Friday, July 4, 2014

'Last Match in the Underworld' (excerpt from "The Long and Final Odysseum")


Kingdome II was frozen with anticipation, the lower levels of the pre-fab stadium were a tomb. The foundations were weak. Corrupted. The construction dated to the first pains of a fully expanded Californium. But the stadium was only recently completed. And still no roof, so not really domed. The cruel elements could show up uninvited, and they did. Snow in July. By the look of the northern tiers of cloud banks, more would be dumped. The threat didn't deter near enough a hundred thousand fans to attend. They politely sat in their seats. A greater worry kept them seated, prowlers in the stands and on the grounds. Cali-guardsmen patrolled the crowds.

Over head was little different. Two wreckers. Super-classes. The Sutro and the Phelan. And dreadnaught airships. The Paso Robles, the San Bernadino, and the Bakersfield. Airborne spikes fresh from the front, backlit by another tempest from the north. Grey. Blacks. Some terrible greens where the sun shone through the hidden blue sky. The clouds ripped apart, and the airships stitches against the dawn.

When Dulcimer did his warmups on the grass, he saw the Odysseum float out and join the flock of airships above the stadium. He thought for all the terrible things that'd happened, more acts of terror remained.

The stumpy trainer threw a hoodie at him. He took a few minutes to put one arm after another through the long sleeves, then over his head. The hood was left up. The trainer still talked the entire time.

-This might be the most normal game ever.-

The rest of the prisoners ran onto the field, dressed in the white uniforms and a single vertical green-blue band down the front.

-This game is bullshit, and you know it, it's weighted against us, you, and everyone who gives a shit.-

Mackenzie strode over towards the referees. He smoked the entire time. Pond and his captains began to line up.

-You think the Consul doesn't care? He stands to get embarrassed too. You know who's here. Look up there...the powers of the West.-

And the trainer pointed to the half-finished sky boxes over the stands. That's all Dulcimer recognized. He didn't have time to stay and find out. Warmups, and then the call from the loudspeakers about the numbers, teams, and nations from above and below. This and that mattered most. The wind picked up speed. But it didn't snow.

***

Electrical power was trumped up through the grandstands by an amplified voice. The bombastics came from the direction of the unfinished sky boxes. Two figures walked out and thanked the crowds, their hosts, and the weather. All provided play for the day. The men who spoke only belonged to formality. The weather was actually terrible.

-Our father, before his passing to Kolob, gave us a mission to follow, one that, we believe, your Commonwealth embodies.-

Dulcimer heard a succession of spit sounds from disgusted men on both sides of the line he stood on. Shutupmormons! Rumors went down the line to accompany the horrible place each player thought of. But the team trainer always found a moment to fit in.

-One of the twins from the Plains Nation. California’s buddies in the east. You want to talk about bioregional tyrants? They’re your guys. Fuck ‘em.-

The trainer slunk away before Dulcimer could get a question off. He was left with images of the battle in the Wastelands, California's triumph, and the other flag-wavers on the continent. It was a long way to the graveyards of the patriots. Of course, the United States would never return. Again.

Artic wind through a microphone and a ring of feedback expanded Dulcimer’s perspective for the gravity of topics. He heard the mention of things he'd not heard allusions to in a very long time.

-The old builders of the world expected gratitude; for it was, truly, a new religion. They gave us machines to make us happy, devices to take care of our lives, so we wouldn't need things like government, or even community. We'd have ourselves, being taken care of by the machines.-

Dulcimer couldn’t see the twin who spoke, his appearance, especially. He was just a cypher against the concrete palisades of Kingdome II. But Dulcimer let him be Kevin Costner from “The Postman” -- and the next brother who walked forward, to speak? Well that was Alan Cummings from “Titus.” That was the alternative mythos of this revolution.

The so-called “Iron Wolf” was shrill.

-And that'd be fine, you'd think. But we grew vain and lost all that in the Blackout. That version of our world was drowned in the long fifteen year night.-

The litany of reasons from the two sons of a hydrogeologist seemed an acceptable explanation to Dulcimer. He'd trust a science background to explain his own obstacles. Everything else was therapy. Failure started with the plan to start a family, and his wife and him, they'd never been close. He'd hidden behind (or within?) his computer models, the imaginary of a new societal order.

The flywheels of truth spun, for he now acknowledged that he would've killed his wife if not for Nana. She was the saint. To his daughter all his passions towards people were directed.

