4 The Sun

He wasn’t sure why she was following him, he had so many things on his mind that he honestly didn’t even notice her at first. His mind was in a fog, but that was something he had gotten used to. Life had been a fog for Cynical for some time, since the end of the war. They had called it the Never-Ending war. It sounded stupid and overly dramatic to anyone who hadn’t seen the front lines of that war, after all the war had ended, it had been over for the past five years. It had lasted for over a thousand years and stripped much of the battle field vegetation away and left the lands south the cities mostly desert. What had he been thinking about again?

“Sooo, sorry to bother you again Doctor, but are you headed to the surface? Cuuuuus it would really help if you could take me there.”

The high pitched and sliding slurring voice snapped him back to the moment. The—female? Yes, he was going to assume female until she corrected him. Or maybe it was bad idea to assume her gender…oh right she had asked a question.

“Yes, I’m going back to the surface. You can come with me if you want—are you sure you want to though?”

“Huh—whhhy would I nooot want to go see the surface?”

Cynical looked at the creature’s face, she had eyes—somehow—but she didn’t have a mouth. So, her face was an unreadable mask of flowing green slime. Cynical couldn’t even begin to fathom how she was alive, how her body had form and solid mass rather than just a liquid that puddled on the ground. And no matter how much he looked around her gelatinous semi-transparent body he couldn’t spot anything that looked like a brain. But she somehow could talk and form complex thoughts. But Cynical knew that monsters were always strange and difficult to understand. Some of them were intelligent, some of them were not. Almost none of them talked to any of the surface-dwelling races of the world. Fluxy had been the first one to even talk to Cynical directly let alone with the kind, calm domineer that Fluxy was showing him.

“Is there sooomthing on my face?” Cynical didn’t notice that he had been staring at her—no that wasn’t right. He knew he was staring it just hadn’t occurred to him yet that Fluxy would find it strange that he was staring at her.

“Sorry, I…” he trailed off searching for a way to explain what he was thinking and feeling. “I wasn’t expecting to meet someone like you today, is all. Look if you want to go to the surface, I’m not going to stop you, but I don’t really think people are going to treat you very well up there.”

 “Soooo, nothing new then,” she said with a coldness that almost froze Cynical’s heart. “I want to see the rest of the world, there has to be something else out there besides dark hallways and damp sewers.”

Of course, there was, but Cynical supposed if she had been born in the underground sections of the layered city, she might not know that. Cynical didn’t think there was much in the world worth seeing. But then again, he had been given every opportunity to see the world so maybe what wouldn’t be that interesting to him might be worth risking everything to Fluxy.

“Alright, we’re almost there,” Cynical said at last acknowledging her resolve.

The two of them made their way to the super section of the swerves. The sewers got cleaner the closer to the surface one got. But that was the case with everything in the Layered city, the further up one got the nicer things tended to be. The skyscrapers and high-rises were the domain of the richest and most powerful. And the lowest section of the sewers were the slums where all the homeless were forced to live. Appearances were everything after all, the city couldn’t have the ugliness of homelessness interfering with the mental health and wellbeing of the productive citizens on the surface. There was a layer lower than the slums, the dungeons where the monster came from. Some even thought there was something deeper than that, but the adventures who made it their mission to explore the dungeons had never discovered anything deeper.

Eventually the two of them came to a ladder, that lead up to a manhole cover. It was the way Cynical had gotten down when looking for Ordell. He patted the ladder as though it was something important and delicate.

“This ladder will take us to the surface, let me go first though I need to make sure there aren’t any cars coming on the road above.” Fluxy nodded in response. Cynical didn’t know if she even knew what a car was, but she seemed okay with taking his word for it.

Cynical slowly made his way up the ladder, careful not to slip. The dampness of the whole sewer made the slick metal surface dangerous. Fluxy waited patiently at the bottom of the ladder, watching the doctor with interest as he made his way up and pushed slowly on the bottom of the manhole cover. As he did it slid up and off of its natural resting place, then he pushed it to the right and bright blinding light slid down into the dark space. He carefully popped his head above ground making sure no cars were coming. He had picked a less traveled road near the outskirts of the city, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.

