If it wasn't for the terrified howl coming from inside the apartment, Daniel would have fallen to his knees. A powerful surge had filled him with a sensation he could never believe possible: it was a delicate and private emotion powerfully encompassing every hope he'd ever harboured, every joy he'd ever known, and the love he craved but never knew.
But newly formed and too complex and startling to be truly understood, it was brittle, and shattered to nothing at the sound of Rick's anguished cry.
Daniel staggered, regained his balance and threw himself through the door into the apartment.
The experiment is concluded.
Harry said the words aloud. There was no need to, he knew, because he knew the others had heard those same words inside their heads, but they rang in his mind, loud and insistent, until it seemed the statement had assured itself that they all understood.
And the Silence that surrounded them knew they understood.
Daniel spoke to the human form: "What are you?"
Colours rolled within the form; up, down, in all directions; but softly, gently, like the hushed healing of a hurt or the budding of a new hope.
You know what I am.
Enclosed by darkness, there's something timeless about standing close to this glowing human shape, Daniel decided.
The same thought repeated in the minds of the others.
Timeless and rootless.
"Without form and void," Maya quoted, voice shaking, looking from one to another. Those same words echoed in their minds.
In the quiet woman's mind, an image of her childhood bedroom blackened. In her mind's eye, whoever approached her was eaten by blackness when everything became unseeable. The blackness was vast.
"Universal emptiness," Tisha's eyes brimmed with tears. Not of fear, but of awe.
Tracey wasn't responding.
Rick touched her, pushed her gently, shook her. He slapped her across the arm, then her face: nothing. When he laid his hand gently on her cheek, he felt certain the skin was cool, too cool. No sign of breathing.
Somehow, he choked back an anguished cry.
Pressed his hand between her breasts. Nothing.
"Please God, no! Please Tracey, don't be - "
Abruptly, he killed the sentence dead. Timmy didn't need to hear that word.
But the pressure inside was too great and he let out a howl of anguish. It was reciprocated by his terrified child.
Daniel was the only person not apparently hypnotised by this glowing form. Perhaps it was his battlefield experience kicking in, perhaps it was because of the pain, horror and incomprehension of the past moments.
Probably it was none of these things.
But he did know about the darkness that had encroached around them, that same darkness that he'd seen earlier spreading through the city. Now he saw only the small area of passageway they occupied, the glowing form, and behind it a door to an apartment.
Everything else was utter darkness.
Everything else, he knew, no longer existed.
They couldn't take their eyes off it. It glowed brightly, though casting no light around itself, in an unknown colour akin to blue but not close enough to be described as blue. It was beautiful and captivated them in wide-eyed wonder.
Maya would have said it was the colour of Heaven, Harry, that it was ethereal. Tisha would perhaps have called it a colour of the afterlife. The quiet woman would have no words to describe it other than it contained a feeling of awe and indifference.
But, despite its human shape, nobody really believed it could be alive.
It felt like mere seconds, but no one was sure how long it took. First the flesh disintegrated and fell away, leaving only bone. Then that too fell, like soft chalk crumbled to the ground.
At the end, DeStiy's clothes tumbled into an untidy pile. Flesh within them quivered as it disappeared until only an untidy mound of clothes remained, as if casually discarded on the floor.
But that wasn't really all that was left.
Where DeStiy once stood, a shimmering light, pale and wan and in the shape of a human being glowed with a soft and mysterious hue.
Enoch DeStiy slowly bowed his head.
Flecks of flesh dropped from the top of his skull as it crumbled. His arms hung loosely by his side, clumps of flesh falling from his hands.
Slowly, his whole body disintegrated. Around both feet, mounds of small pieces of fallen flesh grew until they reached the end of his trousers, which themselves bulged wide with fallen tissue.
Bulges, too, above his belt, where his shirt trapped the flesh fallen from his stomach, chest and back. His neck crumbled, exposing an open throat, which in turn fell apart.
And the silence grew ever stronger.
Harry lifts Daniel to his feet. Daniel's legs are weak, but his forearm is regenerating. With glazed eyes, Daniel and Harry watch as the burning stump elongates into white flesh, then further into long fingers. The flame dies, the hand is complete.
Nobody speaks. It is almost as if, with everything that's happened, this regeneration, this miracle, has become commonplace.
Tisha helps support Daniel, but she dare not speak, dare not break the silence.
To Maya, the presence of the silence is the presence of God, confirmed by the miracle she has witnessed.
And the sublime peace they all feel.
The sudden silence becomes so enormous, so perfect, that it has a presence that surrounds each of them. It not only fills the air, it feels as if it has become the air.
Growing, it surrounds them as totally as the atmosphere surrounds them, and they know that it exists throughout the building, throughout the city and throughout the world. This is a silence that is sentient, aware of everything that happens, knowing every gesture and thought. It is a silence that has pervaded the past and the future as surely and certainly as it pervades the whole of now.
It was as if someone had flicked a switch.
