A siren blared, deafening, terminals scrolling through data beyond understanding or explanation. Around him, the girls began to writhe, their hands grasping at objects beyond vision, their breathing ragged. One by one they began to scream, agony and ecstasy, their backs arched as the energy flowed through them. At once their eyes opened, deepest black, unworldly, unholy.
Stepney turned to Calvin, terrified. She lay slumped in her chair, twitching, sparks erupting from the electrodes wired into her brain. Her breathing was shallow, her body shaking. Stepney took his eyes from her, surveyed the hall. The followers, the faithful, stood now. Shouting, swearing, cursing heaven and earth and promising a vengeance against those who stood in their way.
He turned to Harlow. Their eyes met, the gaze of old friends. Harlow’s were filled with tears. The young mystic leaned towards him, his voice a murmur amid the cacophony which had overtaken them. “Stepney, I…move!”
Stepney’s head snapped up in time to see the man before him. His eyes were dead, showing neither rage nor love, satisfaction nor regret. His face betrayed nothing. His hand was raised, pointed towards him as if in some grotesque blessing. Stepney felt Harlow push against him, the world running in slow motion.
The knife span towards him, handle over blade over handle over blade over handle.
Stepney saw it all. His memories, the men and women of the city, those things lost which had been found. His time with friends, with those he loved and those who loved him. He saw himself in his office, at work and happy, caring for others in the only way he knew how.
And the knife continued towards him. Handle over blade over handle over blade over handle.
He took in the picture. Omega behind him, unmoving, watching. Calvin slumped, barely moving, her eyes twitching, her fingers grasping. The crowd moving towards him with unthinking hatred, unwavering contempt.
Handle over blade over handle over blade over handle.
Stepney stared downwards. On the floor before him lay Harlow, the knife protruding from his chest. Blood poured from the wound, spurting from his pierced heart, soaking through his clothes and flowing to the floor below. Stepney sank to his knees, took the man’s head in his hands.
Harlow smiled, a wavering, uncertain expression. Yet his eyes kept their glow, the spark of life. He spoke slowly, each breath taking his whole effort. “I…guess…it is our time…after all.”
“I guess so.” Stepney’s voice came to him as if from afar, a script being read by someone else. Another man in another life.
Harlow’s eyes began to roll back, his breathing ever more laboured, his motions weaker, more feeble. He beckoned Stepney closer. “Trust her,” he whispered gently.
And then he laid his head back and sank and was still.
Stepney stood. The crowd before him had become silent, accusative. They moved forward in one body, surrounding him. Their faces were without expression, their gaze without remorse. Still they came, mechanical, unchanging. Yet Stepney stood firm, retreating not a foot, his mind suddenly drained.
He felt rather than heard Omega’s voice as it called from behind him. As he turned, he felt the first fist strike home, felt the rod of iron as it snapped against his spine. He sank to his knees, not blocking the pain, embracing it. He met her eyes, those beautiful eyes, eyes which had driven sane men to madness and mad men to song. Somehow, almost unbelievably, she reached forward and took his head in her hands.
She kissed him once, tenderly, on the mouth. He felt her skin against his. It was electric, energising, a sense of fire and warmth flowing through him from her. He felt her against him, the kiss broken as she cradled his head against her breast. He felt the pain leave him even as the mob set in, and there was only Omega. Always Omega.
Her voice came to his ear, naught but a whisper. “The key. You know what you must do.”
In her hand lay a single white pill.