After all, his wife was a twenty-first century woman. Suffer unto the times she had. While the machines swirled around them -- between them -- similar to the neighbors, no one knew each other beyond their bedroom, until the lights went out, and the survivors stumbled forth.

Reverie ended. The speeches by the Twins of the Plains Nation were met by muted claps and whistles. Nationalized-school children of the California state pranced onto the field and sang one of many multiculti bear flag anthems, 'To Califa in Heaven.'

Captains Mackenzie and Pond met the sons of San Francisco, children of parents the grizzled old Cascadians might've killed during the Social War. The handshakes between the teams were limp limbs joined by intense glares, the two Cascadian captains a study in opposites. Mackenzie planned to kill their babies. Pond would humiliate them on the pitch.

Whistles signaled the teams to take to the field. Dulcimer jogged out. Cascadian colors accompanied him. The odd man out -- he was the goalie -- he'd chosen a black polo. It fit. For with the second whistle kickoff, red-shirted Californians invaded with a quick succession of kicks and passes in between, and the underworld of officiation took over. Gloom was the color of his jersey.

Mid-field turned into a scrum, and the Cascadian defense crumpled. Out of the collapse of bodies, a mixture of jersey colors and limbs, the forward attack of California set up a shot on goal. The first strike bounced harmlessly off the goalpost.

No so fast.

The rebound put the ball in play and near enough the box that the defenders could only stick out their legs to trip the rush of offense. No one risked it. Too well coached. A red-socked leg connected with the ball, a point blank blast on goal.

Dulcimer met the airborne threat with a lunge and outstretched hands. Deflection. With a frenzied scurry on hands and knees he quickly covered the ball. Safe.

A whistle blew and a referee pointed at a Cascadian defenseman. A push and a shove of a Californian player in the box. Free kick, outside the box, but still -- the Doug Flag defenders pleaded their case. Free kick, all the same.

Dulcimer took a position. Opposite him a tall red-headed Californian stood behind the ball on the line. Both teams jostled for position. The whistle flew, a cleated foot connected, and the shot flew towards the goal. Dulcimer guessed. Wrong.

Too easy, too fast. First blood.

***
Mackenzie exploded on the ‘ref’ and got himself a yellow card. Way to go. Pond was clipped from behind, and a valuable injury substitution couldn’t be helped.

Dulcimer spent a minute water break with the rest of the team. That's when a familiar figure cut through the barricades against the multitude, all watched over by police of a beloved race.

Officer Brannan.

-Your wife. I'd like to talk to you about her.-

Dulcimer fought off the stares of an agonized Pond on the bench.

-She's dead.-

-What were her politics?-

-Only sports, right now, man.-

He walked away. The highwayman yelled after him. Dulcimer didn’t hear, he didn’t listen.

Dulcimer passed by Pond, his leg administered by the ice packs from the trainer. Teeth clenched. Grim.

***

The proclivity of prodigious vermin arrived fifteen years ago, and still, no easy solution offered itself to their removal. Poisons and recombinant pesticides later, and rats remainded. Big creatures the size of cats. They'd since devoured the feline race.

Now without threat of fire or loud noises, the rat packs followed human communities around their urban haunts. All that was perishable already belonged to the rats. Everything humans might possess of any value, well, the successors of the animal kingdom would take that too.

At brief times during the match, a stray vermin would walk on the field, sniff around, and head back under the stadium seating.

Commonwealth 2
Cascadia 0

***

Another stray pass in front of the goal gave another California striker the chance at glory, and the resultant score left a frustrated Dulcimer to kick the ball back into the net. He could hear his defensemen mutter behind him.

After national-schoolchildren threw more fire crackers at rats on the field, Dulcimer ran back onto the pitch. Whistles blew from the gloomy referees blew. He passed Mackenzie, who took another long drag of his cigar and extinguished it in the earth.

One more whistle.

The game continued behind a screen of smoke from the California mid-fielders. They got away with murder. Pushes and shoves on the Cascadian midfielders and the way was open to the goal again.

Dulcimer barked orders for his defensemen to push the winger-with-the-ball far wide -- make him take the wild shot towards the center of the field. At least that worked. The ball popped up, the hang time to kill for, suspended in the air. All types of men converged on its spot in front of the box, two colors of jerseys jumped up and bodies collided. Heads meant to strike the ball, but forearms came down hard. On top of a foe's head.

Dulcimer pushed off from his wooden leg and leapt. He grabbed the ball. When he went down, he was knocked out. The first thing he saw were stars. But it wasn't even dark yet.

