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a story of maps, colors, and fire
The Rise Colorful smoke rose out of the stacks lined across the boulevard, and their fragrance -although being obviously detrimental to the human lung, as reported in the Universal Guard -was sweet to the touch entering the nose of Ahmad, making his way down to the public square. His lithe body fit well into the environment of tall and sleek buildings of glass and alloy, at once mirroring the other buildings in the glass, and also reflecting its own being in the colors chosen for the season and mood of the people -- and this Spring they had chosen the theme of Red, with its diverse character being found in blood, cardinals, and the scope of a distant dwarf star. The mood of the Universe seemed to indicate that there would be growth, if not destruction first, with the reds clearing the way for a new era, that would be realized through the insight of the physicists and their discoveries in outer cosmology. It was the new vogue, to be sure, that Red would be the spearhead to pierce the veil of the future, wherever that may be. Across one of the thin screens of the building flashed a bright green headline, “Joy overtakes millions in London province -- outbreak of hysteria”. Ahmad stopped for a moment and asked a lady dressed in full Spring regalia, with great long feathers woven delicately through her unkempt hair, a collection of small turtle shells painted in reds and oranges and yellows strung around her waist and breasts, and tall glossy snakeskin boots. “Do you see that there? Hysteria in London again. Where was it last week?” Ahmad didn’t ask in concern, but with instead with interest. “Los Angeles, I was there. I thought I had it, but I guess I just thought I did,” she smiled, parting orange and red painted lips. “It would have been amazing if I did have it, that madness. I
could have been a candidate for the Council of Color, and would have actually made an impact in this world.” She said these words and skirted away, with a forced laugh, emulating the laugh of the hysteric. Others around Ahmad seemed lost in the never ending stream of image and sound flowing on the dreamlike screens of the buildings. Large groups of choreographed dancers flitted across the screen of the taller building on the boulevard, which seemed to be the new moves developed by the Council, as many dropped their belongings and entered into a spontaneous production of the dance. Ahmad continued without joining the crowd, determined to get down to the public square. He made it a couple more blocks, and behind him heard the dancing revelers go into fits of laughter, reaching the sounds of agony. Ahmad turned around to witness what he had just left, and the crowd was tearing each other’s clothes off, whirling them in the air, and covering them in different paints. “Another mock run of hysteria,” Ahmad whispered under his breath. He glanced down at his watch and it was nearly 1p.m., which was the exact time that he had offered to meet Krieg down at the square. Blaring from above Ahmad was a zeppelin, with its deafening messages. “ALL VIBRANT SUBJECTS, BRING YOURSELVES INTO THE LIGHT -- NO FEAR, DANCE, FREEDOM, GLORY, CREATION.” From the corner of his eye, Ahmad saw waves of arms flail into the air, welcoming the zeppelin’s message. Coming in view of the square, Ahmad looked down from the top of the stairs going down into the heart of the square. Throngs of people maneuvered through stalls hawking exotic animal hides, teeth, and bones, variegated body paints, decorative weapons, tassels of dyed hairs and grasses, and other paraphernalia. A diverse cloud of smoke rose from the crates under foot, fragrant like the smoke from the stacks on the boulevards, but even more variegated in color -representing all the tones and hues that the imagination of Red could enshrine: the Reds of labor,
warning, distress, commitment, artificiality; but also all of the expressiveness of Red in physis: the Reds of crustaceans, an embarrassed face, sex, and rust. Krieg had said that he would be in the far northeast corner of the square. Ahmad made his way to the northeast, pushing through the intoxicated crowd. He got to the corner, and did not see Krieg. A tall man stared at Ahmad from under a bright yellow canopy in front of a cafe. Ahmad kept glancing down, and then up, to see if the stare of the tall man ended or continued, which could possibly indicate Krieg. The tall man kept staring right through Ahmad, into his eyes. Walking over to the man, Ahmad asked, “Krieg? Is that you?” The tall man shook his head negative, turned around and pulled from a wool sack a large parrot. “Perfect match! Perfect match! How much will you give?” “Not interested, but do you know Krieg?” “Krieg? Krieg? No, do you want to smoke?” The tall man pulled a long pipe from his sack, threw his parrot into the air, and took out a match from his pocket. “Good smoke, how about it?” “Sorry, I don’t smoke,” Ahmad replied flatly. He turned back around and just where he was standing before stood a hazy figure. Ahmad got closer and saw an elderly man, cloaked in drab colors -- browns, greys, blacks. He stuck out sorely in the vibrancy of the crowd. “Ahmad? That is you, I recognized you by that tall man over there, even from a distance. My name is Krieg.” Krieg stood short, his bones pronounced in his face, rising cheeks, eyes set deep, chin at a sharp angle. His words were measured, almost rhythmic, and sweet, but lacked joy.
“But we’ve never met, so how did you know that it was me over by the tall man?” Ahmad stood confused and skeptical. He had only replied to an ad that came across one of the apartment buildings in his neighborhood, asking for interested volunteers in a project that was described as a, “Journey back to times forgotten. Requires a sturdy stomach, and even sturdier shoes. This is an authorized research project.” Ahmad never sent a picture in his e-mail inquiry into the ad. “There is too much to tell now, Ahmad. You will know me soon enough. Come, let’s find rest from this frenzy. My apartment is not too far.”
Krieg’s apartment was situated in the heart of Bluedusk, a neighborhood built on the western end of Chicago, during the days of expansion instigated by the population boom of the Blue period. Tall, monochromatic baby blue concrete apartment high rises were constructed that were to be filled with the city’s aging population. The project was, in a way, a memorial, or a pursuit in symbolic architecture, meant to give the city of blues a stage where its elderly could embody that color of darkness, melancholy, and death. Much of the research at the time was dedicated to the subtleties of blue, its archaic forms, its mood. And it was considered a time of revival -- a renaissance, even -- of the elder culture. But even though old age was celebrated and given their festivals, they still did not have autonomy in their decisions -- it was as if the celebration of Blue and of elder culture possessed and objectified it, so that it was just another figment of the State’s imagination of what they should be. Krieg’s steps were slow up the long and winding staircase. Subtle layers of dust coated the photography and paintings on the walls of the corridors. The blues that covered the interior of the building were aged, but solid, comfortable through the passage of time. Ahmad was taken aback as he noticed that there hadn’t been a new coat of paint here for some time. “How long has it been since you got new color in here?” Ahmad inquired with a genuine surprise. “The Council doesn’t make it here much. I think it’s been twenty years since we have seen them, that was the time of the blue period, wasn’t it?” Krieg stopped in the hall, planting his brown boots on a worn sky blue rug. “I think it was,” Ahmad replied slowly, obviously too young to remember.
