I am the last of the Fades; the last to travel the Pathways. Our planet exists in a bubble side by side with your reality. There is a gate; a singularity where we are able to travel to anywhere upon your earth. It has always existed. We are explorers and recorders of events; our credo is to do no harm and not interfere in your universe. The ability to alter the molecular structure and density of our bodies is our special power. We try to go unnoticed, but many of us have been observed. Although Fades are able to vanish at will, those that perceive us are left with a myriad of doubts in their minds. We are mistaken as ghosts, wraiths, spirits, shades, apparitions and phantoms. We are real in every sense of the word. On my world I am now considered many things; a hero, a villain, a savior and destroyer. My name is Elador and by saving your Earth, I have condemned my world and its people to follow a different destiny.
“Elador, come here, “Trian greeted me as I exited the gate.
Trian had journeyed the pathways for more than one hundred cycles. I have had the honor of knowing him for thirty of those cycles. On retiring, he became a Keeper of the Gate; a position for which he was highly qualified. His manner usually evokes a sense of calm when dealing with any crisis, but now I can hear the panic in his voice. As I move to the display readouts for the gate, I feel a small tremor underfoot; a frequent happening. He says nothing, but raises his arm and with a shaking finger, points. Uncertain, I scan the monitors. On the top quadrant of the board, a light is flashing. The readout is registering massive fluctuations of raw energy, surging through and around the gate. We look at each other. This is unprecedented. One thing though is clear. With every surge of energy, a corresponding vibration echoes through the planet.
“Is there anyone travelling the pathways at the moment? I ask Trian.
“No. You are the last to return. The tremors and the energy surges are growing. This is the largest I have experienced.”
“Has anyone discovered why this is happening?’
“The council’s scientists have discovered the cause and are convening at the moment. Every Pathfinder is assembling at the Dome at midday to be told of their findings. You have just enough time to get there.” The tremors subside and Trians’ composure returns. I take my farewell and step onto the nearest slide way to the Dome.
The Dome, like all buildings on my world is constructed of a high tensile strength ceramic. During the daylight hours the buildings are iridescent; like light reflecting from a soap bubble. It complements the dark green of the many parks and trees dispersed among them. At night, a comforting luminescent glow is provided throughout the city. Many of the buildings I pass suffer the effects of the tremors; the Dome is no exception. Large fissures can be seen angling up the curve of the wall. Alighting from the slide way, I enter one of the vast antechambers being used for the assembly. My people are hermaphrodites and long lived; five feet four inches tall, slim, pale skinned, white hair and ice blue eyes. We are differentiated by our occupations and by the colors we wear. Scientists wear blue, with a thread that indicates their field of science. The red of theoretical physics stands out on those at the front. A throng of people surround the scientists who stand before a huge screen. The atmosphere is electric. Shouted questions and demands for answers dominate. Pathfinders wearing silver with a colored thread denoting their experience of travelling beyond are firing questions at the scientists. My own color thread is gold, indicating that I am one of the more seasoned travelers of those gathered. The lead scientist, Rondel, seeing me arrive raises his hand in greeting and gestures me to approach.
For a man of small stature, his voice booms over the agitated crowd.
“It is good to see you safe, Elador. We were starting to worry. The fluctuations are becoming more frequent. We just informed those gathered of our findings. They are not pleased.”
I ask anxiously,
“What have you discovered?” .
To give a semblance of privacy, he pulls me further to one side.
He looks pensive for a moment.
“The energy fluctuations appear to be building, as are the tremors. It is originating from the Earth. We extrapolated the results and the scientists have all come to the same conclusion. If things continue as they are, the Earth and our world are both likely to be destroyed within the next half cycle.”
Thoughtfully I look at him.
“Is there no solution?”
“There is; but it will alter our very way of life…… if it is successful.”
“Is not life better than death?” I ask.
Carefully he considers for a moment before answering.
“If this radical solution is enacted, many would answer no.”
Rondel looks around at the assembly, now fueled with anger and fear.
“This is a representation of our people. You can see how they are reacting to the news.”