***

Dulcimer's eyes played tricks on him. In the minutes the lights of the stadium turned on to chase away the shadows, he saw little fluttery things before him. Dancers on the air that flashed on and off. His groggy head couldn't make sense of much, much less of the lights. What he saw: Mackenzie's harsh prods (getinthere) chased him back onto the field to play. At least there was Pond.

-Fireflies! Makes sense. I bet there was a jungle here, once.-

The crowd was hushed by the dance of lights. From above, so below, where the ball players played in the last minutes of the faraway sun.

Dulcimer noticed that the dispersal of the Commonwealth air fleet. To take positions, no doubt, if city trouble started early. The scent of the air before it rained. It screamed for the obvious.

The Odysseum was gone also.

He pulled his goalie gloves on tight. Gloomy whistles shrieked. Dulcimer saw a flock of bats emerge from under the stadium lights.

California resumed the attack. Passes, a questionable offsides across the first line, and already, the crimson invaders were in position to knife the Cascadian defense.

Dulcimer saw a stumpy midfielder -- one of his own -- step in front of the ball and kick it back up the pitch.

The crowd gasped -- so must've Mackenzie. For the cigar he'd his held in his teeth dropped out of his mouth as the ball arced towards him. He chested the high bounce of the ball to his foot, before he calmly looked upfield -- and there was that stumpy Cascadian again.

It was the trainer. And he was in front of the goal.

Mackenzie, his cigar still a smolder of smoke around his feet, passed over the heads of the sons of San Francisco, and the trainer, whose name Dulcimer never remembered, but all of Cascadia would soon know, tapped the pass on the second bounce into the corner of the goal.

***
The refs conferred, and Dulcimer walked over to the bench. To Pond. He still grimaced under the packs of ice. Dulcimer fretted. He hated the night of the game. Whistles blew at his illegal move to the sidelines. But Pond, though pained, looked with delight to Dulcimer's walk over to the sidelines. The night was young, and so was the injured captain.

-These guys are tired. It's all that fucking. It's hard to keep that up forever.

With permission to go for broke, Dulcimer ran onto the pitch and grabbed the jersey of the first fullback he saw. Joseph.

-Strike.-

When the Californians figured out that officiation wouldn't help, they ran the ball out.

A white-uniformed streak stole the ball. Joseph the flat-nosed kid. Surrounded by red jerseys, he passed it way back. Backwards. To Dulcimer. Who kicked it back up the field. This wasn't just keep away. All of California and Cascadia could make a play on the ball.

Mackenzie put out his cigar. And the fireflies came out.

He was in the middle of the field and he didn't look like he had a play to make. White jerseys ran towards him. Red men ran in blind oblivion. For what?

A fight emerged in the scrum of legs and shoves and bodies thrust into the maw of confused kicks for the ball. Whistles turned urgent. Shrill things turned into peoples confused, angry, sick-of-it-all shouts.

Dulcimer turned his horns upfield and charged the scrum of locked arms and the spray of spittle from angry mouths. He craned his head around, towards the bench, eager for support. Cascadians were already in a full sprint towards the bedlam, and behind, and overhead them, the crowed roared. Awake.

Dulcimer heard the screams of Pond. Wecanbeattheseguyswecanbeatthem!

Halftime, the bats came out, and Dulcimer and team headed for the locker room. The shouts of thousands of spectators serenaded them. Even the rats in the tunnel looked scared.

***
The silence in the locker worried Dulcimer. He expected the rousement of excitement from men, but he didn't hear nothing. Just the metal taps of cleats on cement. Lockers opened up. Clang, clang. Other things might interest them. So Dulcimer looked closer. At men on benches, tables, and a-lean-to against the walls. Finally, what he'd expected, happened. The trainer spoke, to the room and the men around every stall. The first words were the rah-rah, the missed plays and passes -- the general opportunities that might have made it a closer game.

Time ticked, and felt wrong somehow.

Dulcimer knew the speech was a cover the second no one mentioned the officiation of doom. And when a hand signal was passed from a Cascadian stationed by the door, to a Mackenzie in-wait for such signals, the team captain rolled his hand. He meant to tell the trainer to continue his speech, and the trainer did, while the rest of the team snuck back with Mackenzie. Into the shower room.

Dulcimer wasn't invited. But no one barred his entry. He caught them in the act. They had pulled pieces of tile off the wall and floor, until drywall and boards remained. Those were removed too. Once in a pile, there was just a black hole big enough for people to crawl through.

