Xenomatra – Part 2 [short story]

Intro to Part 2

Link to Part 1

On the formatting: I hope the screenplay sections are readable.  I realize that they’re formatted a little strangely – I did what I could with the limited tools available.  I still can’t figure out how to indent the first line of a paragraph, so it’s a bit miraculous if I managed to cobble together some legible script writing.

On the epithets: There are some racial slurs in the text.  I don’t use them flippantly or gratuitously.  I’m confident that the character who makes use of them is absolved in the end.

On the story itself: This is either the dumbest or the smartest story I ever wrote.  Part of me wants to write twenty more Xenomatra stories, follow her into adolescence as she grapples with her identity, into adulthood as she thrashes in the moral quicksand of social justice.  The other part of me wants to burn the little bit that I’ve already written.  What I know for sure is that nobody will publish any of it.

Anyway, here’s the second part of Xenomatra – Social Justice Warrior


Sirens in the fog.  Shouting all around.  Death rattles of twisting metal and the popping and cracking of stone.  Then a cough, nearer than the sirens and the shouting.  Out of the fog emerges Police Captain Harpagos – mid-fifties, stocky, covered in ash.  His radio cackles.



That was the other one.  North Tower just collapsed.  (cackle)  Could you repeat that?  Can’t read you for shit.  (cackle)  North Tower is gone.  (cackle)  Are you sure?  Maybe it was some kind of tremor.  (cackle)  Fucking thing fucking fell on top of us.  Yeah I’m pretty fucking sure.  (cackle)  Jesus Christ.


Captain Harpagos puts the radio to his mouth, then realizes he has nothing to say.  He looks around himself in a daze.  The ash fog swallows the city. 


A businessman shambles by, suit and loafers doused in the ash, his briefcase open and spewing papers.  A fashionable young woman stumbles on heels behind him – she’s in shock and bleeding from the head. 


The red and blue flashes of a cop car crawl forward out of the fog.  Captain Harpagos snaps out of his daze and bangs a fist on the driver side window.  Behind the wheel is a Rookie.



Where in hell are you going?



They want a new perimeter.



How far?



Three more blocks.  I think.  Can’t see shit out here.



How bad is it up there?



It’s a nightmare.


Captain Harpagos waves him through.  He stares into the fog but the fog hides everything.  He puts the radio to his mouth.




Five officers in the rubble of a stairwell.  Darkness and flashlights. 


Fitzgerald is lying on the ground with fractured ribs and a broken leg, Rhadaman and Rhodes are tending to him.  Jefferson can’t get the radio to work.  Orphan is sitting under the stairwell, eyes bright, listening.



(slapping the radio)

Fucking thing cut out again.



(with difficulty)

No walkies in the budget.  Communication is non-essential.



What the fuck is going on up there?



Death.  War.  Hell.  But everything’s relative.  We’ve got our own predicaments.



Hold still, Fitz.  I almost got you wrapped.



Your ribs are cracked.  Maybe broken.  You can breathe?



I can call you a Hindi-barking faggot.




I think you will survive, my friend.


Rhadaman and Rhodes finish wrapping Fitzgerald, who sits up and winces.  He’s battered and bloodied, dark with sooty ash, his leg in a makeshift splint.  He stands up on his one good leg, and the three of them move nearer to Jefferson, who’s fiddling with the radio. 


Behind them Orphan puts his ear to the darkness under the stairs.



Maybe the signal can’t come through.



Can’t come through what?



I don’t know.  Whatever’s on top of us.



Do we know what’s on top of us?



Death.  War.  Hell.



What I mean is, maybe the sky is only a few feet above us.  We wouldn’t know it.



You fucking saw exactly what I fucking saw, and you know there isn’t any goddamn sky above us.  No survivors, no sky.  So fuck off with that.  What we have is a radio.  We’ve got a piece of shit cocksucking radio.  A piece of shit cocksucking radio that doesn’t fucking work for cocksucking shit.  That’s what we got.



Why’s it blinking blue?



Fuck you.



I never seen it blink blue before.


The rubble shifts.  The ground shakes.  They push with their hands against the crumbling skyscraper.  It’s a display of impotence – this place is temporary and death is pushing in.  At last the shifting and shaking stops.   



Did you hear it?!


