Jerome

 

As the lights blinked in uneven waves in the distance, a ripple of relief swept through him. It seemed as if he had been traveling for months, and the memory of his time in The Marchland resembled a distant oneiric vision implanted in his brain to stave off the hopelessness of this enforced nomadism. Most of them, these wasteland wanderers, felt the same he guessed. Locked in this periplanetic state; prisoners of transit. Some he knew, inveterate chancers and opportunists like Venn, reveled in this situation – in fact this was their time, and nothing was going to stop them from taking full advantage, wandering from border to border in a narcissistic fever, picking up whatever pieces they could here and there on their way.  This wasn’t for him though, he knew that well enough. He was old and tired. The journey alone had come close to finishing him, and he had come to realise that he must throw himself in with Marco, in the last bastion of fixed settlement. The thought of it crushed his spirits. Out there in the west he was someone, his job was so insignificant as to be almost pointless, but it meant he could think and create things. He could question the ideologies of the times, and contemplate the meaning of his and others existence. He could make his own work away from the pathetic drone of the city. People would come to him for eloquent discussions, for tuition in the various arts and crafts skills he had mastered. Yet now he was reduced to this; cap in hand, heading for a place where he would face another form of alienation - and not one he enjoyed. Swift is my approaching flight...

 

Finally, here it was in front of him; The Bright New City, as it was, somewhat ironically, referred to; a walled enclave surrounded by slipshod favelas and seemingly endless canvas and cane townships. It was here that Marco had first set up his caravanserai, amongst the ruins of that old town on the southern coast, inviting traders and gamblers to join him in a last defence of the concept of the city; a coterie of the faithful to geographic stability. This was his destination and, he had come to believe, his destiny, even though he knew this place was falling apart from within. It wouldn’t be long before Seth and Ennio reduced this place to zero.

 

Seth worked so quickly now that he no longer needed to take decisions. Every component had been miniaturised and refined to the point where thought processes no longer played any part in actions taken. It was much easier this way, and everything could function in an instant. This was the future, and only Marco stood in his way. But he was no saint either, living it up behind city walls while the rest were left floundering outside. Ennio visited the city regularly at Seth’s request, and stirred up as much trouble as she could among the outsiders – the part of no part. Destruction was her forte and she lit as many fires as possible, both literal and metaphorical, leading to a more or less constant urban exodus. It wouldn’t be long now.

 

Still, for the time being he knew that the city was his best chance, and he hoped that he could hold out here long enough for a new option to arise from the exterior. The best you could say about this situation was that it was unsustainable, and that meant sooner or later there would be a new offer on the table. Photeus may not currently be 'in play', but that didn’t mean he wasn’t out there somewhere, working away in the background, planning, calculating a way out of this mess. The Great Unifier hadn’t been able to offer much the last time, but this was a different time and a wholly different situation. There were rumours that he was out at the Hidden Sands resort with Clio and if that were true then together they had a real chance of making a decent fist of taking the situation on. Yet rumours weren’t facts, and it was facts that he had to negotiate right now.

 

He tentatively made his way through the busy, ragged alleys of the shanties around the city proper. The noise was more than he could bear. Everyone seemed to be singing to each other, vying for each other's attention resulting in a near insane cacophony of conflicting melodies and ululations. A truly tremendous assonance perpetuated by the fact that everyone was vocalising but not one of them was listening to another. Some rushed up to him - they were no more than children - "teach me master", they pleaded, "teach me to sing", "I want to be famous", one said as Jerome tried to brush through them confused and somewhat fearful for his own safety. He told them that he didn't sing, that he wrote, and this seemed to turn their interest away from him and back to their reciprocal shouting matches. He hurried through as best he could and eventually the noise abated as he approached the walls of the city itself. Jerome looked up at the vast iron gates as twin cameras above him hummed to attention. Were they the eyes of Marco...or of Seth he wondered. They observed him for a second before retracting back into the wall. There was a pause of maybe six or seven seconds and then the ground seemed to tremor as the great screech of a long dormant mechanism being coaxed back to life made him wince, and the great gates slowly opened.