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In the mass wake of the worldwide epidemic of Phlegma, a disease whose very name says enough about it, the world is left a shell of its former self—forced to salvage anything possible, the human population declines in meshes. Now reliant on the battered old artefacts of the past, history repeats itself through constant and invariable acts of the most truly repulsive mortal coils—wars, slaveries and genocides name just a few—everything merely at the hands of a single plague.
Chapter I: The Boy With a Curiosity & The Oblivious Father
The year is 2409. The panoramic Shanghai skyline continues as tirelessly as the human heart to shine its marred and shattered soul to the onlooker. It's been 200 years since Phlegma; every flamboyant fortress of glass now lies as weak as the poor that would face it, objectified, a relic of the past that every human—even those that had built it—would try to forget. Now the sky bleeds a murky green, a testament to the succession of the divinity of mass morbidity to nature, a merciless dictator as ruthless as Phlegma, as gradual as a snake, countenance full of distraction. This place was Hell on earth.
To Ling, these shelled citadels were a place of expedition and exploration. With each visit, another past oddity would be unveiled—what are these intriguing "BT" contraptions and why do they have so many buttons? What are these big black boxes and why are they so huge (and why are there ten of them in the same room? The past certainly was great ...)? It seems as if the past, at peak, had "Toshiba's" the size of the corpse crater right in the middle of the city. Some of these he'd pocket as his own (should they fit, of course), and experiment until he could concede defeat. The past was one massive overcomplication.
A natural born curiousee, Ling was a child whose intelligence outshined even that of his father's, a child whose latent was not held back by even Phlegma nor his poor background. Ling was his father's school—ask him a question and he'd know it, should it be pertinent—and, naturally, playground, his mind a flagship for the man, for an intelligent child equals pride. Ling would explain literature and philosophy to anyone willing to ask in a way naturally tailored to their preference—he defied the consensus of smart people only being outstanding in their niche, his intellect being on truly magical grounds. If he went to a distinguished university, he'd be their medalist and representative, if he was drunk, he'd still be able to recite the first six hundred digits of pi—and that's only the bottom of the barrel. But Ling wasn't one of these privileged people—for that matter, no-one on his sphere of a planet could be, not after Phlegma—and, instead, he was one of the poorest of the poor. He and his father had nothing in common, for the man would boast his son's gifts rather than the son or his own, and would gladly put money in front of all aside from himself. Ling was a quiet and benign at that aesthete, a connoisseur, his father an arrogant, self-centred, philistine, prima donna and bigoted tin god who, in reality, had nothing to boast of other than his son's own talents. The man really was a nightmare.
Today's visit was no different. Expanding bag (one of these past curiosities) in hand, he paced off to his favourite shipwreck, the Shanghai Tower. One of the central eyesores on the Shanghai skyline, the 50m high mishmash of nothing but rusted lead and glass shards as variable as the British accent stood firmly albeit shakily as a behemoth, towering above the slums and squalor that obsequiously bowed below. As a ruin, it was a luxury in comparison to the human obscenity beneath it. He entered with eagerness, mind consumed by conjectures of what he would find today and, more excitingly, what he'd be able to take home.
He entered the wreck through a cavity that formed at its entrance. Ling remembers when this had first formed, he remembered the huge flood that rusted the building to its core, he remembered the rumours of its collapse that would naturally follow, just how the flood would naturally follow Phlegma.
He entered through this dauntlessly, an unequivocal testament to the fact that he'd been here so many times. Too many times, in fact—it was a second home to him by any stretch. Crawling over the vestiges of the once-sprawling edifice, a plethora of glass and rubble, Ling found himself in a surprisingly well-lit ramshackle of a lobby, cracked tiles and blemished walls, how ever damaged, imposing above him like the father and midwife, the poor and hopeless baby resting so calmly below. Ling was this baby—he'd seen these walls so many times they might as well be a second mother to him, and it's just as well: Ling's mother died when he was only young, to that devil of a flood that finished so many.
The lobby had been so assiduously dug out by the tireless hands of Ling that the room was clean—the lobby was now useless to his exploration. The lift to the side had been in ruin since the flood; electricity and liquids were not a good combination, as Ling would find out with his experimental misadventures. He took the staircase to the left, a rather small-looking thing, a gateway to his destination: the third floor. He just started his appropriation in the area, extricating the poor storey from the mound of rubble that stood shakily above it, a tower whose purpose was to revive the past with such a painfully obvious tinge.
The wrecked and half-looted office was ordered by Ling's preference, garbage to the left, procurement to the right; Ling was meticulous by nature, after all. He grabbed his expanding bag and pulled it ajar, revealing some interesting and prerequisite exploration tools, forming a kit perfect and ripe for excessive digging. He produced his spade, something he found on the Shanghai beach—he had no idea in the slightest what the heck it was doing there, but it was helpful nonetheless—and began his toil, the toil that he'd find himself absorbed in for hours on end once again.
