A boy trespassing into a forbidden land discovers the power that destroyed mankind.
|The Ceaseless Desire
Lesten of Vallagren groaned, blinking his eyes open to the faint rays of a morning sun through the cracks of a shadowed room. He’d been on the run all night and massaged his shoulders, remembering the fall he’d taken – plunging through the floor into the darkness below.
“Finally, you’re awake,” an aged male voice asked from the blackness.
Lesten shuffled anxiously away. “Who are you?”
“An observer. A caretaker,” came the response.
“Of everything here,” the old voice said.
“Lesten glanced at the dusty broken furniture, “You’re not doing a very good job.”
The old man chuckled. “Indeed. But I care for this district and the forgotten knowledge here.”
“You mean the Verge?”
“Ah, is that what they’re calling it now?” He leaned in, sunlight catching upon a deeply cowled head. His long beard extended past the edges, and Lesten could just barely perceive kindly, deeply-set eyes. “I’m Isaac. At least that was my name.” He rose, leaning into an old crooked staff. “You were very brave to venture past the signposts. Or very scared,” he surmised. “What were you running from?”
“Noth…Nothing,” Lesten lied.
“Bah, no one runs from nothing! Your elders have your people so scared of this place, no one ever breaches the quarantine anymore.”
“Quarantine?” It was an unfamiliar word.
“The edge of the Verge, of course! Come with me.” Isaac led him up the basement stairs and back into the sunshine. “Tell me young man, what do you know of this place?”
“This land is forbidden.”
“Yet here you are,” Isaac noted.
“They say the earth is cursed and air, poisoned. A land of evil magic.”
“Evil magic?” Isaac chuckled again. “Tell me, do they still use flame lanterns in your village? No machines, right? No technology?”
“They’re outlawed. The stories say machines destroyed the world.”
Isaac sighed. “And they’re not far from wrong.” They approached a broad plaza overlooking the land below. Isaac motioned to the lengthy building-lined streets stretching away in all directions. “Now, try to see this city through different eyes.” There were thousands of structures in the valley. Some were small, not much larger than the cottages Lesten was used to. Others soared to the sky, yet all were broken, overrun and reclaimed by the natural world.
“A city? I’ve heard the stories. Places were great numbers of wretched people lived together.”
“Lived and worked, but hardly wretched. Most of them were quite good. ‘Twas the fools they followed that destroyed the world.”
“From the Calmlands, you can only see trees,” Lesten said. “And I’ve snuck past the limits before, but never this far. It was dark and…”
“I see. The texts say this city was once New Atlanta, a city of the future. Look here.” Isaac’s staff pointed to a heap of rusted metal along the road. “That was a machine called a car. People used it like you use a horse and wagon, but it relied on an engine instead of an animal. And that crater in the distance?”
“The destructive power of man – a time of atomic energy and the final promise of Tesla’s wireless power. Mankind had even advanced so far, we could cross hundreds of miles in a single day, even took to the air and nearly reached the stars.”
“Same as always happens – conflict and death. The ceaseless desire for more. Even the dogmatic drive of religion,” he answered. “All of these machines, which brought so much convenience and power to mankind…”
“An invisible power – electricity – the source of energy that made the machines work, even the devices of war.” Isaac produced a small object from beneath his cloak. A beam of light shot from the end into the nearest car, carving a hole into the side.
Lesten was astounded. “So could anyone use this power?”
“With some training, yes,” Isaac replied. “In fact, I’d been hoping for someone to continue my research. I’m getting too old and won’t live forever. Humanity has so much more potential than horse-drawn carriages and wooden villages. Perhaps, someday, we can relearn to use this technology safely and reclaim our destiny among the stars. Back in my lab…” Isaac suddenly froze.
Lesten withdrew the knife from between the man’s ribs and tossed it away as he fell. In its place, he took Isaac’s weapon. “This should do,” he grinned. “Now, maybe they’ll fear me. I’ll show them what real power is.” Then, he bolted away.
His life fading, Isaac lamented, “The ceaseless desire...”