A/N: Why did I write this? The desperate chance to break my writer's block and what I believed to be depression (or plain dark melancholy), my obsession with SIGNALIS after watching a walkthrough and how much emotional wreckage I can wrought on myself making this.

This one was originally a oneshot but I couldn't figure out how to abridge my ideas and some have took on a life of their own. This prompted me to restructure this rather hastily after the positive reception of Dearest Helena in r/signalis. Hope you enjoy.

Updated: a number of edits were made at a friend's feedback.


Chapter 1: Annie Connor

And here she was now. It was exactly like Rotfront, she thought. Only it was different, the corruption has cast its malignant fleshy net here as well, but there was significant fighting. Gunfire, frantic shouted orders, screaming, roaring flames, and explosions, all brought her back to a different place, a place she hoped to leave behind.

Charting her next course of action she watched city blocks beneath the Klimaformed firmanents descend into chaos as the Nation's security forces marched against the abominations that were once the face and muscle of the various services of the regime.

Unlike in Rotfront and the effects of that gate from which she came, were highly erratic as gestalt-replika state security attempted to put down the hordes and regain control of the blocks while the Nation's Leader exhorted the fighters to do their duties via public adress system and state radio, which intermittently issued warnings and orders to the living.

Bioresonance was at play, the Leader's and cadres of Falkes and Kolibris holding it together. It did not alleviate the situation as no one understood what they're up against. It was no plague, no counterrevolutionary plot, it was reality wearing itself away. The containment was in shambles.

Of course it was the civilians who had suffered as those who had not dissolved into a mess of ethereal tar were killed by corrupted replikas or by security forces, either in the crossfire or executed for even a minor violation of containment protocol as not all were willing to stay and calmly accept what they're seeing with their eyes.

Coordination collapsed.

Morale collapsed.

Order collapsed.

She saw an example as a Molotov cocktail from the third floor crashed at the feet of a Volkspolizei-Bereitschaft squad, spraying liquid flame on the hapless gestalt team while its accompanying Protektor squad was swarmed by corrupted replikas from the first floor. Two burning men shrieked and flailed around in panic before the Protektors' commanding Storch swiftly ended them with her submachine gun and threatened to shoot the sergeant in charge for incompetence when more gunfire from above decided that.

The rest of the squad fired back at their attackers, the now-rebellious gestalts who helped themselves to whatever they could lay their hands on, including ordnance from previous suppression units that had fallen, for survival was at the most priority for the individual nodes of the body.

Their futile attempt to control the situation degenerated as one polizie found black smoke wafting from his body, followed by what seemed like ash as his feet began to melt into ink, apathetic he dropped down and burst into liquid, spilling into spidery veins on the concrete. Just like with Isa...

That was it! Watching one of their number turned into a puddle of tar paralyzed the Vopo with horror and it was all that a Eule overflowing with swollen flesh needed to get a drop another, hacking away at another cop and more corrupted fiends found their opening in the line amidst the desperate firing. Soon, the monsters were among them, killing them with compulsion of a primal bloodlust borne from the void. The last one standing broke and made a mad dash for safety out of this hell, rapidly swallowed by the darkness of the block.

Elster decided she's had lingered too long and moved on. She had to reach her.

When she jumped into the hole from the classroom into a cityscape in Rotfront. She knew something was different. In her hands was the picture of her beloved and a note which simply said, "Annie Connor?"

That note was given to her back at S23 by one of the gestalt workers, Witold Li, who had been caught in the contraband trade back in Heimat. After Isa he was the only other gestalt who hadn't dissolved, not to mention the only living inmate in Sierpinski.

She found him in one of the classtooms after she heard some mutterings in an unknown language. When they met each other he stood up. He looked worst for wear, barely able to walk and held a crowbar.

Elster had her gun drawn. He gripped his crowbar tightly, expecting a fight.

"You're seriously injured. I can help you."

"With a bullet to my head?" he asked testily.

They eyed each other, him he was in the worst position compared to her, she can tell that he wasn't about to go down easily. She also noted how uncertain he was about his body language, subtle deviations from the usual trembling bough about by injury, like he wasn't prepared to die to today.

She holstered her weapon and raised her hands. "I'm putting my gun away," she offered. "I can administer to your wounds."

Now his face contorted in indecision, quickly cycling through the options he had. Then his features softened and he nodded. "Alright," he sank to the ground and laid his back on a chair. The standoff over, she helped him up with a first aid kit he found in one of the office lobby. He began detailing what went wrong in the facility, the outbreak, the replika mutations, and the people who melted for some reason.

He resented the term gestalt. "You know something? I'm fucking happy being a gestalt node for the supreme body politic of the Nation, I mean who gets to be the ulcer in its sphincter in Leng?"

