Speculative Science Fiction Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Listen, the children weep for their parents” His voice was dripping with joy, and horror wound through every inch of my body.

The children were strapped to cold, metal chairs, weeping with eyes that looked at us pleadingly. Their muffled pleas beat against my ears in agonizing pathos. The chrome, bowl-shaped helmets placed over their heads buzzed like an army of defective lightbulbs. Or rather, a swarm of flies. And the transparent tubes attaching the helmets to the ceiling glowed the colours of the rainbow, an incongruity that heightened the nightmarish surroundings to a sickening degree; I wanted to crawl right out of my own flesh to escape those eyes that looked at me in hope.

At last, I couldn’t stand any longer and turned around, facing the blank wall opposite the cell. I raised a hand to my mouth, fighting the bile working up my throat.

“What’s wrong?”

With great effort, I worked the bile back down and lowered my trembling hand. “Nothing,” I looked to my Partner and managed a smile. He watched me for a long moment, his beady eyes sizing me up.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.”

“Just something I ate.” I saw he was about to speak, so I hurriedly added: “Would you mind keeping watch over them? I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Partner’s suspicious expression thawed at once, replaced with concern. “Jeez, that bad? Sure, you just… do what you gotta do.”

I made my way down the hall and only just rounded the corner before leaning heavily against it, breathing heavily. I was shaking all over.

Do what you gotta do.

As my breathing settled, a voice bled into my consciousness, as if surfacing from underwater.

One, two.

One, two,

“One, two!” I looked up and through the window to my left, the gold plaque above it lettering:


Just outside the window, and like the plaque said, a grassy riverbank stretched before me. The sun was out in full, and robins fluttered across the sky, chirping all the while. A group of seniors were doing calisthenic exercise, dressed in clothes straight out of a 80’s VHS exercise regiment.

“One, two. One, two. C’mon, everyone, get those legs up nice and high!” Said the mustachioed leader facing them. His eyes met mine and he smiled and waved. I didn’t wave back; my attention was drawn to the sky over the riverbank. Or rather, the illusion of a sky. The longer I looked, the clearer it became that I wasn’t looking at a sky, but a ceiling. And in the middle of the ceiling, a near indiscernible depression. A fine, rainbow mist trickled outwards, dissipating into the summer scene.

I turned and hurried over to office, passing the windows lining the hall:




The doors next to each consecutive window were made of iron. The phosphorescent lights fixed above each one was red. They’d been that way since one of the scientists had ventured inside and hadn’t come back.

Once inside my office, I locked the door behind me. Despite my hurry, I couldn’t help but look around. The walls had bookshelves built into them, packed with leatherbound volumes of deep-red, brown, and black. There was also a thick Persian rug, and a mahogany desk. Maybe it would have been beautiful, were it not for the window looking outwards at Desolation. I made my way over to it and looked out at the sea of concrete and metal beams and cars crumpled like aluminum cans. Wires hung from telephone poles like severed veins and torn, outdated newspapers fluttered across the rubble like the saddest birds.

There was a plaque above this window, too:




There was no exhibit number on this one. Why would there be? The scene on the other side was real, after all.

Back at my desk, I opened the bottommost drawer. I’d replaced the lock myself. Wouldn’t be good if someone got curious and decided to get some answers as to who I was and what I was doing here.

I retrieved the radio from its woolen wrapping and pressed the signal button in the agreed password:





“Come on,” I tried the password again.


“Fuck!” I slammed the radio onto the desk and buried my head in my hands.

Kzzz. “L-Legion.” A voice buzzed.

I took the radio up in my hands, almost dropping it in my haste. “Oh, thank god. I… I found them.”

A beat of silence. Then: “The children.” It was not a question. “How are they?”

“They…” I closed my eyes to gather my thoughts, but it just summoned the sight of the children strapped to the chairs, and the look of joy on Partner’s face. I opened my eyes. “Not good.”

“Please wait while I relay the update.”

I sighed and set the radio down and retrieved the folder in the bottommost drawer, leafing through it as I waited.

They were all Polaroids of children that had gone missing months ago. I picked one up and looked at the boy smiling back at me. My thoughts went back to the cell, and I wondered if he was somewhere among them, getting his brain wrung-out like the rest.

I blinked away a tear and closed the folder. I clamped one hand on the other to keep them from shaking, but the urge simply transferred to my feet.

A bird perched on a broken streetlight just outside my window. It’s caw came as a scream, heightening the tension that wound its way around my heart like a metal string.

The radio buzzed again, and I scooped it back up.

“New mission directive—"

Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

Fucking Partner.

I switched the radio off and threw it into the drawer. Hurrying over to the door, I pulled it open. “What is…” I trailed off as I realized the man looking at me was not who I’d expected. “Boss!”

Just seconds ago, I’d been plotting to topple the Castle, and here was the leader, right at my doorstep!

He smiled, accentuating his aged yet handsome features. “Bad time?”

“No, not at all. Please, come in—“

“Actually, I’d prefer if you could step out, please.” He was still smiling, but I didn’t miss the hint of a demand in his voice.

He turned and made his way down the hall without waiting to check whether I was following.

We passed the employee area: a featureless hall except for the mahogany doors on either side at regular intervals, the silver nameplates beside the doors ascribing ownership.

“So how have you been adjusting to life in the Castle?” Asked Leader. I couldn’t see his face. His hands were clasped behind his back, and he walked at a leisurely pace, as if having a walk in the garden.

I tried to find some ulterior motive in the tone of his voice, but couldn’t find one. He seemed genuinely interested.