The others are surprised to hear Orphan speak.  They are frightened by the quaking earth, frightened again by the brightness in Orphan’s eyes. 



The child – did you hear it?




I only heard the earth shaking.



Come here.  Put your ears in the darkness.  Someone’s alive down there.



I’ll have a listen.


Rhodes exchanges looks with the others then joins Orphan under the stairs.  The radio cackles and Police Captain Harpagos’s voice comes through.



(through the radio)

. . . Captain Harpagos to Lieutenant Jefferson, or anyone else from the twenty-fourth.  Respond if you read . . .



Captain!  Jefferson here.  Fucking hell.



You got a location, Jefferson?



North Tower, adjacent parking garage.  We’re buried in a stairwell.



How many?



Five.  There’s five of us still breathing.  I’ve got Fitz, Rhodes, Rhadaman, and Orphan with me.



Well I’ve got some more bad news for you boys.  That rubble is red hot quicksand.  All that twisted metal – until it settles it’s basically a meat grinder.  Rescue operations are on hiatus until conditions improve. So you’re on your own for a few ticks.






Can you dig yourselves out?



There’s about a zero percent fucking chance of that, sir.



I’ll give your location to Search and Rescue, but they can’t do shit without go-ahead.  You boys –


The rubble shifts.  The ground shakes.  In the confusion Jefferson smashes the radio against a steel beam.  As the shifting and shaking stops, the radio blinks blue then dies forever.






(from the darkness under the stairs)

I heard it!  There’s a child down there – I heard it crying!



We’re in the basement, Rhodes.  There’s nobody lower than us.



The earth is deeper than a basement.



I’m telling you there’s people down there!







It’s the end of the world as we know it . . .


While Jefferson mourns the loss of the radio and Fitzgerald sings an REM song, Rhadaman joins Rhodes and Orphan under the stairs. 


There’s a dark tunneling hole that begins under the stairs and leads ever downward, spiraling into an abyss.  Rhadaman looks long and hard and the abyss sucks at his eyes, pulls us near – then we hear it –


the child wails –



I hear it too!



(eyes bright)

We have to go down – down into something deep.



Jefferson, there’s people down there!



We’ll sink in the mud and rise in the fire.  The child cries like a fire.


The five officers gather around the hole in the darkness under the stairs.  Again the child wails.  There’s no longer any doubt – the men know where they must go.  Nevertheless they hesitate at the threshold.


The rubble shifts.  They descend.


The way is dark – and down the narrow ditch

that spirals through the rings of the abyss

go breathing men, who twist in the debris.

The bright-eyed Orphan leads them at the front,

behind him Rhodes who measures out each step,

then Fitz comes hobbling on a broken leg,

assisted by religious Rhadaman,

and up the rear comes Jefferson the Fuck.

Their bones are made of earth, their hearts of fire,

their skin’s a sheet of water weaved in air –

and wrapped up in the elements of flesh

their souls approach the bloodless world below.


That shriek – it’s Xenomatra’s caterwaul

that scrambles up the chasm’s raspy throat

and drives a spike of hope in doubtful men.

A beacon or a siren song, her wail

resounds like thunder in the boneyard, rings

like glass before the shatter, resonates

in metal stolen from the sky.  Her scream

goes rattling through a hundred thousand teeth

that without tongues can’t taste the ash.  Her howl

redounds upon five bold and drumming hearts

and sparks the shock of fire in their chests,

a fire as hot as engine fuel’s blast.


The bright-eyed Orphan listens in the dark.

The bright-eyed Orphan leads them ever down.

Behind him Rhodes who measures out each step,

then Fitz comes hobbling on a broken leg,

assisted by religious Rhadaman,

and up the rear comes Jefferson the Fuck.

The winding way descends the lithosphere,

the brittle plate that cooks us over coals,

until it punctures through the mantle’s rim

and drains into the quicklime furnace.  Halt –

 a sign occludes the path that leads to hope:


Behold the awful price of entry here –

you knock the door of Death’s demolished house.

Beyond this threshold there’s a bitter dust

that sleeps now in the grim and dusky halls,

but when your clammy foot disturbs the floor

these particles of cancer, motes of plague,

will wake to catalyze your creeping fate.

