Sam is torn from his home in Ancestral Haven by a new breed of humans.
| Part 3
Sam sat in the same hospital room in which he had initially woken up what now seemed like a lifetime ago. Time had no reference point in a foreign prison.
He thought about the plank he was forced to walk and the ghosts of the past that had surfaced so suddenly and intrusively that he felt a chill wash over him.
Emily had insisted that all such turmoil would be washed away after the operation, but despite the despair, he felt they were the fundamental elements that defined him. Would he recognize himself anymore?
“You will not lose your emotions or sentiments Sam; you will simply have more control over them,” she insisted as she walked by his side as he was led back to his room.
Even if he had been given a choice, he knew the unrelenting cogency of her words and tone would have at the very least given him pause. Despite his stubbornness, an increasingly insurgent part of him yearned not to struggle and torment himself throughout the remaining years of his life, swimming upstream like a martyr with outmoded ideals. There may have been a certain honor in doing so, but the cost, like all others, was bound by the rules of inflation, progressively hiked up by the invisible hand of change and progress. The last time he dared look in the mirror, he saw only a specter. His filthy clothes had seemed more tangible than the frightened and lonely figure cowering inside. What they planned to take away from him might have only been the remaining skeleton.
He may have been rationalizing, but it didn’t matter. He had no choice, and this gave him the opportunity and duty to fight them, and by that very token, he would retain his principles while allowing himself to be seduced by the promise of a better world.
The tubes in his room pulsed with life, and a vibrant white light swam through them. Sam, after many months, found some peace within himself that didn’t come from a Moca hit and drifted off to sleep.
Sam came back to full awareness, finding himself in a cave. The walls around him appeared unstable, suggesting a recent cave in. Not normally a claustrophobic, he nevertheless felt panic rising within him as the walls appeared to constrict, imploding towards him from all sides. Each time he thought a wall had moved close enough to touch him on the periphery of his vision, it seemed to move back when he glanced at it.
Panic had set in, and he frantically searched for any light that might suggest a loose rock. The darkness had become unbearable. He turned and looked around, squinting to try and make out forms in the darkness, but just as he thought his vision had caught something, it slipped away from him and simply became a part of the rocks.
He felt adrenaline kick in, his muscles tense, and his stomach constrict. He thought he might throw up, and the mild tension headache he had felt at first was intensifying into a migraine.
He lunged forward and began picking away at the rocks before him. He knew he risked causing another cave in, but the claustrophobia induced panic he felt in his bowels seemed to have taken control of him.
Just as Sam felt all hope draining away from him, a hint of light winked at him through one of the newly formed cracks, calming him down and gaving him renewed focus. Only then did he hear the sound of his heart pounding frantically.
Sam inhaled deeply, trying to push the panic down as deep into his already constricted bowels as he could. He lunged once again at the rocks, frantically picking at anything that felt loose. Despite the darkness, he knew his hands were bleeding. He felt the thick liquid trickle down his sleeves and mix with his panic induced sweat on his arms.
His scrambling hands managed to pull away more of the smaller rocks, which caused some of the bigger rocks to fall around his feet.
The relief Sam felt when he saw the first glimmer of light turned into a beacon of hope as the laser thin gleam that cut through the darkness dilated and projected into the back of the cave, illuminating the jagged walls. Sam’s fatigue gave way to strength as the way forward unraveled before him.
Sam’s hands worked incessantly as the light grew in response, but hope turned to fear as the light became unbearably bright; the warm glow that had filled the cave turned into a searing glare.
Sam put a hand up to cover his eyes, but it offered little help as his unadjusted pupils burned and his retinas pleaded for cover.
An adrenaline jolt brought Sam back to full consciousness as he found himself once again back in his room. Someone had turned the lights on to full brightness. “A harsh wake up call,” Sam thought, not the hero’s welcome he expected for the vanguard of a new race.
Sam’s eyes finally adjusted, and his mental faculties had returned bit by bit, trying to shake off the nightmare that still clawed at his consciousness.
While Sam struggled with the vertigo of his assembling thoughts, the much anticipated whooshing sound of the door opening caught his attention and brought his mind partially back into focus.
