In hell there is no time.
In hell there exists nothing but unrelieved torment punctuated by periods of nothingness. There was no frame of reference for either the periods of torment or those of nothingness, because the concept of the passing of time was as unfamiliar here as was the concept of happiness or joy or peace.
Existence simply was.
Eternally, without relief or respite.
Even the concept of here was a nebulous one, for the scene constantly shifted—it was as if he existed (or did he even exist at all? What constituted existence?) in the midst of a miasma of shifting perceptions, sick greenish light and impenetrable darkness, drifting in the void during those times when he was not being tormented, then ripped back to a sort of hyper-consciousness when they returned to him.
He had never believed in hell. Among his kind, bred from the moment of their hatching with the idea that they would be immortal, that they would be masters of the world in which they lived, the concept of a place of eternal torment had seemed to him to be just another superstition the young races had come up with to help them make sense of their infinitesimally brief spans of life. After all, of what use was an afterlife to beings who were never meant to die?
He wondered, sometimes, what the young races would think had any of their members been subjected to what had become his existence. If they were able to experience even the briefest of it and then return back to their fellows, what would that have done to their pre-existing concepts? He did not know, and in truth did not care. His thoughts were rarely that coherent. They did not give that the chance to occur often. He felt fragmented, as if parts of him were irrevocably gone and other parts had drifted off, tantalizingly in sight but only just out of his reach. He wondered how he was able to think at all.
This had not been the way it was to have happened. He was not to have been here. His mind should not have remained conscious—even what little consciousness of which it was capable at this time—following the plunge he had made into the Chasm. He had been meant to die. That was what he had wanted. To die. To wash away, once and for all, the sins of his father, of himself—to leave as the final mark of his existence the fact that he had redeemed himself.
Was this the reward for his sacrifice?
He did not allow himself bitter thoughts like that anymore. Briefly, at the beginning, such thoughts had crept to him like furtive creatures, attempting to take root in his consciousness. For awhile, he had let them. But then he had become aware that they—the small creeping things that delighted in his torment—approved of such thoughts. The thoughts, in some way he did not understand, seemed to strengthen them. As soon as he realized that, he had banished them from his mind. He had not truly believed them anyway, which had made it easier to send them away. He still felt pride in what he had done. His brother had been innocent. Everything he had held against his brother had been colored through his own perceptions, and all of it had been because he had been unwilling to see the truth. Now that he had seen it, it was one of the few things that comforted him.
They hated the comfort. The torment increased whenever he thought of such things. When they caught him at it, their efforts increased until he either blocked out the thoughts or allowed his mind to drift away. He did not wish to do either, but sometimes he did not have a choice.
He was weakening. He could tell.
At some point, they seemed to tire of him. The time between nothingness and torment increased, or at least he thought it did, and the periods where he floated became longer. Slowly, ever so slowly, he began to gather what little strength he had. He did not know why he was gathering it, but even now strength was important to him. He had always been strong. He did not think he could fight them—this was their domain and he did not know its rules—but still he focused his concentration and waited. For what, he did not know—but he waited.
And then the idea came to him.
He was surprised—again, it was not an accurate term because emotion per se was no longer something of which he was capable—that he had not thought of it before. It was such a simple idea. It was his only hope. And yet, it had taken so long for it to occur to him.
Now he had a focus for his strength. He tried not to think of them, to hope that they would not come back to torment him, for sometimes even thinking of them brought them down upon him. Instead, he continued to concentrate his energies.
It would be dangerous. For him it did not matter—the concept of danger, of something more horrific than that which had already occurred, did not enter his mind—but it could be dangerous for his brother as well. He did not wish to involve his brother. He was safe. He was back home with his friends—the humans he himself had hated a very long time ago, but now all of that seemed irrelevant—safe and free, partially because of what he had done. He had ensured it. Now would he take the chance of putting that at risk?
I must. I cannot bear this any longer. He will understand.
He narrowed his focus still further. It became his world within the confines of the world in which he already existed.
I must succeed.
They watched him from afar. They did not smile, because things such as they could not smile, but the effect was the same nonetheless. They also did not communicate with each other in any language that could be comprehended—their messages back and forth consisted largely of impressions, images, and dark emotions.
They watched him with pleasure. They had thought that if they left him alone long enough his desperation might grow to the point that he would try something like this. It was what they had counted on.
It was what they had prepared for.
Their plans were proceeding exactly as they had desired.
As their captive continued to marshal his strength, believing himself to be unseen and unmonitored, they set about putting the finishing touches on their end of the plan.
The captive’s effort at communication across the planes would be successful—oh, yes. He would indeed communicate with his brother.
But fully unbeknownst to him, there would be an extra component added to that communication. A component that would allow them to at last reach the one they sought and set their plan in motion.
Within one of them, the tiny fragment of the one who had died with the captive was especially pleased.
Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.