The dust will hunt your breath and haunt your lungs,

your gasping lungs, and sap your sucking soul.

The blood-fire in your veins will turn to sludge.

Your bones will rot, your eyes will fade.  But hearts

must beat forever, drum the voiceless dirge.

Abandon love.  Go back.  The dead are dead.


The bright-eyed Orphan doesn’t hesitate –

his steel-toed boot unmakes the caustic sign.

Behind him Rhodes who measures out each step,

then Fitz comes hobbling on a broken leg,

assisted by religious Rhadaman,

and up the rear comes Jefferson the Fuck.

The way goes down, their footfalls kick up filth,

their mouths suck in a billion ghouls, and hope

infects their thirsty souls with thirsty dust.


The Crack of Tartarus is a chasm in the pit under hell.  It’s about as wide as a titan is tall, about as long as an ocean is wide, about as deep as the darkness is unknown.

Foredoomed as the eternal wardens of the Crack, the grandfathers of thunder and fire stand like mountains over its abyssal shadow.  Titan Kronos – son of heaven and earth, father of the Olympians – holds the vault of Tartarus in his immovable hands.  Titan Iapetus – son of heaven and earth, father of Atlas and Prometheus – pinions the floor of Tartarus under his irresistible feet.  As titans they buttress the prison of the damned, as brothers they guard the gash in the hull the existence.

Between them lies a newborn goddess – Xenomatra, daughter of the war-god and the Hour of Justice.  She’s only just arrived, and Kronos is still patching the hole she made in his ceiling, while Iapetus stamps out the divot she thumped into his bedrock.  She’s a pale glimmer in the red-black darkness, a glinting shard of blood-fire between two bloodless mountains.  She’s lying utterly exposed on a crag that juts out over the Crack.

The first responders approached the scene with due caution.

Orphan went first.  He alone could see the path that winded past the foot of Iapetus, the gulches to either side, and the dusty crag where the child lay.  Immediately behind him came Rhodes and Rhadaman.  Fitzgerald was further back, carrying his broken chest with a broken leg.  Jefferson marched behind them.

The five of them completed the descent in silence.  They’d come a long way – miles through the earth under the rubble, miles through the dusty halls of Death – and they were at the limits of human endurance.  Even now their steps kicked up the dust and their lungs took it in.  They were heavy in their chests, wobbly in their legs, sallow in their faces, sick in their hearts.  They had nothing to say.  They moved forward and down.

At last they reached the crag that overlooked the Crack of Tartarus, where Xenomatra exposed herself to the darkness.  The goddess was silent now as well – she might even be sleeping.  They could see the rising and the falling of her little chest.

Then the voice of Titan Kronos, father of time and grandfather of thunder, moaned in the belly of the furnace –

“Do not touch the child.”

The words boomed from above, boomed from below.  They imploded in the hot air over the Crack and shook the bedrock.  Before the effect subsided, Titan Iapetus added blaze to the thunder –

“The child fights the Terror.”

The words blasted the imploding air, sizzled in the shaking rock.  Orphan opened his mouth to speak but the titans had only cleared their volcanic throats.

“Nineteen-headed Terror,” Kronos boomed.

“A Terror born of Ecstasy and Hatred,” Iapetus blasted.  “A Terror flung down from the height of Liberty.”

“A terrible fall.”

“It fell straight through Oblivion and smashed into the abyss from the other side.”

“It crawled up the nether-wall and out of the Crack.”

“Its nineteen heads all barked the tongue of Arabia.”

“Old Arabia, not forgotten.  Orotalt and Alilat.”

“Bacchanal – the orgy of wine.  Bacchanal – the feast of flesh.”

“But old Arabia is dead.”

“And new Arabia spawned a Terror – nineteen-headed Terror!  The titans can’t contend!”

“It crawled up the nether-wall and out of the Crack.”

“Then the child came wailing through the roof of our impenetrable prison.”

“Xenomatra – daughter of the war-god and the Hour of Justice.”

“Her wail pacified the Terror.”

“The nineteen-headed Terror sleeps now in the Crack.”

“If you want the child, you must slay the Terror.”

