The chase would not last much longer.
His target was slower than himself, and though he ran a serpentine path, Lieder was gaining. His patience would pay off, and Waldemar would soon be caught.
Not far ahead, Cyril appeared from the darkness, blocking their way. It took him a moment to notice them, and his face was one of confusion when he did.
Lieder knew what his eyes were saying. He was asking why the two of them were engaged in such unsightly behavior.
As Waldemar moved to pass him, Cyril intervened, reaching his right arm out to grab him by his left shoulder. Wrapping the other around his back, Cyril locked Waldemar in a restricting embrace, resisting Waldemar’s attempts to escape as he awkwardly waddled to finish their dying momentum.
Cyril was seeking a compromise, stopping Waldemar with the intent of mediating their disagreement. It seemed to him that Waldemar was overreacting to Lieder’s pursuit, and that so long as he was there to supervise, the two boys could come to a fair resolution.
Lieder felt the familiar, giddy rush. This was it!
He thrust his hand and forearm at the back of Waldemar’s head. The limb passed through quickly, coming out the other side as easily as a kitchen knife through a carrot.
True to the metaphor, the cut in Waldemar’s skull was clean, inferably sliced by a razor’s edge despite the fact that it had been the broad side of Lieder’s hand that had done the deed. Waldo’s head was severed along a diagonal line running from his upper-right cheek through the left side of his chin, just shallow enough to avoid passing through the mouth.
The wound was a solid, fleshy pink color. No fluid or smaller pieces escaped it, suggesting that the head was all of a single piece. Even the manner in which it thudded against the floor suggested that it was one simple, cohesive substance.
Waldemar’s terrified eyes turned to look at the surprised Cyril, and before the poor child could even process what he’d witnessed, Waldemar was screaming incoherent ramblings at Cyril.
Lieder couldn’t recognize the language, but he still understood the message. Waldemar was blaming Cyril, wailing his suffering. He criticized Cyril’s involvement and berated his stupidity, speaking as though Cyril had committed an atrocity that was worse than Lieder’s. It almost felt as though Lieder had been the innocent bystander.
Lieder’s message to Cyril was different in tone, but confronted the same incident. He was grateful for the opening Cyril had provided, and though it was small, he’d provided a measurable contribution to Lieder’s agenda.
This world and its assumptions were wrong. These things had always been wrong, but he’d sat idle for long enough. After all this time, they were still ignoring the real issues; they’d had their chance. Now it was Lieder’s turn.
Society’s architects had missed the point, its foundation of faulty integrity. It would have to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. He didn’t know if he should be the one to do the rebuilding, but he was an optimal candidate for tearing things down.
Lieder conveyed his assurance to Cyril as he raised his foot, preparing to stomp the fallen Waldemar’s mouth shut. No matter how small Cyril’s part was, he’d done a good thing this day, and that made him worthy of gratitude.
“It appears that you are having a nightmare, Lord Lieder. Would you like some music to calm you?”
His eyes flew open, but the rest of his body ignored the leaping of his heart and stayed still. Lieder stared through hardened eyelids across the bedspread’s wrinkled landscape as familiarity began to set in.
His heartbeat was rapid, and he was drenched with sweat, but his body remained still. His arms and legs were relaxed, the tension of his fright limited to his lower back and shoulders.
He sighed, the mattress causing a sinking sensation as it conformed to a limper posture. Again, memories were proving more powerful than this body’s firsthand experience. Lieder was still conditioned for sleeping with a loaded weapon in hand, despite the fact that this body had never even touched a rifle.
He supposed it shouldn’t seem so extraordinary. The real nightmare was the memory of trying to fall asleep while knowing that the slightest unconscious twitch could kill a friend. If any memory should transcend death, that was a candidate
“Would you repeat that, attendant?”
“It appears you are having a nightmare, Lord Lieder. Would you like some music to calm you?”
“Sure, why not? What do you have?”
“The library is vast, Lord, it is highly recommended that you narrow your query.”
“Easy. Play me some random hard rock.”
“Not familiar to you? How about genre: metal?” Lieder furrowed his brow. He hadn’t considered the possibility that musical genres might have undergone drastic changes. Were terms like ‘rock and roll’ and ‘metal’ no longer associated with music?
“I’m afraid that is not a category I recognize, Lord. Are you, perhaps, inquiring about types of minerals?”
He could spend all night guessing and never stumble across a term for what he wanted.
“Just play me something at random.”
A slow set of gentle keyboard notes trickled into the room from the same unseen source as the attendant’s voice.
His thoughts turned back to the dream he’d been having. The feeling it had evoked stubbornly lingered over him, and it was very unwelcome.
The images his mind conjured during sleep rarely pertained to reality. Dreams seemed to be a way for his brain to live scenarios he’d never experience in his waking life. If dreams served any purpose at all, it was to allow him the experience of being a different person.
There shouldn’t be any reason to dwell on this one, even if it did seem more familiar than usual. He was already intending to be nicer to Waldo, provided Waldo was nicer to Max. To treat the violence in his dream as some kind of prophecy was the only way it could possibly become one.
Lieder took a slow, deep breath, exhaling in a cathartic sigh. The dream was only that. There was no reason to fear that he’d lost himself to instinct, nor had he allowed that elitist part of him to wrest control. He suspected he’d soon try and change the world’s collective mind, but it wouldn’t be through such forceful means…
The music selected by the attendant began to draw his attention. The instrument that Lieder had assumed would only be used in the intro was continuing just as it started. It was somewhere between a synthesized trumpet and saxophone, a noise that he doubted an actual horn could make. It was beginning to grate his nerves; he likened it to elevator music without the fake drum accompaniment.
“What is this crap?” Lieder asked himself, appalled. “Attendant, you have anything with a faster tempo? With some percussion, maybe?”
“Of course, Lord.”
He listened to the new track intently, the initial tapping of a cymbal evoking a familiar feeling. As he waited, though, the tapping only changed its speed and pitch, without a trace of other instruments or vocals to be found. Unless the introduction was of obscene length, the entire song was just cymbal.
“Just stop, attendant, that will do.”
He hoped this wasn’t indicative of all music of the time. Everyone had different tastes, but at the moment, he feared there might not be any contemporaries that would cater to his. There was a vague understanding of how another person might find this sort of simplicity soothing, but for Lieder, music needed to be complex. Without substance, it couldn’t occupy any fraction of his mind, and without that occupation, he tended to become restless.
His tastes had been considered niche, and there was no telling whether or not those niches could have survived the Exodus.
For now, he’d make due with humming the tunes he considered to be classics. This placebo wouldn’t last forever, though, and Lieder was determined to either find a suitable futuristic substitute or pry recordings of his favorite artists from the Tombs’ prudish grip.