Water hit him like a bomb in the back. It was cold. It stank like 30 years of bad climate. It felt more like slime than water.
He now was under the water, in the black darkness of lightless nights. Probably not even sunlight was able to cut through the stuff, the old Spree-river was now made of.
Up, up, he had to go up.
Something hit him on his leg.
Still going up, Viktor felt another movement in the watery slime.
Getting over the waterline, he breathed hard, turned around. He had come quite some way from the Fernsehturm, the line had to be hundreds of meters long. Or not – and this wasn’t the Spree, but he didn’t care. He had to go out of the water.
Something hit him. Pushed him.
He breathed hard, once, twice, then the thing got his arm. Pulled him down.
The watery substance again tried to sneak in his mouth, his nose. He fought. Hit the thing, but it was hard, harder than wood, maybe harder than steel. His metal arm was caught between the jaws of the creature. Which was probably not a dolphin, but something else, older, meaner.
He hit it, it shook him, the oily slime softening the movements. With his good hand he tried to get the knife out of his shoulder. It took him a few tries, but then he had the grip.
He felt fire, when he pulled out the blade, fire and blood. And the creature smelled the blood.
It opened its jaws, invisible, but Viktor felt it, felt the movement in the water. He could almost see the entity, darker than the black water.
And there was something white. Large and white. Large and white and weird.
Maybe the shock, maybe his brain trying to ease his demise, a hallucination of the last moments of his life.
He went up, up to the surface of the river.
The night was cold and rainy. The thunderstorm moved over Berlin like a drunken dancer. But the Spree was worse, it was in real turmoil. Oily waves of slime rolled up and down, shadows moved here and there, puzzle pieces of suffering.
He looked around. The bridge was maybe 50 meter away. So he swam. Tried to ignore his pain in his shoulder, the large fight behind and beneath him. His feet moved, shoved him forward. Just 45 meter. Now maybe 40 meter. 30 meter.
Something crashed through the surface in front of him. There, in an almost biblical fight or maybe in a fight from an old anime movie, both creatures were in the air. One was a crocodile or an alligator, Viktor was not willing to waste time. The other one was a dolphin, white as death and his head was a mix of technology and rage. The reptile held the dolphin with its claws, the dolphins enhanced jaws tried to rip out one of the reptiles eyeballs. For at least one eternity, both creatures were standing still. Then they clashed back into the boiling river.
“Fuck”, Viktor said, trying as professional as possible. No money in the world would be able to burn out that image.
He continued to swim. Entering the shadow of the bridge, he looked upwards. Good. No face, no fire, no light. The gangs probably slept.
He reached the base of the bridge, a small area full of rotten grass and rusty railroad bars.
His foot got stuck. He moved. Tried to get free. This foot didn’t move. Then it moved backwards.
He turned around. His eyes met the one of the reptile. If the reptile would have been intelligent, it would have smiled.
It didn’t. It just pulled on his foot.
The blade. Viktor jumped forward. The black blade cutting the night in half, entered the surviving eye of the creature.
Nothing happened. Then, as if the nerves of the creature needed a little longer than usual, the jaws opened a little bit, but now, the creature started to move. Started to roll. Started to drown him.
The reptile was never able to roll over. Suddenly it was in the air, leaving Viktors foot behind on his body. From below, the weird looking dolphin was crushing his head in the soft belly of the reptile, pushing him in the air, maybe 5 or 6 feet, then it crashed in the Spree again. A few seconds later, it happened again. The reptile still fought, but the dolphin obviously had a plan. The ton of electronics all over its head were not just for fun. It thought. It planned. It thought.
Then the reptile appeared one last time, flew through the air, crashed at one of the bridge piers, got his neck broken or any other large bone and fell in the water. Its white belly flowed down the Spree, disappearing in the dark under the bridge.
“Thanks Flipper”, Viktor said. He almost smiled.
He went up the pier, wet, his shoulder burning, his foot almost eaten up.
“Who the fuck are you?”
He looked up. Some white face looked at him. Holding a gun or a knife, Viktor didn’t know.
“One moment, please”, he said, while he sat down on the edge of the bridge. His body burned. His mind raced. He looked up to the bright light of the Fernsehturm.
His breath felt burning, his stomach had probably drunk to much Spree-water, but he was still alive. And he had an appointment.
“Who the fuck are you?”
He turned around, looked at the white face of the gang-member.
“I come from there and I want to go there”, he said.
Viktor showed him. The boy was stupid enough to look.