Out of the dark emerged the porcelain face of Roxana. Then her mechanical body, no longer clad in Air Marshall golds and blues. Just a black trenchcoat and aviator goggles. She was even smaller than usual in that black hole. On the bottom. Her childish face peered looked for recognition. Up at the faces above. Then she found Dulcimer. And winked.

-Quickly. We have to go. You can fake a refueling airship only do long. Until they don't smell the methane -- please. We have to go.-

Stop. Stop it all. Dulcimer wanted to know why. Why the change to the side that would end up lost? Mackenzie's big mouth opened, potentially to give answers about Roxana's defection. Pretty soon Dulcimer realized. Probably not. Blood. That's what was up.

-Is the girl with the crossbow and the pretty hair ready to go, on my orders?-

Roxana uh-huhed, and then went clockwork.

-Yes, more or less, Charlie is totally ready.-

MacKenzie freestyled.

-To lead the men of the woods out of the hills, and kill every Commonwealth officer, every family house bombed, every building that flies the bear flag? That’s what she wants to do? Well, fine then. She’s got her revenge, and we can have our’s.-

Mackenzie looked --  or tried -- to make eye contact, and failed. Dulcimer didn’t want to be here. No one must've. He heard the shuffle of feet.

-I've fought my whole life for decolonization. And I believe this: it's got to be painful for the colonizers. So, I’m going now, just as we talked about. To war. If you come with me, you're not coming back. Not after tonight.-

Some of the men started to move towards the hole. Fully prepared to enter. And come out the other side.

Dulcimer heard the sound of crutches tap against the unbroken shower tiles.

Pond.

-What’s this war against decolonization that I hear of?-

The room felt painful, Dulcimer, himself, particularly shamed. Pond.

-I still don't know, after years of fighting, what decolonization is going to look like as an outcome? I know the process. And I can take death. Of myself, for one. But that's easy. But the outcome...that won't look like anything like the state before occupation. If this is for freedom, why is it that I think I’m being led, even commanded?-

Mackenzie grumble-grumbled.

-What’s always been in control? The order of nature. And the things you can't organize. The mountains, their runoff, and the debris of life and minerals. That which seeds our homes. And has been made into something else. Something alien. Foreign. And unnatural.-

Pond bounced his crutches on the shower tiles.

-We leave now, then, we'll never have the chance to know if we could've beat them, even when they've tried to stack everything against our play. We were brought to this lowly place to play ball. Anything else we try, and we can't trick these lords.-

Roxana struggled halfway out of the hole, and she looked at Dulcimer for a hand. But he knew how deep the hole went. So it was just Roxana.

-Fine then; and this is what I see: the wreckers can't kill you on the pitch; the guards can't shoot you when we score; the kids won't remember this when more babies are pit innationalized schools. None of you can make a decision until there’s more than one option on the table. That’s what the Consul used to tell me; for he did see the future in the time tombs of the Wastelands; and that future is some crazy ass shit.-

Half the team froze. Some mumbled. But no one else moved. No one. And it had nothing do with Roxana’s epiphany of a lost memory. Dulcimer understood that now. He could see.

Just Mackenzie and his hand with a lit match put against the tip of his cigar. Bunch of smoke. Some puffs. A big exhale later.

-Right now, in the future, we’re slaughtering innocents. And right now, we’re also playing the second half. Pond...You're the same kid that turned into a man when you killed Californians -- didn't you Pond? But let’s see how long we can play their game, right?-

Pond limped towards Roxana.

-Let's just see how long we can trick them.-

***

Brannan intercepted Dulcimer on the way out of the tunnel.

-We need to talk.-

Dulcimer noticed the highwayman's nervous gazes towards the luxury skyboxes.

-It better be about the game.-

Brannan looked over his shoulder again and made eye contact with a higher authority.

-I've been thinking. Your wife wasn't just one of the Scorched, she was a Native. Which makes me wonder: did she ever buy the idea that you can just name things after native places. Like the Seahawks and the Salish Sea. Because this place is crawling with believers.-

Dulcimer ignored him, and ran towards his goal. That's too much politics, highwayman, so just shut up.

As if on command, he was gone. Dulcimer saw: a form that slunk back into the sea of a crowd at high tide, held back by nervous Cali-corpsmen.

Things got too real.

