Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Drop

We had to stop the car and get out when we reached The Drop.  It was a town: small, quaint, carefully looked after by bucolic residents, and it was right on the edge of the Drop itself, a cliff that no-one had descended to the bottom.
Well, no-one living that is.
The roads were smooth blue-black asphalt with broken white lines painted down the middle.  On some of them were houses, offices and public buildings to the sides; the houses were wooden constructions, usually three or four stories high, though we did see a bungalow off in the distance at one point.  Trees grew around them like sentinels, standing alone but in sight of other trees, evergreen and tall.  The offices were steel and glass, very modern looking affairs.  They had carparks outside, and often underneath, accessed by gentle ramps and never blocked by yellow-and-black striped bars or severe metal gates with automatic openers.  The public buildings were usually brick, either red or yellow.  We figured it out after a while: the colour of the brick indicated how close the building was to the edge of the Drop.  The library was red and about two streets away from the Drop, but the town hall was yellow and right on the landside edge of town.  I think it was Paula who eventually pointed out that all the academic and intellectual side of life in The Drop seemed to be edgeside, and all of the political and infrastructural life seemed to be landside.  Marcus gave her a filthy look when she said that.
We parked the car outside the homeless shelter, which was less than fifty feet away from the edge, and went to look at the view.
There were no railings at the edge of the cliff, no warning signs either.  Nothing to tell you that you were stood at the top of the Drop, a height that had never been measured.  Nothing to tell you that if you stepped forward, or jumped off, or were pushed, then you'd fall for a long time, and the last thing you'd see would be something that very few people, if any, had ever seen before.
"It's like they want people to jump," said Marcus.  I'd positioned myself between him and Paula, in case either of them tried to do anything stupid.  "There's no warnings, nothing!"
"It's like the roadsigns," I said.  We'd passed several; the ones for the traffic going landside had numbers on, usually limiting the traffic to 50klicks an hour.  The ones going edgeward simply read "Your speed is your choice."
"Yeah," said Marcus.  "Did you see the road over there?"  He pointed, his tattooed hand and fingers stretching out across my face.  I turned my head, and saw what he meant: the asphalt went right on the edge and only ended when the land did.  "And did you see where the street-lights ended?"  I shook my head because I hadn't.  "About four streets back," he said.  "If you were driving at night, you'd get here just as you thought you were able to see things clearly, and the open air wouldn't warn you at all that you were about to drive off the Drop."
"So... you think they want people to fall off?  Why?  It's not like shipwrecks, there's nothing to pick up unless they've got a way of getting to the bottom.  And even then, what's going to be left after a car hits the ground at terminal velocity?"
"Perhaps it's an unusual form of impact mining?" said Paula.  Marcus and I shuddered, her voice was raspy and buzzed slightly on the nasal consonants.  She'd been the same ever since she'd been invaded, although sometimes in her dreams she spoke in her own voice again.  She said strange things, it sounded like she was dreaming of places that we'd never seen, and sometimes it sounded like she was crying.
"Must be something very tough down there then," said Marcus, a little shortly.  He'd been Paula's boyfriend until the invasion.  Now he said he wasn't sure what he was to her.
"Well," I said.  "It's what we're here to find out, isn't it?"
"Only if it works," said Marcus.  He started to turn away from the Drop.  "It's not worked for anyone else."
"No-one else has me with them," rasped Paula.  I turned away from her them, unable to cope with the way her eyes gleamed without any light to fall on them.  I saw that Marcus was watching someone coming out of the homeless shelter.  They were stumbling, one arm thrown protective up over their head.
"It's worth a try," I said.  "Let's see how far down we can parachute Paula's camera first.  We don't want to be going down blind ourselves."
"I don't want to be going down at all," said Marcus.  He was still watching the stumbling homeless man.  "He's going towards the Drop!"
We all looked, and it was true.  The man was still stumbling, couldn't see properly with his arm thrown up like that, and was heading towards the edge of the cliff, the Drop.

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