The same two guards walked in wearing the same robes and the same expressions, and stood in the same positions on either side of his bed, and Sam wondered what it was in his resume that forced him so often to land the role of the shepherd. Perhaps it was his stubborn refusal to follow the herd, he thought, and perhaps to spite fate, before they even had a chance to gesture for him to follow, he stood up obediently and waited for them to lead him away.
If the guards felt any surprise at such odd change in behavior, they didn’t show it.
The two guards led him through the same atrium that was so indelibly etched in Sam’s mind. His first exposure to the wonders and horrors of the magnificent monument to unfulfilled potential left an impression on him.
The atrium seemed eerily silent and empty. The denizens were nowhere to be seen, and Sam’s sense of isolation grew more potent by the hour.
“Do you guys ever talk?” It was weak attempt to outrun the onerous thoughts that tormented him, but he needed some distraction.
“Our job isn’t to talk,” the guard on Sam’s right replied.
“Oh, thank God! I thought you were androids!”
“You have a mistaken idea of what it is we are, or what it is that you are for that matter. That is why you’re tormenting yourself,” The guard replied nonchalantly. Sam wondered if the upper city janitors were also philosophers.
“What would you know about me you Vulcan wannabe?”
“I know what I was.”
“Yeah… well… you weren’t me, that’s for sure. If you were, you wouldn’t be where you are now!”
“We all have fates; you are not special,” the other guard spoke, his tone as prosaic as his counterpart.
“Well, I’d argue that we’re all special.”
“You can also argue that we live on the Sun.” The guard on the right asserted. “It doesn’t make it truth.”
“So you think you know the truth?”
“We’re closer to it than you are. Your mind is clouded by primitive emotions. The fog on the windows and mirrors of your mind will be cleared, and you will see as clearly as we do.”
“You will see clearer,” the other guard rejoined, “and you will thank us… and we will thank you”.
“Don’t bet on it Spock!” Sam scoffed. The guards were silent as they led him further across the atrium than they had the last time, all the way to the very end of the building where the marble floor beneath them whooshed open, as unexpectedly as the doors had on his first visit, to reveal a passageway descending into an underground area.
As the guards led Sam down the stairs, he glanced ahead at the same glass doorways he had seen on the other side of the building. He saw only blackness. It was either nighttime or early morning, which might have explained why the atrium was empty. It seemed even the machinery of progress needed a rest from its perennial grind.
Blackness enveloped the trio for several seconds before a warm, gentle glow illuminated the room. Sam could not easily distinguish its source, but it seemed to radiate from the floor, ceiling and walls themselves.
The underground room appeared to be a subway with a several foot wide recess that stretched along the breadth of the room a hundred odd feet or so. It was consistent with the rest of the city in as much as it had no conspicuous markings or decorations to impress upon the mind. As Sam trudged along the floor, his footsteps echoed around the subway, giving him the impression that he was walking on glass or marble.
When they approached the center of the room halfway along the recess, the guards stopped and waited.
They stood no longer than a half a minute before what appeared to be a small shuttle-train appeared on the platform at an incredible speed and stopped before them so suddenly that Sam’s eyes could not identify the transition from motion to rest.
The train was made up of several small cubic carriages rounded at the corners and edges, as white and unmarked as the platform they stood on apart from rounded rectangular black matte windows, which seemed to pull the eyes into the vacuum of their presence by the very power of contrast. Sam’s eyes were irresistibly drawn to the gaping onyx eyes of the symmetrical vessel. The vessel’s mouth opened so suddenly, Sam felt his chest constrict and his heart play to the beat of his panic.
As the guards led Sam through the gaping mouth, for the first time, he could feel his sanity hang by a thin, tenuous thread. He was losing grip on the very context by which he had found the strength to remain defiant.
The inside of the train contained seats that protruded from the walls and curved towards the floor. As Sam heard the door whoosh close behind him, he was immediately taken aback by the splendor he witnessed before him. The very windows which had appeared pitch black from the outside were so transparent from the inside that they gave the impression of being merely holes.
What was more incredible was the view these transparent eyes presented.
He felt no sense of motion or acceleration, just saw a clear, pristine world racing by. Sam’s eyes caught the raw beauty of forests, fields, lakes and pastures, which he had been sure he would never see again. He found himself moving towards the windows as his knees fell and rested on the seat, compelled to look out at sights that barely survived in the hall of mirrors that his memories had become.