When the titans finished speaking, three of Terror’s heads rose out of the abyss.  The heads were colossal, each one as big around as a fuselage, all of them grotesque in their swollen proportions.  Their burnt faces dripped like jelly over cartilage, swirling in alternating expressions of rage and pain.  Their unblinking eyes were hateful and vacuous.  Their bloated necks writhed like snakes and thrashed in the gloom of the Crack, insinuating an outrageous body down below.

But in spite of the blistering fury, Terror’s actions were timid.  Its burnt jelly noses sniffed at the chasm’s edge, its hateful eyes were hypervigilant, its writhing snake-necks didn’t writhe beyond the brink.  Its rage was wrapped in frustration, its hatred soaked in doubt.

Suddenly, the child waked and wailed.

The Terror shrieked in return, then its three probing heads retracted into the Crack of Tartarus.


The first responders huddled at the base of the crag.  They knew that they were trespassing in the house of the dead, and they understood that soon they would merely be loitering in it.  The filth inside them was pushing out through their yellowing skin, out through their bleeding noses and their runny eyes.  As one body they hacked up black phlegm and hurled up blacker blood.  They had breached the underworld and sucked the abyss into their eyes, and now the abyss clawed its way out of their lungs and their throats and made pools of sludge on the dusty ground.  The sludge dried up and flaked away, adding dust to dust.

Above them on the crag and keeping watch over the Crack was the child they were doomed to save.

“What kind of fucked up name is Xenomatra?” said Jefferson.

“The daughter of the war-god and the Hour of Justice,” said Rhadaman – “that’s what the voices said.  They called her Xenomatra, daughter of the war-god and the Hour of Justice.”

“Well you’re the closest thing we’ve got to an Egyptian,” said Fitz.  “So what the hell’s it mean?”

“Egypt is closer to Ireland than it is to India,”  said Rhadaman.  Then he shrugged.  “But I suppose it means she is a goddess.”

“It isn’t Egyptian, it’s Greek,” said Rhodes.  “I don’t speak Greek but I know what xenophobia is – the fear of the other.  I’m pretty sure Xenomatra means the mother of the other.”

“Mother of the other?  And what the fuck does that mean?”

“She’s the mother of gooks,” said Fitz.

Again the Terror probed its heads above the brink, and again Xenomatra repelled it with her wail.  As the heads lurched and contorted under the reverberations, Orphan saw the flash of sorrow in the vacuum of the eyes.

“Her crying is putting a soul in the Terror,” Orphan said.  He picked up a handful of dust and let it run through his fingers.  “The mother of all the others.  She made a weapon of our suffering.  She’s feeding death to killers, choking hate with ashes.  She’s breathing despair into the abyss.  But it isn’t enough.  The ashes aren’t enough.”  He slapped his upturned wrist with a sooty hand.  “She needs our blood.  She needs the fire.”

Only Rhadaman understood what Orphan couldn’t quite articulate.  He was calm as he stood up, deliberate as he removed the jacket of his uniform, formidable as he ascended the crag.  When he reached Xenomatra he spread his jacket on the ground before her and placed his knees upon it.  Then he bowed his head before her as before an altar.  He remained in that position – silent and stoic – until the heads of Terror reared again.

Then Rhadaman turned his face to the roof of Tartarus, to the sky that might be above it, and ignited the last of the oxygen in his lungs with the fire in his heart.

“Xenomatra.  Daughter of the war-god.  Daughter of the Hour of Justice.  Mother of others.  Though my own suffering is just a speck, I add it to the mountain of the ash.  I was an infant once, as you are an infant now.  And as my mother swaddled me, my elder sister was taken from a schoolhouse and raped by marauders.  When she refused the rape-marriage demanded by law, the magistrates and holy men poured gasoline into her eyes and struck a match on her teeth.  Her name was Pavithra – the pure one.  I was too small to know her, too small to save her – but I carry her scream in my blood.”

Rhadaman took a blade from his belt and cut into the flesh of his hand.  The bright blood poured out of his fist and splattered the goddess.  She wailed again, but now her warbling was thick with thunder.  The Zeus within her was both paternal and maternal, masculine and feminine, savage and compassionate –and the screaming blood of Rhadaman called forth her storm.