Wei jumped at the thought that today he'd finally be demolishing that wreck of a tower in the centre. After all, it was a depressing remark of the past and today it'd just ... be gone! Just saying those last two words rolled off the tongue nicely and made him feel happy. He had zero worries—Ling was up in his bedroom doing Ling stuff and Shufen wa- —and today was the day he'd been warming up to; so much so, in fact, that he jovially marked today, the 19th of November, on the calendar, with a blood red "X", an X fiery with passion. He took his bike to work—automobiles were too miserable and common—carefree with the world and nature—or, at least, what was left of it. He arrived at his destination a convenient fifteen minutes later.
Work, much like him, was splendiferous: everyone was in a crazily-crazy good mood. But it was no time to sit around, it was impossible to not succumb to the thirst of getting rid of that; and, after a coffee break's worth of badinage, the crew would find themselves husbanding the ultimate destruction tool: the wrecking ball. This platinum sword's power was unparalleled by all but Phlegma and Mother Nature, but it was about to do something that would cost Wei more than either of these did in their days.
Chapter II: The Fall
"Why'd you look so sour, Wei?" said Shi, Wei's colleague and supposed "friend".
"I don't, it's just my natural look." said a dishonest (or, at least, in this context) and comedic Wei, but rightly so—he didn't have the backbone to say Ling's name with this gut feeling. He knew that Ling loved this place.
"Ah, true," replied, quiet.
The demolition crew circled the building, readying their first blow. The wanting invigorated Shi's mind—he was the man to carry out the deed, after all, he beat Wei to a Heads or Tails—but he was perfectly aware that this had to be controlled. It had to be bloody controlled, he thought, wanting things to go by his rather fast-paced agenda.
Shi was already prepared—Wei already did the dirty deed of elevating him via lead ladder—and had his wrecking ball at the ready. An indignant Wei looked up with the common thought of "How the bloody hell did he get the job? And, more importantly, how the hell did he beat me? I always win Heads and Tails ..."
But a mid-thought Wei was hastily interrupted, for the demolition crew uproared into a tumultous applause, accelerating Shi further. He smashed the wrecking ball right bang in the middle of the ruin, making it sway like a wounded acrobat. A gaping hole materialised where he'd hit it, falling debris covering the air, a volcano. The building's damage quickly faded away, an evanescent wisp, a defrosted 100 year-old limb feeling modern contact—anything would collapse knowing what the world would be shaped like after Phlegma.
An occupied Ling felt his surroundings shake above him—surely, it's not?
... and the uproarious crowd went into complete hysteria.
Meanwhile, the poor boy made the responsible decision and gathered his things, leaving the room post-haste, but this stoicism and decisiveness was unappreciated by the oblivious of the outside. Ling immediately felt unsafe. His second home felt like it was tumbling, after all-
And the ruins collapsed.
Next thing Ling knew, he'd see the heavily-obscured face of a nurse, as it were, a mustard-coloured ceiling, grime everywhere. His body reaked of pain, but matters would only get worse from here.
"Li-Ling? You're oka-kay?" said the nurse, but she remembered that Ling couldn't speak. Even after a year of being unconscious, the shock was still enough to revoke his ability to articulate. The boy sat there, bewildered. Just bewildered. His face showed no emotion of pain nor betrayal.
Of course, the fact that Ling was still alive was obviously huge news among the community. His life support was imminently going to be shut off, for his father's fortune—if you could even call it that, more like misfortune—was completely poured into this. It was a shockingly kind thing to do from that man, even from those that had seen the best of it.
In the following weeks, a still-speechless Ling would return home. Now that the tower was gone, Ling lost his direction in life; he didn't know where to go anymore. The elimination of the tower was only a prelude, for the drunk-on-destruction "people"—if you could even call them that, they had no souls—indulged themselves and ended up destroying half the city. When finally sobred, they realised their mistake and were secretly euthanised, a cruel but justified act. Half of the city was gone, after all. Ling's father, however, had quit his job when he explored the tower's rubble and found not only Ling, but-
Chapter III: Another Plague
With Ling's new-found freedom, he tried to beat on, boat against a current but was borne back ceaselessly into the past. Everything he'd come to know and love was gone—the still-effulgent neon of West Side, the narrow passageways of the albeit broad downtown and, of course, the Shanghai Tower—and, golly, now he's sad he's lost yet another past, and in that past he was sad he'd missed another past. How unfair.
He just explored, it was the best he could do, keep himself occupied. It seems as if those that did this were magically stupid because their effort to get rid of the past's reminders ended up in even more of those reminders.
His first escapade was to none other than Lu's mouth, the old business centre of Shanghai. Upon getting to the area, he realised that all the tall relics were gone, just piles of rubble with crushed and unintelligible artefacts. The place was just like a plaza of the stump of the oak—they were hopeless and weak reminders of a magnificent and formidable past, a past whose future was inevitably bright but cut short. There was nothing here of any value to him anymore—even the river's been ruined.