her 3 companions were some low hanging branches.
Reaching out his hand, he pulled aside the foliage.
His vision was obscured by two straight lines and a sharp pain tore through his head momentarily. The pool of water became clear again and Sarah was calling for him to join her in the water.
More lines tore through his vision and then everything went dark and silent.
“It moved,” he thought, as his finger suffered an involuntarily spasm. Next he tried to move all of his fingers and, painfully, he managed to make a weak fist. Although he was unrestrained, his body felt weighted down and each and every movement was difficult.
“I’m alive”, he said to himself, confused. Raising his hands he tried to touch his still blind eyes. His fingers had lost their sensitivity but even still, he was certain that the skin on his face felt metal.
Using every ounce of strength he could summon within his aching fingertips, he pushed the metallic sheet that covered his face. Inch by inch the heavy metal object lifted off his face, gradually revealing the light. After a few attempts it finally came off, crashing loudly to the floor. The room erupted with a bright white light, searing Kieran’s eyes and head. His nostrils filled with a damp, musty air that sent him to his knees, coughing and spluttering.
He begged for the pain to stop, searching furiously in the ether for a deity with which to make a trade. None came to his aide and, gradually, his breathing and vision returned, leaving behind a gentle throbbing headache that threatened to crush him with each proceeding pulse. The walls were grey and dingy, covered in dust and dirt. One end of the rectangular apartment hung a window, while standing guard at the other was a door, creakily rocking back and forth on its rusted hinges. Its lock had been forced in its history and, based on the distinct lack of items in the room, presumably Kieran had been robbed.
A heavy looking, metal fridge remained in the far corner of the room, likely too weighty for the robbers to have carried. Kieran crawled over and, climbing to his feet with the aid of the window frame, saw that he was high, 5 stories high he guessed. Opening the fridge, a fierce and pungent odour overran the room, clinging to his throat and lurching for his innards. He slammed the fridge shut and staggered towards the front door, twice falling due to the weakness in his legs.
Light billowed through the hallway, the halogen bulbs drowning every crevice in its yellow haze. Each and every door had been broken into, and inside every apartment, Kieran found a ransacked room with an idle body sat in the centre. Their faces enveloped by a metallic mask. The constant hum of the machines the only sound that could be heard. Thin blue cables, illuminated by flashing LED’s, ran from each of the masks, out the windows and down to the ground below. Kieran was confused and scared, but more importantly he was alone.
Gathering himself he headed for the outside and, reaching the end of the corridor, he found himself facing with a large metal security door. A red light shone above a flat card reading panel to the side of the door. Searching his overall pockets he found a crumpled up piece of paper which, once untangled, chilled his spine;
I will wait for you. I promise. I will wait. We will see each other again, at the highest point in our city.
Elation, fear and wonder rushed through Kieran, blending together while he searched frantically for the key card on his being. Unable to find it, he tried forcing the door but his weakened body was too frail. Finally, dejected, he fell to his knees and in one final act of rebellion he slammed his open palmed hand onto the card reader. The light flickered green and a loud clicking sound broke through the mechanical hum. Kieran looked at his hand in shock; a small circle of LED’s shone under the skin of his palm. Without hesitating he picked himself from the floor and made for the streets, with renewed vigor.
The sun shone brightly through the grey smog filled sky. The streets were desolate and lifeless. Cars uniformly parked in their bays and played host to moss and other plant life. Sidewalks shared their space with weeds and gardens spilled out into the sidewalk. Most eerie for Kieran though was how the dull drone of the machines reigned supreme, leaving no other sounds within the city. Each and every building had windows broken and inside idle bodies were attached to their metallic masks, whose blue cables poured out and ran along the middle of the road. Fearfully, he followed the cables through the streets, expecting to be ambushed at any moment and from any direction. But it never came.
At the centre of the city stood a large tower complex; Kieran’s best bet for Sarah’s location.
He finally arrived at the foot of the tower, tired and weak. Looking up at the gargantuan structure, he felt an overwhelming sense of tiredness and dejection. The thought of finding Sarah was all the motivation he had, but doubt was trying to snatch that from him. Knowing that his mind would betray him if he stopped, he moved quickly, heading towards the roof. His journey uneventful, he passed a few security doors and, using his embedded pass, he eventually reached the top flight of stairs. Bounding up the last few steps Kieran ran into the final security door. Locked.
He peered through the reinforced glass door and onto the balcony roof. Sitting in the middle of the tiled floor was a woman, her face covered by a metallic mask. His heart pounded against his chest. He banged on the glass with his fist, shouting Sarah’s name. Frantically he tried to get the card reader to work but in the end it was futile.
No sound could be heard outside. Sarah sat silently, her body limp while the metallic mask continued to immerse her in some virtual, utopic reality.
Kieran felt himself sinking into the floor, his thoughts inaudible. His back hit the metal door as his legs finally gave in to their tiredness, his head clasped in his hands. He sat there, empty. He felt nothing but tiredness and his thoughts were nothing more than white noise. Then he noticed it; the blue cable that ran along the wall and back down the stairs. A glimmer of hope ignited in his stomach. His muscles regained their strength and he made for the stairs. Following the cable he weaved through the building. Entering a large, open planned office in which a huge pillar stood in the centre.
Kieran followed the cable until it disappeared, seamlessly into the wall of the pillar. Picking up the cable he yanked it with all of his might. The plaster on the wall crumbled away and Kieran fell onto his back, surprised at his own strength. He sat up and dusted himself off before he saw what was before him. The pillar structure was made up entirely of cables, tightly bundled together.
Slowly, Kieran got to his feet and approached the tower of pulsating cables. Groups of them had been tied together with metal chains and to each chain was attached a card reader. Kieran reached out and grabbed a reader. The red lights in his hand lit up again and the cables went dark. Unsure of what had just happened he tried another bundle. The cables again went dark. With each proceeding bundle that he took hold of the loud humming of the machines dulled until only silence remained.
He felt peaceful. The silence soothed his mind and he felt his eyes closing. He sat down on a dusty chair in the office, facing the window and he slowly felt himself beginning to drift into sleep.
“Continue.” He inexplicably spurted out as he woke from his sleep. His eyes shot open and his gaze fixed onto the street below. Out of the dilapidated buildings crawled men and women. Stumbling and falling they fought against the weight of their limbs. “Sarah,” he thought. And, jumping from the chair, he raced up the stairs and back to the rooftop. The door was open, the metallic mask sitting in the middle of the floor.
Kieran stepped out onto the rooftop, hesitantly looking for Sarah. She stood looking out over the balcony. Kieran’s throat was dry, he hadn’t noticed until now. Aware of his presence, she slowly turned around and met his eyes, “I waited for you,” she said smiling. Simultaneously they ran, meeting each other with an intense embrace. Kieran tightly held his eyes shut, holding back a deluge of tears.
Eventually he opened them again. What met him was a multitude of walls, all covered with black telescreens. The room had been modelled to conceal amenities from sight; a toilet was hidden by a wall of telescreens in the corner of the room and a fridge, bed and tap were similarly concealed from sight. Every angle of the room offered access to a full 360 degree view of telescreens.
A short two noted jingle resonated around the room and the screens lit up in unison. The words ‘Moment Unlocked – Romeo O’ Romeo – 50points’ scrolled across them all.
“Congratulations, you have completed the urban wasteland moment, Kieran. Sarah has been sent a video message of your heroic deeds. You haven’t eaten in 9 hours. Would you like to take a break now or, based on your previous experiences, would you like to play Martial Law next?”