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Operation Flâneur

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Wispy condensation trails cross the sky, the ghosts of planes and rockets flown long ago. Where to begin? The parachute opens up, and with a deafening roar, the Mind World's wind slows you down. From up here, you can see far and wide. It would be a spectacle if death and destruction were not everywhere you look.

Eventually, you touch down inside a small clearing in the mess that is Long Term Memory. You're not worried about getting lost, and there is no need for a map. What few walls are left paint the crimson picture of a desperate defence.

On your way to Imagination Land, the first stop on what would otherwise be a scenic tour of the marvelous Mind World, you happen across one of the few intact memory shelves that are left, standing alone and proud amongst the rubble, with an eternal guardian, a soldier of the ILDF, resting on its side.

A quick look unveils a terrible, but predictable truth. The memory orbs, your precious memory orbs, have lost what once made them the best invention you had ever come across. The big, red marble drops to the floor, incapable of ever again whispering its secrets to anyone, the interior inescrutable. The whole shelf is littered with others like it.

There is nothing for you to see here. Imagination Land, or what's left of it, is two kilometres west.

Along the way, you see a couple other shelves, but stopping at them would be pointless. There is nothing for you there anymore. The once beautiful sight of walking down the memory lane is now forever lost to you.

Eventually, you arrive at the main gate of what used to be the best of both worlds.

Or at least, where you remember the gate was. Nothing but twisted metal remains of it. A particularly unlucky construct looks at you with blank eyes and a steel beam going all the way from her head to her waist.

What have they done to it? This wasn't like the last time, when they tried to corrupt it, to pervert it to serve their own goals. No, this time, they've destroyed it. The old Random Number Generator has disappeared from where it once was, later on, you'll find one of the rotating hands in the most unlikely spot, but for now, all you can do is simultaneously marvel and be repulsed by the magnitude of what's transpired.

Not far, the starship Hiroto remains where it always was, its front having however plunged into the ground. The exterior is still somewhat intact, but you don't hope for survivors. You know perfectly well that there are none.

That was the plan, right?

Fortunately the entrance is still accessible. Partly blocked by a melted steel beam, but that's nothing you can't squeeze through.

The interior is unnaturally clean. Not even a speck of dust. Was this done on purpose? You decide to head for the bridge. Maybe someone left a log. Maybe the ship can still fly. Maybe, there may be something left of the tribute to your first experiment.

The bridge is as clean as the rest of the ship. No blood. No gore. Not even bullet holes or shell casings. What happened here?

An unearthly growl interrupts your search. Without thinking, you quickly turn around and open fire, holing both zombies in what's left of their head. Preparation for things like this was what the whole point of this operation was about. From now on, you'll be more alert. It was zombies now. It may be someone else later.

If she's still alive.

The search proves frustratingly infructuous. This is the place where the last named characters made their last stand. And that, over there precisely, is where the first of many terrible secrets were revealed…

As usual, there's nothing left. You crawl through a hole on the ceiling and come face to face with one of your newest nightmarish creations. The Student. An aborted project, and thus, as vulnerable to bullets as any common man.

The next place on the list is Dream Productions, five hundred metres North. It would be visible from here if not for the collapsed statues of your idols, spreading their granite innards all over the central plaza, the very same place where you once solved a mystery worth of the greatest detectives, and where you truly looked at the stars for the first time.

Climbing over an amputated leg, and avoiding the jagged edges of the exit door, you happen across your target, or rather the single wall that's left of it. A malodorous stench is emanating from the other side, too strong to get close. The smell of a massacre. Dream Productions, giver of fantasies and nightmares alike, would never produce anything ever again.

A heavy sigh. Everything is turning out exactly as you'd expected. Death and destruction await you no matter where you look.

There has to be something left. Somewhere. Someone. Anything. Anyone. They couldn't have been completely thorough. There has to be something left.

One place remains. You don't want to go there, but you've been left with no choice.

A second parachute deploys as you descend into the void of the Memory Dump. It's still as dark as you remember, probably being the place that was changed the least.

Doubt besets you. This is not a good idea. You've never been down here, after all. You were never meant to, even if you almost fell in once.

Speaking of which…

'Two years, seven months, ten days and seventy-two hours late.'

Oh dear. Oh no. Oh…

She's still alive.

You consider your options. Shooting her would be an exercise in futility. Mania would probably be either able or unwilling to follow you through the inter story transporter you brought. As for your backup… It would be best if they weren't exposed to the Memory Dump.

If this was a trap, you've fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.