The world outside beckoned while Sam could only glare from behind the baleful eyes of his synthetic prison. He had had no hopes for the survival of natural environments and had imagined the alabaster tentacles of the upper city stretching into every patch of the globe, bleaching away all the natural hues of life.
His sanity had found new nourishment in the dazzling view, and a new glimmer hope revealed itself outside the pale, white fixture. The delusions which had begun to take control of mind were mercifully melting away.
Hate began to stir within him. The momentary anchor to reality had provided him a sudden insight which was not grounded in reason, but a certain inalienable knowledge. They were his enemies, all of them, including Her. The cold realization had set in that all the haphazard emotions that had nearly torn him apart just hours before were predicated on a lie. The same person who was now sending him to be processed like the rest of her cattle was not Emily. Emily was dead; she had died years ago. What remained was an automaton that only simulated her likeness and some elements of her personality; the rest was lost in translation.
Hope had brought with it purpose, and in the moment of enlightenment in which he wallowed his purpose had unfolded itself. The long carpet unrolled before him and he would run the gauntlet.
The world outside rolled past him as the verdant foliage, the crystal lakes and the occasional beach and inlet would catch his eye momentarily before speeding away from his line of vision, only to be replaced by another section of the upper city towards which a rail-track would disjoin from the main and disappear into.
Sam glanced behind him and saw the two stoic guards sitting on the seats that ran along the opposite wall, whose windows also stared at a similar travelling pattern of colors. Sam did not even hazard a guess as to which side of the globe they were travelling through. Any hints of the old world had been swallowed up by the ivory tentacles that protruded like pus from infected sores.
“I’m surprised,” Sam remarked to himself.
“You’re surprised that we haven’t destroyed all life and vegetation?” One of the barely distinguishable guards asked.
“Yes,” Sam whispered as his eyes remained transfixed on the patchwork zooming past.
“Don’t be. The ambitions your people had that led to the slow decay of the very life that spawned you are no longer ours. Where you destroyed, we preserve.”
“Thank God, my prisoners have a conscience.”
“You’re prisoner of your own conscience.”
The frequency with which the checkered landscape of turquoise and white that had been projected erratically and at great speed by the water, vegetation and ill-fitting alabaster cities diminished as an increasingly whiter tone set in. Vegetation had become a less common sight while white, symmetric shapes, whose builders had attempted fruitlessly to convey the grandeur of some alien spirit, had come to the forefront, and within minutes, Sam found himself in what appeared to be the epicenter of one of the upper cities, far larger than the one from which he came.
It was a sprawl unlike any Sam had ever seen or imagined. Countless buildings of seemingly random shapes and sizes emerged with a strange regularity into a discernable pattern; a fractal, snake-like spiral converged at the center towards which the train turned and sped.
A clear, bright day quickly gave way to complete darkness while a glow was kindled, whose source was as difficult to pinpoint as in the underground station, as it grew in intensity and bathed Sam in the now familiar light.
He felt no halting effects of deceleration, but could see clearly they had slowed to a stop almost instantly as the darkness outside gave way to another station. The station looked so remarkably similar to the one from which they had departed that at first Sam was convinced that by some capricious trick he had been taken back to the same place he had come from.
The doors of the carriage once again opened so swiftly, a portion of the wall seemingly disappeared to the left of the window through which Sam continued to peer, lost in thought.
He felt the somber touch of the guards’ hands on his shoulders prompt him to get up, while a solemn trepidation and a sense of premature loss had taken hold of him. He thought it amusing that where once the ruins of the past only elicited remorse, closure had sprouted fresh foliage between their cracks, and could understand why he could only find consolation and comfort when he had resigned himself of all hope, but rejected these things when there was light still to guide him?
The hands took a firmer hold, and finally Sam complied. They led him out of and away from the train along the station towards the stairs of the exit, which, while strikingly similar to the last, led to a very different place.
Sam stood awestruck at the top of the platform exit in a room far larger than and astoundingly different from even the grand halls he had been led through on the previous occasion. Unlike the alabaster, porcelain-like firmaments that preceded this one, what he found himself faced with in that instant defied all the conventions upon which all the upper cities, in his brief experience, seemed to be built upon.
