closer to heaven
Martyn did not know what he had done wrong to be moved up a level. Maybe something controversial in his last write up? Or some eccentric order in which he'd presented the test results? The inner workings of the Facility were mysterious and speculation was prevalent between the residents after Lightsout. Earlier that day, he'd shared his concerns with the current quartermaster Zed, who told him "You should not worry, probably you did too good a job! Genius always finds a way out. You're going up in the world my brother!"
Martyn replied, "My work is mediocre at best. I can't shake this bad feeling that I'll be moving up again soon."
"My advice is don't fight it, let your efforts be recognised. Sadly it's my optimism that keeps me on these lower levels throughout the years, far from glory." Zed grimaced in faux regret.
Later, in the gloom of Lightsout, Tariq's view seemed more likely, "Don't take it personally, I hear they're moving a lot of us up lately. There's been a new consignment of residents lower down, a transport was seen on the landing bay a few days ago."
Tariq appeared to be a scientist in the traditional sense, much like Martyn, concerned with the material world rather than quantum planes or the Warp. Martyn could always rely on his friend's unadorned viewpoint, as well as his reliable contacts on other levels. He had no idea what branch of research Tariq was involved with before he was secured in the Facility. It was strictly forbidden to discuss matters of the outside, and people who did so were moved up quickly. Informers were everywhere. Better to know as little as possible about each other's past lives because it was easy to let slip some personal detail and condemn yourself or someone else.
In his first week, Martyn had made the mistake of asking Tariq about his family back home. The man had tensed up immediately, a grim look upon his face.
"Best to forget you even had a life before," was all he said. It was good advice.
Martyn kept himself busy with daily tasks, volunteering for additional projects but putting in minimal effort so as not to distinguish himself. It was tricky to achieve the fine balancing act of appearing productive and eager while keeping a low profile. Martyn believed he had perfected the art, which made his recent ascension all the more disturbing.
Nobody ever moved down in the Facility, only upwards to some unknown fate at the top level. Martyn had asked about this early on and Zed had told him "We all go up to Heaven my brother." He had heard this reference to 'Heaven' many times now, it always gave him chills to hear it used this way.
Levels were grouped together in tens, each group sharing canteen and dorm areas. The residents could move freely around their group of levels, but nowhere else. Sometimes a colleague would be moved high enough to enter a new group of ten levels, never to be seen again by his associates lower down. Everyone moved up sooner or later. 'Heaven' was discussed frequently, negative forecasts frowned upon and positive ones encouraged. Outwardly, each resident hoped that upon reaching the top level, they would be released back to their old lives. That seemed logical. But in the darkness of bunks and hushed conversations late at night, the absence of transportation to or from the top was frequently noted, and bleak outcomes entertained.
Nobody knew for sure, which seemed like intentional design to Martyn. Residents came here to pay back to the regime in some way or another, to fulfil their duty. Questions unrelated to work were discouraged. Martyn's colleagues were mostly educated and able to engage with many aspects of science, mathematics and esoterics without much support from Facility staff. Sometimes a shipment would bring a convict or uneducated elite, then disorder would reign for a few weeks as the new resident disrupted experiments and the careful, tense atmosphere cultivated on each level. These types of residents would always be moved up suddenly.
Order was maintained haphazardly, the Kommanders and their retinue making sporadic visits and enforcing harsh discipline for small infractions while ignoring more serious issues. An ever-changing hierarchy between residents kept things uncertain, your lab manager one week might be your subordinate the next. Facility staff for the regime worked on each level, but the residents policed themselves mostly and learned not the rattle the status quo.
Physical comforts were consistent yet sparse, there never seemed to be quite enough food to go around. Illicit fare was sometimes produced in one lab or another, these schemes always fizzled out to be replaced by others weeks later. No, it was existential dread the main danger, constant uncertainty about the objectives and outcomes of life in the Facility. Once in a while a colleague would remain in their bunk after Lightsup, unwilling or unable to simply get out of bed in the morning. They would be moved up after a few days of this.