They got to the apartment. It was situated in the middle of the long hallway, which to Ahmad’s estimation consisted of around fifty doors on either side. Krieg turned the door knob slowly. “It’s tricky. You have to turn it just right all the way, then just when you get to a full turn, jerk it to the left.” The knob clicked, and the door opened. Ahmad scanned the room from the doorway. A musty effluvium hit his nose hard. A soft melody lifted from the far corner of the room. “Come in, Ahmad,” Krieg gestured a welcome. “Have a seat. There’s too much to do. We need to get started right away. Coffee or tea?” Before Ahmad could answer, there was a coffee pot flipped on, evidently prepared before their arrival. Ahmad took a seat on wide, brown chair on the left side of the room. His body sunk into it only slightly -- it held him comfortably, secure and firm. Ahmad rubbed his palms on its fabric, feeling an unknown texture, something very foreign to any fabric he was used to. Still busy in the kitchen, Krieg remarked, “It’s wool -- handmade by my grandfather. If the Council knew we still had it, my boy! Ha!” Krieg was delighted. He poured the coffee into two mugs of off white ceramic. “We’ve always kept it, unregistered. Is it not a piece of work?” Krieg’s emphasis on work was not understood. “So, we’re here now. I hope you don’t mind your coffee black,” Krieg brought the coffee, and placed the mugs on a short side table. “No, I don’t mind,” Ahmad’s words were slow, and slightly suspicious. Everything about Krieg, and the apartment itself, was foreign -- no, not foreign, but alien -- completely removed from his experience, anything he had ever seen. There were chairs, tables, paintings, appliances, books; yes, all of the things an apartment fills itself with, but they were all old, ancient, even. “Good, now tell me Ahmad, have you been mapped?” Krieg’s brown eyes glared with persistence at Ahmad. It caught him off guard.
“Sure, haven’t we all?” Krieg threw up his arms, “Ha! No! On your way to the square, what did you notice? Could you describe to me your walk, from an objective standpoint, removing your conditioning and bias?” Ahmad scrunched his face. He wasn’t sure what Krieg was getting at. “Sure. Okay, I came from my apartment, went down the stairs, turned left onto the boulevard. Read some of the ads, talked to a woman on the street. I watched dancers, revelers, and their laughter,” Ahmad paused, looking to Krieg whose eyes were transfixed on his own. Maybe he wanted more? “I saw the zeppelin, and heard its message. I came to the square, observed its activity from above, and came down to find you. First I found a tall man, that I thought might have been you, but was just a street hawker,” Ahmad paused again. “And then I found you. Or rather, you found...” “Yes, I did find you. Good recollection, perfectly mapped, in fact,” Krieg cracked a smile, revealing brown and yellow teeth, crooked and malformed. Even his tongue seemed tinged with dust. “Do you know why you’re here?” Krieg sat on the edge of his seat, motionless, anticipating the response. “No, no I do not.” “Since your birth, Ahmad, I have been watching you. Through all the cycles of Color that the State has revolved through, I have been there at every stage, pushing you along, right into this very moment. We have to ask ourselves what we really have control over, Ahmad. Is it the colors? The maps? The commands? The revelry? How can we distinguish between them? What do you know about the history of the State, Ahmad?” Krieg’s tone was now serious, philosophical, ponderous. “It began during the Period of Crisis. Everything was falling apart, there was lack, and confusion. Out of chaos comes order, and Alfred Moore dedicated his pursuit of physics to
applying that cosmological principle to society, so that we could have harmony.” “It’s like you’re reading out of the Council’s books, Ahmad. I didn’t expect much more than that. Look out the window, Ahmad, and tell me what you see.” Krieg stretched the word out, extending it for several seconds, pointing out the large bay window. It was like fire, or an upheaval. Waves of reds, oranges, yellows, purples. The square looked different from the apartment’s window, more removed and sterile, but at the same time complete like a painting, self-contained. Hundreds of zeppelins could also be seen, colored and painted with diverse symbols, letters, sigils, numbers, animals, constellations. The hum of their commands could be heard, but not discerned. Ahmad just sat, focused, but unresponsive. A knock at the door interrupted his contemplation.
There were days that Ahmad hated. Waking up with the obligation of performance, celebration, joy. In the mornings he would watch his sister, Zafia, prepare for various celebrations that day, donning herself meticulously and carefully in colors, trinkets, amulets, bones, found objects. She painted her breasts, hips, belly, neck in the colors of the Council, of the season, of her tribe -- another thing that Ahmad hated, the tribe -- adorning the paint with small jeweled piercings. Her hair was always embellished with her own creations, the most prominent sculptures of glass and alloy. Sometimes they would reach high, up to three feet tall, and others were short but had unrivaled detail -- swirling concentric circles, lined with faces, stars, planets, varied flora and fauna. Zafia and Ahmad were in reality half-siblings. Different fathers. Their mother would watch them both prepare during the morning hours, giving them tips and hints and her own particular flare. In reality, though, she neglected Ahmad and preferred paying attention to Zafia. Ahmad never, even since his youth, gave feedback to his own decoration and appearance, and it took effort to even do the basic costume in proper colors and form. Ahmad would find himself in a corner, only half dressed, watching for hours during the morning as his sister and mother would collaborate on costume and paint. They were architects of celebration, but also of hysteria. It was common for both of them to rehearse hysteria, right there in their single roomed apartment -replete with convulsions, undulations, shrieks, dance. And it certainly paid off for them, as their mother had participated in three Councils of Color, and Zafia in one, a feat for a girl only sixteen. Ahmad’s mother always prodded him to join in the daily preparation ritual, but by the time he was around twelve or thirteen, had given up on and gave her son only neglect. This was
difficult, but preferable for Ahmad, as he preferred to spend his mornings out wandering the streets and squares, before the bulk of revelers came out of their abodes for the various festivals of that day. He was able to find quiet during these hours. The landscape held emotion, then, he felt -- not the hysteria of the night, but something that he had never heard about from the Council. It was something that was inside, and would grow every time he felt it, and build upon itself. There was one morning in his drifts where Ahmad thought there were words to express this quiet. He closed his eyes, lifted his tongue, parted his lips, and no sound came. It was also this morning that he saw the ad from Krieg. Another knock reverberated through the steel door. It was hard, and firm, and urgent. A knock of authority. “Stay put, my boy,” Krieg whispered, slowly approaching the door on his toes. It was a sight to see this old man, cloaked in brown and grey, be so nimble and fluid. There was no peep hole on the old steel door. Krieg put his ear up to the steel to listen. “There is breath on the other side of this door, Ahmad,” Krieg’s lips spread into a smile. Ahmad sat on the brown wool chair, rubbing its fabric with nervous hands. He couldn’t even whisper a question. “I am going to open this door now. Stand up and grab that poker over there,” Krieg pointed towards a strange, long, thin metallic thing in the corner. “Wield it high, and stand behind me. If I fall, you know to strike!” Krieg parted the door an inch with a measured slowness, and then flung it open completely. “See! Nothing!” There was emptiness in the corridor. Krieg and Ahmad looked left and right, and nothing. “They know you are here, Ahmad. How do you feel about that?” Ahmad didn’t know what to feel. He didn’t know who “they” were.