The grand hall was dark and moist, although not uncomfortably hot or cold, with enough light for Sam to get a vague view of his surroundings. A light fog hung about, which made visible by a gentle light that emanated from above, and accounted for the moisture Sam felt against his skin. Sam could not see the source of the light clearly as the fog made it difficult to see past fifty yards or so in any direction. The only physical barrier he could make out was the very ground on which he stood, which, unlike the floors of other upper city architectures, was a paved surface.
As far as Sam’s eyes could make out, the way forward led along a path several yards wide flanked by a precipice of unknown depth along either of its edges. The room seemed to have a way of playing tricks on the eyes with its dim-lit ambience, and from Sam’s perspective, the drop could have been as deep as Alice’s rabbit hole or as shallow as a kids’ pool. The idea of jumping had crossed his mind for a few brief seconds, but the memory of his self-imposed purpose kept those impulses in check.
The guards led Sam along the path, gingerly flanking him, undoubtedly anticipating such motives, and after a while all he could see was the path swallowed by the mist in front of him.
The lack of any discernible destination made the moment feel like eternity, but the illusion of the unbounded path was blown away by a gentle and prolonged puffing of some strange apparition. The wind from the mouth of the apparition blew rivulets of fog towards the three intruders, surrounding them and spiraling past.
The apparition crystallized as his eyes adjusted. As things become clearer, the illusion was dispelled and replaced by a sharp and intrusive reality, and the initial haunting features of its face took on a mechanical form.
Sam saw all along the outer edges of the machine, in a semicircle that began on either side of it and continued behind it, an array of clear, cocoon like containers shaped not unlike funeral casket, but rounded at the corners. They stood like monuments, each containing a human poised still as if in statis. The space around them within the cocoon appeared to be either liquid or ice of a bright aqua hue.
“Your experiments?” Sam asked not facing either of his guards who now had come to a complete stop a couple of steps behind him.
“Our volunteers,” one of the guards replied, seemingly to the context rather than the content of Sam’s question.
“Like I volunteered?”
“No. They understood the goal they sacrificed for.”
“Curse me for bein’ so unenlightened,” Sam remarked, almost spitting the words out.
“All the more reason you will appreciate it when you receive it.”
The grand machine stood several hundred feet high like an obsidian tower as visible plumes of fog hovered in the light of the many monitors etched in its lustrous frame. It didn’t look like any technology he had seen in the upper city and contrasted heavily with all other machines or structures aesthetically, its dark foreboding countenance contrasting heavily with his experience since being captured. In fact for Sam there was some nostalgic quality to it. There was writing etched in its side, but it stood too far away for Sam to make out the particulars, which were obfuscated by the fog. He came to the realization that that was the first time he had seen any form of writing in the city. There was an odd sentiment in seeing letters imprinted in something that had not been destroyed or ravaged by the Final Schism.
The cocoons placed around the machines were very striking, and Sam managed a closer look at its sleeping inhabitants, which, upon closer examination, appeared to be naked and frozen. They were people of both sexes and various ages, the youngest an adolescent, the oldest perhaps an octogenarian, and all appeared to have had their heads shaven.
The guards led him around the side of the machine, past the iridescent cocoons, towards the back, and for the first time he saw the chair that had been previously obstructed. Large and spacious, it was black and foreboding like the machine, fixed in place and rigid with a curved L-shape support and armrests on the sides. Various rigid, metallic cables extruded from its back support with their other ends attached to the machine, and two thinner cables looped around to the front and held up a single metallic dome large enough to fit a person’s head.
Sam saw through the eyes of the condemned for the first time and the scene appeared strangely tranquil, the colors neutral, the sounds cacophonous and anachronistic, with memories and voices that surfaced from a past that barely seemed real. He saw in his eyes the reflection of all the things that had once been real, but now existed as nothing skeletons buried deep beneath shallow footprints. He heard his wife, her voice lost within the discordant orchestra.
“That’s the very same chair I first transitioned on Sam,” Emily remarked, and Sam turned to the source of the voice. The instinctive yearning for loving support immediately caused him to feel shame. The woman wore the features of and spoke with Emily’s voice with such effortless grace that it was difficult for him not to respond in the way he was accustomed to.