“Is there any other alternative to what you are proposing?” I say with trepidation.
“No! We must seal the gate. It will cut our world off from everyone and everything…. forever.”
In the coming days, news spreads like wildfire across our world. Logically they could understand what must happen, but emotionally, the mere thought of being isolated was an anathema for them. I watch my world deteriorate around me. Panic and riots break out everywhere as the planet plunges into despair and nowhere more so than around the Gate. Stronger and stronger earthquakes precede the days before the closure. Devastation and the deaths of thousands occur in many cities; but still the people protest the closure. Security is needed to transport the scientists and hold back the rioters.
Trian is at his post when I enter with Rondel and the other scientists selected to aid him. Roundel’s gaze sweeps the various readouts and sorts out the new information they provide. He lays one hand on Trian's shoulder and speaks in a quiet voice,
“We've known each other since childhood. I'd be honored if you can help us in this matter. It would be better to shut down the gate sooner rather than later.”
Trian nods. Rondel indicates him to stand ready at one section, while he delegates twenty scientists to the various other controls. From their studies, the closure sequence they have postulated must be in a specific sequential order for it to work. As if conducting an orchestra, Rondel begins indicating to his fellow scientists the order of shutdown. When the last transposition is done, they wait.... and wait. The gate remains unchanged and open. I turn to Rondel to ask a question, then the quake strikes.
We are thrown to the ground, into the air, against the walls and when it settles, it starts all over again. The ferocity of the tremors continues on with no abatement of strength. I am among the fallen, the battered and the bruised. I am also among the lucky. Many have broken bones, others trapped among the many machines that have toppled, or the unlucky few, dead from the crushing weight of walls and roof. Through the dust and debris, I spy Trian stumbling to his feet clutching at his elbow. I search for Rondel and find him curled on his side in the corner of the room. One leg pinned under an overturned control board. I manage to move the machine out of the way and help him to sit. I kneel beside him and check his vitals. Everything is good, except for his leg. A bone is poking through the flesh. He reaches and clutches my arm. In a voice which belies the pain,
“The gate is being held open by the power being transmitted through from the Earth side.” The realization of failure causes him to slump. His face twists into a grimace as a sudden spasm of pain shoots through his leg. He focuses his gaze upon me.
“The power must be stopped. With this done, the gate wards should trip and close forever. It must be done Earth side and that person will be exiled. We have little time left before the next quake strikes….. and then another and another. Each one will be sooner and stronger, until our world cracks open.”
He slumps exhausted against me and then says in a tired voice, “It must be you Elador. I place my trust in you.”
With that final utterance, he passes into unconsciousness and blessed oblivion. The responsibility of two worlds is mine. I steel myself. Any thoughts of not being able to carry out my mission are placed aside. I am filled with a determination to succeed. Trian has joined us and has heard Rondels final words. He looks at me with compassion, understanding and trust. No words are necessary, but a silent communication passes between us. My friend and mentor both trust me. Gently, he takes Rondel from me as I make my way through the devastation and stand before the gate.
It glows with an ethereal power. Concentrating and using the source of the energy issuing from the gate as the focal point, I center mind and body and focus on my destination. I step into instant destruction. Travel over the Pathways is not without its pain. The feel of being torn apart and being stretched to infinity is something that I will never become accustomed. One’s time sense is not just distorted, but thrown out the window. The journey is a feeling of travelling and falling forever; in a micro second or a million years, I am here ….
A pall of thick black smoke and a constant downpour of thick white ash surround me as I hover; impervious to the raging forces below me. Perched on the hill below are the remains of a structure of massive proportions. Its heat twisted skeleton is surrounded by a seething stream of red, orange, yellow and gold, flecked with the black of cooling rock. It flows down to form a moat of living fire a kilometer wide. Further back from the extruded magma, I make out five demount-able buildings; each are attached to trucks, ready to withdraw from danger if necessary. It takes but a moment to will myself to them. I settle down through the roof of the largest. It pulsates with light. Every wall is covered with monitors either spewing out paper or showing multiple colored graphs on 3D screens. I’m in luck. A briefing is being held to bring the new scientists arriving at the scene of this disaster, up to date. I settle down to listen. The speaker is a tall, slim, angular woman with short, cropped, red hair with streaks of grey. An air of exhaustion surrounds her as she waits for the new arrivals to settle. Her exhaustion reflects in her voice, but is still able to bring everybody to attention as she begins.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Doctor Gloria Stevens. This is an assembly of the world’s foremost volcanologists and geologists. In fact any ‘ologist’ that you care to name, who deals with the study of the earth and its interior is represented.” A small nervous chuckle goes around the group.