When he had made sure they weren’t going to get run over he motioned for Fluxy to follow him and crawled up onto the surface. He offered his hand to his new friend to help her up. Her hands were large and only had two fingers and a thumb sticking out at a weird angle. Her hands felt sticky and almost seemed like they had glued themselves to Cynical’s. He was afraid for a moment that he wasn’t going to be able to get his hand separated from hers. But once he had helped her climb up their hands came apart, and while his hands felt a little sticky afterwards slime did not stretch between their hands like he expected.

When Fluxy first emerged from the sewer she was forced to close her eyes. Cynical could see that her eyes were not adjusting well to the light of the noonday sun. Cynical still couldn’t get over the fact that she had eyes that could react to light.

“It’s so bright, almost too bright,” she said as she shielded her face with her hand and tried to force her eyes open. After only a few seconds she ended up having to close them again.

“Take your time and let your eyes adjust, there’s no need to hur…” he was going to say hurry but then a strong and familiar wind suddenly flared up and caused him to hesitate.

Oh no, he thought. This is the worst timing possible.

“Wait right their Fluxy, don’t go anywhere I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?” her voice was just as much judgmental as confused.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll be back before you know it,” and that was the last thing he said to her before taking off running in the direction the wind had been traveling.

I hope she wasn’t going far, there’s no way I can keep up with her. He needn’t have worried since he hadn’t been running for long when he spotted a familiar green haired man floating nonchalantly in the air.

“Livaris,” Cynical shouted up to try and get his attention.

“Dr. Cynical,” the green haired man said with an unnatural smoothness, as he floated down to ground level. “How are you doing this fine day?”

“I’ll tell you latter, first off, did you see Speed Demon going this way?”

“Yes, I did, she shouted at me and said the Black Hawk gang was fighting the Steely Drivers down by 104th and Emson.”

The green haired man’s nonchalant domineer might be off putting to most, especially considering he was talking about a battle in a gang war that had already killed hundreds of innocent people. But Cynical knew that Livaris was not a person in the strictest sense of the word. He was a robot, or an android, there was a technical term for what he was exactly, but it didn’t come too Cynical in that exact moment. His computer like coldness was an asset more often than it was a hinderance anyways so Cynical tried not to take it personally.

“I was going to join her but she said I should wait and see if anyone else came along, and look here you are.”

Cynical quickly went over everything he knew in his head about the two gangs. The Black Hawks were particularly violent compared to most of the other gangs, which was saying something. They tended to pick more fights, which was dangerous in the world of gangs and revenge. But it had worked out well for them somehow, they always struck first and crushed their opposition steeling all the assets and resources of the gang they were fighting. Which explained clearly why they were after the Steely Drivers; they were infamous for steeling gas from tankers and pipelines.

Cynical drew an elaborate art deco pistol from his coat pocket. He had no intention of letting innocent people get hurt in the needless violence of the city’s gang war. He was still a solider at heart, no matter how hard he had tried to leave that part of him behind. He stole a look back at where Fluxy was standing still shielding her face from her new painful discovery of the sun.

Don’t move, he thought to himself. Don’t go anywhere, there’s still a lot I want to ask you. And I’m sure a lot you need to ask before you find out what our world is like, the hard way….

3 A Way Out

Fluxy had been teaching herself to read for some time, it hadn’t really been anything more than a time sink. She was board most of the time in the dungeon by herself. So, when she learned the wizard was only in the dungeon at certain times, she jumped at the opportunity to sneak into his lab. And he had books, lots and lots of books. The issue for her at first was that she couldn’t read. And of course, while she had a type of sight, she couldn’t truly see the way humans can. But as she focused more on the ridged physicality of the world around her, she slowly developed sight. She even grew eyes somehow, or something like eyes anyways.

And even after all that it still took her sometime to figure out how to turn the lines, dots, and squiggles into sounds and meanings. She never figured out to make the sounds out load. But as she listened to the casual conversation of some of the adventures, she encountered she learned how the sounds connected to the symbols on the page. Letters connected to make phrases, and phrases made sounds, which could then be put together to make words. Sounds that didn’t have any meaning, given meaning by the person listening.

The wizard had books in many different languages, and while she struggled with a lot of them she did manage to learn two of them well enough to read. The first language she learned was the one that seemed to be the most common, the second was a much stranger language. Unlike the common language she learned, the symbols were the phrase and those phrases were put together into much shorter words.