She stood behind the guards with a determined look in a robe that reminded Sam of mass, more ornamented than what she had worn previously. It was white with fractal pastels.
“Never upgraded? This stuff looks like an antique compared to the plastic you people have built everything else out of.”
“We have upgraded Sam; this is the place where the initial transitions occurred.”
“So this is just a museum tour then? Thank Christ, I thought I was gonna be lobotomized.” Sam remarked, never taking his eyes off Emily.
“It is not a lobotomy; we are improving your cognitive functions!”
“Well, I’m sorry that I have fallen short of your expectations.”
“I think that you are simply holding onto the devil you know out of fear of the unknown.”
“So if all this equipment is outdated, why’d you bring me here? Why not give me the first class treatment? Why keep this stuff here at all?”
“We keep it as a reminder, a memory of the pivotal point, and I had you brought here so you would experience the transition as I had. The equipment may look outdated, but it functions just as well.”
“I didn’t know you people were capable of such sentiment.”
“As I’ve told you repeatedly, we do not lack all emotion; we simply process them differently than you.” Emily replied, her features or tone betraying no frustration whatsoever, or none that Sam could perceive.
“Obviously not up to your own standards!”
“That’s why you’re here; you’ll help us make things right again.”
Sam looked at his surroundings, at the chair, at her, and the two guards for what he knew would be the last time, at least with his own eyes. He tried to imprint the memory and emotion in his mind as a reminder, a postcard from home.
As Sam sat on the same chair that stole Emily away from him, the quiet defiance that was the mainstay of his dignity had become difficult to maintain. He felt tremors rise in his chest and resonate through his arms and legs. His focus was dwindling, and the screams and moans that echoed in the valleys were heard as a deafening roar in the stratosphere, while Sam’s attempts to contain them came out only as panicked gasps.
In the hyper-focused spotlight of Sam’s eyes, figures he had not previously seen before appeared in the mist, past a walkway identical to the one on the other side of the machine on which he came, which, as Sam now could clearly, see led to a set of stairs that climbed towards a platform. The platform that initally appeared barren now revealed figures numbered in the dozens, all wearing the signature white robes of the upper city population, which had so insidiously mimicked the flowing arms of the mist just seconds before.
Two metallic shackles attached to the arm-rests on each side of the chair were clasped shut around Sam’s wrists and forearms by his two guards. Similar clasps were attached above his ankles which were now tightly pressed against the leg support of the chair. He felt the silver dome he could no longer see lowered onto his scalp and felt the guards’ deft hands tighten a strap beneath his chin. He heard the brisk echoes of their footsteps scramble behind him and felt Emily’s presence somewhere close, behind him to the right. Although he could not see her, he felt her eyes on him; not the woman forcing him to walk the plank, but his Emily. He was unsure if it was his keen awareness that had cut through and sensed something in her he couldn’t before or if the panic growing in him had made him delusional. Despite his doubts he clung onto it for strength.
“It will be all over soon Sam. All your doubts and fears will be extinguished. You will shed your old skin and climb out from the prison of your past.” Emily chanted amidst the growing sounds of the machine, while the dull hum he had faintly heard before, somewhere miles outside the shadows of the valley, swelled into an inexorable sound of bulldozers that came from every direction, trapping him in the very shadows where he once felt safe.
“Don’t struggle Sam!” Emily’s voice bellowed over the wailing bass of the machines. As they advanced closer, the cellophane-wrapped illusion of the humming and wailing melted away as the true essence of the sounds presented themselves like the fog-shrouded robed figures that had been there all along, watching and waiting.
As Sam’s thoughts converged momentarily into coherence, he realized what he experienced was not simply panic. The transition had begun, and despite his resistance the alteration of his psyche was underway.
“If you struggle, the process will be a nightmare; if you embrace it, it will be exhilarating.” He heard Emily’s voice through what seemed like a hollow tunnel.
The onslaught of the forces of change and destruction culminated in the unbearable sounds. The sun which appeared directly above him washed away the shadows of the valley and laid him bare to an unwelcome warmth that permeated the whole landscape. There were no shadows left to hide in as the sun, which had been the focal point of the light, expanded into an omnipresent source.
The landscape appeared more clear to him than he had ever seen it before. He was now able to see through the whole valley and beyond, past the hinterlands and the shores which had previously given way to a dark ocean.