“It was them. I know it. But there is nothing to fear, Ahmad. They are around a lot. They hide anywhere they can, and strike only when we are not aware, on our toes, so to speak.” Krieg sat back down on a black couch. Ahmad sat back down on the brown wool chair. “Who are they?” Ahmad asked. At this point he needed answers, not allusions. “You came here, Ahmad, because you see what is going on around us, but you cannot put it into words. Do you know how all of this celebration, revelry, festival, trash is supported?” On the word trash was a heavy and thunderous emphasis, with Krieg jerking his fist for a brief moment. “The colors, paints, decorations, jewelry, all the paraphernalia of celebration, it is all won by suffering and destruction, Ahmad,” Krieg’s face scrunched up, and stared into Ahmad. “They are here because they know it cannot continue. They are here because you and I,” Krieg paused, “you and I are the element of refusal.” The flow of the conversation was quick since the knock. Ahmad was piecing it all together, making sense of this puzzle. For the first time he was hearing words that negated his environment, his condition, and the spectacle that he hated. Krieg continued, “It is like this, Ahmad. There are really many worlds in our one world. What you see is only a fragment of what really is. And I am not talking about anything metaphysical,” at this Krieg noted a confused look run across Ahmad’s face. “Ah, yes, well -metaphysics only meaning the speculation of other worlds, or dynamics that are beyond phenomena. Nothing of the sort. There are other worlds here, Ahmad. You have not seen them yet, but you will. In fact, you need to go soon.” Ahmad was again at a loss for words. What have I gotten myself into, that was the beginning of the doubtful thoughts flitting through his mind. But the moment felt pure, inside, in
that place that he found in the quiet of his morning walks. Whatever Krieg said, Ahmad determined, would be followed.
“It’s cold, Momma,” those little fingers curled into a fist, tucked together. They weren’t helpless, but they were frightened. She placed those hands between her breasts, wrapped her scarf around the child’s neck and face, and held him tight. She hummed softly, discretely, to avoid attention. All around her was the predator, and every one of her heart beats she felt herself as prey. There were no words for her to comfort the child. But there was always sleep, that eternal spring of forgetting. They had with luck found a hollow under a stoop, big enough for them both, along with their bedding and the wrap that held their food and knife. The bluntness of the wind could not reach them. But stitched through every stone, brick, and pane of glass and metal in the city there was cold. A beating heart in the mother’s breast kept the child warm. They both fell asleep to a tune that the mother would never hum again. The mother’s dream was memorable that night, as if the cold and fear triggered some inactive chemical, some deep recess of psyche. Tall swans swooped down from a green Sun, stole her from under the stoop, and soared back through the sky. Their formation was in a triangle, but parted just right of center, so that one side was more abundant than the other. She looked back to see her child once more, to call to him so that he could fly with her. A sea of white met her eyes -- thousands of swans, beating their wings with a monstrous ferocity, all hissing and bleating, their eyes stained red and yellow. She could faintly make out her child, or so she thought, crawling from under the stoop towards a chasm. There was a pit of ineptitude deep inside her belly. But the further she got from her child, a fuller form of happiness stretched through her skin and bones.
After many miles of flight, the swans descended into a clear in the forest. The meadow was plush, replete with purple and white lilac, honeysuckle, and tall grasses. In the distance was a stream, that could be heard above the loud beating of circling swans and their calls. A sudden need for drink hit her, and she was compelled to find the water. She felt trapped, though, and the more her desire to drink grew, the more the swans eyed her, giving her the notion that there would be no escape from their gaze. Night came quickly, or so it seemed, for she could not tell if it was an abundance of swans circling the skies and obscuring the Sun, or if time had sped up to meet the dusk. Confusion fell down into the meadow along with the darkness. The hissing and cries of the swans pierced through the forest. She curled up against a log, throat dry, and cold. For distraction, she picked a sprig of lilac, and tossed it up as hard as she could. It took flight, and for a moment caught the attention of every swan around. At this, she jumped and darted for the stream, in that brief moment where the flower could hold its weight in the air. The wood was thick the further she got towards the stream, and the cries of the swans followed. Finally the stream was in sight, and at its bank there was a man, cloaked in brown. She called out to him, but her words were muffled, strained, frozen. She could see them fall onto the ground from her mouth. He turned around, sensing another person, something familiar, and pierced her with his brown eyes. They held their mutual gaze for only a moment, and she awoke. Under her bosom was the reality of her waking life. Her child’s little hands were still curled tight into their fists, rising and falling against her skin with her breath. She stretched out her legs and arms, to awaken her body to the day. Her hands felt something new, soft, and foreign -- and she took the article and brought it close to her. She held a fine package, wrapped
in silks and flowers, tied with a stripped and supple branch. It read, “To Ahmad, and family”, in soft purple letters, and nothing else. She jumped up and stirred the child from his sleep. “Ahmad, my son, look!” Rubbing his eyes, the young child made out nothing. “Ahmad, look!” She carefully untied the package, revealing layer after layer of silks of varied color. In the center of the fabric was a single sheet of paper. She took it out and read it to the boy, slowly and with joy:
There are few things in this world that you will need. The property that is now yours will allow for all comforts for you and your family. Go west, until you reach Chicago, and everybody that your mother needs to meet will be there. The choice, of course, is hers, but in reality there is no choice. In a way, you are mine, whether she assents or not. This is, then, a barter -- by your Mother’s move to Chicago, and the life that she will find there, I will receive you as my proxy for what needs to be done. This will come in time, though. On your seventeenth birthday, I will find you. And until then, you will have no happiness. This is a sacrifice. Something that has, unfortunately, been largely forgotten. In due time, you will know why you came.
Until then, XX
Neither the child, nor the mother quite understood, nor believed this. She wrapped the letter back in its silk, and tucked it under her sleeve, so that the eyes in the alley would not see it.