But on the day the wizard caught her in his library, she had a specific purpose, she had seen the man in the suite the day before. And something lit inside of her, she wanted to know about the world beyond the walls of the dungeon. She had pored over all the books that she thought might have a reference to the outside world. But there was an issue, the wizard had a lot of fiction mixed in with technical books. She had a hard time figuring out what the outside world was. The outside world was either a horrifying post-apocalyptic hell-scape, an idealistic world of love and peace, or anywhere in-between.

She was so absorbed in her reading that she didn’t notice the time passing. The wizard kept a clock in his library, so she always knew when to head back to her room so the wizard didn’t see her. The wizard didn’t know she was more than just a normal slime. Considering the way most humans reacted to her, she didn’t think the wizard would be any more understanding. And she knew that he was not a kind man, she had seen him kill adventures that she had only knocked out with not even the slightest hint of hesitation. But she messed up, she lost track of time. And then the wizard walked in at some point in the morning.

She noticed him right away, there was a tension that the wizard carried with him wherever he went. And so, the moment she felt her slimy body stiffen, she knew something was wrong. Then she noticed him with her heat sense next, his body was much warmer then the cold damp dungeon, and then finally her physical sight, he still hadn’t put on his beard and hair that he only wore when he was there for reasons that Fluxy could never figure out. He stopped and stared at her for a moment, she was used to that. Apparently, she was so strange that human brains took a moment to prosses what they were seeing. She should have used the time to run, instead she stared back.

“What the hell are you,” the wizard shouted as he raised his hands palms out towards her.

She didn’t know what he was doing at first, but that was understandable because to her “wizard” was just his name. She knew what magic was, in theory, she had read all about it in the books in the man’s library that she had so often snuck into. But she had never seen it done before. Never knew what it was like to see a man perform an impossible miracle with the casualness of walking or chewing gum. When lightning shot out of the man’s outstretched hands she didn’t have time to react. It struck her, and tore through her body. One of the advantages of being made from slime is that she had never really felt pain before. Everything ranged from dull discomfort to a tickling sensation most of the time. But when the lightning hit her she knew what pain felt like. Like her body was being forced apart, and then it was. She exploded into a spray of green goo that rained all over the wizard’s books.

Her self-awareness faded, there was still some things she could feel, light, heat, movement. But she couldn’t draw her attention towards anything, and she couldn’t think about anything. She couldn’t tell if time was passing at all or if she was just trapped in one single never-ending moment. There was a noise, but it sounded like static, like the low murmur of people talking in the distance.

Then the single moment ended and time started to move again. The static slowly morphed into the ambient sound of moving air and water, like a human slowly unplugging their ears and finally hearing what was around them. Her thoughts cleared and her senses started to work again. She blinked and looked around at her surroundings.

She was still underground, but the warm, weathered bricks that made up the dungeon were gone. And instead the floor was made of gray, unfeeling, concrete. She tried to move, but her body wasn’t cooperating. She looked down to see why, and was shocked to see she didn’t have any arms or legs. Looking around in a panic she saw that small blobs of green slime, were crawling towards her, rejoining with her and slowly rebuilding her body bit by bit. She just had to be a little patient and she would be back on her feet in no time.

She decided to spend the time trying to figure out where she was. It was defiantly some sort of underground tunnel. There was a wide ditch in the ground near where she was, and brown water flowed in it like a raging river. She couldn’t smell, and that was probably a good thing, because she guessed that the smell would be awful. Condensation dripped from crakes that had formed in the concrete celling, a mark of the wear of time.

She was almost certain she was in a sewer of some kind. She knew what sewers were, she had read all about them in one of the wizard’s books. There were lots of sewers all over the world, many were older then then the cities above the ground where the humans lived. She didn’t know how that was possible and the books never explained that part, the authors that did address the issue didn’t seem to understand why either.

There was a dumpster nearby, and a trash bag that someone had tried to get into the dumpster, but they must have thrown it and it must have fallen short. Why they didn’t just pick up the bag and try again she didn’t know. But then she took a closer look at the black garbage bag. It had broken open, and a large amount of the moving slime bits were emerging from the garbage bag.

It made senses, she was the garbage the wizard had tried to throw out. She was the garbage that wasn’t worth walking up to the bag when he missed the first time. That made sense to her. She decided not to think about it anymore then she already had, instead she focused moving her legs which had just reformed as she had been thinking. She tried to use her legs to push herself to her feet, but it was hard to get up with no arms, she couldn’t keep her balance and ended up falling down every time she tried.

