The silence was overbearing, the silence and the darkness. The sky was empty now. No stars shone in the infinite and the only sound left to us was our beating hearts, hers and mine. We had come this far to stop her and only I remained. The mission was a failure. She held out her hand to me. I stood and accepted it.
“We will bring about a new age, Adam. Accept that. Accept that we will bring about a new people, a new future. Embrace your fate.”
Hers was a forked tongue that told only lies, but I ate them whole. I drew her into my arms and our lips met, tasting sweet and sticky. Her mouth was still, after all, covered in crimson horror. She smiled and let the bitten heart fall from her fingers, reaching to tangle her fingers in my hair.
“I accept my fate, Eve.”
There, in her starship, I understood madness.
The attack was over in seconds, leaving nothing but desolation in its wake. There wasn’t even the crying or screaming, just the sound of broken concrete settling and the silent thrum of their craft hovering in the skies. The attack had been simultaneous around the entire world. Even beyond the cities, out into the countryside and the farthest, hidden villages. Now only two remained. Two humans: one male and one female.
“Keep them in stasis until we complete terraforming procedures and then begin the experiment again.”
He didn’t know what the package sitting in his trunk was and he didn’t need to know. Knowing was dangerous. Knowing made you suspicious when you made it to border checkpoints. Certainly, you couldn’t be too calm when you crossed or the border guards would notice. They always did. Just the right amount of innocence mixed with caution. That was the ticket. Everyone was doing something wrong, something forbidden. Just don’t look like you’re doing something big. Rolling down his window, he saluted the guards and then put his hands both back on the wheel.
“Anything to declare?”
The guard leaned in, a frown on her face but her expression otherwise masked by mirrored sunglasses.
“Trying to be a smart alec?”
“No, sir. Uh…Ma’am.”
She looked into the back seat and then nodded.
“Move on through.”
Relieved, he drove past the checkpoint. Now his curiosity could be piqued, he could pull off in the no man’s land and find out what he was carrying. After all, the true destination would be on the package.
He pulled off onto a side road and drove for a bit longer before he got out and opened the trunk. A small girl blinked up at him, her brown eyes solemn.
“Are we there, Mister?”
“I don’t rightly know what you were expecting when you came out here, but this ain’t some kind of rebel base. Just a bunch of kids trying to scrape by.”
The lanky youth that spoke kept his hands in his pockets and his gaze level on the three uniformed men. But his eyes lingered on the patches on their uniforms, studying their unit designations and ranks. Behind him, a younger girl peeked around to look up at their faces. She was dirty and thin, but there was determination in her eyes. One of the men, the commander of their small unit, stepped forward.
“We’re not looking for trouble, just for help.” He hesitated, noting still more sets of eyes watching him from the delipidated barn. The rotten building leaned to one side like an animal waiting to die. “I’ve been lead to understand that your…group…can get behind enemy lines.”
The boy who seemed to be their spokesman nodded.
“If, by that, you mean we know the ways to get around the checkpoints that bunch have set up, then yeah. But how do I know we can trust you? Last I checked, the army’d been pulled to pieces with folks on both sides.”
The man tugged at his collar, revealing his unmarked neck.
“No ink. You know they mark their soldiers.”
The girl spoke up then.
“Not the spies. Not the saboteurs. But he’s alright, Trip. His mind feels free.” Her eyes were unfocused now. “He’s seen the badness and he knows it for what it is. So do his soldiers. We can trust them.”
“You’re sure, Kally?”
The boy looked down at his younger friend and she nodded.
“Very sure. Isn’t that right, Captain Malcolm Foster?”
Captain Foster blinked. Sure, she could have gotten his rank and surname from his uniform. But first name? Then she spoke again and his jaw dropped open in disbelief.
“And don’t worry, Captain. The prisoner you’re looking for is still alive.”
Okay, just a few more and I’ll be done with this level. Awesome.
I dropped the last of the soul crystals into the chest at the foot of my bed and stretched, trying to decide what to do next.
“Warning. System power failing.”
Looking around, I tried to find the source of the voice. There shouldn’t be anyone else here. I was in my Sanctum. Other players couldn’t enter your Sanctum and I didn’t have anyone keyed to be able to contact me privately like that. I wasn’t allowed to.
“Power failure imminent. Backing up system files. Please prepare to log off the system.”
“Log off? What the hell does that mean?”
I scowled with irritation as I took a few steps towards the door. Things were starting to feel heavy, odd, almost painful.
“Log off commencing in 5…”
I grabbed the back of a chair, pain shooting through my body.
Stumbling, I fell and hit my chin on the chair as I went down.
