Thursday, August 25, 2016

Story Time

The Keeper of the Light

We all want something –
More than mere satisfaction.
So, won’t you spill out your heart,
Will you show me your passion?
– The Grand Guignol

Terra Nova, 3552
In the year 3552, the sun on Terra Nova had long since stopped shining.
Nobody really noticed it happen. After all, it scarcely seemed possible and certainly not the way it did; not with a bang, but with a whimper, like a match dying in the wind.
The first scientist who publicly announced it was happening was promptly put to death. After the winter war, no one wanted to hear any bad news.
The scientists of the new order, with their charts and equations had promised that Terra Nova had at least a few billion more years. But as the years matched on, the fire slowly quenched, until there was nothing left. Over the course of 500 years, slowly but surely the sun died a lonely and quiet death.
And when the end came, it didn’t come in a burst of fire and flames. No, there was no grand ball of fire, just a continuous dimming that everyone was powerless to stop.
The scientists went back to their charts, but they had no answers. In mankind’s darkest hours, it had always relied on science. Technology always provided the answer, but not this time. This time, there would be no respite.
The politicians lied as always, promising that if given just a bit more power they could do the physically and scientifically impossible. The people, in their fear, believed them. And in their fear, they gave away all that was left of their humanity in a vain hope that the apocalypse would avert itself.
A small number of people went underground, but the vast majority went about their lives. Humans were a resilient folk after all, and with technology marching on, life matched on. For how long, no one knew, but all the while, the people who walked in darkness looked up. Maybe this would be the day when the sun shone bright again, but it had not yet happened. For 500 years, all they’d had was the pale moonlight. But eventually, that too disappeared as the last vestiges of sunlight made their slow trek to earth, until all that was left was a darkness so deep you could almost reach out and touch it.

