Dark MATTER

If I tried hard enough, I could probably remember the moment of my birth. I never tried hard enough however. It was some sort of unspoken rule governing omnipotent beings. We never looked to far back, or too far forward either. Uncertainty was a coping mechanism for us; it was how we maintained our sanity. For beings like me, it was possible to simultaneously approximate both the momentum and the position of a subatomic particle, but we went about our lives pretending otherwise.

I had been to earth before. I didn’t remember when, or why, but I knew I had been there before. On my return, the constellations in the sky, the fascinating fauna and flora, the beautiful landscape all sang hymns to me, and filled me with nostalgia. This planet was a beautiful product of chaos.

Much had changed since I had been here, and I wanted to experience, with very minimal use of faculties, the state of things now. It was some sort of game I played. Learning the biology and culture of the planets I visited. It didn’t matter that I had visited them before, it didn’t matter that I didn’t even have to visit them. I wasn’t going to let omniscience get in the way of my fun.

……….

The earth was home to many species. They were evolving impressively. With regards to anatomy, I was always interested in seeing how different structures arose from various environmental conditions. The degree of diversity was exciting. Some were upright, others were hunched. Bipedal, tetrapedal. Tentacles, wings, legs. It filled me with ecstasy.

Their brains weren’t doing so badly either. Many were showing signs of intelligence and one particular specie appeared to be self aware. They called themselves Homo sapiens. Wise man. How naïve.

Staying on the macroscopic scale, it was hard to go about the planet while avoiding the humans. They simply dominated everything. I did not wish to meddle in the lives of self-aware species. I found them too predictable. But against my better judgment, I found myself looking too long at humankind.

This was a fatal mistake.

…………

All sentient species believe they are important, but this is nothing more than a self-comforting lie. A lie produced by a mind which is as much a random arrangement of atoms as the nebulae which grace the silent expanses of the cosmos. In my eyes, nebulae and neurons are different configurations of the same thing. One configuration facilitates fluorescence and another facilitates thought. What annoys me so much about sentient beings is their ego. Ego is an unavoidable byproduct of their infantile minds. Minds so underdeveloped that in all theories of cosmic structure, their planet lies at the center of all things. Pathetic.

Human’s had great potential, but watching them…..was frustrating. They were intelligent, yet they still behaved like animals. They were compassionate, yet they were selfish. They were creative, yet they were destructive. They were intelligent, yet they were crude. With base emotions like greed and self-indulgence, they affected not just themselves, but the lives of other organisms. This made me….angry.

Time had no meaning for me, but at this point, I had probably been on the earth for a long period. I had marveled at many things, and I had discovered many things, and I was starting to be consumed with the idea that the whole planet would be better, if humans seized to exist.

I loved the earth and I started to see it as a garden. Humans were nothing more than weeds that stunted the growth of roses and tulips. They were nothing more than rodents that nibbled at vines and roots. To me, life is beautiful when it is young. The more it advances, the more boring it becomes. Humans were at an extremity on the spectrum of evolution, and it was not the part I found favorable. It had to be done, they had to go.

It would be done.

Any day now.

And yet, I continued to hesitate. It wasn’t because I was incompetent. I had the power to make their whole star system disappear in nanoseconds. It was just….it was just……

It was because of Mahansamatma. My human.

I was watching him draw one night, without realizing I had made myself visible. It was only after he stared in my direction for a prolonged period of time that I realized he was staring at me. Perhaps I should have erased his memory at that point, but something held me back. His was immensely creative. The way he combined color and tone to bring the creatures of his imagination to life was astounding.

That night, for the very first time in a long time, I did something I hadn’t done. I made a new friend.

I wasn’t in the habit of making friends with underdeveloped members of an underdeveloped specie, but there was just something about his childlike innocence. The purity, the nascence.

I visited every night for many nights. We talked about all sorts of things. His obsession female counterparts his age. How cool it would be to have a lightsaber. How many different stars there were in the sky. Whether a Tyrannosaurus or Triceratops would win in a fight.

He told me about his religion, about the idols he prayed to every night. Hoping for a better life, hoping that he would get the opportunity at a formal education.

My encounters with him sparked a desire I had never experienced before. I almost wished I was human. Almost.

………………..

I have lived long enough to bear testament to the fact that the only constant in the universe is change. One day, things changed, for the worse.