Along with the shadows, the wailing, confused voices vanished only to be replaced with a gentle, even chorus as warm as the ubiquitous light. While at first unwelcome, the warm light now bore only relief as the torments which plagued the valley fled when exposed.
Sam, willed by his own elation, felt himself rise above the valley and over the peaks of the mountains surrounding it, so that his gaze pierced every hidden corner of the land. Omnipresent in the confines of his Self, his eyes pierced the glass orb of his prison as he flung himself past realms of awareness completely alien to him, until all that remained was awe. He found the clarity his vision gained had given him the understanding and the control which he had lacked in his Moca experiences. He found himself travelling between the different states of awareness at will as if he had finally found the remote that had been lost in the mess of his mind.
Being faced with realms beyond the limits of imagination, his psyche struggled to grasp and make sense of the sensory overload as it converged into a multitude of elastic and elusive concepts that sparked to life in an ecstatic dance. They dispersed and fragmented back into chaos before once again the cycle continued.
Fragments of awareness, of joy and of fear, of the infinitely small and the infinitely large, all for one moment converged into a whole in a space of time so brief, it could not be measured and lasted for what seemed eternity. The brief union fragmented back into sparks of chaos, which brought time back into being.
From the quantum chaos the sparks converged into localized dances, which formed larger pools of energy; these then further converged into a dance with others while the unions progressed into increasingly complex patterns as the Ego scrambled back to life and came up to the surface for air. The elation of survival and the joy of self awareness pulled further fragments into itself, like a self-nurturing black hole. Images, concepts and words conjoined, and one word in particular could be heard echoing along some endless corridor.
That one word brought with it the necessary frame of reference, like the curtain that rises after the lead actor’s monologue.
“SAM!!!!” The call tugged at the center of his renewed Self, which flung itself at its source, a beacon by which it navigated home.
“SAM!” One final leap and the discombobulated psyche pierced the self-imposed cellophane prison walls as the multi-dimensional rooms of the alien worlds retreated, and ecstatic relief washed over him. Sam was back.
“SAM!” Emily’s voice rang in his ear, familiar yet somehow different, as if other textures within the vibrations of her tone that had been hidden from him were now laid bare. The new features in her voice brought a trace of his mind back into the multidimensional experience from which it had returned and seemed naked and submissive, like plucked steel guitar strings whose pitch paralleled the hidden meaning behind her words. He was now wholly aware, but a part of him had been permanently changed.
Where before Sam could only rely on intuition, now it seemed some naked truth had opened itself up to him like an devious child that until that time had played with him a perverse game of hide-and-seek. It seemed so obvious and apparent, he wondered how he could have ever missed it.
His eyes rested on her features, which, like the voice, assumed a new dimension. Her eyes were windows into a void that she had had been sucked into, alienated and crying out for release. In Sam she had found hope of escape, the messiah whose sacrifice would bring salvation.
“How do you feel Sam?” Sam did not know how to answer. He wondered if any words could bring communion with her. He witnessed for the first time the death of his wife, which brought with it acceptance and relief. The creature before him had been a tortured shadow striving for release, clinging onto the memory of Emily, its last vestige of humanity. Where before Sam felt anger and resentment, now he felt only pity. Unlike him, she never did find her way back completely.
“I’m good Emily.” Sam smiled. His emotions were pools of clarity, their vibrations reaching out to her as he attempted to connect for the first time since he had seen her. Emily was gone, but her shadow remained, seeking release through the only person that ever provided it before. This had been why she had picked him and not anyone else. She could have ordered any of the Ancestral Haven residents from any corner of the world, where such communes remained, to be her guinea pigs. But she did not want anyone else; her now distorted psyche grasped onto the memory of the only being that had offered her happiness before, desperately hoping that he would come through again.
He could now see that she was trying to acknowledge his attempt at a connection, but her vibrations withered in response to his, unable to keep up. The beautiful, sensuous dance of his rhythm was alien to hers, and eventually, hers gave way to the beat of the repetitive drum that it could not escape. The connection was broken.
“What are you experiencing Sam?” The voice demanded to know. Sam turned his face to the front to see the myriad eyes whose specters he could clearly see now. They gazed from a place so far away, Sam could not hope to bring them back. The denizens all stood as Sam’s awareness pierced everything around him with a clarity never before imagined by even the most prodigiously elevated monks.