Maya and the quiet woman sob. They hold onto each other, unable to comprehend what they've witnessed, unwilling to believe it really happened.
Harry asks Daniel what's happened, knowing his words are futile. He had the closest view but he cannot believe his eyes.
Tisha desperately tries to stifle the scream that demands release at the sight of Daniel. She fails.
And Daniel himself writhes and screams on the floor, holding the burned flesh of his arm against his chest.
But there is no sound.
No sound at all.
Rick saw her collapse and shouted "Help!" as loud as he could.
It came out as a strangled yelp, hardly audible, a tiny cry in a vast universe.
Timmy, lying next to his mother, tears streaming, tried to shout too, tried with all his might to copy his father, but his mouth wouldn't work and he couldn't understand why.
Rick staggered forward, fell to his knees next to Timmy and took the sobbing child up in his arms.
Rick tried to swallow.
He shouted again.
Nothing more than a croak.
He reached down to Tracey. She didn't move.
Watching the charred shape slowly stagger towards her, Tracey gave in, body and soul, to despair.
Too long in pain, too long in fear, she felt nothing inside, no feeling, no emotion, no will to survive. Nothing mattered anymore: the black pointlessness of existence overwhelmed her, those fragile hopes dead, long dead, now not even a memory.
All meaning dead, she drowned in black hopelessness.
And prayed for oblivion, for the faint glimmer of her own existence that struggled inside her to give up too.
Without feeling, without thought or volition, she toppled sideways to the floor and lay unmoving.
There is a theory that within a Black Hole, in a space which is not yet space, a region of pure potential exists. That is, it exhibits the potential to both exist and not exist simultaneously.
Within this potential exists a singularity.
The singularity has both remained a singularity and instantly become a Big Bang, and this has occurred an infinite number of times.
Every time it happens a new dimension is created, a new universe is potentialised. And every time a new universe births, a new bridge to every other universe is born.
The stage is set, curtains rise.
Through the blurred vision of tears Tracey saw a movement which caused her throat to constrict and her breathing to stop.
The charred and blackened mass lying on the floor juddered. Parts of the still smoking mound began to rise. The shape took form: Ricks arms, chunky blackened extremities, reaching up. Something rose behind them, a burned miss-shapen form that she recognised as shoulders and a blackened, soot-encrusted and featureless head. There was nothing of Rick to recognise: no hair, no eyes, nose or mouth. All had been destroyed by the Beast's conflagration.
But nevertheless Rick slowly rose.
Rick heard him, but couldn't see him properly.
He struggled to raise his head.
Slowly, at first imperceptibly, his muscles responded and Rick's head rose off the floor.
The effort was too much. It crashed back down.
Rick realised he was pushing down with his elbows. His muscles worked! He raised his head slightly. Forced his elbows into the floor. Gritted his teeth and willed movement... and his head rose enough to fully see Tracey and Timmy and his own feet and somehow he was sitting up, blood pounding through his head.
Tracey dropped the knife.
It was a horror movie
Tracey kneeling over their son.
Brandishing a carving knife.
Psychotropic gasses fed into the air?
The blade readied to be...
Rick couldn't bring himself to think it. But he had to.
...slashed across Timmy's throat.
Government collusion in inhumane experiments... on humans?
He didn't know.
But now was not a time for seeking logic in what was happening. That time ended long ago. Now was a time for reacting to the situation.
And at this point Rick realised that for the first time in a long time he was beginning to think logically.
Tracey, knife poised at the throat of the Beast, had stalled.
If she didn't kill him, whatever he had become would kill her.
One weighted slash across that small neck, across that crocodile hide skin, would sever the head.
It would all be over.
But Timmy's laughter rang in her ears, and she cried recalling more loving times when he would throw his arms about her neck.
And within that scaly face, those eyes. Timmy's eyes, red with... fear?
She let the knife fall.
Sobbing uncontrollably, she refused to kill her little boy, and surrendered herself to her own death.
The first realisation anyone had of Daniel's intention was the scream of agony and terror that exploded from Daniel's own mouth.
Daniel's right fist had rocketed from his side in a sharp blur - until it came to within an inch of DeStiy's cheek.
At that point the blur disappeared and became a fiery blazing into which Daniel's fist, then his wrist, then his forearm disappeared. As Daniel watched the stump of his arm just below the elbow burning red, and the pain of the non-existent hand and arm took hold of him, he fell backwards screaming loud and long.
DeStiy didn't move. There was nothing in his face that gave away he had seen Ryland close in on him, but then
"The experiment concludes."
DeStiy's words hung in the air like the promise of evil, a premonition of something no one wanted but everyone feared.
Daniel said nothing, just examined DeStiy closely, from the bloodied top of his skull to his twisted, broken legs, then slowly back up.
“Move, DeStiy. Move now!”
DeStiy’s eyes were fixed straight ahead. There was no fear there. No life. No spirit. Nothing.
Daniel's fist flew so fast no one saw it.