I held his limp body in my arms. I saw blood trickle down his face and onto my palms. His eyes were still open; blue, beautiful and unseeing. His golden blond hair was stained with blood. His bones were broken, crushed. His life had been taken. Beaten to death, by bullies.

It had been a while since I experienced these emotions. It had been so long that I almost forgot their names. Now, kneeling in a pool of blood, they came to me one by one. Pain, anguish, suffering.

Anger

Mahansamatma was not just my human, I was his god. And in that moment, I wanted so much, to grip the entire planet in my hand and crush it to bits. I wanted to collapse the very spaces between the subatomic particles. I wanted to delete this planet, not just from space, but from time.

But I didn’t. I was no animal. I was no human. Reacting to events with emotion was beneath me.

I must admit, that I never imagined that the death of a single life form, particularly a human, would affect me in any way. Mahansamatma’s death hurt, like nails scraping on my soul.

The pain was too much to bear, hence I numbed myself. Once again, I allowed my behavior to be governed by logic and rationality. Emotions fizzled from my consciousness, like a blot of ink in a pool of water.

From a deterministic point of view, there was no need to save Mahansamatma. He had been dead long before I met him. Holding him in my arms, as his cells died, one by one, was nothing other than a scathing reminder that human lives were nothing more than infinitesimal flashes in the sea of infinity that was the cosmos.

I no longer felt anger towards humankind, but, I still had to decide their fate. I looked forward into the future, but the view was fuzzy. My uncertainty had created two possible realities. One where the earth was, and another where the earth wasn’t.

From one perspective, there was no difference between the two realities. If I looked forward far enough, both realities would be identical. The earth’s sun would eventually go nova, swallowing the entire star system as it died. Would it really hurt anyone if the earth’s inevitable demise came 5 billion years earlier?

The answer to that question was more complicated than it appeared. My experiences with Mahansamatma had changed me. There was no denying that. Also, I felt for him. There was no denying that. I could not destroy the earth totally, without destroying him as well. And if I did that, was I not as evil as his killers?

To allow him to be erased from history would be an act of violence. Violence was primitive, violence was beneath me. And yet the temptation was there. Lingering, like a resistant strain of microbes upon exposure to an antibiotic. No, Ideas were much more powerful and much more difficult to kill than any single life form.

My thoughts were dominated by a single image; a rock in space exploding into a million tiny pieces. It was an image that began to feel like an obligation. A loose end that needed to be tied up. A rash that needed desperately to be scratched.

…………….

I drifted through space once more, going beyond the solar system. An amorphous blob heavy with emotion. Behind me was a pale, blue dot. A dot containing over a billion different lifeforms, a dying ecosystem and fond memories of a human boy. Behind me was a pale blue dot, twinkling, like a pearl in the deep dark blue.

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The Reaper’s Conundrum

It was the busiest day of my existence.

On most days, I was everywhere. Almost simultaneously. But things were still generally slow enough that I could feel the weight of every soul, as I carried it to the afterlife. As I soared through the sky with my black wings, I would see, in its entirety, the life lived. The lies told, the prejudices held, the emotion, raw and unrestrained. I would live, as they died.

But that day was different, I really had never been so busy. Everything happened at once, and I am ashamed to admit that I was overwhelmed.

In moments, 99% of the human population was wiped out. And I had to be there, for each and every single one of them, so no one was lost. So every soul found its way to its final destination; hell, heaven and nothingness.

 

Almost as quickly as it began, it was over, and in the aftermath, there was an emptiness more overwhelming than anything I had ever experienced. The humans had come, the humans had lived, the humans had loved, the humans had destroyed, and now the humans were gone. And with this realization, I experienced a feeling I had never known before. I initially mistook it for boredom, but it was much more nuanced. It was ennui.

I never had this much free time before. There was always some soul to carry. A man, shot dead on his way home, wondering if his wife would ever find his secret stash of porn magazines. A girl, kidnapped while walking down a dark road, deflowered and left for dead, screaming with no voice, wondering why this was such a cruel world, wondering, as nervous impulses collapsed, as neurons died, as her breath left her body. A baby, struggling to survive the first few hours of infancy struggling and failing, letting go. Every death was unique, yet they were all identical. In a bed surrounded by loved ones or in the alley of some unknown street, the end result was the same. I would bear them, with my darkin wings, up and up and up. And now, there was no one to carry.