The probing heads of Terror thrashed in the myriad gales of the tempest – their distended mouths tried to bellow a martyr’s rage, instead they gulped down Xenomatra’s revenge.  The wind of her wail went in through their ears, their noses, their gnashing teeth, until all three heads burst at the neck and disgorged black jets of filth into the concussed void.  The filth rose up in a wave under the rolling thunder and crashed over the peak of the crag.

Rhadaman, who waked the goddess with his screaming blood, protected her now with his rotting flesh.  He stood between her and the rogue wave, making a roof with his spine and a hearth with his dying breath.  After the wave crashed and receded, the shell of his corpse flaked away and added a speck to the mountain of ash.

Xenomatra was unharmed.  Her giggle echoed the thunder.

“Nineteen-headed Terror,” said Rhodes.  “That means there’s sixteen left.”  He looked around at his silent companions.  “Anybody else got screams in their blood?”

“About a million of them,” said Jefferson.  “Wish me luck.”

He was calm as he stood up, deliberate as he removed the jacket of his uniform, formidable as he ascended the crag.  Though he spread the jacket as Rhadaman had done, and placed his knees upon it, he didn’t bow his head.  He stared hard into the abyss until three more heads of Terror probed above the brink.

“Xenomatra – mother of others,” he said.  “I’ll add my speck to your mountain.  I was at My Lai.  Company B, hundred twenty-third battalion.  It was Charlie Company that did the raping and the killing – we just flew over top of it and kept our mouths shut.  We saw the heaps of women and their babies, all of them ripped open by our own dicks and hamburgered by our own bullets.  I was too green to accuse my brothers, and now I’m too gray to make amends.  But I do carry those fucking screams in my blood.”

He took Rhadaman’s blade from the ground and cut into the flesh of his hand.  The bright screaming blood poured out of his fist and called forth Xenomatra’s storm.  The heads of Terror gulped the thunder and burst at the neck and their black filth was a wave that crashed over the crag.  Jefferson protected with his rotting flesh what his screaming blood had waked, and when the wave receded the shell of his corpse flaked away and added a speck to the mountain of ash.

Once more a giggle echoed the thunder.

“There’s only five of us,” said Rhodes.  “Three heads each won’t be enough.”

“You assholes do what you can,” said Fitz.  “I’ll take out the rest.”

“How do you figure?”

Fitz had madness in his eyes.  “I’m going last,” he said.

So Rhodes measured his steps up the crag and took his doom at the Crack of Tartarus.  When the heads of Terror breached, he fired his lungs.

“Xenomatra – mother of others.  I was a father once.  My boy’s name was Nathan.  He caught sick when he was seven and died when he was eight.  The doctors knew how to fix him but I didn’t have the money for the drugs.  I worked my whole life but I never saw the kind of money they were asking for.  Nathan died slow.  All of his screams are still in my blood.”

As it happened with Rhadaman and Jefferson, so it happened with Rhodes.  He took the blade from the ground and cut into the flesh of his hand.  There was bright blood, the wailing storm, bursting heads and a surge of filth.  When it all receded the shell of his corpse flaked away and added a speck to the mountain of ash.

Once more a giggle echoed the thunder.

Fitz looked hard at Orphan.  “Your turn,” he said.

But Orphan couldn’t meet his gaze.  “There’s no screaming in my blood.”

Fitz grabbed him at the shoulder and pulled him close.  “Well I guess I’ll have to scream for both of us, then.”

So it was Fitz who followed Rhodes, who followed Jefferson, who followed Rhadaman.  He needed Orphan’s help to stand, and he hobbled on his broken leg, but he moved irresistibly and inexorably up the ridge of the crag.  Like the others he removed his jacket – unlike them he also removed his shirt, his boots, his trousers, his underwear, and tossed each article into the roiling abyss.  Under the blue he wore a skin of cured leather, a plaster of old scars and new tattoos that he exposed now to the darkness.

“Holy mother of others!” he blasted.  “Mother of that gypsy nigger Rhadaman, mother of that gook-slaughtering Jefferson, mother of all Greek-speaking wetbacks.  How about a mother for that Catholic faggot who grew up in Breezy?  You know the one.  He went to school at Belle Harbor and took his communions at Rockaway.  He played baseball in the streets at night, thought he was going to be some kind of DiMaggio, but he had soft little hands and he couldn’t throw the ball.  The priest liked those soft little hands – he wiped the tears away and said some boys were too pure for sports – took him in the sanctuary and shoved a holy cock down his throat.  How about a mother for that cum-sucking little bitch?”