“Let me go now Emily,” Sam demanded gently, and after a brief, reflective pause, Emily beckoned towards the guards behind him, and his shackles immediately released their grip on his arms and legs.
The energy of the room rose in response to his, and the watchers avidly leaned forward fighting for a glimpse of their newly metamorphosed savior, the archetype of the species’ future. Their demeanors evoked only vague pretensions of awe as their attempts at finding a common vibration were as unsuccessful as Emily’s. They could not keep up, and the robed figures sank back into a dismal and distant hum.
Sam no longer doubted that his mind had been twisted and supercharged to scales that would have driven a normal man insane if it were not for energies carefully manipulated within him ensuring this did not occur. All self-erected barriers fell like dominoes before him, while the grandiose, seductive taste of power prodded and tempted him.
He held onto the word that had given himself the strength to reassemble from the debris of his shattered psyche, relying on the same strength to shift his aspect from hubris to humility in the face of the new and crippling power. His creators neither understood nor respected the power they had endowed him with enough to complement it with any necessary safeguards. The storm that followed and Sam’s attempts to weather it had overwhelmed him as he held onto the backrest of the chair to stop himself from keeling over. He felt the guards’ hands on his arms steadying him.
“Hold on Sam; it will take a while to get accustomed to the change!” Emily laid a hand on his shoulder to reassure him.
Although Sam could make out the room in the same manner as before, he could swear its aspect had changed somewhat. It seemed much more cluttered and busy; there was nothing more to see, yet he was more aware of and could see much more of what was already there. His senses were heightened to maddening levels and at least while he adjusted he felt he had to keep conscious control over them or he would lose himself permanently in the sea of colors and sounds.
The robed figures were still there, now marching across the bridge towards in synchrony. The mist did not obscure his vision nor play tricks on his mind as it had before.
The guards kept an observant eye on him as the robed figures reached the ground across the bridge where he stood and swarmed him.
The dazzling crimson ink of the rising sun splayed across the architecture of the upper city, igniting the iridescent contours of its edges with a blood red prominence, sharpening the otherwise polished synthetic luster that radiated during the daylight hours.
The crimson was reflected in the ubiquitous alabaster marble pavements on which a procession of countless feet synchronously marched, carrying with them the heavy burden of purpose.
A single structure, unlike the rest and perhaps more conspicuous than the others, was swarmed by the same purposeful feet that carried their robed figures towards its center, like a slow, gentle river at dawn that defies the previous night’s uncertain storm. Their robes now radiated scarlet like the world around them, and the patter of their footsteps was suddenly silenced as all the figures came to a halt below the structure, almost in unison.
The structure, a high-rise with an overarching arced triangle at the front with a spherical shell at the back, cast a shadow across its teeming piazza of silent, watchful swarms.
The very moment seemed to take a deep breath while in that instant, a rectangular base slowly erected itself from the overarching façade of the building where several figures were seen at a balustrade that bounded the platform. The robes of the figures perched above appeared far more grandiose than those of the general populace, and as the platform protruded further and the crimson veil of the waxing sun was overpowered by bright lights that emanated from the structure walls behind them, the deceptive red hues that stained their garments gave way to brilliant whites adorned with pastel embroidery; all but for one which remained crimson.
The sanguine figure was flanked by several of the white robed figures, one of which stood especially close by figure’s side.
“They’ve been waiting so long for this day Sam.”
“I know Emily” Sam’s eyes rested on the crowd below, grasping for resolve as strongly as the steel balustrade his hands gripped.
“Please don’t act like a rung on a ladder crumbling beneath our heels”.
“I didn’t mean to give that impression.”
“I’m having trouble reading you.” She felt humbled before a caricature whose form was too intricate for her to see. The realization of his depth had come not just during the weeks after his transition nor the first time he had been brought before her since his capture, but the first time she had ever laid eyes on him; she had always known he was special.
“That was bound to happen.”
“The distance between us is only illusory.” She tried to reach out to him, but it was only the muscle memory of a dance she once knew.
“Distance is only illusory” Sam intoned. He had become more cryptic than ever, and she could not even begin to learn the new dance.