Eventually though enough of her body had returned to her where her arms and hands reformed. She had never really been able to from completely humanoid hands, instead her hand was shaped oddly, she had two long finger and a thumb, the thumb was backwards on her hand facing up towards her fingers. She had tried to form more human hands once but they had just fallen apart. Her arms and her hands were good enough to grab things, and more importantly, to help her keep her balance. She stood up at long last.

She regarded her surroundings one last time before deciding what to do. She had no idea how to get back to the dungeon, and she had been thinking about leaving to explore the world anyways, so her unplanned departure had really been for the best. The only difference was she would have to find a different place to live once she had finished exploring the world. She had always planned on going back to the dungeon once her travels were done. It was still home to her despite everything, if it hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have bothered defending it from all those adventures. 

She shifted her mind to get her body to spit up one of the metal tubs she kept in herself as storage, there was a map in the one she wanted that might help her. But she panicked for a moment when nothing came out. But how could it, she had exploded recently and everything that she had been holding inside of her had probably dropped on the floor of the wizard’s library. That meant that she had just lost everything she owned, as meager as that might have been. That meant her sword was gone as well. That sword had gotten her through a lot down in the dungeon. She would also miss her shiny coins and rocks that she had worked so hard to collect, those things wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else. But to her they represented a lifetime of work and collecting.

There wasn’t anything she could do about it though, and even if she knew where to go to get back to the dungeon. And even if she did she wondered if she would have the courage to go back. If the wizard could take her out with a wave of his hands—was there even any point? Not that she could see. As things stood she had nowhere to be and nowhere to go. But nowhere somehow seemed preferable to going back. Besides she was thinking of seeing the world anyways. It might not have been on her own terms, but she could finally what the outside world was like.

Though if this is what the outside world looks like I’m not really impressed, she thought as she looked around at the flowing brown water and discarded garbage scattered around her. Well I know I’m in a sewer underground somewhere, maybe things will look better once I get above ground.

With that thought in her head she decided to look around for a place where she could go up, up to the surface. Presuming such a place existed. All the books she read said it did but being able to write something down in a book, didn’t mean that it existed. That’s what fiction meant, she had learned that early on.

She figured she should follow the water, but the question was, should she follow the water in the direction it was flowing. Or follow it back to its source. She thought about it for a moment, the water probably flowed down from the surface, she didn’t really want to see where the disgusting water ended up. So, she started making her way upstream.

When she first started making her way up there were no humans around even though the evidence of them was everywhere. She came across more dumpsters, she had no idea why there were dumpsters down in the sewers if there were no people to use them. She didn’t have to wonder for long. She started seeing humans, many of them dressed in clothing that looked old and ragged. Many of them were sleeping against some of the dumpsters, she also started to notice that some of them were sleeping in the dumpster, she even saw one human sleeping in the brown river. She started to think that they had been there when she first woke up, but they just camouflaged into their surroundings so well she couldn’t tell that they were there.

She decided to switch to her heat vision so no humans could sneak up on her and try to hurt her like they did in the dungeon. But she didn’t have to worry, even the humans that were awake didn’t even look twice at her. She switched off her heat vision and as she walked by a group of humans huddled around a fire, she waved at them. One of them did a double take but then they just shrugged as she walked by them.

So far everything’s going well, no one’s attacked me yet, she thought. I don’t understand why the humans that came into the dungeon were so determined to attack me when the humans here don’t seem to care at all?

There was definitely something wrong with the humans she saw there. They didn’t look—healthy—yes that was a good way to describe what she saw. They didn’t look sick, or at least not all of them did.

As she walked the river she followed seemed to grow deeper and it flowed faster than it had further down. She couldn’t believe that something like that could have been man made, but there was no way the underground sewers were natural. It was rather grand in its own way. She even walked up several stories of stairs as she followed the brown river back to its source. She couldn’t believe how deep the underground was. And she didn’t know for sure but she was starting to suspect that the dungeon where she had lived was somehow connected to that deep sewer. She even started to wonder if the surface was a myth just like she feared. Maybe the whole world was just a bunch of never-ending tunnels that sprawled out in different directions.

Before she had time to despair in that thought she noticed a hand reaching out of the river in panic. She didn’t even think about what she was doing, she stretched out her right arm and grabbed hold of the panicking arm. The person struggling just below the surface of the river couldn’t see the monsters shape of the hand that had reached out to help. So, the person grabbed on to the hand for dear life. Fluxy then drew her arm back to her like a fisherman drawing in their line.  

