Sometimes, a Wall is Necessary
Sunni Kiesha watched the night that monsters destroyed Tokyo, just like the rest of the world had watched. Visions of a 1000 monster movies come to life. She was shocked and appalled, and Sunni had to admit somewhat fascinated, as millions had died in the short-lived attack which had become known as The Incursion. Sunni was surprised by how fast the Japanese authorities had reacted, and perhaps a little shocked, given how little effort they made in saving lives in the zone. Some even suggested they had acted too quickly as though they could possibly have been complicit in events. Soldiers had gone in, while at the same time a frantic wall had been thrown up around the disaster zone. Sunni had read how a decision was made as to how things might progress and where a line could be drawn most productively. She had watched footage of army helicopters dropping prefabricated partitions into place, the components of a wall, a proposed last line of defence. Though, in the end, they had never had to find out whether it would have held.
A grey-skinned shambling form, limping and broken.Nevertheless, with the incursion ended, they had added to the wall - for security and containment reasons. Always with the reasoning that they were never sure what had brought the attack to an end, or what might trigger a second such event. While in some ways it was justified as a memorial, the names of the dead who had been identified carved in its surface, a sight that Sunni longed to see for herself. One successful shot had been fired; the smallest of monsters had made the furthest advance, the greater beasts gorging on the population in her wake. A grey-skinned shambling form, limping and broken. Before any order could be given a soldier had fired, instinct and training kicking in during the face of disaster. Her head snapped back, a red circle formed like some holy mark on her forehead, before her skull shattered and she died, an aura of blood splashed outward. She had turned out to be human - Lei Bliley - subject of an experimental program. A regrettable mistake, the authorities explained, though Sunni had her doubts. Whether this program Lei had been part of, whatever it was, was connected to the appearance of the beasts and the death of the multitude had never been confirmed. But, Sunni had her thoughts, and there were plenty of theories; people always had theories, and the TV, the newspapers and the internet had been full of them, even now, two years later. The correspondence between Lei's death and the ending of The Incursion was just too great a coincidence.
A lucky photographer had caught the image, which had become iconic. He had been arrested at the time; in the next few days exclusive interviews were published detailing how badly treated he had been and Sunni had read them all. But he had sent the image on instantly, and it was out there, and no amount of beatings would bring it back. So that moment where the red flower blossomed on Lei's head, those intense alien red eyes were caught, a snapshot, before there was nothing left to recognise. That image had spread round the world; it had been in all the papers. Then it had become a poster, a t-shirt, a stencil for the spray artists on urban streets. Sunni was one of so many of her generation obsessed by Lei, obsessed with The Incursion. The poster of that shot had been hanging on her wall for so long, that face looking down on her every night. The Incursion had happened on Sunni's birthday. She had turned 21 that day, a birthday she would never forget, as the ripple of news spread and she had taken it all on board.
The Japanese government had been desperate to crush all information. They had even gone so far as to shoot down a press helicopter that had flown over the zone. Soldiers had stormed the agencies of the major media corporations. But that was an old fashioned and naïve response. The flow of news was instantaneous. A shot taken was a shot distributed. After the material had been transmitted from the unfortunate helicopter crew there had been limited official footage. But the blogosphere had erupted - instant messaging systems, social networking, photo hosting - distributed from mobile phones and pocket computers, sent through a network that had stayed remarkably resilient even as those on the ground met their demise so soon after contributing to the documentation that survived them.
After Lei had been shot, the event ended and the wall thrown up, no-one ever went looking for survivors and no emergency aid was ever delivered. If there was anyone left alive in central Tokyo they were on their own, this was one of the things which always amazed Sunni, how could they do nothing? Under a state of emergency, with a population too shocked to argue, this was just accepted. The government made it clear in the first, limited, official statement - it would be impossible to ever count how many people had died, though there was no doubt it was in the millions, just as - the spokesperson said - there were no survivors. There could be no survivors.
At last it was clear, mankind was not alone. Quite what the creatures had been was uncertain - aliens who had stepped through a portal from some abysmal planet to ours, or Lovecraftian demons who had torn through the fabric of the dimensions or something else entirely - the result was the same. We are not alone. Sunni was fired up by this thought, and she was not alone. Joining message boards which studied The Incursion, she found plenty of like-minded people. Footage was posted and collected, everything that they could get from that night. Then they went further - Lei Bliley became their figurehead - while her true story remained shrouded by secrets, hackers had penetrated any information system they could, which primarily lead to a collection of clips of this strange and lonely woman shambling through the streets of Tokyo. With time they could even identify those suited men who had followed her everywhere that she went, keeping at a distance but always there. As with Lei, information about these men was scarce, even though names had been found for some of them.