Viktor grabbed him by the neck and pulled him over the edge. The guy disappeared in the Spree.
Two other faces appeared from the dark.
“Who are you? Where is Rico?”
“Rico? Can he swim?”
Viktor got up. His clothes felt beyond wet, stained from oil and slime. The reptiles blood smelled almost worse.
The guys were a little shorter than him, but they looked angry, like flowing skulls in the darkness. Their eyes looked large, probably enhanced.
They had guns. At least, those things looked like guns. Old guns.
“You are on our bridge. You have to pay the toll.”
“Who are you?”
One of the guys smiled. His teeth were sharp. “We are the trolls and this is our bridge.”
In the background, other faces appeared, but they were few and way back.
“What do you want?”, Viktor asked.
Viktor checked his knife. It wasn’t there. It stuck in the eye of the reptile, would stick there until the river itself would burn down the flesh and bones of the dead creature into its atomic parts and swallow it and feed itself with it.
“Why do you smile?”, one of the guy asked.
“Because I have nothing.”
“You have your life and your electronics. It will fit our purse.”
It didn’t fit. But Viktors fist fit the crater in that guys chest. As the guy flew backwards, he hit his friend and kicked him over the edge of the bridge. Lying down, he breathed hard, as hard as possible, but only for a few moments. His eyes flickered, went out.
“Fucker”, Viktor said. He pulled the gun out of the trolls hand, checked the pockets of the black leather jackets, found a few crumbled cigarettes, an old smartphone and a bottle of some unknown booze.
“Hey!”, one of the trolls screamed.
The gun didn’t go off. The night stood silent over the click.
The shadow on his right side grew with every step. The building was as giant as Viktor remembered. The old church stood there as a symbol of faith, as hope for a future, which would never appear in this reality.
Viktor jumped down the bridge when he had the possibility to do so and disappeared between the old trees which stared at him like forgotten gods waiting to die.
He went down. The shrubbery was old and weak, but he wasn’t alone there. Several sleepers moved back and forth as if they were able to dream again. A few addicts stared to the Dom and prayed in their own language, hoping to archive some kind of epiphany.
Viktor layed down, the disfunctional gun in his head. An idea later, he opened the bottle, took a sip and used the rest of the acidy fluid to cover his head and body.
Some of the trolls appeared behind the bushes, staring at the sleepers.
“He isn’t here. Lets go!”
“Maybe. Maybe”, one of the others said. “The Swabes are looking for him. And he killed three of our gang.”
“The Swabes? Those fuckers. If he could escape them, he could escape us. And they didn’t say, that he is alive. They said, that he is maybe alive.”
“So. Maybe he wasn’t the guy they are looking for.”
“Sure”, a third voice rasped its way into the night. “If that guy even lives, he is not able to get help. The Swabes will not allow it. He can’t even reach the Regierungsviertel.”
Murmurs appeared and faded away as the shadows did.
Viktor waited a few minutes, went up, looked around.
He wanted to curse. Spit. Kick people. Kill. But he didn’t. The mission was more imporant and now even more. He spelled out, what he had know for some time now. The mission was fake, a fluke, a lie. But who was the traitor?
The Dom would help. Tamburian would be there. Maybe.
The doors of the old building were open, more or less. Viktor pressed them, but they didn’t move more than a few centimeters. He pressed himself through the gap without his backpack, took it again, when he was through. The feeling on his skin reminded him of being flayed, just for a moment. It burned, but it probably was the rest of the Spree-essence. Would make a nice name for a perfume. Or a new Napalm-based killer-fluid.
The innermost of the Dom was dark.Whatever gold and glitter had existed before, now everything had been ripped out and sold. The old altar still stood, but his surface had been painted with glowing neon-paing, showing old symbols or new ones, Viktor wasn’t sure and didn’t care enough to find their meaning. Yet, one of the symbols, which was sprayed in a giant circle on the wall, where the organ had been played before, Viktor knew. He had seen it before and he hated it and it hated him. It was a hand, broken by a hammer – a mechanical hand broken by a burning hammer.
The “organics”. They were not only not fond of everything technological, because they believed, that technology itself had burned the climate and therefore nature and god, but cyborgs and bionic itself was supposed to be the devil.
And here he was. Without a gun. Without a knife.
People sang somewhere in the background, moved around, as if they danced. It were old songs from the last century, maybe from the late 90s. Church songs for young people. Worship songs. Puritan songs.
Viktor crawled forwards between the church benches, which had not been pushed over. The voices became clearer, louder.