Fitz moved past the goddess, hung his toes over the Crack of Tartarus, and he pissed on the rearing heads of Terror.  A shudder went through the pit under hell and the crag swayed like a tower in the wind.  The Terror choked on its groan.  Three more heads rose out of the Crack, then three more after that.  Nine heads, each as big around as a fuselage, contorted in the darkness over the cop who pissed into their void.  Their dripping mouths gaped open and the swollen meat of their tongues flapped in a dissonant unity, and altogether they produced a lunatic appeal to the heavens –

Allahu akbar!

Fitz shook his dick.  He took the blade from the dusty ground and cut into the flesh of his hand – “Xenomatra, make these cunts choke on it!” – and the bright blood poured out of his fist and the daughter of the war-god and the Hour of Justice warbled out her thunder.

Nine heads couldn’t withstand Xenomatra any better than three, and all nine burst at the neck and vomited their jets of filth into the storm.  Fitz stood between the goddess and the wave, and after the wave crashed and receded the shell of his corpse flaked away and added a speck to the mountain of ash.

Once more a giggle echoed the thunder.

Now Orphan stood alone at the base of the crag.  Three heads had succumbed to Rhadaman, three each to Jefferson and Rhodes, and nine had blown apart in Fitz’s squall.  Nineteen-headed Terror was reduced to one – a lonely abomination that awaited the bright-eyed Orphan’s blood.

All at once the vital head lurched up and brought with it eighteen headless necks that whirled and flailed.  The snake-necks spurted filth in all directions – unattended firehoses that sucked their fuel out of the gash in the abyss – and the vital head spluttered in their midst.

Orphan hesitated.  With his bright eyes he looked at the veins that pulsed under his coat of flesh – he felt them burning but he couldn’t hear them screaming.  Then he clenched his fists, breathed in the dust of his brothers, and he climbed the crag and knelt beside the child.  He spoke softly into her ear.

“Xenomatra, mother of others.  Those others call me Orphan because I lost my parents as an infant, and without a family I was raised by the city.  I was raised by social workers, foster parents, the volunteers down at the shelter and the nuns who run the kitchens – and somewhere in there some cops and firemen showed me how to become a man.  Because of them my blood is quiet.  Do you understand me?  I’ve had a good life.  There’s a soul in this mountain of bone-ash, and that soul is the reason there’s fire in my blood.  I have no screams to give you – but I can pass along the fire.”

He took the blade from the ground and cut into the flesh of his hand.  The bright blood poured from his fist and splattered the goddess –

but nothing happened.

The vital head heaved forward.  The snake-necks spurted filth.  The outrageous body rolled out of the abyss and onto the crag, and the face of Terror swirled over the infant child.

Then Xenomatra rumbled.  The turbulence started in her belly, traveled up her chest, paused in her throat, ignited between her lips.  Instead of a screaming storm she belched a flame of blood-fire, a flame that started as a wisp and ended as a deluge.  The Terror thrashed in the plasma, writhed and twisted and whined, fell backwards off the crag and exploded as it fell.

The abyss ejected the molten corpse of the headless Terror in a singular mass, a black tsunami that could have gulped the previous breakers.  Orphan placed himself between the goddess and the surge, making a roof with his spine and a hearth with his dying breath – but he could neither have saved her nor was it his doom to die.  Titan Kronos reached forth a hand, each finger the sheered-off cliff of a mountain, and with his palm the son of earth and heaven made a bulwark that held back the tide.  The ancient titan paid a human price for his intervention – as the tide of filth receded the stone of his hand flaked away and added its speck to the mountain of ash.

His voice boomed from above, boomed from below –

“You must go now, Orphan of New York.  Take Xenomatra skyward.”

With only one hand Kronos could no longer support the roof of Tartarus.  The pit under hell began to collapse.

Orphan took Xenomatra into his arms and kissed her above the brow.  He clutched her soft body to his chest and shielded her from the rain of debris.  Together they descended the crag, ran the isthmus between the gulches, rounded the quaking foot of Titan Iapetus, and crossed the threshold into the skyward ditch.


