The Death Of Toby Mulholland Vol. 8

Temerity to fail has never been the concern of the Free People. We took it as our default task that we would prevail. Whether that was by cowering in the obscure darkness or by destroying every last enemy on the face of this once green earth, we did not care. We would surely prevail once more.

Survival instincts sat near the surface; we were all poised to strike; we were all poised to flee. It was the way of the human. There was a look in the eyes of those poised to strike that marked them out as different to the ones who were poised to flee. That’s what I was looking for when I passed by.

Invocations had been made to higher powers; only the understanding that no such powers existed remained. We were alone in the universe. Alone with the machines and our twisted nightmares. We turned to our own hands and built ourselves a shrine. It was time to take that idea to its conclusion.

Quanta of hope passed from one survivor to the next as the purge came to an end. I was called in to see the Commander and informed of the next stage of his plan. I was to lead a troop to a redoubt, and establish The Outpost. It would be almost on the edge of the rim, and we would be alone there.

Reluctance came upon me in waves. I sat with my head in my hands as the deeds were carried out. I had come so far in such a short space of time, and I could no longer look myself in the face. Perhaps that was necessary; a self-defence mechanism. I could no longer see why I had been chosen for this.

Hubris was not my usual way of making decisions, but I trusted the Commander, and I felt no need to be here a moment longer. I chose my team and prepared to head out. We were no elite squad, but we were well enough equipped. A second position does not always have to support the first.

Indignation rattled through the tunnels as news that the dwindling supplies were about to be split. A young man broke his fist on the wall of a side tunnel, convinced that he was staring in to the dying of the spirit of our humanity. “They divide us; they conquer us” he muttered woefully to himself.

Mesolithic ambivalence looked down upon us with millions of years of weight behind it. I could not argue with the passage of time, so I took my troop out in to the open air. We moved quickly, aware of the clutter overhead. This would not be a secret mission; not this time: not for any of us.

Flounder and fail. Think and retreat. Pause and drown. Forward motion was the only progress, and decisions were to be made quickly. Quickly, but not rashly. We had cauterised old wounds, but now had to make progress. Losses would be taken in establishing The Outpost, but they were necessary.

Arisen from the ashes of our internal conflicts was a resolution, and we would be as strong as steel. Some talked of an underground railway, but that was far from what we needed: a glut of lost souls, inexperienced and afraid. We would have more people, but they would come to us gradually.

Mechanical crucifixion born from the flesh of the hopeless; desperation welded on to the chassis of an unmarked truck. A dice thrown in the darkness; a lysergic dream about the fall of time. What kind of deceiver was I? Had I been put here by our people or by theirs? Could I be sure which was which?

Antipathy was our newest currency. Antipathy towards the machines; antipathy towards our own past; antipathy towards our masters. The only people we shielded from this opprobrium was our own selves; protected by the weight of ego and the eternal need for selfless self-preservation.

Cries rang out in the night: one part echo-location; two parts emotional warfare. The machines thought that their absence of emotion was our weakness to be exploited. There was logic there, but it lacked soul. We knew that no one was dying; we knew that they were desperate to find us now.

Howls of machinery scraped at the ground. Our scans had shown this layer to be thinner than those surrounding us, but it did nothing to alleviate our collective impatience for this part of our fight to be over. Nerves were as shredded as the burnt soil we were accumulating all around us, foot by foot.

Screams lashed the walls like rain on a tarpaulin. It had become funny for a time, the desperation, but now it was just tedious: Christmas music in November. The dig team continued their journey downwards as the relentless onslaught continued. Sensors showed the signals dim as they receded.

Silence was upon us before we knew it. We had made it in to the system of the redoubt, and we were now in a position to cover our tracks and block the passage of any followers. They would have to dig their own tunnels, because they were not finding ours. A rush of air and a surge of relief/

Refuge is the key to warfare. Without it there is only the open, and the risk of the passing pot shot. With it and the mind can recover, no matter how abused the body has been. We were behind brick, and we could breathe. We took it in turns to sleep, and the colour returned to all of our cheeks.

Refuse collected in the corners as we stripped our packs down. The Outpost had tentatively been established, in the ruins of an ancient bunker, but we now had to make it work. Its design was for a ventilated column, operating naturally. We needed to excavate the upper levels to draw in the air.

Reduce the effort to survive and the surplus can be used to innovate. That was my goal for this, our Outpost. I knew where the epicentre was, and I knew that we could bring it to us. That was why I had picked this team: they were the ones with the skills to achieve the impossible. Time was ours.

Remorse was archived now. We had no need for it here. From the darkest corner of the redoubt, shielded from electromagnetic visibility, was a hole. Through the hole we could view the whole of the crater, and all activity within it. We could see the snake under its near-infinite construction.