0002: Martian Noir

Hollow World #2

Stepping outside the booth, Lamont stopped for a cigarette. He counted the number of slender white cylinders in his cigarette case, made a mental note, and snapped it shut after placing one between his lips. His thumb moved automatically over the nicked and dented surface of the utilitarian metal box as he returned it to his jacket pocket, exchanging it for a lighter. As he ignited the cigarette, he shielded the flame with a cupped hand. A warm, steady wind from air circulating fans blew steadily through these streets, imbuing life and movement to a place that for eons had been cold and dead.

The fog was always thickest in the early hours of the morning. Pipes filled with cold water drawn from icecaps and frozen reservoirs above became covered in condensation as they met air warmed by thermal activity from below. The resulting mist, relatively undisturbed by traffic, settled down into the neon-tinted streets, snaking through alleys in a slow circuit. Countless blinking billboards and flickering street lamps populated the fog with ghosts and shadows, filling it with a steady mechanical hum.

If Lamont kept his eyes low, focused on the stoops and storefronts and the mist clinging to street vents, he could almost convince himself that he was back in London. The effect was short-lived, however. Back home, the combined glow of lights from the city filled the leaden expanse of sky above with a twilight radiance that seemed to have no beginning and no end. Here, the rooftops met an inky blackness, broken in places by the glitter of a distant light or the weird outline of alien architecture. On a foggy night in London, Lamont might venture down to Kingston on Thames and find among the ashen remnants ruins that could be dated back centuries, even tens of centuries if he delved beneath the surface. But the colossal structures among which human dwellings were nestled here had been built—or perhaps grown, by the look of them—when London was populated mainly by trilobites. Or was that too late? He exhaled a cloud of smoke and shook his head. Best not to think upon it.