Mars, 3824
“Is there more to life than in our philosophies?” the red-eyed man asked wearily, to no one in particular. Meanwhile, on the red planet, the midday moon shone, pale as a ghost in the afternoon.
His companion, a svelte woman with silver hair, turned to him. She looked bored, but not the kind of boredom that came from having nothing to do. No. She looked bored the way a lion toying with a gazelle looked bored. It was a dangerous look.
She breathed in the cold recycled air and exhaled expansively, fogging up her helmet.
“maybe we’re still in Kansas, after all?” the sound screeched through the communications system and was piped into the Red-eyed man’s ear piece.
As she said this, there flashed in her eyes, a small flicker of a smile. The pale moonlight shone bright on her face. The red-eyed man yawned lazily and gave the silver-haired woman a small smile.  To untrained eyes, her shock of silver hair would be the most notable thing about her, but he knew better. He was drawn in by her eyes. They were catlike, a deep fiery gold, like they held a fire that could not be quenched. He looked away quickly, almost for fear he would be consumed.
Her name was Marlena, but everyone called her Kamikaze. He had known about her for a long time; he had heard of the legends of her exploits. He knew why she was called Kamikaze.
 “You’ve heard the stories about me?” she asked.
He looked surprised.
Maybe the stories about her were true, maybe she really could read minds, he thought
“No. I don’t read minds.” She smiled a mischievous smile.
“No, I can’t walk through walls. No, I'm not immortal. None of the stories are true. How could they be? How could a human being do all those things? And what about you, Killer? That’s what they call you, isn’t it? Are the stories about you true?”
“Truth occasions such inaccuracy.” The red-eyed man shrugged philosophically.
“Somewhere in between lies and the truth are the answers about me.”
She nodded and they stayed like that in comfortable silence while the moon danced across the Martian sky, a puppet pulled by invisible marionette strings.
“Well, we should finish what we started then, shouldn’t we.”
She turned to him and he nodded.
“As good a time as any.” He smiled, like he was privy to a great secret, and in a way, he was. They both were.
Marlena and the red-eyed man clambered out of their pod. A cold harsh wind blew as they went about their task diligently. Neither of them spoke as they worked. Years ago, before the world went dark, various colonies had been set up on the surface of Mars. Marlena and the red-eyed man were on one of those colonies. They had been sent on a scavenging mission by the people they worked for, a secretive group with secretive goals. The only thing the Red-eyed man knew was their name: “The Keepers of the Light”.  
From the moment a Keeper of the Light had rescued Marlena as an orphan on Terra Nova, they had been the closest thing to a family she’d had. There were rumblings that the Keepers of the Light were precognitives who could see the future, and could sense whether individuals were gifted. Marlena believed this. Why else would they have rescued someone who seemed as insignificant as her?
She willingly became their loyal footsoldier, extraordinary in defence of their cause. She did what needed to be done and in return, she was given the freedom to be as average as she wished when not serving their cause.
She was the most celebrated member of the acolytes of the  Keepers of the Light, the star pupil who overcame the circumstances of her birth to become their greatest operative.
The red-eyed man, on the other hand had actively sought out the Keepers of the Light. Unlike Marlena, he was considered painfully average, not particularly talented. What he lacked in talent he made up with sheer devotion. He believed wholeheartedly in the righteousness of their cause. To him, they were all that stood between whatever was left of humanity and complete anarchy. He had once had a family, friends, a mate. But he had given everything up to become an acolyte.
In his weaker moments, he pined for the old days. He wished he could return to when times seemed simpler, but he knew that those times were dead and gone. He would wake up, a silent scream stuck in his throat and he would curse his weakness. There was no room for sentiment. The world had become a hard, cruel place. The only way to survive the hellish darkness of Terra Nova was to be stronger and harder still.
And yet, despite their differences, Marlena and the Red-eyed man were as close to what could be called friends as was possible in such dark times. He  understood her yearning for a family, her loneliness, her pain, and her desire to be normal. She understood his fear, his self-loathing and his feeling of being trapped between the desire for order and succumbing to the chaos of his own mind. They were each lost, broken, didn’t speak much and neither tried to change the other. For that reason above all others, they worked perfectly together, a well oiled machine, marionettes whose strings were pulled and pulled, again and again.
The red-eyed man broke the silence, as always.
“So, do you know what we’re doing here? What this mission is?”
He spoke hurriedly, afraid that he was betraying his fear.
“I don’t know any more than what Me’ek told us, and why worry about things that don’t concern us?”
She shrugged casually. Even in her space suit, he could feel her complete lack of tension. She was always at ease, never showed any fear, never seemed in a hurry. It was almost like she had her entire world mapped out, like she could see all its twists and turns. Sometimes she scarcely seemed human.