“Good. It’s… new.”

“That, it is. And so, so much more,”

We reached the tall mahogany doors at the end of the hall, and he held one open for me.

The interior of Leader’s office was much the same as mine, and, no doubt, the others. In fact, it was a carbon copy. The only difference was that it was bigger. The desk, the carpet, the window, the bookshelves… they were all the same make, and in the same location.

“Sit,” he gestured to one of the two empty chairs across the desk and made his way over to the little drink stand in the corner of the room. “Would you like a drink.”

“No thank you.”

Leader poured two glasses, drank his and set the other in front of me. He sat down on the desk with a smile.

A beat of silence. I reached for the glass, and his hand clasped my arm with uncharacteristic strength. “I know what you’re doing.” It was almost a whisper.

Every muscle in my body screamed for flight, but I pushed the urge down and met his gaze. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

The silence carried. Neither of us looked away.

At length, Leader smiled. “You’ve always struck me as the peculiar kind.”

I blinked. “What?”

Leader stood and made his way over to the window overlooking Desolation. The plaque above had the same words inscribed as mine.

Leader took a sip of his whiskey. “Do you think I want this?”

“I’m not sure what you mean boss.”

He didn’t speak for so long that at a certain point I thought he had forgotten I was still even here. But then he spoke, and his voice was no more that rich, charismatic timbre. But the voice of a man.

“When I was young, I never thought things would turn out this way.” He chuckled. “But then again, do they for anyone? What about you, did you ever think you’d be doing guard duty in some place at the edge of the world?”

I didn’t have to lie. “No.”

Leader nodded, as if satisfied with the answer. “My son passed away last week. The Machine had finally wrung him dry. They took him to the Ward, along with all the others that gave all they had.” He turned and looked at me, his haunted expression like a window through which I could touch his terror. “Mad, every singe one of them. Roving like… like…” Leader searched for the words, but sighed when he couldn’t find them. “I held him in my arms, that… that boy. He was not my son. Not anymore.

“I Listened to his roving, his cries for help. But I looked into his eyes, and I think he knew as well as I did: no one was coming to save him. And that beeping—” Leader shook his hands with frustration. “it’s the only sound scarier than the ticking of time. Because you know that when the beeping stops, you don’t have to worry about time anymore. You’ve run out.”

Leader poured himself another glass and downed it with his back turned to me. He poured another. “The children in the throes of madness drift calmly into the hands of Death. They’re never given a chance to wake up – if just for a moment – to remember who they are. What was done to them…

“My son was different. As I held him in my arms, his roving tamed, and in time, he fell quiet. The heartrate monitor slowed, and I thought, finally, his time has come. He could rest.

“Then he opened his eyes, and he saw me. Truly saw me. Do you know what he said?”

“…No, boss.”

He turned. There were tears trickling down his cheeks, and a bitter smile on his lips. “‘I love you.’”

There was a faint pattering against the window. I looked out at what remained of the world. It was raining.

“Why are you telling me this?”

Leader sat down at his desk and opened his bottommost drawer.

Even as he pulled the wool-bound bundle out and began to unwrap it, cold dread seized my heart. At last, he unfurled the last cloth, and there it was, in his hand.

A radio.

Leader pressed the button and raised it to his mouth. “L-Leigon. What is your report.”

The sinking feeling in my chest made my body feel cold all over. My radio was back in the room, but Leader had made his point.

There was no Liberation Legion.

Then what about the folder in my desk? That last hope for humanity?

It was like the floor beneath me had disappeared, and I’d gone tumbling into a never-ending abyss. The ember of hope I’d held inside, gone, just like that.

Thunder grumbled in the distance.

“Why?” It was the only word I could muster. My mouth was dry, throat parched. I looked at the whiskey before me but the thought of drinking it made me sick.

“Maybe… maybe I’d hoped you would succeed.” He traced the rim of his cup with a fingernail. His eyes were trained out the window, though part of me knew it was more because he couldn’t meet my eye than out desire to watch the storm brewing on the horizon.

“Then why did you stop me?”

“Because I was afraid.”

Lightning flashed in the clouds, though no sound accompanied it.

“You enslaved children…” I said.

Leader flinched. It was obvious he hadn’t expected such a direct accusation. But it was true. Still, the remnants of the man that had built the Castle persisted.

“To save humanity.” Suddenly, there was a look of distant awe on his face. “The fate of the world was inevitable. Regardless of how hard we tried, we could only postpone Damnation. We used to look to the stars for our way out, scanned the constellations for a second home. We never thought that the real answer isn’t up there… but in here.” He tapped the side of his head. “And not just one home, but as many as you wanted. The only limit: imagination.”

“Worlds built on the minds of children.”

“The best candidates. Who imagines better than children, after all?”

“And you suck all the good dreams out and shape the worlds with that. Meanwhile, they’re left only with the nightmares. The fear eats their sanity; madness and then death.”

“…Your arguments are nothing new. I’ve heard as much over the years since I opened the Castle, and they never changed my mind. But now, things have changed. Make no mistake, It’s not because of you, but because of me. Sometimes you don’t see the evil you wreak until you look it in the eyes. Those eyes were of my son.”

The patter of raindrops faded, and as the minutes carried, the skies darkening the horizon cleared.

“I need your help.” Said Leader, but my attention was elsewhere.

“The sun’s out.” The words had come automatically. But just then, they felt right.

Leader looked to the blue sky and smiled. “Indeed. There’s time yet…”

November 11, 2021 21:51

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