A NEW PARADIGM
Alone with the bodies, Finch could see the frailty death had lent them. A vulnerability. The way the light used them in the same way it drew him.
He walked to the window, looked out across the city of Ambergris.
Three years and I can’t recognize a goddamn thing from before.
The harsh sprawl of the bay. Bled from the River Moth. Carved from nothing. First thing they’d done when they’d Risen, drowning thousands. Mid-bay stood the empty scaffolding of the two incomplete towers. Great masses of green fungus clung to the nubs. Made them seem disturbingly organic, animal-like. A smell like oil and sawdust and frying meat. At dusk every day the gray caps led a work force from the detention camps south of the city. All night, the sounds of hammering and construction. Emerald lights moving more like slow stars. Screams of injury or punishment. And Truff knew to what purpose. While along the lip of the bay, monstrous fungal buildings rose in darkness and the old, familiar architecture fell simultaneous.
To Finch’s left: smudges of smoke, greasy and gray. The smoke rose above the charred and broken skyline of buildings half-demolished by war. It was the only sign of the camps, hidden behind the debris. One of the last signs of the war, too. Heavy tank battles in the south. Still hundreds of burnt-out tanks amongst abandoned and reclaimed buildings. Finch had only had to go back there once for his job. He was glad. He didn’t like the memories. They’d held until they couldn’t hold, and it wasn’t good enough. Creatures they called flying fish screaming into the ranks, lofted from the other side, cutting into flesh, colonizing nervous systems. Men asphyxiated from the inside out. Dead in mid-scream. Other terrors besides. More subtle. Intel didn’t know the half of it.
To Finch’s right: huge tendrils of reddish-orange fungus veined into the rocks lining the water. A general greenish-orange haze to the air, obscuring any view of what might be left on the north shore. The Hoegbotton & Frankwrithe Zone. Supposed hotbed of rebel activity. Once, the HFZ had grown each day. Now it remained an inert, motionless boundary. Covered about five square miles. Part of the city, part of the wilderness north of the city. Finch could see it from his own apartment, too. Almost every citizen could see it. A little. For all the good it did. When the wind was wrong, great glittering particles drifted green and purple and blue across the bay into Ambergris. Along with the smell of candy mixed with something foul. Then they would all have to wear the masks the gray caps had provided to them. Even the gray caps didn’t enter the HFZ except by proxy. Content to let the remnants of the rebels wander through a toxic fungal stew. Almost like another camp, without fences or guards.
No one came out of the HFZ. The rebels, if they still existed, hadn’t attacked in over a year.
Finch still remembered the day of The Great Retreat. The broadcast promises of a quick return. Just a retrenchment. A slight setback. The gray caps hadn’t won. Not really. That had been four years ago. For awhile it had seemed true. So much heavy armor and munitions had gone into Northern Ambergris that day that it seemed hard to believe it could just vanish or molder. Yet, apparently, it had. The rebel commander, the man they called Stretcher Jones, after a long-dead enemy of the Kalif, seemed now like a myth or a ghost.
They’d gone in and the gray caps had created the Zone around them. The rebels could all be dead, or so utterly transformed that they fought an entirely different war now. Finch didn’t really want to think about it.
Still, it was their only hope. That or the thin line of a shanty town that had grown up near the HFZ. Room for spies and turncoats and rebels to operate. Finch had a feeling he’d have to go down there soon, on this case.
Finch turned away from the window after a minute or so. It left him sad and cold and frightened. The towers especially. What would happen when the gray caps had finished them?
A view like that could drive a person mad.