My dream takes me past the security doors and its grim faced personnel. The corridor into the building folds back and forth in a paranoid maze until I reach the stairs and descend into the subterranean bureaucracy. It is cool and airy in the modern way, with no receptionists in your face and the offices muted and private. My feet lead inevitably to the Map Room. The room is swept periodically with light, illuminating the wood-panelling that surrounds the huge table. It supports a detailed map of the city; my eyes are drawn to the lines of force that arc and twitch around the city’s landmarks. Two wooden figures stand on the map.
We’re here to supervise the voting process. Now that good and evil are viable terms for social policy some measure of them is required in politics and the wheels of civil governance. It is not yet acceptable to build a party on such philosophical nightmares though, and that in part, was cause for our attendance. Still religion and economics attempts to take the fore. My boss, Cedric, in his constant suit and hat calmly regards the map.
We had a visitor present, from the inspection committee. He was a dark-faced man with a temper and no patience for our talk of good and evil. I felt nothing but contempt for him and pointedly ignored him. The map is more than enough to focus on. We made it together, Cedric and I. We infused with the forces we can sense; it exactly represents the City and its mood.
As the voting progressed the figures on the table grew steadily. We were watchful for deformation, sparks of colour and speed – all of which would indicate the influence of evil, or good on the proceedings. The feeling of mirrored energies surging across the table map and into the two men’s figurines was exhausting. We spent the day watchful for those sensations to which we are equally but diametrically attuned. We guard each other in raised eyebrows and significant glances.
The election seemed to go well, though the inspector offered constant distractions from our quiet vigil. He fussed and huffed until we could assure him that the figurines on the map were untainted by excess, that they contained a normal degree of good and evil, and that neither of us had exerted an undue influence over the outcome of the election. That showed how little he understood – our job was to monitor each other for our own sakes. The temptation to encourage your nature, tease it out from its hidden corners is powerful and we helped each other to curb ourselves. I don’t even recall who won. It hardly matters – they were ordinary men, equally subject to our extremes; the future was not within our remit and that future was beyond a mere election.
The day left me restless and unhappy. I spoke quietly with my boss, we touched hands and I left. I knew that I was a danger to the City. Despite our influence on each other I could still feel those coils of darkness in the City. They were drawn to me, and I to them. It was not safe for me to stay.
I wake. It is not an election today but the dream of it lies heavy in my mind. It has been years since the election and as I predicted, events have overtaken politics. The City fell to the darkness and it has spent the last ten years consuming everything. On the outside I was insulated from those curlicues of violence in the night. With the City sealed in a bubble of its own decline my role has been to watch from the outside, detect any escaping dread that might infect the rest. The emigration from the cities has been effective, there have been no more desperate purges, riots, terrible acts of rage and fear. The threat had been contained, or so I believed.
Having already made the trip in my dream the journey to the office smacked of deja vu, but as if through smoked glass. Parts of the city I remember fondly are gone, unseen by the residents. There are more people about today and I watch them ignoring the gaps in their City, taking extreme diversions around blacked out streets and buildings. Even the crawling death across the paving slabs is nimbly stepped over.
It all feels wrong, and yet so right. The evil inside me thrills to this subsumption but it is exactly that which persuaded me to join the agency. I know to be wary of that feeling, it is seductive. I regret my return even as I am welcomed.
I meet my boss at the office. He seems much older than he should. We exchange weary smiles and touch hands. The office is precisely as I remember, until we reach the map. It is riven with darkness like a cankerous parasite clawing the City into itself. He raises an eyebrow and makes a dismissive gesture.
“Let’s go out for dinner” he says, “there are some people I’d like you to meet.”
The sky’s blue is fading already and the birds are playing their speed stunts again. A warm wind blows sepia through the city. We walk down a street of restaurants and bars. Many are closed, but several are lanterns in the night, full of cheerful faces and happiness. We don’t look at the other side of the road where the houses disappear in a ragged darkness and barely coalescent shapes haunt the shadows.
Part 4 (finale) coming next week… I’m sorry…