Setton slept soundly in the passenger seat of an Opel Olympia and dreamt of a global catastrophe. In this dream, cites around the world began to fall without reason. Buildings simply crumbled as the skies blackened with smog. Berlin was the first to fall. Just as London’s factories began to shake, he awoke. Hans Volkard sat in the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel tightly with sweat-soaked palms.
“We’re almost there, Set… Do I really need to come back for you?”
“Of course” grumbled Setton, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Do I need to remind you of your home address and your family’s daily schedules?”
Hans began to shake. “No, I- I just figured it might be safer for you to find a different exit… Coming back out the way you came in might be too risky, you know?”
Setton stood silent for half a minute. “There is no other way out. We stick to the plan.”
Hans nodded slowly. “O-Okay. I understand, Set…”
Setton sighed and checked to make sure he had all his gear in his backpack. Dozens of tools, all effective at extinguishing lives swiftly and quietly.
The few who knew Setton personally feared him due to his occupation: an assassin-for-hire, though he personally preferred the term “contract agent.” Setton handled the dirty work of corrupt politicians and city officials in the German metropolis called Carningsby. If a large sum of money or a person needed to go missing, Setton was the one to contact. Hans pulled into an old scrapyard littered with rusted pipes, valves, and gears too decrepit to be used in the city’s architecture.
“Excellent. Hans, you have my gratitude. Return at sundown, and you and your family will sleep soundly tonight! Godspeed!” said Setton with a sharp grin. Hans simply nodded and looked as if he were about to vomit. Setton hopped out of the Olympia and watched the brass pipes and valves adorning the back of the vehicle glisten in the midday sun as Hans sped away.
Setton reached into his backpack and pulled out a hand-sized, rectangular steel pike that resembled a railroad spike. Near the dull end, a small hole hooked with a coiled steel wire. He walked over to the largest segment of pipe in the scrapyard, an intact piece that was twenty feet in diameter, and stabbed the steel pike through the side. The tip of the pike barely stuck through to the inside of the pipe. Setton pressed a small spring button on his side of the pike with his thumb, and four arms from each side of the pike, and connected by the sharp end, shout outward. This created a sort of grappling hook that held securely from the inside of the pipe.
Setton walked away from the pipe, uncoiling the wire. There was a manhole somewhere in this scrapyard, though he had forgotten its exact location. After kicking around some rusted sheet metal, he found it. Setton took a pair of copper-lined gloves from his backpack, removed the manhole, and dropped the metal wire attached to the grappling hook pike down into the darkness. Setton took a deep breath, gripped the steel wire with his copper-lined gloves, and jumped down the manhole.
He slid quickly down the metal wire, though tightening his grip slowed his descent to a save speed that wouldn’t break his legs upon reaching the bottom. While darkness surrounded him on all sides, he could barely see large rusted pipes, coated in some glimmering, teal mineral. They cut across the vast emptiness all around him. He loosened his grip and descended further down before reaching the bottom. So far, Setton precisely followed the instructions given to him by his current client, McKenzie. He found himself standing in front of a small door with barely legible text painted on it. “PROHIBITED. TOP-LEVEL CLEARANCE REQUIRED.” Beneath those words was the logo for Carningsby’s police force. This facility, some sort of underground pump-station, was long abounded but had apparently once been controlled by Carningsby’s authorities.
McKenzie hired Setton to infiltrate this “top-secret location” and retrieve “a key of significant importance.” McKenzie, who insisted on being addressed as “Lord McKenzie”, was disgustingly vain and dramatic. What intentions McKenzie held was no concern of Setton’s. He simply desired to retrieve the key, get out, and get paid.
Setton tried the door knob. It was unlocked. He opened the door to reveal a lengthy hallway. Setton walked swiftly but quietly down the hallway. Its walls were metal, cold, and long-rusted. The ground was metal too, but the clang of footsteps was avoidable so long as you didn’t walk too fast. The air was cold, and smelled of dust and oil. Eventually, he came upon a larger room and found himself at the top of a staircase. It was a lobby of some sort. On the floor beneath him near a receptionist desk, Setton saw two figures obscured by darkness. The only light source was from a small lamp on the receptionist desk.
The two figures spoke. The first had a deep, somewhat raspy tone of voice. “How much longer, Royce? We haven’t heard a peep out of Caleb… How do we know this place ain’t a dud like the others?”
Royce responded in a soft, monotonous voice. “That’s for him to decide. He hasn’t given the signal, but I’ll pay him a visit” she said.
Royce and Caleb. Setton filed these names in the back of his mind.
“Now’s not the time for letting our guard down. I suggest you get back to your patrol” said Royce.
The man exhaled loudly, grabbed the dim lantern, and began to climb the stairs. At the top, Setton was crouched down and cloaked in the darkness. He quietly crept backward into the hallway he came from. He noticed Royce began to walk down a large hallway leading out of the lobby.