“And what do you mean by other worlds?” Ahmad tilted his head up, breaking the silence. Krieg lifted his index finger to his mouth, pressing it against his lips, “This isn’t to escape this apartment, for obvious reason. Well, maybe not so obvious quite yet.” He pointed towards a brown chest, covered in cloth in the far corner of the living room. “That there, go take a look,” Krieg gestured with open arms, “look through it all, ha!” Ahmad lifted the fabric from the chest, and placed it down softly. The chest was made from a deep, rich brown textured material, grainy but smooth, and with an unfamiliar fragrance. “Black walnut. Don’t find that much anymore, do ya? Ha!” Opening the heavy lid of the chest revealed stacks and stacks of folders, with neatly filed papers folded within. The first folder was a pale folder, yellowish, and had smooth white papers in it. The first paper when unfolded stretched out to about arm’s length, and was about half the size in height. In quick, determined blue lines, large spheres and masses were detailed, graphed with parallel and intersecting lines. There was a square in the bottom left of the drawing, with a demarcated line, and progressively larger circles. At the top was a rose wrapped around the steering wheel of a ship, with four arrows pointed in either direction, and snakes wrapped around those. It was thoroughly confusing to Ahmad. “What is it?” Ahmad held his hands hovering above the illustration. Without explanation, it struck him as sacred. “This is what maps were, Ahmad, before the Crisis. Or at least, this was what my early estimation of them were to be. I sketched this when I was about your age, still unsure of what really was out there, and what really was here,” Krieg folded both hands, and pointed them to his
chest. “The history of maps has a long evolution, from what I can gather. Obviously they have a beginning, as all things do, but where that beginning is, and where the current condition of the map rests, there is a great divide.” Krieg picked up a pipe from the table, lit it, and continued. “At that time I only had scant evidence. Tales that my grandfather told me, about the way maps were used, to indicate direction -- in space -- and the method, or way, of coming and going. They were rich in detail, giving the reader or traveler a specific contour and shape of the world, so that there would be no surprise, or rather, the surprise would be in the details, and not necessarily the journey,” he paused for a moment to puff with vigor on the pipe. “Mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans -- ha! the oceans. That is where the true magic of maps used to lie. But as to the maps that grandfather spoke about, they dealt with roads, their utility and size and direction. They were pragmatic. Maps connected people, so that we could visit, communicate, share. There were vast distances that were mapped, great territories of land that stitched us together, and everybody used them.” Krieg paused again to observe the reaction of Ahmad. Both were lost in the journey that Krieg was posing. For Ahmad it was all new, almost every word foreign and estranged. For Krieg, it was love, or joy, or something else born from the process of a shared knowledge. Ahmad’s hanging silence indicated a desire to continue. “But there was a map before this one as well. The map has always been tied to the capacity for technology, or the craftiness of man. And there was a before to what we see now, Ahmad,” both looked out the high apartment window into the field of colors, buzzing, electric, vibrant, dancing. The dozens of floating zeppelins, barking their commands with hard music and beat. “At first I thought that maps were something that had to be observed first. I thought that they were complete, a total picture. This all changed when I made a discovery, by pure accident, in an old warehouse just south of downtown. I would wander in my youth, and would always try
to find places that did not have Color, or even Power. I avoided the light, the sound, the electricity. I preferred dead places, where nobody would ever care to go. Places forgotten. Like yourself,” Krieg was aware that this would catch Ahmad’s attention, “there was no other place I would have rather been than with myself.” Ahmad smiled, and both faces flashed with recognition. “What did you find there in the warehouse that day?” “It was a great find, really -- I mean just the space of it. Totally free, dusty, dark, damp. I don’t think anybody had seen the inside, much less noticed its existence for many years. There was an upstairs office, with about three or four desks, that still had the belongings of those that used to work there. Although entertaining, I mostly found photographs, mementos, number charts. But there was one desk, that belonged to a fellow named Al Moorhardt, that was filled with books. I started to leaf through them, but nothing in them made much sense. There was talk of lands that now, in retrospect, I should have acknowledged as the greatest lands that our world has ever known.” A sentimental shine came over Krieg’s eyes. “Their names were China, Egypt, India, Sumer, Israel, the land of America, Siberia. There were detailed drawings of these nations, mapping their regions, provinces, and states. Some labeled their mountains, rivers, and yes, oceans. The oceans were what fascinated me most. Great stretches of nothing but water, enveloping all land, with a relentless and limitless body. There was one map in particular that really caught me that day, though. It was given as a testament to the ancient Chinese emperor, and it showed a world of many layers, reflections, and tones. At top was the palace of the emperor, in a beautiful golden yellow, and on all sides he was surrounded by mysterious spirits, snakes, what I would later learn to be dragons, Buddhas, who were respected sages, and other elevated beings. On all sides the land was seen as something alive. The springs, rivers,
mountains, all of them were embodied, they had spirit. At this moment, I knew what I had been searching for, what was before the Crisis.” “Do you think all of this was real? Do you think these places are still there?” Ahmad was by this point overwhelmed with curiosity and fascination. There was, in the space of five minutes, an overthrow taking place in his mind and in his will. “These places are still here, Ahmad. But like here, they don’t live like they did then. We produce, but we do not enjoy.” Another strong emphasis. “We need to reconnect, to find others, to share what I have found. The roads are not there anymore, or so we think. Travel now is only done by the daring, or the suicidal. When I sent your mother to Chicago, I didn’t think she would oblige. But, here we are, no? Ha!” “What do you mean?” The reference went over Ahmad’s head. “When you were a child, about three years old, I found you. And I needed you close to where I would be, where I was developing my theories, and producing the maps. Now you are mature. You made the journey -- you may not remember it, and I am sure your mother never told you. Why would she?” Cold memories lit up in Ahmad’s skull. Thick forests, beasts, unbearable hunger. Were those not just dreams? “What do I do now?” “We need to find others. I know there are others. For now, let us rest.”