But despite all the dangers seen and unseen, one peculiar idea made the rounds from time to time. In his second year, Martyn awoke very late to a whispered conversation in the next bunk.
"...they're coming next week, Dov swears by this."
"Leave me be I tell you, it's just propaganda."
"No listen, they've taken Io and other stations soon. They'll break us all out of here."
"Don't be foolish, if the rebels had taken something like that, we'd all be reposted. Or taken upstairs for disintegration."
"You're the fool if you think..."
As the pair got louder, other residents awoke. "Shut the fuck up!" snarled a voice nearby in the dark, putting an end to their discussion.
Martyn lay awake a long time weighing up the possibilities of rebel factions storming the Facility. It was probably false hope, but hope none-the-less. The idea sustained him and others through their worst days. But on this occasion, the nominal Dov and his assurances of rebel uprisings never materialised.
Martyn carried on as usual but was moved up another level, taking him to one below the next group. He worried constantly about losing contact with Tariq and other familiar (and useful) colleagues. The loss of even Zed's smug yet recognizable face would be distressing, a person he'd known from day one. Martyn's luck of remaining on the lower levels was running out it seemed, his approach failing him at last. He started making mistakes and bungled the outcome of an important project the Kommander was anticipating. He was swiftly moved up to the next set of levels.
The daily workings of the new group were much the same as the last, the labs identical and the work just as banal. But the unfamiliar faces upset Martyn and the lack of confidants depressed him. His inner world was crumbling. He found it hard to concentrate on any task, had no appetite and endured restless sleep every night. The mistakes piled up as the levels were scaled. He soon found himself in the next collection of ten levels higher than before. How far to the top? The idea dogged him, tormented him while sanity unravelled like some moth-eaten flag soon to blow away forever.
One week after arriving in the new group, as he lay awake in the stillness of a sleeping dormitory, a familiar voice whispered in the dark.
"Caught you at last!" It was Tariq!
"What the hell are you doing here?" Martyn gasped.
"My efforts take me closer to Heaven it seems," said Tariq.
Weeks of anxiety smoothed over within Martyn, a familiar face to calm the nerves, some news to bring relief.
"You're a blessed sight! I've been making too many mistakes, can't concentrate, can't sleep. How did you get here?" he asked.
"Ah that explains things then, I was surprised you'd climbed so high. Me, I've got a loose idea that's going to plan so far. Getting to Heaven as soon as I can."
Martyn's shock was obvious even in the murk of Lightsout.
"Don't worry my friend," said Tariq, "I've had some interesting news about the top. Might be a way out after all."
"Seems a bit risky," murmured Martyn. "What's occurring?"
"Experiments up there, something big, finally found out what they're playing with. Singularities, sending bodies through the Warp. Dangerous stuff, it's why no-one comes back. Do you know what kind of trauma that does to a person?"
"No, and I don't want to know," said Martyn. "Why rush to die?"
"I worked on Warp technologies back home, advanced stuff. I know a little about their constituency. They can be traversed with the right tech."
Tariq held out a small device close to Martyn's face, a mass of wires wrapped around a butchered console. It seemed a poor thing to pin one's life against.
"Seems very risky..." Martyn whispered.
"It's better than nothing, it can work, I know this. Look, get some sleep my friend, we'll talk more tomorrow."
Martyn slept deeply. Next morning he felt better rested than he had for several months. Tariq's bunk was empty, the weird device poking out from under the pillow. Martyn went about his experiments in the usual aimless manner, his thoughts constantly on Tariq. Where was he?
At lunch, he sat several seats away from a swarthy man talking loudly to a fellow diner.
"You hear the commotion earlier? Some fool tripped on a transistor, blood everywhere."
His companion mumbled something inaudible.
"No they took him upstairs, probably won't see him again."
Martyn interrupted "Who was that?"
Taken aback, the swarthy man replied "That dark-skinned fellow, just got here yesterday."
Martyn sat in silence for a long time, lunch uneaten. He was roused at last by the end-of-break bell. He completed his tasks automatically through numb hours until shift's end.