Setton continued to creep backward, keeping a safe distance between him and the man walking toward him so that he always had darkness completely concealing him. Once he felt they were far enough from Royce, Setton sprang forward, tackling the man to the ground while covering his mouth with his left hand. With his right hand, Setton reached into his front right pocket and pulled out a brass hydraulic-syringe. It was filled with a murky, brown substance called “Devil’s Drink”. It had gotten its name from the intense burning sensation it caused throughout the body upon entering the blood stream before causing death seconds after.
Setton pressed the tip of the syringe to the man’s neck and growled at him to hold still. The man was in a panic, and struggled to pull himself free. Setton pressed the syringe down with his thumb. The man stiffened as the hydraulic syringe injected the Devil’s Drink into a vein in his neck with such force that it circulated his entire cardiovascular system in seconds. “It’s hot…” croaked the man as the life drained from his eyes. Setton sat up from the lifeless body and sighed. “If you’d just stopped thrashing…” He glanced at his watch. No time to hide the body. He rushed to the lobby. Setton crept down the stairs and walked down Royce’s hallway. He turned a corner that lead to an even longer hallway.
At the end of the hallway, there was another staircase leading down into a vast darkness. Setton made his way down. The stairway seemed to go on for almost a quarter mile, spiraling down deeper and deeper. This was abnormally deep for any underground portion of any facility. Setton finally came upon Royce talking to whom he assumed to be Caleb in a room with machines towering almost ten feet in a spacious room. A single oil lamp created a small orb of light in the room near a smaller machine, where Royce and Caleb spoke.
“It’s here” said Caleb to Royce. Caleb walked over to the largest machine in the room and pulled a small key from it. “Here, beneath the city. The entire time… To think we searched half the globe… Finally, total control is within reach.”
This was enough for Setton. Time was running out. He pulled a Luger pistol, modified to fire its entire clip fully automatically, from his front left pocket and aimed at Caleb as he walked into the light. “No movements. None. Hand it over.”
Caleb and Royce froze and looked at Setton. Caleb’s expression turned to rage. “Not after all these years! You’ll have to kill me for it!”
Setton smiled. “Sure.” He squeezed the trigger for a third of a second. Four bullets pierced through Caleb’s chest. He fell to the ground. Setton trained the pistol on Royce as he crouched down to grab they key.
“Do you have any idea what that key does?” shouted Royce. “It makes me rich. Neat little trick” replied Setton, key in hand, now walking backwards up the staircase. Royce made one step toward the staircase. “I’ve already had to take two poor souls today, Royce. Let’s not make it three.”
Royce halted. “The automaton! It awakens the automaton! Untold destruction… Missiles, enormous drills, massive hammers… Whoever has the key holds forbidden power!” she shouted. Setton recalled rumors of this sleeping machine beneath the city. An unholy behemoth. He regarded them as petty urban myths, and assumed Royce was simply trying to get into his head.
“Thanks for letting me know. Now I know to get out of Carningsby as fast as I can” replied Setton sarcastically. The color in Royce’s face drained, and she ran behind the other ancient-looking machines, into the darkness. Setton turned and sprinted back the way he came.
Setton’s arms burned terribly by the time he had climbed up the steel wire and reached topside. He wondered if this was what Devil’s Drink felt like coursing through your veins. The sun just began to set over the hills, when Setton could hear the rumble of a car as it pulled up outside the scrapyard. Setton walked over to the car. Hans opened the passenger door for him.
“Dreamer’s District. Now”, ordered Setton.
Hans pulled up to the vacant lot on the corner of Sunrise Street and Charleston Street. This was McKenzie’s drop off point. Setton stepped out.
“My thanks, Hans. You and your family won’t hear from me again.”
Hans sighed with relief, nodded, and sped away. In the middle of the lot, a woman with dark black hair wearing a black overcoat stood silently. Her features were difficult to discern, as it was nearly midnight. Setton walked up to her and asked “When does the world end?”
“When we will it to, dear” replied the woman. McKenzie’s code phrase. Setton handed the key over, while the woman handed over an envelope containing his payment. Before the key left his hand, Setton could’ve sworn he heard a voice come from it. “You know not what you-“ It ceased as soon as the woman took hold. Setton assumed it was his imagination. After the exchange, she opened her right hand, her wrist adorned with a golden watch, toward Setton.
Ecstatic to have received the largest payout of his career, Setton enthusiastically shook the woman’s hand. He felt a sharp pain in his wrist. Beneath the woman’s watch, there was a needle. A syringe. Devil’s Drink. Setton felt it shoot through his veins. He fell on to his back. “McKenzie sends his apologies, but a loose end is a loose end. He insists you won’t want to see what comes next,” said the woman as she grabbed the envelope from the floor and walked away.
He felt as if his innards were melting. As death enveloped him, the burning turned to a soothing warmth. He shut his eyes and returned to his dream. London was no more. In the distance, a massive automaton walked toward the coast.