Me’ek was their handler and legend had it that he was the man who found Marlena and who had trained her. She never spoke about him other than as the man who gave her the orders she had sworn to follow.
“Was it just me, or was he being more cryptic than usual?” the red-eyed man fumed.
Marlena ignored him. Eventually, his fit of pique passed and he placed the small cube on the surface of the ground, exactly where the calculations told him they should be. He pressed the button to activate it, took a step back and with a whoosh, the depth charge materialized.
Me’ek had been very particular. The two of them were to move each of the colony outposts from Mars to new positions, place depth charges at specific locations on the planet and then return to the Blue Planet for further instructions. They hadn’t even been told to detonate them. Presumably, the Keepers were tying up a few loose ends from some earlier unpleasantness, but it all seemed so unnecessary. The Mars colonies were long since abandoned as mankind had set its sights even further out in its vain search for light. The Mars colonies had been ravaged with war and disease from the minute they were initiated. The politicians on Terra Nova were powerless to do anything about it, so the Keepers had stepped in as usual. As the people on earth – the original earth, used to say, they kept the trains running.
Their task now complete, Marlena and the red-eyed man began the long trek back to their pod in silence. The Red-eyed man walked ahead of Marlena and every once in a while he would turn around, like he was afraid she would disappear. She remained deep in thought, for once, like she was unsure of whether she was doing the right thing. If the Red-eyed man noticed anything different about her, he didn’t say. Eventually after what seemed like an eternity, they were safely ensconced in the warm womb-like cocoon of the pod that the red-eyed man had christened “The Whale.” That was another oddity of his. He was obsessed with the ancient history of Old Earth, it’s books, the crude content that passed for entertainment, everything about it. She tolerated it, though she didn’t particularly understand it.
“Beam us up, scotty.” The red-eyed man laughed at his own joke.
Marlena’s helmet made a hissing sound as she disengaged the environmental containment portal and turned off her digital retina display.
The red-eyed man flicked the switches, priming the dark matter engine that would carry them home.
His back was to Marlena, and when he turned to face her, she had a laser pistol pointed at him.
“Et tu, Brutus?” said the red-eyed man.
“This was always going to be a one-way trip,” Marlena said impassively.
“I volunteered for this mission alone. You were unfortunate to be assigned to be my watcher. I think Me’ek suspected what I was about to do. He hoped that sending you with me would change my mind, but it has only strengthened my resolve.”
“So, what, you’ll kill me, and then what?”
Marlena did not respond. She put the laser pistol down on the console and sat down, with her head in her hands, a moment of rare weakness. This frightened the red-eyed man more than anything she’d done before. Soon enough, she composed herself and said, “I'm not going to kill you, I only acquiesced to your accompanying me because I needed a witness for what I'm about to do.”
The Red-eyed man looked confused.
“The stories about me, they’re all true,” Marlena said. “All the rumors of my gifts they’re true. You’d heard the whispers, I'm sure. The whispers that I wasn’t of this world. It’s all true. All of it.
I was born in what you call the Year 3000. I was sent to your earth, not long after. My job was to prepare the Earth for the coming invasion, but along the way, I got lost, I forgot what I was supposed to do, so I took the form of one of your helpless infants. Me’ek found me. He knew what I was, he was a Keeper after all, but he didn’t have the heart to destroy me. He couldn’t have, even if he’d tried. Along the way, my memories returned. First a trickle, then the flood. The guilt became too much to bear. I couldn’t do what I had been sent to do.”
She got up and turned her back to him. The red-eyed man reached out to her, but she drew back.
“What was it? What were you sent to do?”
“I was sent here – to steal your sun.”
The Red-Eyed man recoiled in horror. It all was starting to make sense.
“What do you mean, you couldn’t do what you came to do. Seems to me you did a fine damn job. Christ, so it’s been you, all this time. You’re the reason the sun’s gone and buggered off. Fuckin’ hell.”
The Red-eyed man paced back and forth.
“So, what’s this secret mission all about then, are you going to send a beacon to our new alien overlords? Is this the End?”
“No. I’ve long since lost my connection to my people. I haven’t had a transmission in hundreds of years. Even accounting for space-time, any transmissions should have been received years ago. I'm a telepath, but I haven’t sensed my people in thousands of years. Not since before I was “born” on your earth. I fear it’s more than likely my race is no more. Perhaps our warlike ways overtook us or perhaps plague, pestilence or disease. Either way, they’ve forgotten about me. Terra Nova is all I have left. I don’t love it enough to live for it, but I love it enough to die for it.”
She turned to the console, and flicked on a display panel showing Terra Nova, beautiful still in its infinite darkness. She spoke softly, to herself.
“Darkness is all I’ve ever known, beauty tinged with madness. I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve kissed the sky and touched the ground. I’ve burned too bright for too long. I can’t remember the last time I saw myself in the brightness of light, but I remember Terra Nova as it was in the light, so lovely, so high above me. I see it for what it truly is, a shining star. Maybe in time, it will burn again.”