The person that she pulled to safety was a worn looking man with pale skin and dark eyes. There wasn’t much light left in those eyes. But he still seemed to have a will to live because he coughed up the brown water he had inhaled.    

“Are you okay?” The voice that had spoken was unlike any voice she had ever heard before. It was loud and high pitched, it was feminine and somewhat childish. It was her voice, she realized, she had talked, something that should have been impossible. She felt around her face for a mouth that may have suddenly formed. But her face remained mouthless.

“Ahhhh–uhhhhhh—uhmmmmm,” she said testing her new voice, making sure that it truly was her voice before trying to say anything. She pushed back the logical part of her that said that it made no sense that she suddenly had gained the ability to talk. After all there were a lot of things about her that didn’t make any sense.

“I’m—fine,” the man said between coughs. “Feeling a little stupid, but I’ll live through that.”

“Ordell!” Fluxy looked up to see a short bespectacled man running towards them from further up the river. He had a long white coat on that shinned with a witness that seemed to repel the grim and the muck of his surroundings. His glasses were unnaturally clean, and he wore a belt with many different pouches attached.

“Hay Doctor Cynical, I’m fine, this nice monster saved me,” there was something about the way he said that, an odd bending of his tone that made him sound insincere or even sarcastic. But Fluxy only heard his words.

“Monster!” Fluxy shouted angrily without thinking, her new voice cracked a bit under the strain. “I’m Fluxy.”

Both the man named Ordell and the one named Cynical blinked at her in combined surprise. Ordell’s surprise was quickly scattered by his next round of coughs, however. Cynical glanced down and his friend with concern on his face and moved to help the man. But he’s pushed away for his effort.

“It will be easier if you breath slowly though your noise. You have to remember to breath or it’s just going to get worse.” Ordell glared at the doctor but he took the advice anyways and the coughing slowed, and after some time subsided.

Ordell didn’t seem like he belonged in the sewer, his clothes were a little worn but nowhere near as worn as those of some of the other humans she had encountered. His hair was nicely combed even covered in disgusting sewer water it retained the shape of a business casual haircut. Which of course Fluxy didn’t know much about at the time. But it didn’t matter she could still tell he was different.

“Ordell let’s get you out of here this isn’t doing you any good,” Cynical pleaded.

“No, I’m not leaving not until I find…” he trailed off and his face tightened with pain.

Cynical looked at the man with a strange expression Fluxy didn’t understand. But that wasn’t very surprising since she didn’t understand most facial expressions. To her all faces were like masks, strange and unintelligible. The look must have meant something though because Ordell looked away from the Doctor in response.

“She’s not down here Ordell,” Cynical seemed to do everything he could to soften the blow, but it didn’t matter.

“I’m so sick of being told crap like that,” Ordell yelled. “If you’re not going to help me then get out of my way.” And with that the man that Fluxy had just saved ran off into the depths of the sewers where she had just come from.

Fluxy was confused, she had no idea what she had just witnessed. But it didn’t really bother her too much. The fact that Ordell had called her a monster was still annoying but he was clearly not feeling very good about something at that point to she figured she would let it go. Cynical on the other had was exasperated, he looked like he wanted to run after his friend for a moment. But then he sighed and let his muscles relax as he seemed to change his mind.

“Sorry about that,” Cynical said looking at Fluxy with one of those strange human expressions that humans have. It didn’t mean anything to her, but it was an expression no one had directed at her before, so she figured that was at least a good sign.

“Uhh that’s OK,” she said not sure how to best to talk to someone—at all. She figured she should start by thinking about the dialog in some of the books she had read down in the wizard’s library. Still books were always the same no matter how many times you read them. And people were not nearly as predicable.

“So, you said your name was Fluxy—or are you a Fluxy.”

“Yes,” Fluxy said as both were true to some extent.

“That’s not helpful—but nothing about this day has been particularly helpful so par for the course I guess.” The man sighed and extended his hand to her. “I’m Manic Cynical, thank you for saving my stubborn friend.”

Fluxy didn’t hesitate, no one had ever offered her the kind of kind civility that Cynical was offering her before. And that meant the world to her, at that point Fluxy latched onto Cynical in her mind, a strange sort of connection that would never really go away.