It was ennui, but it would soon become existential angst. What would a flower be, if it could not smell pretty and be colorful? What would a sunrise be, if it could not inspire? What would the night sky be, if it wasn’t a map? What was I, if I had no souls to reap?

For days and days, I pondered, and I soon grew alarmed. Was I still a reaper if I had no sack of souls? Was I still the ferryman of the dead if I had no passengers? Was I still the curator of the crypts if there were no new arrivals? Teleologically, I had already ceased to exist. Soon, would my corporeal form fade too?

But alas! There are still humans alive. The one percent! I looked down at the earth, at the aftermath, at the post-apocalyptic hellscape. Yes, indeed, some humans had survived, and they were dying.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but their impending departure was bad news for me. If I was to have a job still, or even a being, then they couldn’t all die at once. Oh no. There had to be sustainable death.

 

If there was any hope, it remained with the 1%. Well the 0.98% now. With every passing moment their numbers waned, and if there was no change, the human race would undoubtedly head to oblivion.

They were scattered across the globe now. A diverse group of humans. Various ethnicities, races and religions were represented. There were very few things linking them together. For some it was luck, but most others shared aberrations in their genetic material. Regardless of being fortified by millennia of natural selection, their tenacity would be short lived. The first storm in the nuclear winter had taken heavy casualties. In the blizzards succeeding it, the survivors would die at an exponential rate. Until the reaction completed. Until there was no more death. Until I ceased to exist.

I was never one to meddle in the affairs of living humans. Once, I bumped into a kid, leading to his untimely demise, and that was it. I promised to never walk among them. Sometimes they refuse to let go of their loved ones. They hang on so tight that when I come for a soul, I usually end up taking two. I had as much interest in living humans as they did a colony of bees. Beyond the occasional curiosity, I couldn’t care less. That had to change now. I would have to become “involved”.

 

……….

 

For a while, I walked among the humans. When they felt fear, I was there to comfort them. When they felt loneliness, I was there to provide companionship. When they were ignorant, I provided illumination. I never appeared twice in the same form, and I never stayed too long. If I did, they would be seeking to “elevate” my status and make me a leader. A king perhaps, or even a god. This, I could not allow.

In time, my efforts bore fruit. My machinations had brought the humans together and soon, they began to rebuild. This time however, they took things slowly. The fact that the environment was conspiring to kill them all had forged strong bonds between them all. There was no racial or religious tension. There was no “us” and “them”. There was just an “us”. This meant that for a long time, there would be no murder. Some still died, mostly the newborn babies. But I had hope that there would soon be so much more.

Sometimes I questioned myself. With the death of racism and religious extremism, would humans still die in the thousands? I always put myself at ease however. I knew, as strongly as I knew what I was, that in time, they would argue. Arguments would turn into quarrels, quarrels would turn into fights. Fights that wouldn’t easily be made up because of the formation of ideologies. Idealogies which would persist, Ideologies which would separate. Ideologies which would provoke. Someone would die, someone had to be there. My scythe was ready, my wings yearned for the black sky.

 

 

Echo

The sun was fully above the horizon now but the hills and the forest prevented the valley from being fully illuminated. Light still managed to slip between the tree trunks and the hill peaks, but the scene was still dull. It was morning, and the birds started to chirp. Caterpillars crawled slowly along stems and branches. Flowers opened up, revealing bright colors and sweet scents. Scents which combined with the lingering petrichor of the past nights rainfall to produce a pleasant and enchanting odour. The valley was alive.

In his stillness, Emorin could almost hear the plants growing. He would have loved to enjoy the moment a longer, but sightseeing had its downsides. Particularly when he had to hide in a bush to do it. His body started to itch, and he couldn’t tell if it was because of the insects or the moistened blades of grass cutting his body. He had to move soon. After all, he was on a mission.

He could hear them nesting above him, cawing and tweeting. They fluttered from branch to branch, and he could tell, from the several flaps it took for them to become airborne, and the persistent rustling of leaves after they had landed on a branch, that they were heavy with meat.

He had to be quiet now. He had encountered this species before, and they were skittish. Silently, he changed his position. Squatting behind the bush, he pulled his slingshot out of his belt. He had spent the previous evening looking for perfectly rounded rocks. From the few he kept in his pouch, he selected one and proceeded to load his weapon.