Sunni had been saving her money for months now. She was determined to visit Tokyo. To see the sites of the Incursion for herself. A notion that wasn't as isolated as one might have suspected in the first days after the event. The Great Wall of Tokyo had become a major tourist attraction. Coming up for the second anniversary, coming up for Sunni's 23rd birthday, she finally had enough money. A lot of people from the board were going to be there; at last she was going to meet her friends.
Tonight was the second annual World's End Party Night. Sunni had obtained a ticket, they all had, and they were all here after months of planning and organisation. Though Sunni was shy, she was doing her best to mix, to talk to those people she knew so well from the screen - but the screen and flesh are such different endeavours. Many of them were wearing various t-shirts with Lei's face, some were wearing t-shirts with pictures of the various monsters (they all had their favourite beasts). Sunni was wearing the souvenir t-shirt that she had bought from a stall by the Great Wall, where she had gone on the day that she had arrived in the city. It said in bold letters, and in different languages:
CAUTION: YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE HUMAN ZONE.
Despite the fact that the zone was shut off from the public, the authorities still accessed it. Studying the zone, trying to learn as much as they could from what was left, in case there was ever another attack. But they had also found fragments of alien materials, strange new metals which had been recreated in small amounts. Somehow brave souls entered the zone under cover of night, looking for artefacts of their own that they could sell on the black market. These explorers were called Stalkers, it was a reference that came from the Russian novel "A Roadside Picnic", which all the board members had read, and had later been made into a film named after the explorers, and which the board members had all seen. They speculated whether the Incursion zone actually bore any resemblance to what was seen in the film in the same way in which they speculated about everything else. But they knew it didn't. The hotels and tourist locations round the wall had viewing platforms - everyone could see the horrid and brutalised structures that remained standing. Columns of steel, the shattered remains of skyscrapers, stumps left standing amongst the ashes.
In fact, the club they are in now is one of those that has been built specially with a view of the zone, one of a number of buildings built or adapted to take advantage of their location. Some are luxury hotels, where the suites with a view of the zone demand the highest price. There is also a rotating tower where, at the top, diners in the exclusive restaurant spin slowly, each with their own momentary view of the zone - the late night sittings being most particularly in demand. This club is a rougher establishment with its electro angst music playing, pounding dirge music that had become popular in the wake of The Incursion - electro dance music, stripped and sparse with an end of the world sentiment, which some described as somewhat Gothic. Though certainly tickets for entry had not been cheap either, for all the contrived image of the establishment. Sunni knows all the tracks, and sings the words to herself, her attention torn between the sight of everyone dancing and the view of the zone that one can see through the great windows on that side of the building. At the moment blasting strobes play across the room and big screens show cut up mixes of monster footage. Pieces from the real event, mixed with artistic representations and reinterpretations. Though Sunni knows that these will shut off when the real show starts. The nightly spectacle that provides a constant reminder of events past.
Sunni doesn't feel entirely well, if truth be told. For a moment the lights make her feel dizzy, she blinks and clutches at her necklace. The alien artefact seems to offer her some kind of reassurance.
The first thing she did when she arrived in the city was to visit the wall. To see the commemorative plaque, the list of names that had been accounted for, and the bustle of stalls and stands catering to tourists. From postcards and t-shirts, to various fast-food stalls selling noodles to all those who visited. Sunni picked out her favourite images of post-incursion Tokyo and bought them as postcards to send to friends back home. She wrote while drinking green tea in the memorial garden tea rooms. She bought a carton of steaming hot noodles, ate them with disposable chopsticks while wandering through the bustle. Here Sunni found a stall claiming to sell genuine alien artefacts, she didn't believe they were real Stalkers, but the thrill of possibly being able to buy a genuine alien article was too much for her to resist. The makeshift stall didn't particularly reassure her, but she picked a green rock on a string and gave the man her money. No sooner had she done so than a second man appeared to tell the first that a police patrol was on its way, and Sunni watched with surprise as the stall was quickly packed away and the two men retreated in the other direction. She stuffed her purchase in her pocket and tried to look as innocent as possible as a group of militaristic officers worked past her, scanning the market with every step. The illegal nature of the wares now seemed to be verified, though perhaps that just added to the theory that she had been ripped off?