A preacher appeared in front of the crowd of 20 or 30 shadows, his face rippling from the echoes of the torches on the left and the right of his chosen pulpit, a heap of destroyed televisions.
“This is the night!”, the preacher yelled.
But this time, he wore another outfit and his face was clean and his beard was not as fuzzy as before.
“This is the night!”, he yelled again.
His sheeps followed his words, yelled them over and over again.
“Empires crumble! Satan burns, but this time, he will be destroyed! Death comes to the profiteers of hell. Death comes to the conglomerates, the zaibatsus, the companies which open the doors to hell to let demons enter! Cyborgs! Demon magic! They will perish and this night! The prophets speak and the souls listen. An army of glorious warriors will appear and will rip the head of the snake from his body! It will …”
Something vibrated on Viktors back.
And it also made a sound.
A sound, which was hearable everywhere in the old cathedral.
Silence followed, a true silence, the evil one, the one, which tells you, that everyone else has stopped breathing, is only listening. A silence, which would suck the sounds off the air.
The silence stopped instantaneously. People got up. Looked around, their heads behind covers of old newspapers, only their eyes were visible, more or less.
“I am not Ralf”, the preacher yelled. “You should not be here!” He moved, his arms stretched out. “Get him!”
Viktor didn’t fight, when they got him. They were more than enough to kill several people and they were angry. Angry about everything, angry about the future, the past, eternity, you name it.
“Bring him to me!”
They followed his command, angry sheep, pissed of, high from their preachers word.
“Ralf”, Viktor said. “I need your help.”
“I am not Ralf, I am Tamburian and I am not helping you. You are part of the conspiracy, part of the demon-world. You are not pure anymore. You disgust me.”
“Yeah, sure. You probably would love to visit my grave every week or year or never, right?”, Viktor asked. Grim started to pour out of his eyes. His fists grinded. “You, all of you. Hiding your face behind paper, so the evil technology is not able to scan your face, but in the meantime, you are using electrical power to come here, to work, to eat. Yes, I don’t see any farmer here, who works so hard, his hands have become callouses itself. You live with the demons you hate and you love it.”
Someone punched him in the back.
“He has something in his backbag!”
Viktor didn’t wait for the hands. He jumped up, the gun in his hand, zeroed the distance between him and his Cousin.
“Hello, Tamburian. Ralf. Whatever. You will help me to get out of here.”
“Why, why should I help you, demon?”
“Because you are scared of pain and scared of death. So, where is your secret tunnel?”
Ralf closed the door behind them. The door was old and thick enough to transform the angry knocking and punchings of dozens of fists and shoes into the soft clicks of a weird clock.
The room was white, bright white and the only things which existed were the door and a couple of stairs on the right, spiraling down.
“Come one”, Viktor growled and pushed the gun to his cousins neck.
Ralf tumbled forwards, but not fast enough to escape Viktors demon-hand.
“Let me go and I let you go”, Ralf said, breathless behind his clenched teeth.
“No way. I escape, you can go where ever you want.”
“Yes and fuck you too.”
They followed the steps. The walls grew smaller, the space shrunk more and more until they reached another door.
“This is not the official way to get into the catacombs”, Viktor said.
“Yes, because the official way is impossible. But if you like, freak, I will bring you there. Lets go up and through the door.”
“No. Thanks. And now open that door.”
Ralf produced a small key, which looked not like a normal one.
“It looks like a SR-32, biotech. I am disappointed.” Viktor shook his head.
“Fuck you. I am forced to to this.”
“No one forces you!”
“So many Martins, right?”
“You and your demonic plaque will disappear. This night will show, that God can still fight.”
“So you should let him fight.”
Behind the door a long tunnel appeared.
“Follow that tunnel and it will bring you to your goal. Maybe the end of your travels.”
“I don’t trust you.”
“And I hate you, Viktor. Yes, you should have died, should have died with dignity. But now, you are not human anymore.”
“More human than you, Ralf. Tamburian. Whatever. Why should I trust you?”
“Because the rest of your body, the little spark of that part of your soul, which is not dead, is the soul of my cousin. This will be the last time, I will talk to you. May god have mercy.”
Viktor ran. He could hear Ralfs voice, yelling commands, screaming curses while he was running up the stairs to his people, his flock, his cult, his mad followers.
The tunnel was mostly dark. A few lights had been put on the walls and the ceiling, belching grey dawn through the darkness.
