He couldn’t have been more than nineteen and yet he was the one sitting behind the desk in the big office at the end of the hall. Opposite him cowered a much older man, hands trembling with nervousness. They both stood there in silence for a moment, while the young man looked over the latest trade deal his man had negotiated for him. Then he took another drag on the cigarette in his hand before snuffing it out on the papers in front of him. The much older man opposite him grabbed for the papers, frantically trying to blow out the small embers where it had nearly caught fire.
“I thought I made myself clear before. I have no interest in the currency of this backwater planet. The deal is to be negotiated for resource rights and nothing else.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll-I’ll fix it right away.”
The young man nodded curtly closed his eyes, considering his next move. With the resource rights of the entire planet in his hands, he could do what his father had failed to do on Homeworld, he would keep them all safe. He could protect this place, this world. He heard the door slam and checked the news holo. Ah yes, the protests had picked up once more. That didn’t matter. None of it mattered. He didn’t expect them to understand what he was doing for them. Not until long after he was gone, anyway.
She was all he had left. All he’d had left since the day those things had first shown up. The common parlance called them zombies, and they almost matched the tropes of the horror movies, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were nearly impossible to kill and had long since destroyed civilization as we once knew it. He had been home with his daughter, far from the cities where the outbreaks had been the worst. His wife, though, she had been at work at the hospital. They had never heard from her again.
They had to move again now, he and his daughter. They were making their way west, aiming to trek into the mountains and then start making their way north. Assuming they could enter Canada, of course. The rumors coming from the frozen north were that the creatures were there too but only in the southernmost areas. It seemed they had trouble with the cold. They were moving on foot, the car a scrap heap hundreds of miles behind them. They each carried a backpack and he had his father’s rifle. Not that he thought it would be useful against the creatures. But if other humans tried to be a problem, he would deal with it.
The underbrush was thick in this part of the forest, with lots of bushes that obscured the area around them. That was how they stumbled onto the scene. A creature. Just one, thank anything that might still be listening. It was feasting on a kill. He reached out but his daughter had already stopped in her tracks. The creature would be on them in a heartbeat if it noticed them. They couldn’t let it notice them. The head shot up and the creature sniffed the air and hissed. It was a hollow rattling sound, the kind of thing that leaves a body with their hair on end no matter how brave they think they are.
The only way anyone had been able to come up with to kill the things was complete destruction. Water was useless, as were the old legendary standbys of decapitation and firearms. Fire took time and left them able to function while immolated, which wasn’t really an improvement. Acid was reasonably alright if you could keep the creature contained. All in all, the most effective was probably a woodchipper. He had a rifle and his daughter had a knife. Things weren’t exactly looking great. He took a breath and then shoved the rifle into his daughter’s hands, pointing towards a way around. Then he ran at the creature, screaming.
She was all he had left. If only one of them was going to make it out of here alive, it would be her.
Nia thumped the butter churn, one ear on the winding road that passed by her family’s compound. The cows had passed by an hour before, led out to the pasture by her brothers and the dogs. Now she hoped to hear the bells of the trade wagons. They were due any day now, if they hadn’t bogged down in the mud or gotten hit by raiders. That had happened before. The roads out this far weren’t safe. She paused to stretch, hands behind her head as she arched her back. That was when she heard the jingling of the bells. Wiping her hands on her apron, she ran out to greet them. With any luck, they’d have something small they’d be willing to trade for the small horde of woven straps she’d made rather than a mess of decas
“Oh for the love of-! I said coffee, you damned bucket of bolts!”
Madison kicked the console and it emitted a series of irate beeps. Then, she turned, looking down at Nia.
“Are…are you the oracle?”
Chuckling, she held out the mug.
“Oracle, is it? I don’t suppose you like chocolate milk, do you? Here.” She pressed the cool mug into Nia’s hands and strode over to another panel covered in switches, levers, and numerical displays. “And why would you be looking for an Oracle up here?”
The girl fidgeted uncertainly and her gaze dropped to the floor.
“The villagers said…”
“The villagers don’t understand what I’ve got. It’s nothing more than old tech, from before. Take this console for example. It’s a drink machine when it damn well feels like working. That one? It plays music. The rest is the power source. Now tell me, why were you looking for an Oracle?”
Nia reached into her bag and pulled out the precious books with their figures and diagrams.
“To help with these?”
Madison’s eyes went huge and she reached a hand out for them.
“Welladay, if this is what you need…then you’re in the right place. And you just landed yourself an apprenticeship.”
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?”