• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 08
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The Reactor

Beneath the streets of your city there’s an underworld. It snakes through the sewers and underpasses and loose bowels of the place, where trains and water roar. Down there, all lights are acid green and the walls are carved from terbium and uranium, and it’s strange to discover that here, today, now, on this Earth, because such materials seem to belong to somewhere else, somewhere future-noir, somewhere several solar systems over, where trees grow luminescent and smooth-faced robots tend for alien young.

There are people in the underworld. You can see them through grates and drains. They’re upturned faces. Voices carrying. There are legends in the city of the under-people: they’re monsters, lost, fallen, un-people, all dressed in black and white—except, of course, their white clothes are stained green by light, and they wear dark glasses to hide that the whites of their eyes are green too. You peer so close, down through the cracks in the pavement, that you can see yourself reflected in the lenses.

One night they take your hands, pull you down softly. You’re afraid to go, but you want to. You’re led through tunnels until the world’s so low and narrow the under-people have to stoop, and they stoop backwards, not forwards, as though blown away by the winds of an explosion. On a wall you pass, painted in neon pink: ‘Smooth the descent, and easy is the way / But to return, and view the cheerful skies / In this the task and mighty labour lies.’ And you’re pulled further down, people ahead, people behind.


The Reactor

The air tastes of electrified limes. A cartoonish toxicity. You listen to excitable talk around you and realise that the under-people are fun! They’re joyful! They laugh, they giggle, they banter and joke and fold you into their world with words and teasing and smiles of flashing green teeth, and you’re pulled along by them, deeper, deeper, until sometimes you slither on your belly to follow after their ankles ahead, until you’re so far away from the city that you may as well be as far away as Pluto, under an ocean of nitrogen ice. And there you float, compressed, surrounded by green people, together in green, fizzing.

With all the rock-pressure and bodies around you, forcing your atoms together, you’ve stepped into a reactor. Most of you has gone to fission already. Goodbye rucksack and clothes and skin and flesh, what did you want with those anyway? Now you’re just a skeleton-cage for thoughts and dreams, and thanks to your new lightness of being, you’re more yourself than ever! You’ve been purified! Reduced to bare elements! And someone has written in neon orange ‘What remains of us?’, and you think on that, long and hard and clear, realising you understand. Yes! You have the answer so plainly in your hands! Until, until, until… Knowledge flees and you come to alone in a doorway under open sky in a cheerful dawn.