Green bottles and bright neon leaflets were left scattered around Ahmad’s mattress. He rubbed his eyes. They were still blurry. His small room was filled from wall to wall with the commands of the zeppelins in the sky outside. There was still residual dream. There was now an objective, a direction, to give reality to the desires of the inner space that had always remained elusive. Ahmad’s teeth were sharp now, his limbs were light, and his heart clear. Krieg had given Ahmad three folders of maps. They were still only sketches, “drafts of intuition”. But to apply action to intuition, what then? Ahmad planted his feet on the floor, and started running. His heart beat strong going through his bedroom door, in sync with his feet rushing down the apartment stairs. He inhaled deeply when his face hit the natural wind. The streets were filled with revelers, all absorbed in dance, complacent. Reverberating throat chants from the crowds were like anthems for Ahmad’s sprint. The drums kept the rhythm of every foot that Ahmad ran. Towering spires, decked in jewels, radiating with lights were whirs in the peripheral of Ahmad’s eyes. Billows of smoke drifted languidly into the distance. The Sun was obscured by a single cloud. Ahmad’s feet fell heavy on the debris collected in the street, landing over and over again on the Council’s orange and green and red propaganda. The papers were dead. Sweat condensed under Ahmad’s brown eyes. It pooled and started to stream from his brows and forehead, down his young cheeks. The zeppelins above floated above, oblivious, blasting their static and dead commands. “ALIVE! ALL LIVE! THE MOMENT IS HERE!” Tinny voices blared from above. They trailed behind Ahmad as he passed one after another. The streets were endless, grids of incomprehensible breadth and length. It was impossible to see its end, and Ahmad’s legs burned
cutting through the maze. The zeppelins and their music fell dead on Ahmad’s ears. Krieg’s words directed him from within, “To exit, don’t stop. There is no direction, except forward.” Ahmad’s heart beat hard in his ribs. His brown skin became flush with blood. Ahead there was a crowd of revelers, completely obscuring the street. When he reached the crowd he did not slow. With his arms folded in front of his chest, he knocked through the revelers, some falling to the ground, others unflinching when hit. The sea of the crowd flowed down many blocks in every direction. He plowed through them without apology, only thinking of forward, of the exit, of the maps and the uncharted territories and the connections that needed to be made. A short, pale, stout man from the crowd grabbed Ahmad in mid step. He ripped the folders of maps from his hands. “I got him!” Above the zeppelin’s beat was strong, the bass rippling through the revelers as they danced. Without hesitation Ahmad struck the man with a quick hook. The fist whirred again and landed right underneath the man’s chin. He doubled over, blood dripping from his open mouth, pooling under his teeth and tongue. Ahmad picked the folders from the dirty and sweaty ground and pushed through the rest of the crowd. A second wind hit Ahmad’s chest and legs and bones. It kept him flying through the streets, winding through uncharted territories of the city. All around him were warehouses, of all different colors from many eras of color. Greens, blues, violets, yellows, silvers, golds -- he had never seen such a diversity of color in one district. He knew he was getting close to the end. Krieg’s voice was a reminder, “Where there is disrepair, neglect, diversity -- you will find the end there.” Ahmad’s eyes closed, and increased the speed of his legs. And then he stopped. The Sun’s light was soft beyond the broken warehouses. It was the light of dream. Through the concrete at the edge of the city, great tall trees towered, messy and looming grasses covered the asphalts. With exhaustion, Ahmad’s body fell hard to the ground. He lay without form, his body raw and open, his mind escaping through all his tired pores. Breath hissed in and
out through his teeth. His eyes propped half open. His heart purred in his chest, not only beating but shaking in its fibers. The folders were dirty, but in tact and secure and complete. A smudge of blood touched the corner of the top folder. Ahmad crawled under the shelter of a tall oak tree. He opened the first folder and pulled out one of the maps. It was labeled, “US Highway Road Atlas, 2015.” There were several sketches laid out, with the estimations of where the highways could still be. It was like a web, connecting ocean to ocean, spanning in every direction. Circles, ellipses, straight lines of roads -- all intersecting and concentrated in cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Chicago. Ahmad studied the contours of the roads circling Chicago, the city that was now in the past, distant. He looked up and saw the crumbling infrastructure of the city’s edge, and wondered if he would ever see it again. It didn’t matter now. Ahmad gathered that he had reached the southern edge of the city. There were a few directions that could be taken from there. Light blue lines on the map indicated roads that Krieg had personally traveled, red lines were accounts from others, green lines indicated roads that were detailed in books. The blue roads, according to Krieg, held more danger from the State and also from burglars, highwaymen, he called them. The red lines may or may not be reliable, for even some of the sources that accounted for these were rebels, thieves, misfits that Krieg had come across through the years. Some may be trusted, others may be traps. And the green lines lay in mystery, unknown, forgotten. These interested Krieg the most, and Ahmad felt a need to at least test them, to show his results later -- one day -- to Krieg. With these colors swirling, circling, streaming through his mind, Ahmad curled up under the tree, and in the midday Sun found solace in a much deserved nap.
There was work to do at the apartment. Krieg knew that by now the disappearance of Ahmad would have been fully known to the Council. They could easily trace his steps back to the apartment -- or, by now, he was in detention, floating somewhere high above the city in one of those archaic zeppelins. Strapped into dirty leather chairs, mind splayed out in front of the Council, observed carefully as question after question is shot at him without restraint. All of the maps, the work put into the meticulous drawings, the information gathered over a lifetime, being destroyed innocuously above, out of sight. “Where is the rebellion?” The thought was at the constant front of Krieg’s mind. There was no use of relocating the stacks of files and folders. All of the choice files were already in the hands of Fate -- either finding their way, their path through the forgotten spaces and fabric of the unknown, or lost forever in the repression of the Council. And there was no room for hope in Krieg’s mind, for the directives of destiny held no room for the wishes of individuals, but instead carries out its missions complete and total with absolute disregard. In this way there is a level field that both sides were at -- the resistance and the Council -- both unsure of the other’s hand, both with cards left unturned. There was no use in burning the maps that remained, either. Even if the Council did come to Krieg and found an empty apartment, they could set his mind on a pedestal, revealing through cold gaze the whole scheme from front to back, possibly with better recollection than Krieg himself. What a final joy it would be, a consummation of resistant pleasure, to see the whole scheme played out fully in front of the captors. The disgust and knowledge of their true nature displayed without reserve or fear of punishment, flashing forth freely on their own screens, tainting their implements and instrumentation. To see their eyes as one of their subjects, who by
all appearances stayed in step with their commands and directives that harshly fell from the zeppelins, who played all cards to avoid detection, a true gambler, to see this rogue’s mind steeped in the deep desire for upheaval. To see the faces of the Council react in horror, as the images and word streams pour from the mind of a criminal, who did not simply disobey, but cataloged the intricate details of their own demise, from front to back, every nuance fully worked out and executed with the hand of an artist. There was work to do at the apartment, obviously, but it did not have to do with the cache of maps. Krieg puffed on his pipe peacefully. “The execution is complete, but the work is now to be still.” Even when alone Krieg put strong and slow emphasis and draw on the words of import. A total sense of wholeness swept through his body. There was no more individual in the process taking place. The resignation that he felt allowed for vivid memories and flashbacks to come forth in his mind’s eye. The pieces of conversation that took place between Krieg and his grandfather. Talk of the time “before Crisis” -- his grandfather instructing him in ways that would one day fall into slumber, disuse, and destruction. His first encounter with a zeppelin, the inner workings, the true nature. Abducted by force in the middle of sleep, bound and gagged, drugged. His mind forced to spew its secrets, so that they could be mapped, so that the individual no longer retained sovereignty of thought or will. Thrown out like trash, violated to the very core. But also the discoveries. The day in the factory -- the maps, the texts, the ideas -- and the fearless pursuit that has led to this very moment. Living a double life, stretching out the loneliness of knowledge that cannot be shared. He smiled recalling the love of the subversive -like the wind, overturning all things, waiting in the distance and pouncing without notice. Those cold, shadowy nights, freely exploring the spaces of the uncharted. Not knowing what the next