Visiting Tokyo is a much more intense experience than Sunni had expected. While the locals seem to go about their lives as normally as possible, it is hard to deny the psychic imprint that lies on the city. Sunni feels that she can sense the catastrophic death everywhere she goes, as if it were a palpable sensation. Being in the city she feels that she can hear the voices of the dead in her head, a constant and unsettling presence. She can't sleep properly, fevered dreams wake her every night; it seems as though her head is full of the words of alien languages. As she goes round the city the sensation of unease only increases. Some of them discussed this earlier on in the evening, she is not the only one to feel this way. But then, as someone says, they have all done their tours - The Great Wall and associated market, the memorial gardens, the grave of Lei Bliley and the Museum of Incursion. The museum documents events - photos of that night, statistics and displays detailing how many people had died, before and after models of the city, documentation of the cancer spikes and sicknesses that affected those in the proximity of the zone on the night of The Incursion. With such a dreadful history, and with such a sensitivity to events, how could Sunni not feel an impact?
Sunni swears she can hear voices now. A real sensation, clearer than the spectral impressions she has experienced so far. The screaming of the dead. The words of that unsettling language that cause such discomfort. She shivers, reaches out to the glass of the window for support, its surface cold against the palm of her hands. Music thunders and pumps, and she feels like her head does as well. Through it all there is one clear voice, a woman's voice, speaking those dreadful words. Sunni has this impression, the voice, it belongs to Lei, it makes no sense, but right now its the only thing that seems to be logical in any way. Then the music stops. The strobe lights stop. The screens switch to a live view of the zone. It is time. There is a buzz of anticipation. This is what people come to Tokyo to see more than anything. This inexplicable sight. This constant reminder that has occurred every night since The Incursion. Looking down on the zone they can see the neon coils of alien tentacles, wraith-like things. Then the shambling shapes of horrors that tower over the city that was. Spectres endlessly re-enacting the night the monsters destroyed Tokyo. Events with a sufficient impact leave their mark on reality, some say, this is one explanation for ghosts. It is one of the most prevalent theories as to what happens here every night. The insubstantial shapes that light up the sky, a show more spectacular and mind-bending than any special effects studio ever cooked up. Watching such a spectacle, many are left feeling that it is hard to believe that the end days are not in fact imminent and that humanity's days in the cold void of space are not numbered.
Sunni, and so many around her, watch this event, startled by the actuality, even though this is why they are here, now, on the second anniversary of The Incursion. This is what they have talked about for so long. This is what they have watched online videos of, now they are here to see it for themselves. Sunni stands with her mouth open. People press around her, and she is conscious of them taking pictures, she is conscious that some of them are talking to her. But dealing with her own emotions is enough to take up her entire attention. She is amazed. She is appalled. She is nauseous. There is only one voice in her head now.
Lei blinks again, confused, looking down on the wretched ruin of her city. Sunni shakes, a cold spasm through her body, feeling disembodied momentarily, disconnected from herself and detached from the horror. She touches the necklace round her neck. The strange green rock. What is this? Lei wonders. Warm in her hand, its surface seemingly unstable. Sunni turns her back to the outside view, leans back against the glass, closes her eyes. Sunni is feeling weak, as though her legs could fail her at any moment. She feels the object at her throat, and tugs it, breaking the cord. At this moment she is convinced - this is absolutely an alien artefact she has been sold, that she has been carrying with her for the last few days. She is too weak to throw it away, sliding to the floor, wondering how many others in this room also bought artefacts as souvenirs from unscrupulous stalls by the wall?
Lei looks around the room. The view is confusing. She can see herself. Lei is standing by the bar. Lei is standing on the dance floor. Lei is holding Lei's hand. Sunni shudders, what is going on? Lei tells her not to worry. Lei tells her it will be ok. Lei says that the Chairman is back, the Chairman has returned to harvest his seed. There are people in the club screaming. Sunni listens to the voices and tries to make sense of what is happening, listens to the voice and fails to comprehend. There are people in the club running for the exits. Sunni watches those who move, and those like her who are caught up in this internal dialogue. This time, she tells Sunni, this time there will be no survivors. And Sunni hears the sound of glass breaking all around her, as Lei stands and a grotesque tentacle cleaves through the room.
© Peter Morrison 2009 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 00:43 Mon 01 Jun 2009
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