The floodlights. The amplified loudspeakers. The resumption of play in one minute. There was power in the air. Rats were gone. too. And the bats? No more flew across the sky. Even the clouds parted, and there was the moon. The first waxious phase after the new moon. It might've even been a few days after Tuesday.

Fireflies everywhere.

***
Dulcimer coached his fullbacks up the field to play box-to-box, and the great offensive began as soon as the kickoff from the middle of the field. Mackenzie set his midfielders and called to the rest to join an attack. Cleats dug furiously for traction. The earth was turned up by one frantic push towards the goal.

The Californians responded to the threat through the use of big defensive bodies in front of the goal. That meant Cascadian threats were pushed to the ground repeatedly. The referees were nowhere to be found. Men jumped up from the cold pitch -- furious.

Dulcimer watched the press of his defense yield nothing but frustration and protests that fell on deaf ears. He looked to the bench. Pond had stood up. He still didn't have crutches. And he held out an arm. Fireflies swarmed around him.

A side judge held up a flag. Substitution, #10.

Pond ran out, nearly stumbled. The fireflies followed. He shouted the same thing repeatedly.

Thescorchedthescorchedrememberthescorchedthescorchedthescorchedrememberthe....

Dulcimer turned his back and only face around when the whistle blew. Goal kick. California side.

The opponent's goalie took it out and patted it to his own defenseman. White jerseys sprung forward in a massive front. Decision time. A few tricky steps from the Californian and then a chance to set up a shot upfield.

Pond swooped in and got enough of a foot on the ball to deflect it wildly into play. Anyone could get it. The first with a play was the defense. But they were ill-prepared for a challenge. They tried to pass, but a white shirt stepped up and took a wild shot on goal. The ball careened off bodies. But enough force was on the shot, and the ball flew forward.

Dulcimer watched the ball loop up towards the crossbar and deflect back into play. A big red jerseyed brute cleared the ball. A Cascadian beat everyone to the high kick and headed it back up field.

Pond again.

Dulcimer realized he talked out loud.

-We've tricked them to play with us.-

Pond shot long and scored the equalizer.

***
The stadium sat on very weak foundations. Now those wooden benches rattled and their vibrations sent severe jolts through the entire complex. The skyboxes gently swayed, and the guardsmen looked disturbed.

If the crowd knew the songs they began to sing them, and Dulcimer had to think back to the last time he'd heard the fight anthems of the resistance. He looked up towards the VIP section. The first thing he thought of was Nana. Then he couldn't any longer. Redshirted attackers dribbled and passed down the field, seemingly at will.

Until the trainer jumped out and stole a deflection, pushed the ball out of the defensive side and passed to Pond. He took it past midfield and found a soft spot. Californians darted and converged on the streak he drew on the soft ground.

Dulcimer thought nothing looked more helpless. He was outnumbered. Laughter escaped Dulcimer's mouth. For he so much wanted to know what Pond thought. Cascadians caught up, formed lines to charge the Californian goal, and the pass down the middle was laughable in its perfection and knowledge of that certain use of force. For it split the seam of men, and the foot that touched it came from a white shirted kid. All alone. It was an easy touch on the ball, away from the outstretched fingers of the goalie, and when it went in, bedlam, bedlam, bedlam, in the stands, in the air, the shouts of the multitude -- the throng. And the great celebration began.

***

A gloomy whistle came from the pit of the pitch, and inside, if the crowd dared to look through the lens of their joy -- Cascadia 3, Commonwealth 2 -- stood two referees in a conference. Then, the moment of dread intensified and bore open the awful truth.

With the wave of a flag, offsides was cited, and the goal was waved off.

No goal.

The crowd tore out their hair. Then came a mighty sound. Of wood and bolts wrenched from cement. Planks snapped in the forest of seats and metal groaned from the efforts of an almost endless sea of hands that pushed and pulled and pushed and pulled. Things had to break, and did.

Dulcimer saw the rage of waves of seats come undone and hoisted up, then lifted onto the shoulders of laborers. Men, women, and children turned the seats into mountains of debris. Piled high in minutes. The stands seethed with tectonic activity. Anger sparked fires. In minutes the piles of seats went whoosh from the winds of flames. A ring of fire erupted all around the stadium.

Cali-state guardsmen seemed to have realized that the only use for guns against the multitude was to hold them out as magic wands. But there was very little sorcery performed. And these weren't wizards. Just men without plans to deal with a riot.

The Californian team headed into the locker room for safety.