Emorin was excited to see what the slingshot could do. He had spent many nights carving it into its perfect “Y” shape. He hadn’t been granted an opportunity to test it, too late for that now. There was a nagging feeling in his mind, but with all his willpower, he ignored it. How could it fail with a shape like that? As if geometry was all there was to it.

With the shaft in his right hand, he used his left to pull the projectile back with all his might. The rubber strips, ceremonially named, were not nearly elastic enough and he had to compensate now with an extraordinary amount of force. He aimed above him, looking for the clear trajectory towards his sedentary target. Everything was perfect. He was ready for the shot. He was ready to release. He was ready for the kill.

Unfortunately for him, he pulled too hard, and the slingshot broke. The pent up momentum drove his fist into his eye. Luckily, none of the splinters followed. The pain was too much and he screamed, scaring the birds above.  In their panic, they took flight. Leaving behind the dying echoes of their caws, and their feathers, as they glided slowly towards the ground.

Emorin continued to lie on the ground moments long after the birds had left and his pain had subsided. Beside him were the pieces of his broken slingshot, directly in his view. He knew in his subconscious that it wouldn’t work. Sure, the shape was perfect, but many other things about it weren’t. For one, after being soaked in the rain, bacterial decay had completely weakened the wood. Also the “leather strips” would never have flown the projectile that far.

He knew all this, yet in a fit of absurdity, he thought that all his hard work would be enough to overcome the laws of physics, endow him with great hunting skills and allow him to bring back to the village a grand prize.

Instead of heading immediately back, he wandered in the woods a little. Hoping that the overwhelming vegetation would take his mind of his failure. Hoping that the time spent would seal those wounds. In the forest, there were more plants in a square meter than he had ever seen in his life. More microbes in a square micrometer than people he had seen in his life. It was refreshing, therapeutic almost, being surrounded by so much green. All his life he had been surrounded by metal. Metal cabins, metal cutlery, metal weapons. The dull grey was almost driving him insane.

The sun was almost at the center point of the sky, and he had to be getting back. The psychedelics would be wearing off soon, and the Chief would be coming to his senses. It would be best that his favourite object of abuse was not so far from his reach.

 

……………………..

 

As Emorin approached the village, he could tell something was wrong. Fear gripped his heart, and his throat dried up. It was so dry it almost hurt. He couldn’t even bring himself to gulp. The place was way too quiet.

He willed himself not to run, but the emotions controlling his movements were too primal for something as luxurious as free will. He never thought the day would come that he would be eager to return to his cabin.

Most of the huts in the village were made from scrap metal obtained from the Fallen Mothership. Wood and metal, a grotesque juxtaposition. The village was so empty that his footsteps produced loud echoes. Sounds which changed in quality as they bounced and ricocheted about the metal walls. Almost unrecognizable as they returned to him. The Pandora’s box in his brain seemed particularly elated with the idea that the echoes were rudimentary wails. Screams of the haunted lady, right before she turned into a banshee. He ran faster, the sounds grew louder, he ran faster.

 

In his hut, he found his brother, and his fear subsided, momentarily.

“Where have you been?”

“I…..”

“Don’t answer that. Just stay here and watch them”

“Them?”

His brother threw him a look and he knew not to ask any more questions. He couldn’t even ask what was going on. In moments, his brother was gone and he was alone once more.

His brother told him to watch them. Them. Plural. Not Her. Indicating that in his absence, his sister-in-law had given birth. This was a huge deal. The first natural birth in over a hundred years. Under normal circumstances, the village elders would inspect the baby. Looking for any abnormailities, and sign that procreation in this nuclear infected cesspool was possible. Any sign that the human race had a third chance. But something big was going on. Something more important than this. Something more life threatening

Emorin knew the newborn and her mother were in the backroom. He heard no noise, so both must have been asleep. He decided not to disturb them. At least for now. He needed answers, and isolation was not kind to that need.

The funny thing about fear, it is always better when you know what you are afraid of. Fear which possesses no form, possesses every form. And that is when it’s most powerful. That’s when it transcends into a truly unspeakable horror. Given the fact that Emorin was alone, his brain had the time to run through every possible scenario. It was imagination unmitigated by external interaction. It was torture.

How much time had passed, he did not know. Maybe everyone was dead already. He thought so much about his end. And now, he was starting to think about his beginning. How everything, from his conception to his miserable adolescence was a series of bad decisions. How he was fated to die young and alone because of his teratogenic diseases. Electromagnetic radiation had not been kind to him in the womb, and being bathed in them, he had come out weak and sickly. Unfit to hunt, unfit to lead, unfit to mate. An aberration. An abnormality. A freak.