The first skull got Viktor by surprise. The skull smiled, his black eyes gleaming with forgotten knowledge. Another skull followed. Bones followed. The walls were full of them, full of niches, filled with the dead of the city, the old kingdoms. Here were not normal people. All the bodies, all the names on brass-batches, they didn’t mean nothing anymore. History was dead like all the people who had died.
There was not time to stay and ponder. Steps and screams appeared in the back of Viktors neck and he felt the cold sting of panic running down his shoulders. He ran. He should have run before, not only today but at least a few times during the last years. For a few moments, he dreamed about the explosion and wished, it had taken him his legs and given him fast ones, but then he grinded his teeth to overcome the fire in his thighs and continued his way.
There was no way to escape, no place to hide, no maze or empty space to divide the pack. He had to run. Run and run.
They came near, but never reached him. With time, the dead disappeared and the niches were replaces with water pipes. Steam rolled through the air, creating fogs and clouds and micro-climate-zones. And then the tunnel ended. Just stopped. Viktor cursed.
He looked around. Looked up.
Someone had milled steps in the wall, steps which went up. He thanked his weird cousin with grim sarcasm and went up the circular tunnel which ended in a floor panel. White light showed the holes in that panel, so Viktor shoved it away.
The room was part of an apartment. It was dry, at least it felt dry. There was even dust on the window-pane. An old CRT-tv stood on an older shelf. A couch and a chair and a table waited to be used again.
Viktor put the panel back. After a few seconds of pondering, he pushed the couch over the panel and sat down. Breathed hard. Tried to think. Tried to think hard.
Hunger. He had hunger, a hunger which would never be fulfilled in his lifetime, but he could try to eat something.
He got up, went to the kitchen.
The freezer was still running, sadly the inside was almost empty. The rest of it was booze.
Viktor went through the shelves, found a pack of cookies. The expiration date was thankfully not visible. The cookies smelled okay, tasted stale but filled his mouth. Even the tap was working, the water was the usual mix of water and everything else. He could feel his DNA change.
When he looked out the window, he could see the main road in the Regierungsviertel. It was as empty as usual in the night. What was the time? His watch has lost the its last power. The tablet in his backpack. Yes. And he also had to find out, why it had woken up the cult.
A face was looking at him, frozen in despair. But it was only a kind of creative interpretation of Lasseter, maybe 50 years younger, back in the days, when the climate fuck up was still a “thing, which would never exist.”
He tapped the picture, some animation was played and then the screen went crazy. Several windows opened and closed, showing white characters and numbers in front of black backgrounds, like in the old movies. He knew, what encryption was, but he never had learned stuff like that. He had been a policeman and used computers to enter stuff in the database.
Lasseter face appeared, this time the mix of old leather and rotten fruit, the face of a man who would die – but never allow it.
“Herr Schmidt”, he said. “I heard the news. The bad news. What happened?”
Viktor used few words and as calmly as possible he explained the problem.
“So she is still alive.”
“Good. Because I know, where she will be.”
“So … I just ask, don’t get me wrong: If you know, where she will be and that she is alive, why did you wanted an explanation.”
“The reason is”, Lasseters wrinkles shrank and opened again, “I don’t trust anymore. And now I have to trust you. Therefore, I just wanted to know, what happened. I wasn’t sure. There were manipulations on the data-streams, weird calculation-differences of the pod-movements, program-glitches et cetera. The original plan was, that the pod had to land in Moabit, but Martin had informed me, that there would be an attack. And Charlottenburg was out of question, too many reporters et cetera. So Prenzlberg. Not Alexanderplatz. Despite the fact that I had made contact with the Swabes to pay for Marias security, the plan had to be cancelled for the lack of … interest from the other party.”
“The Swabes didn’t want money?”
“They probably had another offer. And they were in a boss-fight. A new leader was trying to get the seat on the top.”
“The new leader has the seat on the top.”
“Hm, well, so my daughter lives. Which is good. They will bring her to Zoologischer Garten. Not the zoo, but the station. Top level.”
“To make the exchange.”
“Yes. Whoever will be there, will be my enemy. Save my daughter. Save my family.”
The connection closed, the tablet went silent. A few windows remained like before, showed maps and weather patterns. And now it showed movements from the eastern side of the city.
Leaving the house, Viktor went left. Staying in the shadows, he moved towards the western wall. The streets were empty. Real empty. No one was there. Not even the streetlights were as bright as usual. No police, no cyborg, no robot, no drone, nothing moved.
The wall was empty. The gate to west Berlin was open.