The crowd sent parts of the stands airborne, and the bolides-in-flames crashed onto the field. Just a thousand yells out of tormented mouths. The fall of the first snow cooled nothing.

Dulcimer felt weird. He didn't see the view of chaos from every set of eyes in the stadium -- he saw their imaginations of possible trajectory of time, both what happened now, and what could happen if the decisions were followed to their full conclusion.

Everyone was going to die tonight.

Dulcimer ran towards the California team sideline. It must've looked strange. He didn't stay long. Upstairs in the skyboxes. That's what he meant to visit. He couldn't, of course. Who was he to pretend? But they'd come to him. For the past fifteen years visits came to him from the actors in the Commonwealth.

-Mr. Ulysses.-

Officer Brannan.

-I want to talk politics now.-

-Finally.-

-It's not just that. It's important that the crowds not be fired on.-

-That can’t be stopped.-

-If you don't get California's team back on the field, now, it gives the message that the game is over.-

-That decision was made by the spectators.-

-You have to allow these people to think the game will continue.-

-The referees have made their decision.-

-So, let the crowd make their’s.-

Dulcimer ran back to his goal. He noticed the flurry of fireflies that followed.

***
The big clock with the stone face in the shape of a Californian star marked the final procession of time in the game. Forces conspired to alter time, or at the very least compelled each side to notice the movement of the single hand that indicated the passage of the final minutes. Fans in their seats waved and roared in efforts to will Cascadia to victory, desperate of the clock and that their team should know of the domesday hour.

Dulcimer thought he could hear the stadium take one collective breath, hold it, then let it out in despair.

Another California offensive kept pace with the last ticks of the minute hand. Down the field.

Dulcimer saw Mackenzie hustle back down the field and make the play on the ball just at the second when the striker crossed the box line, and him and Mackenzie tumbled into each other, then both sprawled against the ground.

The hand on the field clock neared zero. Then it stopped. And the referee came out, held up a yellow card, and pointed at Mackenzie.

Penalty kick. California.

Dulcimer realized the player that walked to the line had been California's last substitute, put into the game after the stoppage of the game.

Santa Monica Lance.

***
It began to rain. Dulcimer heard the drizzle fall into the depressions made by cleats that'd torn up the earth. The icy furrows left over from the first plow started to melt. Just before they vanished, however, he had a chance to remember. He saw: the view from the sky of the ground. There was Columbia. There was him.

Santa Monica realized at that moment the goal he needed to score would come against the obstacle of Dulcimer, and whatever luck remained. The Californian sky-sailor, last survivor of the C.S.S. Modesto, looked crestfallen. He toed the ball nervously, and Dulcimer tried to imagine what Santa Monica would say.

-I died that day. Pretty sure I did. We never should've made it over the mushroom cloud. And we didn't. The minute we entered the plume we caught fire. There went our oxygen...the flames...way too intense. If the fire didn't kill me, the escape must've. But I'm here and that means I'm dead -- but alive too. I've been given this chance to rise again. I'm a dead man who can cheat death. I'm a dead man who can cheat death. I'm a dead man...-

So many things awaited Dulcimer in this moment of possibilities. He saw: head fakes, stutter steps, and all-around misdirection. He found himself off his feet before he knew what he'd done. The fireflies were above him. Voices in the crowd mentioned a shape in the clouds.

He wouldn't remember that. The ball hung in the air though.

The continuum of the score and time was stuck when the ground began to shake. Then the stands. Things really came undone. The upper decks bent, swayed, and a terrible groan from simultaneous moans of steel. Until the cement finally let go and rails burst through the skin of wood and more cement. Both sides of the stadium constricted in terrible accordion motions. Every time the tension subsided the upper decks released a agonized breath. The spittle of wood chips, cement blocks, and human beings was ejected from the collapse. A maw of steel.

Dulcimer realized the sounds of screams came from human mouths. The shakes intensified. Now he could barely stand. With a hand on the ground for stability he wobbled over to the sidelines.

One side of the entire upper deck came apart. First the skyboxes plummeted, then the seats tilted and shook out the contents. Petrified people. Those who were shaken, had no balance, and so hurtled to their deaths below. Some clung to rails and beams and seats, only to prolong their terror of the heights, that they fell to, dashed on the rocks of the lower decks.

Dulcimer's first reaction demanded he put his hand to his ears. To stifle the tumult. The underworld would soon open. He knew that now.

He heard his name. He turned around.

It was the Odysseum, and Roxana leaned over the side.

Nice save.


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