“We are in our second month of global disasters. You are aware of the many recent volcanic eruptions’, tsunamis’ and seismic upheavals that are now running rampant around the world. The number of dead and injured has reached epic proportions. Food riots are becoming an everyday occurrence in most third world countries and even a few of the developed ones. What the world is unaware of and what you may be unaware of also …..Is that we are responsible.”
A mass intake of breath broke the silence. She waits for the scientists to compose themselves before continuing.
“This country is in the forefront of looking for alternatives to solve the energy crisis in which the whole world is finding itself. We came up with the idea of using the earth itself to drive mankind into the 21st century. The plan was dual in nature. The building of a Geo thermal station running off both the temperatures to be found at the earth’s core and also the immense magnetic fields found surrounding it.” She takes a sip of water and a deep breath and looks at those around her. The fear and excitement reflected there is plain to see; she has them entranced with her words.
“All computer models showed the plan to be both workable and doable to build the proto-type. We started on the building to hold the vast engines over fifteen months ago and the drilling nine months ago. The area designated is ten kilometers to the North. All was going to plan up until two months ago. We had reached a depth of just over five kilometers into the crust when we struck something our drill could not penetrate. Our geologic dating of the surrounding strata at this depth was over five million years old. We employed a laser to try and force the issue.”
In a soft voice she concluded, “That is when everything went wrong.”
Silence; then an undecipherable cacophony of noise suddenly arises, as each struggles to be heard. All want answers, as did I.
Holding her hand up, she waits for the noise to subside before continuing.
“At the first touch of the beam, a titanic shock wave registered. Our first thoughts were that a massive plate slippage had been triggered. The instruments told a different story. Multiple pulses seemed to be emanating from the point below us. Long waves of energy were rebounding from one side of the planet to the other, reinforcing and making it stronger and faster. Volcanoes which have lain dormant for centuries now seem to be re-activating. We can no longer investigate through the original drill hole. The slippage has cracked open vents of liquid magma which now has found its way to the surface.”
Silence reigns supreme as those around try to absorb what they have just been told. A tentative hand rises and a voice cracking with fear asks,
“Wh-Wh-What is your final prediction of the outcome?”
Doctor Stevens steadies herself on the desk and pushes up to her full height; locking eyes with her inquisitor she says,
“If we do not come up with a solution by the end of the month ladies and gentlemen, the earth we know of and all life including the cockroaches will be extinguished.”
The others shuffle out of the room in shocked silence. Doctor Stevens sinks down in her chair and cradles her head in her hands; a dejected and exhausted figure. I sense a kindred spirit as the weight of her world weighs heavy upon her shoulders, as does mine. I stand before her and materialize Silent, I wait until she is aware of me. Raising her head, she shows no shock. A gleam shines from her eyes as her scientific curiosity is aroused. It is a distraction which she welcomes from the seriousness which she is facing. She rises from behind her desk and circles me. To her, I am alien. Uncertain if I will understand her she asks,
“Who are you? ….What are you?”
“My name is Elador. I am a Fade. I am not of your world, but the survival of mine is linked to yours. I have come to help.”
She takes this at face value; no longer surprised by anything. Her mind is racing as she takes this in and reaches a conclusion. A new energy fills her. Hope is reignited.
“How is your world in danger and how can you help to remedy the situation?” she demands.
For two diverse beings, strong connections are forged. We discuss the affinity between our two homes and how we are to save them. We agree that the problem began with the lasers activation at the drilling site. Our dilemma is five kilometers deep and untouchable by their technology. I once again show my ability to dematerialize, at which she becomes very excited by the possibilities. A consensus is reached.
