First chapter of the first part: We will live again.

 

1. Awakening

The room was silent but for the steady dripping of the condensation that slid softly down the steel walls, leaving long, teary trails on the cold metal. The light reflecting off it had no discernible source. It was almost as though it emanated, with subtle variations of intensity, from the molecules of the air itself.

The moisture, its trails sometimes broken by fine crevices in the steel, was cold, and yet there was also something pleasant and satisfying about it, like streaming kitchen windows just after a pan of potatoes has been drained for a family meal. Something extraordinary had happened. The girl sensed this as soon as she woke.

She had been born again.

Even though she knew this to be the case, she remembered nothing that had gone before. For her, the world began here and now, opening up before her jade green eyes, springing from the internal regeneration of her consciousness, which had been dormant until now.

The room was small and damp. The bed that protruded from the smooth, flat wall was nothing but a thin white mattress, just a few inches thick. The girl ran her hand over it; it was silky to the touch and felt familiar, like it had always been her bed.

She got up from the bed, placing her bare feet on the floor, an expanse of  pentagonal tiles that gleamed like small mirrors. She was naked, but felt no cold. She took a few steps towards the wall opposite. Her body felt light and fully rested. Questions, indistinct as though still dulled by sleep, began to penetrate her mind, gently, in the manner of early spring flowers peeping timidly through the snow. Then her thoughts began to rush like coffee beans pouring into a grinder. Each question was pulverized into a thousand more, all in the same vein: “Why?”. Then, a single bean, harder and more stubborn than the rest, brought the machine to a stop: “How do I get out of this place?”.

Despite the questions crowding in her mind, the girl was absolutely calm. Haste meant nothing to her; she knew nothing of the perennial anxiety of those who are forever racing against time: she was serene and untroubled. On reaching the wall on the other side of the room she raised her hand and placed her open palm against it. The warmth of her hand, transferred to the cold surface, caused it to crack and break into countless dark pieces, like a thin layer of ice on a frozen lake.

The scene that opened up before her was a room, a vast room filled with machinery of every imaginable kind. Numerous mechanical arms hung from the ceiling, intersecting each other. Several weighty gears loomed over tables crowded with objects: measuring instruments, magnifying glasses, small glass vessels, twisted tubes, vials, oddly shaped devices, cutters, cogwheels, belts, motors and burners. Pipes of different shapes and sizes were fixed along the length of the walls: gnarled pipes, pipes with grease and tow and sprouting at their joints, and square-shaped pipes held together by very obvious and crude-looking welded joints. One pipe, on the right, rose like a column and was then lost in the expanse of the impossibly high ceiling. On closer inspection, the girl could see that it was not a single cylinder, but rather a bundle of smaller cylinders, of different sizes. They were electric cables that ascended from the depths of the earth before splitting up and spreading out like branches to serve the highest levels.

Although the meaning of this scene escaped her, she was struck by the shocking stillness of the place and the overwhelming and pervasive sense of neglect that screamed out from its every particle of dust.

She moved among the various objects like a ghost. Her arm touched a rusty arch-shaped bar from which hung a line of lead weights; they started to swing like pendulums, pealing gently like bells for a celebration that never happened. Her hand brushed against a glass bottle on a shelf. It fell to the ground and shattered, releasing a purple gas that smelled of cranberries and mildew. Some of the fragments of glass dropped into a grate, disappearing down what looked like a shower drain. From the darkness of the roof above came the sound of an ancient exhaust fan whirring into action. The rusty blades squeaked, sending out their long forgotten lament.

The girl continued, making her way along a corridor that led to a new room, another enigma, after which she entered a passageway lit by thin plates set in bright cobalt-tiled walls. She came to what appeared to be laboratories, canteens, depots, dormitories and kitchens; she climbed ramps that seemed to have been created and positioned with scant regard for logic, as though the wind had blown violently during their construction, upsetting the work of a designer already distracted by surreal musings. Some of the walls had writing on them, as well as signs hanging askew, and they were covered in scratch marks. A piece of chewing gum was stuck fast under a handrail; in a corner there stood a basket of bread so smothered in mold it might have been there for centuries. From some of its openings a sticky and foul-smelling liquid oozed.

The girl went from room to room, careful not to upset their quiet imperturbability. She felt out of place, like a piece of sugar candy in an austere library – a forbidden pleasure that can only be enjoyed covertly in the shadows.

The thick layer of dust that lay on everything, like acrylic film fixing it and preserving it in a state of immobility, had the effect of muting the essence of all things.

Hanging from a hook on a metal locker, indistinguishable from many others, was a small stone with a hole in the middle. The girl touched it. A beam of light immediately sprang from the hole and a three-dimensional image appeared. It was the face of a woman,  in a sad sepia color.  The woman’s hair was too blonde to be real, and her cheeks too taut to permit a smile. She seemed to be on the point of speaking, but the image froze before she could open her lips. Had it lasted a little longer, perhaps the girl would have heard something: a thank you, a gasp, a moan, but instead, with a weak flicker, the beam of light went out and the image disappeared, as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving nothing but a stone hanging from the hook of an anonymous locker.

The girl had no fear of the world beyond the boundaries of her gaze. In spite of the oppressive nature of the place, she sensed within herself, like a divine warning. She continued like a sleepwalker, hypnotized.

Ascending from one level of the complex to the next, she became conscious, in the corner of her eye, of an endless series of enormous machines and other intricate mechanisms. With every meter she climbed, something was gained and something was lost, and the waves of information left her with an inexplicable sense of nostalgia, like a band tightening around her chest.

After a seemingly interminable time, she reached the surface, and the hallucinating feeling ceased.

Before her was a huge and dazzling brightness at the end of a tunnel. The temptation to rush headlong into that ocean of sacred light was almost irresistible, so much had she longed for it in the gloomy sterility of the underground complex. The exit was like the threshold to a whole new universe: the shoots and branches of  flourishing plants crept in around the door, which hung off its hinges, and penetrated inwards, sliding over the scratched and dented walls of the tunnel.

Slowly, the girl walked forward, through the opening and down a few weather-worn steps until, at last, she felt fine green grass beneath her feet.

She gasped…

…it was soft.

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