He then muttered about reaching the radio station. Her inquiries over Alina earned her a negative reply as he was assigned to the munitions wing. In fact she recalled how incredulous he looked as she explained why she's after one person.

"You flew all the way here to find her in this hole? I thought I was a meshuga." He sighed. "Mir zukhn a shpilke in a vogn hey*. You looking for a girl and me volunteering for this shit." It was her turn to be incredulous. "Ja, I did get sent here on purpose. It wasn't easy. There are secrets in this place which no one knew. We needed to find out... it's a miracle I'm still here. Oder nor klor Yiddisher mazel, in which case things are getting worst for me before it ends."

"Is there any way you can get off?"

"Hardly. I don't expect to make it out of here alive, not when I'm finished here."

His statement has given her food for thought. What should she do if she finds Alina alive?

"You've got a white patch on your upper arm," she noted. "What is that?"

"The Imperial crest. Or it used to be before I burned it with acid. Yoneda Incident, Kitezh... just another butcher job. I was young, stupid, and had very few options before then. The Throne doesn't give you a lot."

"Is that why you turn to smuggling? In the wake of the revolution, I mean."

He shook his head. "No. I could've made a decent living as a machinist. My reasons are different. I'm not gonna tell you." He felt for the crowbar at his right.

She didn't press the matter as she finished sewing up the laceration on his left arm. "Are there anyone else besides you?"

"Hard to say. I mean everything's gone to shit." He popped two painkillers and took a swig of water from a pilfered canteen. "There's one chance though. The slave mine's Adler might know, if you can find that prissy clerk bot. Be careful, we parted ways when I gave him a hot bottle of flaming love. My throw went bad after nearly dying prying that Storch's brains out." He gestured to the dead Storch on the floor.

"Have you seen a girl named Isa? She's not an inmate." She wound a bandage to finish the treatment.

Then his eyes flickered with recognition. "I did see a girl... I thought I might have lost my mind. Last I saw her she was going into the dormitories. She might be looking for the cells... I'm not a religious man before I was shipped here, only returned when I accepted this. The old cliche of finding faith during hardship... I don't think you'll understand. But can I make a leap of faith with you?"


He handed her the note now in her hands.

She recalled his last words: "I have to warn them. Look for the forger in Heimat. The ayin hora is here! Goyisher mazel tsu dir."

Was this Annie Connor the forger? The question mark at the end meant it could be anything. For that matter, she can't recall knowing Witold Li, yet Isa always seemed familiar to her, more than just a name, in spite of meeting her the first time. Meeting Li felt off, like a film reel that's been spliced into a movie.

Slowly stalking through the labyrinth of alleys that bisected through the monolithic apartment blocks, much of it was enveloped in darkness that gave the face the air and face of a tomb similar to the painting that haunts her mind. The fires that lit amidst the darkness added to the eerie air of the blocks, like souls in niches waking but eyeing the unwelcome intruders warily.

The disaster that permeated Rotfront had its reprise here, which shouldn't surprise her yet it did. She can see pulsing flesh creeping from the walls but they weren't as profuse. There were corrupted replikas already wandering the halls and streets though their numbers weren't as much and some seem more mutilated, with missing limbs and cracks on their chassis that exposed the cancerous biomatter much more disgustingly. She can see the shadows were some gestalts lay who succumb to the despair of the dream. And there were corpses of dead gestalts, dead by all manner of causes from gunshot to blunt force trauma, their blood drying and mingling with the spilled oxidizer fluid. And she can see puddles metastasize slowly fuzzing into the red carpets from Nowhere.

There was also hulks of uncorrupted replikas, some of them burning. Many of them were Eules, together with some Aras and odd sprinklings of Stars and Storches. Their bodies bore unmistakable signs of violence by gestalts. In addition to damage from combat, more deliberate damage was done. Some of the Eules looked to they have been in a struggle, cowering from barrages of angry blows before being beset upon to be ripped or broken, whether for useful parts or simply being the face of a regime the people loathed about, and thus an object of hate.

One Eule had her faceplate forcibly ripped apart before the biocomponent beneath was burned to further her agony, followed horrendous bashing with heavy implements, no doubt every strike was cruel. She turned away, not so much as disgust but sorrow. She can feel her last moments being of terror, bewilderment and pain as she felt the hate of maybe half a dozen gestalts who pinned her down.

It would explain the mutilated things limping about and the burnt-out husks that seem to be scattered like chaff. Some of the hulks on the ground seem to twitch and pulse though she can't tell from the scant light. She made herself scarce rather than find out.

A/N: Forgive me if I butchered some of the terms used in the fic. This is just something of an appetizer I needed to put out there for the pleasure of some of my readers of Dearest Helena. I'll explain in part in the second chapter where I can articulate my ideas better and the material used.

We're looking for a pin in a hay wagon. (Yiddish proverb)*