“It’s risky, but your ‘super power’ may be the only answer to finding out what's causing the problem that is tearing both our worlds apart. Everything is dependent on your success, Elador.”
She stoops down and hugs me. I don’t know who is the more surprised at her action. Neither of us is sure that we will meet again.
“Farewell Doctor Stevens. I will do my best for both of us. I hope to return to you soon.”
I wave to her and ascend through the roof and shift to above the remains of the drilling platform.
Below me, the scene is illuminated by a bright light supplied by the fires burning atop the liquid, super-heated magma. Hot ash and the occasional rock which has been extruded, fall through my incorporeal self. I try to curtail my imagination of what I am about to experience, but that is impossible. I am after all about to free-fall through five kilometers of the earth’s mantle. Breathing will not trouble me as I need no oxygen while I am immaterial and the heat and pressure will also be of no consequence. The problem will be the passing of time as I descend the sub strata of the planet. I am able to sense the ‘difference’ and depth of things as I pass through them. This ability is what I will depend on to answer the riddle below. I cannot delay any longer. I begin the descent.
I enter from above where the rig had been positioned. I am surprised as my visual senses overload because of the fires generated from around me. I had miscalculated. I will be blind no matter what. Not only will the darkness trouble me, but also the fiery brightness which I am encountering as I make the transit through tubes of magma.
Minutes or hours; my sense of time is gone. I alternate through the dark and the light, feeling nothing. The journey continues and ends with a thump; I have just encountered the impossible. I am still ethereal, but I am no longer descending. This cannot be real. I have never confronted anything through which I could not pass. I am standing upon a surface, while the molten magma seethes and writhes around me. I move to the side to try to learn of the size of the object beneath my feet. Now shuffling, I feel my way; without warning, I am falling and collapse onto a hard metallic surface. My sight adjusts and my mind is back to interpreting my surrounds. The back light of the liquid rock shows a large gaping hole which I managed to stumble into. A force shield prevents the magma's entry as it rushes past, but not mine. The metal pulses rhythmically under my body. I am in a room. A light flashes next to what appears to be a doorway. On hands and knees, I lever myself upright and place a hand over the sensor and a panel slides open. I step through and it closes behind me. All is done in perfect silence. Pitch black surrounds me. The overhead lights come on. It becomes brighter and pushes back the dark; a tunnel or passage way points ahead. I turn and see many other passages leading away from this central corridor. I continue on until my progress is barred once more. I search for a way in. Another flashing light appears and a push allows me entry. My eyes grow large as I look around this room. I stand on a ship's bridge. A star ship's bridge!
Twelve seats are placed in a hemispheric pattern which faces the bow of the ship. In front of each, various consoles are flashing a multi-hued variety of colored lights at different frequencies. A thirteenth seat is in the center. I make my way to it and lower myself. Tiredness is starting to overwhelm me. I need to rest and recoup my energies. As I sit, I notice two things. The chair appears to be constructed for beings of my particular size and shape. The second scares me out of my remaining wits.
“Welcome back Captain,” says a melodious voice.
I spring from the chair and look around the vacant room. Nothing.
“Who’s there? Show yourself.” Silence. I resumed the seat.
“Is there a problem Captain?” Through sheer will power, I continue sitting.
“Who are you?”
“I am Artos, the ships Artificial Intelligence. I am here to serve you. It has been a long time since I've talked to anyone.” The voice has a reproachful note to it.
I clear my throat.
“How long has it been since you last talked to anyone?”
“It has been 5,254,365 cycles of this world around its sun, Captain.”
“Artos, why are you calling me Captain?” I queried.
“You Sir are the only Fade on the ship; therefore you are entitled to the Honorific, Captain.”
“Artos; you said Fade. This is the ship of my people. We travelled between the stars?”
“That’s right Sir.”
Without warning, the ship starts to vibrate, shake and shudder. I sink back into the seat and allow the storm to play out around me. The tremors reach a crescendo and with an ear splitting burst of sound they subside.
“What was that?” I manage to squeak out.