Marlena’s eyes glowed bright and in a flash of light, the Red-Eyed Man found himself back on Terra Nova, in his dingy apartment with the digidisplay playing Terminator 2 on repeat.
Back on Mars, Marlena, the silver-haired woman known as Kamikaze, but whose real name was Katalia Mavelia, which in the tongue of her people, the denizens of the Sixth dimension who were once known as the Cathexis, meant “Keeper of the Light” set about her task. Her powers were slowly fading away after being disconnected from the hive mind of her people, but she still had enough. It had been impetuous of her to drain them even further by teleporting Male’ek back to Terra Nova, but for all his faults, he was a good man, or he would become a good one.
She opened the pod and stepped outside without her suit. She didn’t need it anymore. She looked up into the inky black night and said the magic words that would release the light within her. She had stolen the sun, not to destroy the earth but to sustain her and now she would return it to its rightful place at the cost of her own life.
Everything was going according to plan. The fact that the red planet had been used as a storage ground for unspent dark matter was the final piece of her puzzle. The dark matter would amplify the release of her boundless energy, and she had placed the teleportation portals in just the right positions to create a chain reaction to transport the energy from the surface of Mars to where it needed to go. It had taken years of planning to get the teleportation portals placed around the galaxy. From Mars to the lost edges of the Alpha Centauri, it had all been planned carefully.
She walked slowly, thoughtfully. X marked the spot. She could feel the energy coursing through her as she willed it to the surface. Her eyes were glowing red, her silver hair burned bright with the fire of a thousand suns and her true form was revealed in a blinding flash of light and the implosion of a thousand suns.
Terra Nova, 4000
No one knew how it happened. The people went to sleep, and when they woke up the sun was shining and all was right with the world. No one knew how it happened. No one except Male’ek. The scientists had all rushed to take credit; the politicians beat them to it. The people who had moved underground remained underground. The good people remained good and those who sought to do evil hadn’t lost their desire to do so. In a way, it was like nothing  at all had changed. The world kept spinning, a marionette tangled in invisible strings.
Male’ek had come to understand that Marlena had sacrificed herself to save Terra Nova, not because she thought Terra Nova was a utopia, but precisely because she knew it was not. It was filled with people. People who were good, bad, flawed, human, inhuman and everything in between. He had once told her that somewhere in between truth and the lies was the answer to him and just before she sent him back to Terra Nova to live out the rest of his days, she had told him “somewhere between human and inhuman is where you really are.”
He had not being sure what she meant at the time, but as time went by, he began to understand. When she had touched him that final time, she had unlocked something within him, maybe she had given him a piece of her, or maybe she had opened his eyes to his true nature. He was not entirely sure. It didn’t matter. She had spent her days protecting Terra Nova even as she was slowly destroying it. Eventually, the contradiction became too much to bear and she had made the ultimate sacrifice. But before doing so, she had passed the torch for protecting Terra Nova to him. She had loved it enough to die for it and he would make sure her sacrifice was not in vain.
He looked up at the sunset over the horizon from his cramped dwelling unit. He could feel her words echoing inside him.
“You could be like a shining star, if you just keep burning.”
He felt no more fear; he had been imbued with glorious purpose. He would never be alone again.
Who could trap the light
when the light wishes
to be set free?

1 comment:

  1. Tip of the hat and bravo! Though these praises don’t seem to cover how much I enjoyed this. It is sci fi and fantasy and dreams all balled into one. I want to read more about Marlena, the Sixth dimension and the Cathexis. This is great world building in such a short story.
    One, the way you start the story is beautifully written. You set the scene with half-word allusions that spike curiosity. And the general feeling makes me think of Robert Frost’s ice and fire poem. Because ice is the real enemy; a slow dimming of the sun, humans marching on, going through the motions and powerless to stop but for a faint hope for tomorrow.
    Two, Marlena Kamikaze is a brilliant character, and the way you introduce her –with a dangerous predatory look- solidifies the feline imagery around her for the whole story. Plus, Male’ek, the Red-Eyed Man, painfully average, is a great foil to her (and someone for the reader to relate to: he is corny, human and desperate to find something to believe in).
    Three, the imagery is evocative. I love the juxtaposition of Marlena’s sacrifice and Male’ek being imbued with glorious purpose. I love the inky blackness and the fire of a thousand suns. I love Terra Nova and Mars. I love purpose and loneliness and a meaningful life.
    En bref: you have to write more. Oh, and your last poem right above makes me smile, so simple and powerful. Bravo again, maestro.