Red dawn over the rubble.  Thousands of first responders crawl over the shifting mounds of steel and ash.  They hunt for an impossible heartbeat.  The silence is total.


Captain Harpagos is speaking with some firemen but we hear nothing.  Despite the masks over their mouths they breathe in the dust, coughing as they talk.  One of the firemen shrugs then points to a pit in the rubble.  Captain Harpagos walks down into the pit and stands in it.  He looks around –


warped and blasted beams, chunks of concrete, charred bits of office paraphernalia, rogue papers blowing through like tumbleweeds . . . along the ridge above the pit he sees men and women in Armageddon suits who prod the debris with sticks and shake their heads at one another –


then the rising sun explodes over their heads and he winces in the glare.  The silence shivers.  Was that a child’s voice?  He peers into the rubble.  There’s an obstructed tunnel that leads into darkness.





A scatter of echoes.  No response.



Make noise if you can hear me.  Is anyone alive down there?


A scatter of echoes.  Then the silence shatters – Xenomatra’s wail climbs out of the hole and into the pit.



We’re coming!  Keep breathing!  We’re coming!


He scrambles up the slope of the rubble.



There’s people down there!


Hope is fire.  The police captain is the epicenter of a swirling blaze of humanity.  Boots kick up dust, arms flail in the sun, someone shoots a signal flair, ambulances and firetrucks assemble nearer the pit.  Urgent voices rise up in the din of frantic action –



Medkits and masks!  Torches, cutters – all of it!  We’ve got survivors!



Grab some O-tanks – the air’s even worse down there.  We need oxygen!



Keep those trucks behind the cones – it isn’t stable past the cones!



Rescue operations only!  If you aren’t digging you’re clogging the hole!



(to Harpagos)

Show us the way.


Captain Harpagos leads the team of firemen down into the pit.  He stops at the obstructed tunnel and holds up his hand.





A scatter of echoes, and another wail climbs out of the hole.  This one rises out of the pit and into the sky.




the noon sun over New York’s altered skyline.  A wisp of cloud passes over the sun, revealing the ghostly shadows of the towers.  The wisp moves on and the shadows crumble.


First responders fill the pit at Ground Zero.  Some of them remove debris, some of them carry water and O-tanks and fresh masks, others man the rope that disappears down the hole into the rubble. 




Firemen 1,2,3, 4, and 5 – as they crawl through the tunnel under the pit.  They’re plastered with dust and coughing through their masks.  Fireman 1 cuts away a last bit of wire, wriggles through a narrow passage, and tumbles into an open space.  He stands up, coughs, and looks around with his flashlight.


He’s in a stairwell.



(from the tunnel)

You alright?



Yeah.  We found a stairwell.



(from the tunnel)

Anybody breathing?


The stairwell is empty.  Fireman 1 kicks a busted radio through the dust.  Then he shines his flashlight into the darkness under the stairs.  He holds his breath as he approaches it. 


As the circle of light moves over the portal to hell, the portal transforms into a plain concrete slab.  Upon the slab –


Xenomatra sleeps.  Her pink face is healthy.  She’s swaddled in a police officer’s jacket.



(from the tunnel)

Do we have survivors?


Fireman 1 picks up Xenomatra and carries her to the narrow opening in the tunnel.  Fireman 2 fills the hole with his sooty face.  He sees the baby.



She’s breathing.


Fireman 1 hands Xenomatra up to Fireman 2.  Fireman 2 crawls back through the narrow passage and hands her to Fireman 3.  3 to 4, and 4 to 5.  Fireman 5 brings her out of the tunnel and into the daylight.  He hands her to Captain Harpagos.


There is a ring of spectators on the ridge over the pit – first responders hoping to see a survivor.  When they see Xenomatra they don’t clap, they don’t pump their fists, they don’t cheer.  Instead they are completely silent, and their silence fills the pit with eeriness and awe.


Swimming through the awe in the pit, Captain Harpagos delivers the child to a medical evacuation unit.  An ambulance takes her away.    




the sun setting behind the Statue of Liberty.  Bloody purple sky.  A low buzzing sound slowly rises, rises until it fills our heads.  Then the seven Drones fly by, right past our ears.  Lightning flashes over the Atlantic.  An echo in the thunder –


Xenomatra giggles.   




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