city would hold, if it still existed, if something else even more frightening stood in its place. Hoisting his bag every day, relentlessly. Taking shelter from those strange enough to accept the foreign and alien, those that would not do so much as whisper the word stranger. Breaking through the walls of the prisons -- a word picked up from one of the books -- and crashing through every frontier. Becoming invisible and quiet. Finding Ahmad and his mother the one morning under the steps of abandoned apartments in the ruins and shadow of a once magnificent New York City. The difficulty in not being able to tell one soul about the reality of the zeppelins and their domination. To even speak the words, to shout them from rooftops, to lay them clear even through bright color and light and music, to have a full blown party for the truth -- all would have been in vain. It was clear that whatever was to be done, was to be done by individuals that held a recognition a priori. There was no convincing to be done. If anything would happen, it would have to only be through discovering persons already sympathetic, acute to emptiness, ready to subvert. But they would not only have this in potential, they would possess the tools -they would have by now discovered maps, and they might be discovered on the crumbling roads, all wayfarers that must go on without rest. The question of Ahmad’s success never came forward. Krieg took the deck of playing cards sitting on his side and dealt seven of them face up. King of spades, seven of diamonds, three of clubs, Ace of diamonds, Jack of hearts, ten of clubs, two of spades. There was foreboding, rewards, struggle, character, rewards, heroism and friendship. All of the things that could be expected, even without the cards. He took two long puffs of the pipe. The smoke rose with silence, and through it the whole scene of society exploded underneath the quiet of his window. He contemplated the irony and the contradictions of rejecting stillness, and also activity. But rather finding that rare marriage of the
two, action through stillness. He closed his eyes, and imagined Ahmad at the edge of the city. He could see him, maps spread out, on the precipice of some ugly and unkempt wild, fearful. There would be fire, though. And it was in these flames that Krieg laid down his pipe, opened his eyes, and answered the knock at his door.
The Sun was warm to the skin, contrasting with the small pools of dew collected in the night. Sunlight poured through the tall oaks with a blurred radiance. Unknown smells tickled the inside of Ahmad’s nose -- they were unknown but familiar, reminding him of the smoke stacks and their smell, but now they were genuine and pleasant. He was curled up beside a boulder that had absorbed much of the night’s cold, but already was warming in the Sun. Delicate flowers stood softly all around the rock. All around were strange calls -- birds, yes, but birds that spoke a different tongue. Ahmad took a couple maps from his bag. He spread them out on the boulder and meditated on his next moves. He studied the contours of the earth presented on the map -- the West with its great interruption in land, the mountains, the long stretches. The great gateway and divider, a river stretching from North to South to another sea, was close by. Such a magnificent stretch of water, the scale of which could only be dreamed, attracted Ahmad. He sounded the unfamiliar word from the map, miss - I - sip - I. There were more rivers, smaller, but with equally mesmerizing and curious names. Col-o-rad-o, Miss-our-i, O-hi-o -- names that for now meant nothing, no image attached to them, no memory or reality. But one day these names might be well known to all, their fame spread through all minds. The prospect humbled Ahmad. What greens and browns and blues awaited him, what sunsets and calls in the dark, what unnamed stars in the night. Along with the names of regions, valleys, mountains, rivers, lakes -- of which, there were five massive specimens close by --- there were detailed notes and warnings that Krieg had provided. By the account it was wise in spring to start for the North and East, to avoid the crippling heat of the Southwest. And, conversely, by fall it was advised to trek back Southwest to
skirt the devastating cold of the North. But the West held peculiar dangers that the East did not afford. The beasts were more fierce, but also rare to encounter. There were a number of poisonous spiders and snakes that Ahmad would have to be aware of. But more importantly, the great Rocky Mountains -- that supreme land reaching high into the clouds, abandoning the low of the Earth -- was such a struggle to pass that it would take many weeks by foot, and even finding roads to traverse would be a task. To even think of crossing the Rockies in anything but the Summer months, even with its heat, would be certain death. Reading these warnings gave Ahmad reason to look back into the city -- a city that he could still see rising in the distance above the oaks. How many was he leaving there, people that never once knew his name, never shared a conversation or even a glance. People whose generations may one day know his name, a name worthy of passing on. It was a hazy, dreamy thought, but it alleviated some of the immediate confusion and future danger that the maps detailed. His thought was interrupted by a stir in the brush behind him. The wind? No, not the wind. It was some unknown beast -- a creature that waited and stalked its prey just outside the city, so that any straggler or rebel would be caught at once, without a second thought. He heard it on the opposite side of the clear now. The shaking of the brush was followed by low growls and a screech. Sounds that Ahmad had never even dreamed of -- and now they were here. A whole journey cut short. He slowly revealed a knife from his jacket pocket that Krieg had given to him for times just like these. The movement circled around him, and back again, moving left to right and right to left. Every shake of the brush and there was that low growl. It followed Ahmad, moving in an opposite harmony to every one of his steps. Avoiding him, but tormenting him. Ahmad approached the brush with careful steps, knife drawn and ready. The creature stood still,
breathing heavily, almost laughing. Ahmad pounced through the brush and tackled it, slashing away with the knife. There were screams and shouts and hollers, all mixed up together in the dirt as the two rolled and crashed into the boulder, then back again into the brush, Ahmad flailing the knife wildly and with no target. The body of the creature was heavy but familiar. Ahmad let out furious screams on an instinct that it would subdue the beast. And then, “What in the hell are you doing! Off! Off me this instant!” The beast let out a feminine growl. It spoke his language. Ahmad opened his eyes and underneath him was a small girl. Small, but mature, maybe stunted -- but not even that, a girl that had matured and blossomed fully, and had reached her fullness in a stature about half that of a normal woman. She punched and kicked Ahmad fiercely in the stomach and groin and face. He jumped off her. “Who the fuck are you? You almost killed me, idiot!” Ahmad was shocked. He sat, panting and exhausted from the struggle, and took in the sight of this unknown girl -- dressed in brown skins, feathers laced through her hair, bones dangling from her neck. She must be from the city, but the fashion was off, it wasn’t the vogue clothes or colors or patterns, and the feathers were unrecognized. “I... I don’t know, I heard you in the bushes, and I...” Ahmad couldn’t get out his apology. “Yeah, it was a joke! I was curious why you were leaving the city. I had been watching you all night, and wanted to introduce myself. Now I see what that city is like,” the girl pointed in the direction of Chicago, its colors rising in its buildings and smoke. “Good thing I didn’t go there. Although it would have been fun to steal everything you people have, haha!” She hopped up from the ground, brushed off her legs that were embedded with twigs and small stones from the skirmish. She caught her breath. “But to think of it, with the kind of hospitality you have
shown me already, I don’t know if any of you would have been left standing. I would have had to kill you all too!” Her laughter was quick to follow. Ahmad sat silent, looking down at a fresh cut on his leg. The knife in hand was bloody. He ran his finger down the slit in the leg, and it opened revealing a deep picture into his flesh. It was numb and stung at the same time. “Serves you right. I guess this big joke just got its punchline. Don’t even think I’m going to try to help you. You’re on your own, buddy. I don’t travel with any man.” Her grin stretched wide, it seemed bigger than the whole of her body. “But if you want to help yourself, which you obviously do need, take this,” she tossed Ahmad a pouch, and it landed on his side, “rub that into your little boo boo. You will be feelin’ fine in no time.” With this she darted away. “Wait! What is your name? I need to know where you are from and...” the words trailed off unanswered. The pain was streaming up his leg and his stomach was heavy. The dirt was moist with dew the blood thickened the mix. He opened the pouch and took out the fragrant stems and leaves inside, rubbed them into the gash, and began to sob.