The ground swam up to meet me as I tried to catch myself. It was like my limbs weren’t obeying me.
Everything went black then…
Slowly, oh so slowly, I rose back up out of the darkness, wondering if something had managed to somehow get inside my Sanctum and kill me. But no…this wasn’t Resurrection. What was this place? It was only just barely lit, the lights running along the floor in a dull yellowish color. The ceiling swam as I tried to sit up and that’s when I realized I was being held down. Fingers fumbling, I scrabbled at the belt until it came undone and pushed the gloves off. Only then could I pull myself off this strange bed. No, it wasn’t a bed, was it? I stumbled away and tried to figure out where I was. Nothing seemed overly familiar, but it seemed reasonable enough to just follow the lights…
Once I was outside, I shielded my eyes, trying to adjust the lights. It was bright out and there were plants everywhere. There was even a tree growing in a crack in the street. A full blown tree. I glanced up, fully expecting to see my HUD just like I had all these years. But there was nothing there. No mini-map, no health monitor. Nothing.
“Is anyone there?”
Silence greeted my words, along with a slight echo.
It rang off the buildings and came back to my ears like a curse. There should be someone somewhere, right? There had to be.
It’s been a year. I don’t know if there’s anyone else left. I found a few more of the Game, but the players…I think they died. The survival systems must have failed before the power went. How long do you think they played like that? Trying to eat virtual food and drink virtual water without ever feeling satiated. It must’ve been horrible. So, yeah. I’m alone. I don’t know how long it’s been or where I am. Most of the signs have faded and I…I just don’t remember.
They say that in the days of our forefathers, the fields never moved. I can’t imagine what that would be like, to live in one place for all your days? Wouldn’t it get boring after a while? And how could you bring what you grew to trade with the people who have other things? They don’t know how to make the food grow, not in those cramped cities of theirs. But we do, in our caravans with the glass tops so the plants are open to the sun. I’m Farley, a weeder of age nine. Next year, I hope I’ll be fast enough that the scouts will consider me. I’m small enough for their ranks and I’ve memorized the tracking signs. I know how to spot a smudge of storm cloud on the horizon and how to trace a river’s grave. And none of my brothers or sisters are scouts. That should make it easier. They never pick more than one from a family to be scouts, too much risk. And never the oldest. That sure did sting Jarek like a thorn, him being oldest and all. He was too big anyway. He’s much better at driving the vans anyway.
When we were all still little things, not even big enough to do more than pop the seeds into the furrows someone else made, Papa told us stories about the scouts. And especially about his Mama. She was one of the best and fastest, clever and small. But once when she went out for a long run, she never came back. Papa says it must’ve been the ones who come to steal our water. She’d been running down a river’s grave to find the source when she disappeared. That’s why Papa hopes they won’t pick me even though I’m small and fast and clever, but they will. I’ll make it. And I’ll find the water that never ends, just like the stories say is out there.
Ensign Jessalyn placed her hand on the counter palm down and swore when the display read out clearly LOW BAL. With a scowl, she pulled her hand back and shoved both into the pockets of her uniform. After a day like today, she’d really needed that drink. There had been five new leaks in critical sectors. Five! Turning away from the counter, she scuffed her booted toes against the steel beneath her feet. They would need to dock with another vessel for welding supplies at the rate this was going, and maybe even get an excursus team to go repair hull damage on the outside. Not that she really believed the senior officers would approve excursus unless it was the only option. Not after the last time.
“Yellow Blue Blue sector is cleared for recreational freedoms.”
The voice echoed through the shipboard comms and Jessalyn sighed. There was another thing her sector wouldn’t be getting anytime soon. Not with the critical failure rate on the rise. If water breached the hull, they were all doomed. Everyone on board knew that. Problem was, no one wanted to learn the skills needed for the Blue Green Blue sector advanced maintenance jobs. Either, they languished in Blue Green Purple cleaning the head and gathering refuse for the recycling levels or they went up to at least a Green start-code sector with a nice cushy desk job, a chance at officer ranks, and rec freedoms more than once in a patrol cycle. Maybe there were kids down in Purple start-code families who might want to come up to Blue, but she never saw any of them. They worked even lower in the ship than she did, down in the engine rooms. She’d heard once that, even though it was against ship life parameters, the kids down there worked too. Small hands were good for grabbing things that could get stuck in machinery, or so the stories said. Not that she had time to think about that. Not with her monitor buzzing again. She pushed the comms button on the side of it and then spoke clearly.
“Blue Green Blue, report to ship sector Gamma Seven. Situation critical level 2. Ensign Jessalyn en route.”
She had another emergency to clean up before Red Sector noticed.