Unlike most teenagers, Emorin was hyperaware of his own mortality. Not like anyone ever let him forget it. It was in the names they called him. It was in the looks they gave him. It was in the food they fed him. He knew he was going to die. More so than everyone else. And he had made his peace with that. But if there was anything that filled him with angst it was that he was going to die a nobody. This was his mortal problem.

He tried to avoid this as much as he could. He tried to do anything and everything to be of relevance. He failed mostly, and he took solace in his daydreams. The only space where he was king of the world, worshipped by all. A pathetic choice, but it distracted him sufficiently from reality.

And now here he was. At the end of the line. They wouldn’t even ask for his help in defending not just his home, but the entire existence of his species. He wasn’t even worth the chance to fight for his own survival. Left here not for the newborn’s protection, but for his brother’s own piece of mind.

A cry pulled him out of his train of thought and into the present. A baby’s cry. The newborn was hungry and so it made that sound, tearing through the silence, over and over.

It annoyed him deeply. And it did not stop.

Over and over, again and again, the same high pitch, the same goddamn frequency. The same annoying cry. What had been a mild annoyance was building up into rage. The vein in his forehead was popping and his fists were shaking.

Even in the face of oblivion, this one thing was finding a way to ruin it for him.

He didn’t know who made the rules, but he hated them. All his life he had been ostracized just for being born. Just for existing. The Chief and the babble of baboons known as the Elders always found new ways to suppress him. They didn’t let him mingle with the other children. They didn’t teach him to hunt or to farm. They had hoped, that like a plant deprived of nourishment, he would wither and die.

Well, there was no one here now, and he could take matters into his own hands. He still had a chance to make his impact. There might be no one left to record his final deed , and it might just be another tree falling in the forest, but at least, the knowledge that he took control would comfort him till his final hour.

He unsheathed his knife and started to walk towards the inner chamber. It was a walk that would never end, towards a destination he would never return from.

 

 

The End.

 

 

 

 

Milk.

 

When your gaze first met his, you didn’t think much of it. Just another random meeting of the eyes. Best to disengage before any awkwardness ensues. But the lobby in the hospital was quite empty, the magazines on the desk weren’t your thing and you never understood the concept of soap operas. There really wasn’t much to do but look around. The final alternative being; staring at a fixed point and appearing like a person in deep thought. A woman in deep thought. A depressed woman in deep thought. Given the stage of your pregnancy, there would be no separating that image from the “single mother, damsel in distress” stereotype. And looking desperate was not on your agenda. So you looked around.

Your eyes locked a second time. A fraction of a second longer this time. You would have disengaged earlier, but you wanted to closely analyze the expression on his face. Curiosity.

At once, the stranger who shared a room with you transitioned from a mild annoyance to a thorn in your side. To discourage any further attention from him, you started to make small changes in body language. The muscles on your face worked to make a more distinct frown and you angled your body away from him.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

Minutes later, you were almost at your car when you heard someone walking towards you. Before you turned around you already knew who it was. Given that the doctor didn’t really tell you what you wanted to hear, you weren’t in the mood to entertain anyone. Particularly not that creep.

There was something about him though, and you decided to lend him your attention just a bit. You focused more on his appearance than his words. If you were the stereotypical damsel in distress, he wasn’t exactly the knight in shining armor. More like not-so-faint-heart.

You wondered exactly what his motives were. Why would he be attracted to a woman at this stage of pregnancy?   You knew looks could be deceiving but you couldn’t help but conclude that he didn’t look the kind of guy who had anything sinister or malicious planned. He was a sweet talker, and he so desperately wanted to woo you, so you allowed yourself to be wooed. Perhaps you had ulterior motives of your own. Perhaps despite your adamancy in appearing as a strong independent woman at all times, subconsciously you wanted a savior. Responsibility really wasn’t looking as alluring as it was often romanticized.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

A few days later, you heard the doorbell. You know you shouldn’t have been, but you were quite surprised when you saw that he had bought some daises and a bottle of wine.  The dinner table was already set. The fact that the aroma in the room didn’t repulse him was a good sign. You were actually quite invested in this now, so you put some effort into making a good meal. If the cow had milk to give, why shouldn’t you have your share?