The sky held itself in a canopy of lazy blue. Clouds stretched themselves across the dome of the Earth, and seemingly tickled the edges of space. The wind moved undetected, so slight and soft that it barely made itself known. Cries could be heard rising in the jubilant corners of the streets. Everybody around was ecstatic, entranced in the momentary beats and shuffles of rhythm pounding out from high above in the zeppelins that dotted the sky’s purity. Everybody was unaware of the impending suffering laid across the gurney, strapped tight, no movement, no sound, silenced in the movement. Krieg shut his eyes slowly as the scene blurred. His body became heavy and tired and started to dissolve into the scene, enveloping his every cell. The revelry turned to babble, strong and raw but without and coherence. “They have me,” the thought was resigned in his mind, not angry or fearful, but full of the highest renunciation, replete with the significance of a final act, of the last stage of a life that was worth dying for. The drugs took their full effect. His body lay inert, shut down and incapacitated in the fullest way, unconscious -- but his mind, the internal spark of dream, came rushing forth. Soft hums filled a small room, and without even looking outside to gain a perspective of where this room was, it was well known to everybody there that it was perched high, at the top of a wavering tower. There were forty or fifty people there in the room -- bards, locksmiths, dancers, chemists, washerwomen, clergy. All engaged in the menagerie of their activities. The paraphernalia of every vocation was busy, clamoring and clanking in the room. Melodious percussion from the bard and his tambourine, the steady grinding of a file on a lock perfecting its secret, the clamor of the jewels and sequins on the dress of the dancer, the gurgle and fizz from the experiments of the chemist, the steady rhythm of the arms on the washerwoman dragging the
laundry back and forth on the board, reaching for the ideal of cleanliness, and the chants and clink of incense and bells rising softly from the arena of the priest. There was no distraction in any singular part of the activity, although as a whole the disparate cohesion was nauseating. Krieg lay sprawled out on a dirty mattress in the center of the room. A blank sheet of paper was his blanket. He pulled it over his head to conceal himself from the room’s action. It was dark under the sheet, but the paper was self-illumined and symbols, etches, lines, circles, letters, numbers, began to swirl and flash through. He felt himself small, like a child, and helpless against the magnificence of the shining paper. The number 6 coalesced in harmony with the letters R, T, and L, and then suddenly an isotropic triangle came to invert itself perfectly through their center. A circle then formed, and a square, and then a shape that when illumined could have been a symbol for the universe in its entirety, but instead lowered itself to the world with the number 2 scrolling across the contours of its edge. An ancient bird, symbolized by a right angle, three descending parallel lines, and a soft semi-circle perched itself atop the letter U, striking Krieg as a symbol of enlightenment, of a wisdom unsurpassed and lofty and aware. There was clamor on either side, between a group of letters T and V -- and their misunderstanding was understated by the harmony of the numbers on either side of them, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 -- spiraling in delicate swirls. At the peak of the play on the lit sheet, everything erased itself. The sheet slipped away out of the window. Everybody stopped their respective creations, the bells and chants and washing, got up, and walked out of a door descending down a dark and unknown stairwell. Krieg was left alone on the mattress, dirty and insecure, feeling again like an adult. A crow perched outside of the window and spoke in clear command. “Wake up, Krieg. You are meeting me now for the last time. Wake up. No struggle at first. Wake up. There will be an opportunity to escape. Wake up, Krieg. Ahmad is well. Wake up, Krieg. Wake up.”
Krieg’s body shook in a jolt. The dream disappeared and the bright lights stung his fresh eyes. He was still tied to the gurney and was in a clinical room. It was sanitary, bright, white. He could hear soft feet coming and going from the room, speaking in jargon -- “The SVD meter indicated a Pl50.” “When the stat reaches here, I want you to administer the R-0 injection.” “His eyes were shaking, his feet were still. Now look at him!” A rasp voice from the corner behind the table spoke up, clear and deafening, “Bring him for mapping.” Krieg was wheeled out from the clinical lights, and into a narrow hall. Although his neck was tied down, he could sense dozens of workers, busy bodies, in the hall with him. They all had their tasks, independent, singular, but all plugged into the whole operation. It was an artery in the heart of a zeppelin, Krieg knew, and they had him here for interrogation. At first chance, he thought, suicide seemed the easiest and cleanest escape. But the desire to see them shocked at the sight of this resistance within, to see the fantasies of their control and power burned in the light of the Sun of an awakening dawn of resistance, how savory it would be! But to think of Ahmad, and how far has he gotten? Not much further than the edges of the city. Suicide was the solution. The hallway ended and they entered a dim but expansive room. The acoustics here seemed muffled to Krieg. The smell was rank, rotten, and filled his body with repulsion in waves. He tried to hold his breath. Soft and tender hands unwrapped the bondage that held Krieg firm and tight to the gurney. He felt, limb by limb, freedom of movement. His neck was sore. He turned it around and around, side to side to loosen its fibers. Before him was a gray, spectral figure under a dim light. There was a green chair empty, sitting at his table.