He got no sleep that night. In the morning, the drear light showed Tariq's bed unslept in, rig sticking out from under pillow as it was before. Martyn carelessly put the gadget into his pocket, a thoughtless operation, like an automaton performing obscure actions that reveal their purpose later in the process. The appliance weighed heavy in his pocket, a idea forming with equal weight throughout that morning. It formed slowly like a fungal fruit-body, nurtured for so long in dark desperation and cold despair, preparing to erupt it's spores. Martyn knew vaguely that when the rupture came, he would act swiftly, act against his own will and self-preservation. There was no other choice.
The opportunity came late that afternoon. A Kommander of high rank was checking lab results, moving from one station to another. He watched the Kommander's leisurely flight across the floor with satisfaction. This emotion mildly surprised him, but maybe it made sense - it would soon be over. In Martyn's lab, the Kommander was displeased with the outcome, his assistants pursed their lips in dissatisfaction.
"These conclusions are scum. Completely useless, you have failed the party."
Martyn stood relaxed and heedless, facing the Kommander's glare.
"Well, what do you have to say about that?"
Martyn replied "I have nothing to say to a fat pig. Your party can rot in the cesspool where it belongs."
A moment of silent shock as the gathered minds processed his words. Then Martyn punched the Kommander full in the face. A crunch of bone echoed across lobbies as blood ejected from the place where the superior's nose had been.
Retribution was swift, as Martyn had hoped. Guards had deftly beaten and dragged him out of the labs through the commotion, into the main lift, straight to the top floor. Clearance for such an unusual flight was required, gladly given by the enraged and perplexed Kommander covered in his own blood. The normal checks and preparations were not taken, the device remained hanging in Martyn's pocket. The plan was going accordingly, and he laughed inwardly. Martyn knew he must control his glee for the final moment of execution - at the right time, the device must be switched on and operated. He had little knowledge of warp experiments, that was Tariq's area of expertise. But his friend had taught him some useful things over the years of their furtive discussions, and the device had only a few knobs. Martyn was confident that when the time came, he would know what to do. "A small chance is better than none," he thought. Tariq's words.
Guards pushed him from the elevator into a vast, brightly-lit laboratory on the top floor. There were several work-stations arranged on one side, the glow of multi-consoles illuminating the faces of assistants working at each. The Supervisor greeted the guards, ignoring Martyn.
"This one sent up quickly? Very unusual, we'll have to reschedule our afternoon."
"He punched Gretchin," said the taller guard.
"Oh did you!" The Supervisor finally acknowledged the captive's presence, looking at Martyn as if he were a petri dish that had gained sentience. "Well no time for pleasantries, hook him up."
The guards shoved their prisoner into the centre where assistants attached nodes to Martyn's forehead and chest beneath his shirt.
As they worked, the Supervisor talked.
"We had another surprise visitor yesterday, maimed himself on lab equipment. What is this place coming too? He was raving about warps and wormholes, hilarious stuff!"
He looked at Martyn for the second time. "Are you going to entertain us as well? I can assure you there is no warp technology set up here, we run a humble operation. Death is our teacher."
Martyn looked confused, his inner resolve draining away down the sinkhole. The assistants continued their work as the Supervisor continued his dialogue.
"Or maybe you think rebels will come to the rescue in your hour of need? We've heard that before, it's so funny! The spies down there must have fun conjuring up these fantasies of rebels and warps. Hope is such an efficient way to stop the revolts we used to have here, keeps things ticking along smoothly. Desperate men who have nothing to lose are difficult to control, as you can imagine."
Martyn could imagine nothing, his mind blank. Now the lights flickered, activity from the staff. A conveyor belt pushed him gently towards a metal door on the far side of the lab, a great hum starting and steadying, throbbing through his bones. Martyn fumbled for the rig, looked down at it's roughly taped and soldered form. A poor thing to pin one's hopes upon. He absent-mindedly switched it on, fiddled with the knobs. It vibrated in his hand comfortingly.
The metal door prised itself open as the conveyor moved Martyn inevitably towards the gulf beyond. Then he saw it completely and his heart swelled and died. Yes, death was there, death and no more.