“The accumulators are discharging energy through the shields to prolong hull integrity, Sir.’
“Can you tell me how you came to be here? What happened to the crew....my people?” The words come rushing from my mouth.
"Yes sir. We came to this world on an exploratory mission. We landed and spent the next three cycles studying this planet. Then the unexpected happened. What we considered a safe and stable zone erupted. The ground beneath us was ripped apart by earthquake and volcanic action. There were no precursors to this event. The ship fell through into an abyss which bottomed out into a river of fire. We were carried further underground until the ship was wedged many kilometers below the surface. Super-heated rock continually flows over and around us. The shields held, but there were many injured and dead. There was no chance of returning to the surface."
I interrupted the narration with a question.
"How many people survived this?"
“329 survivors Sir."
“....and what happened to them?"
"The crew with my help managed to fabricate a gateway. It was not capable of penetrating the many kilometers to the surface of this planet. It was powerful enough though of opening a ‘sideways’ portal, to an alternate version of this world. The captain took an away party through to investigate. Reports indicated the new world, a paradise; lush vegetation, fertile land and a temperate climate. There was a problem though. Illuminated by a Sun, but no stars; It was a world within a bubble created by the portal. A plan was proposed. Everyone was to be sent through the portal and the ship to be stripped of all essential supplies. The portal within the ship was to be dismantled, leaving nothing but a single conduit connected to power the Pathway on the new world. Reconstruction would allow egress to the Earth. Reconnaissance then would be set up and maintained to watch for any rescue ships."
Artos' speech became 'clipped' towards the end, as the unpleasant memories of isolation surfaced. At that point, realization of the Fades true purpose became apparent; Fades were supposed to be watchers and observers of the skies, not the Earth.
“I understand that you are supplying the power to run the gateway, but what’s caused these massive surges and fluctuations that we are experiencing. Artos, my world and the Earth are in jeopardy because of it."
"Power is gathered in two ways. One; by a steady flow of geothermic energy against the hull of the ship and Two; the electromagnetic forces produced by the spinning core of this planet. The hull of this ship is a mass of batteries and accumulators to carry out this operation. I have maintained control of these forces and feed power to the gate and shields of the ship for the many millennia I have been here. An energy beam from the surface of this world managed to destroy over forty percent of my power grid and punch through the hull. You were able to enter me through that point. My final orders from the Captain charged me to preserve the integrity of the ship and the power conduit. I no longer have the resources to do both. I have had to alternate the delivery of power to each. Instead of a constant flow, I am employing a powerful discharge of energy to each in turn to conserve their functionality.
"That explains why the destructive tremors are intensifying on both worlds. A new vibration from each discharge is complimenting the last and the synergy is causing a stronger and stronger wave." Excitement coursed through me. I now understood the cause of the problem. Now I needed a solution.
” I am reaching the point where a decision must be made. I cannot sustain both. The choice must be yours Captain."
Artos was sounding relieved at being able to pass this decision on to a 'higher authority'.
I lay back in the chair and considered the problem. A solution began to form in my mind.
“Artos, if you continue with supplying the power to both the conduit and the shields, how long can you continue?”
“Captain, to prolong the current power levels, I am able to endure for thirty more cycles before system failure. From what I can calculate, the vibrational pattern that has formed will destroy both worlds within a tenth of a cycle. I am sorry.”
“What if you close the conduit to the portal? ....then divert power through the shields to impart a smoother flow to the ship's shields? “
“That will extend the operational efficiency of myself to a further two hundred cycles and should nullify the wave front that has formed.”
This is the answer I needed. My world can be safe, but isolated. The Earth can be safe and with two hundred and thirty cycles of time to play with, Artos can also be rescued and repaired. With this done, the connection between the worlds, can be re-established.
After giving Artos instructions and promising him I will see him again, I make my way to my entry point. My return to the surface should not present a problem. If I have been to a place and have a visual picture, I can then return to that place. It was time to go.
Two worlds have been saved. The promise of an interesting future gives me confidence.
I am Elador. I am the last of the Fades to travel the Pathways….. for now.