“Come sit down, Krieg. You are free now. Free, see, to move. It would be difficult for you to complete suicide here. There are medics all waiting outside. But don’t let them deter your attempts. It would be a sight to see,” the raspy, gray figure let his body chuckle. “Come sit down. I am sure your dream was interesting. It’s been something we’ve worked on for some time. Not the dream machine itself, but its content. Did the symbols resonate with you? And how about the crow, perched with confidence outside that window? Was that a comfort?” Every word escaped his lips slowly, crawling out of a dark. “Come sit, Krieg. We have much to discuss.” Krieg knew the tactics. To blur the lines between manufactured experience and direct experience. The line between the self and other, between the individual and the desires of the Council, they could easily obliterate these lines in those that did not resist, or have the right analysis. “The crow was a nice touch. But my question to you is, have you found Ahmad? Surely he should be here, somewhere, in one of your chambers.” Krieg was confident, but still played off as being curious, inquisitive, unsure. “He is here. You will see him shortly, as we need both of you in the same room to really discover the third mind of the conspiracy. There are no others like you, Krieg. I hope you know that. Your whole plot, from seed to sprout, to the sick tree that it has become, has only been singular,” the figure spoke with no inflection. “The question really becomes, when do you want to end this, and be happy with all the rest?” Krieg laughed. “The rest? Do you mean that faint silence that has become them? They don’t see you, here, in the zeppelins. They are asleep. But there are others like me. You know that. I wish to see Ahmad now.” This was all a bluff, a posturing to Krieg. “So be it,” the spectral figure motioned with his slow hand, “bring him in.” The door to the dank dim room opened. And Ahmad walked through.
Ahmad’s body was broken. His walk was slow, the light from the hallway seemingly keeping him in place, not allowing him to go further. There was no trace of abuse or struggle in his bones. His head lifted and locked eyes with Krieg’s. “Where did they find you, Ahmad?” Krieg’s words were comfortable, but restrained. He was filled with fear. “Just south of the city. I had made it -- clear out of the streets, the buildings, the zeppelins. Nothing stopped me. Until I met Zia,” Ahmad flashed a look down to his leg. “She was a traveler, a rogue as you say. It must have been fated. I was in a clear in the forest, had fallen asleep, and woke up to something moving around in the bushes. When I went to investigate, I miscalculated the danger, pounced on the threat, and gashed my leg.” Ahmad pulled up his leg to reveal the scab, still fresh and raw, only beginning to heal. “So there are others! There are others that are moving, exploring! There are others that have given up the securities of pleasure, of the unknowing comfort of the colors and music and joys! Did you get a chance to talk to her?” Krieg was resigned to fate. His words were measured, timed, solid. “Yes, after that first encounter. She left quickly, and left me with a collection of plants to heal my wound. I used them for a couple days. I waited until there was signs of healing. It began to scab over after three days, and she came back to the clear in the forest where I had been,” Ahmad’s voice trailed off. He noticed this, and came back to focus. “She came back to speak with me. She had news from the West and the South of great movements, bands of hundreds and thousands abandoning the cities at a time, together. She spoke about vehicles -- automobiles, she called them, that could travel great distances on roads with no effort. There were hideouts
forming in the deserts to the West and the mountains to the South. She said that right now there are even,” Ahmad was cut off by the gray authority in the chair. “You both believe these delusions. The zeppelins have reported no such movements. Roads are down everywhere, and the last auto that was commissioned for use has since rusted, and that was at least,” the man paused, brushing his lips with his thin fingers, “at least twenty five years ago. Nobody has them, and never will. These are the fantasies of delusional rogues, nothing more. Ahmad, you have failed your master.” He lifted his finger towards Krieg, mocking him. “Now you are both here. Even if there are these groups of outcasts wandering the countryside, like you talk, they don’t know where they are. There are no maps.” Ahmad’s face contorted into a curious smile. He was resigned to fate, too. “But that is not true. There are maps, and there have been, and there always will be. Krieg isn’t the only one that has found them. Small fires are being lit all over, sketches of the land are being shared, passed face to face, breath to breath. They are coming here!” The gray man lifted the corners of his mouth. “Coming here? Do you mean to the zeppelins?” “Yes, the zeppelins are being tracked. They are being added to the maps, every single last one. And each one will come down, in time, piece by piece.” Krieg had been watching Ahmad speak in perfect confidence. “And the maps I had given you, where are they now?” “They are in the hands of Zia. She said that they would be useful in a hideout in the far western mines of Nevada, where the resistance is centered. They will use them to catalog the further potential of road travel.” The gray man interrupted, “If you are so confident about all this, why are you informing on your movement, your resistance? I am calling your bluff.”
Ahmad continued, letting the question pass through him, “There will be time for celebration, but there is great sacrifice and work to complete according to Zia. Everybody that is aware is putting forth action. There are travelers, connecting the nodes of bodies throughout the land. The mapmakers, like Krieg, that have given the layout of the territory. Then there are folks like me.” Ahmad paused abruptly, closing his eyes, letting a grin take over his face. “And what will you do, Ahmad, helpless here in a zeppelin? Nobody can hear your rants!” They all looked out of the darkly tinted window in the corner of the room. Below them was the whole city, faded from the tint in the window, but they knew its colors. “That is true. It is very true what you say.” Krieg had a premonition of his death. It was a familiar feeling, when you think you have seen something before, it must indicate the last moment of your life, the most exalted moment. Ahmad pulled a package from under his heavy sweater. It was wrapped in plain brown paper. “Maps?” Krieg asked, confused. “What is this trick, Ahmad?” The gray man was amused. Ahmad lifted the package, peeled off one of its corners. “I gave myself up to the zeppelin -- I turned myself in -- otherwise you wouldn’t have found me. Zia has the maps, and will tell my story for others to hear. One day there will be roads named after me, when all of the zeppelins fall. But there has to be a beginning, a first, and it starts here.” He pulled the rest of the brown paper off the package, and it concealed an unrecognized box, filled with wires and diverse metallic shapes. “This is the salvation of the city. And here it begins.” He switched a lever on the left side of the box.
Krieg stood without sound, his eyes wide. The gray man drew a deep breath in through his weak nostrils. Ahmad’s eyes gleamed, and reflected the fire of the explosion. The zeppelin sank slow from the sky. Bulging fires from its sides seemed to keep it afloat in the airy sky. It drifted into the side of the prominent structures in the square, the center of the city. The music stopped, and the revelers stopped, and they went to the burning zeppelin out of pure curiosity.
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