“Yes it is.” She agreed to her own interpretation of his words.
Somewhere in the distance drums belted out a slow, even rhythm. The low frequency vibrations were felt more than heard as the figure on his left began to speak, his voice resounding across the city.
“The moment is at hand; the progeny of our dreams and visions has toiled lands our hands could not touch!” The voice boomed.
“You have done humanity a great deed.” Emily whispered, shaping the words that echoed throughout the alabaster city for his ears.
“Strong, able hands and a shared conviction allowed us to cultivate on dry, arid lands to sprout fruit where before there was only dirt and sand, and wisdom gave us the power to separate the poisonous fruit from the edible!”
“We will all benefit from the sacrifices you have endured over the last few months.” He found it hard to accept it had been that long since his transition. He found time meant less than it ever had before.
“By now you have all eaten the fruit of his labor.” Sam felt heavy, his feet and clutching hands could barely support him. “Your offspring will be renewed, greater than the sum of us, each one as bright as the light of a new born star.”
“Your breakthrough will quell your greatest fears and satisfy our greatest hopes.” He could feel the distinct texture of desperation as Emily’s words took on a decidedly more searching tone. Sam’s silence was unsettling her, and he felt tremors beneath her stoicism.
“You’re half right,” Sam finally responded.
“Please don’t speak in riddles, not on this occasion.”
“Like our ancestors we will crawl out from the ocean and discover new lands!” The voice boomed.
“Didn’t you fear that the experiment might not give you the results you wanted or expected?” Sam enquired.
“Yes, I thought of the possibility.” Emily’s eyes left his side and fell on the silent crowds.
“Then why did you insist on applying the mutation to everyone?”
“Some of you will feel the advantages of the gene encoding in the coming weeks,” the voice continued.
Emily didn’t say anything. It was her turn to clutch the balustrade.
“You couldn’t afford it to be an experiment,” Sam echoed what she had already known deep inside. “It had to be all or nothing!”
“Your offspring will eat the whole fruit, but you have taken a bite, if only to glimpse a hint of the light.” The voice pummeled at Sam. He wanted it to stop.
“You felt the burden of opening Pandora’s Box. It was just a shadow scurrying deep below, but it was enough to stake everything on the gamble,” Sam spoke as Emily’s hands visibly shook. “Your attempt at annihilating the very core of your pain was a crude effort; progress without pain as its seed wilts as fast as it grows.”
“What did you give us Sam?” Emily’s voice quivered beneath the shock of her revelation.
“Release!” Sam answered, while bells rung out across the city. The crowd applauded soberly.
“Sam…” Emily pleaded.
“Your people are now sterile, and neither you, nor they, will survive for long.” Sam’s voice seemed to follow the slow beating of the drums as Emily’s eyes studied her people.
“You annihilated us all?”
“I didn’t kill you Emily; I released you and your people from your self-imposed limbo. Your will to live has always been the only thing that stopped you from doing this yourself. Somewhere deep in the city ruins, ghosts wailed for release. They were the ones that made me do what you have always wanted to do yourself.”
“Are you saying I created you as some twisted act of suicide? Or genocide?” Emily’s voice had become hoarser than he had heard since their reunion. Some part of her that had been buried for too long let its voice be heard; the wails of the dead could now be heard amid the city drums.
“You will be released brothers!” The voice bellowed.
“It was the only way you knew how.”
The drum beats ended, and a palpable silence fell over the synthetic city.
The Sun greeted the upper city denizens who thirsted for the light of a new day as the iridescent alabaster pavements beneath their feet responded with a radiant shimmer, which set the piazza alight like a fluorescent shrine.
As the echoes of the drums escaped the city walls into the boundless arms of the day, the crowds dispersed like ants marching towards their appointed fate, while the arched building that overlooked the piazza and the perpendicular streets and alleys that hid in the shadows of the structures were now as empty as the promise they represented.
Amid the empty streets, the drums and footsteps could still be heard in the echoes of her memory.
Emily stood beneath the arched cathedral where moments before the crowds had congregated. The city had lost all meaning, a testament to her genius and an epitaph for her dreams. Yet beyond the emptiness hope remained, like the echoes of the footsteps whose presence existed at some point in time or space and would do so for eternity to come and for the eternity that had been.