You knew the small talk was inevitable, so you made your best impressions of a social creature. You were quite smug when you realized that being a less endowed natural actor wasn’t going to be much of a problem here. He was so much into you that he was ignoring all the little things. Your mirthless laughter, the blankness of your eyes, the flatness of your tone. Poor guy.

Eventually, the conversation started to go down more relevant pathways. Work, finances, personal life. You didn’t really know the dos and don’ts regarding personal information but you felt it was the perfect question to ask. Not too casual, but serious enough for you to seem like you were actually interested. You asked him how much time he had left to live. His answer alarmed you immediately: 12,056 years.

Moments after he stated this figure, your heart began to beat very very loudly. A thumping so intense you could feel it in your skull. How could he possibly have that long to live? Even your 120 years, among the vast majority of the population, was considered to be quite a lot of time. But this guy. Five figures?

The only people with numbers that high were serial killers. People who added to their own lifespan, what they stole from others. If this guy had five figures, he was either really old, or really prolific. And none of these options boded well.

You did not even delude yourself into thinking you could escape. All this while, you believed you were in control of the situation. But now you knew, like a fly in a web, there was no other fate but the cocoon.

You closed your eyes and tried to control your breathing. While doing this, he laughed. There was something about that laughter though. It wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t even emotionless. It was almost………..innocent.

Amidst all the emotional turmoil going on inside your head, confusion seeped in, and took center stage. Was he lying to me? Did I fall for such a cheap trick?

Your blood started to boil.

Seeing that you were far from being amused, he hastened his explanation.  He wasn’t lying, but there really wasn’t any reason to be terrified. Those figures were from a serial killer sure, but not him. And he didn’t steal that time on purpose. Turns out this guy had hit the apotheosis of all jackpots, literally. The one time he gets a little carless with his driving, he knocks down an injured killer fleeing from the police. And just like that, twenty victims worth of life, added to his own. How fucking lucky.

He starts to get all emotional. “I really wish you wouldn’t but I understand if you want to leave me because of this”.

Leave you? You almost burst out laughing. The pounding in your chest is still there, the throbbing in your skull is still there. But something has joined them now. Control, it feels good to have you back.

What follows is a performance worthy of the greatest stage in all the world. A stroke of genius seemingly ex nihilo. Perhaps your natural talent for acting wasn’t as diminished as you thought.

You let tell him not to fret. He might outlive you and all your great grandchildren. But, you will enjoy your time with him while it lasts. Like a grizzly bear, he guzzles your words like sweets from a honey comb.

After a hug and a kiss, he tells you he needs to leave. You smile and he wishes you goodnight.

What he believes to be the falling action, is, in reality, the climax. Your heart is pounding faster now. A beating so intense you start to wonder if he can hear it. Dead giveaway if he can. Beads of sweat start to form on your forehead. He turns around and starts to walk towards the door. Your fingers strengthen their grip on the kitchen knife on the table.  Now or never.

A perfect arc is drawn through space. One which spans air, flesh and air again. Your knees weaken but only one of you falls. You wonder if you have to cut him again, just to make sure, but the rapidly widening pool of blood takes away your doubt.

In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that the doctor refused to perform your abortion. You would have been settling for a shiny rock when an entire mine lay around the corner. This cow here had milk to give.

 

Mount Sharp’s Human

ENTRY 7:

The psychological analysis reports I have read all claim that astronauts, at this stage, are full of emotions like nervousness, anxiety, apprehension, disquiet and above all, fear. In science, all exceptions are given particular attention. And with my measured calmness I am nothing if not an exception. It is expected that I should be a maelstrom, but instead, all I am is a clear blue sky. I wonder if I should request another psych eval. Perhaps I’m not fit for this mission after all. But it’s also likely that this is just an astute attempt by my subconscious to get myself out of the mission. Am I really calm, or am I subliminally terrified?

A light beam slips through my window and bathes a portion of the chrome wall of my room in golden light. It’s dusk. Sunset. The final light before the long darkness, before the dawn, before newness and opportunity. Is there really an analogy in there? Or again, do I subconsciously have an ulterior motive? Are the parallels between the trajectory of photons and my mission unnecessary?

I miss my mother. I miss the scent of her shampoo. I miss Sunday afternoon pancakes. I miss Friday nights, bus rides to school, the boys, and the frustration.

 

ENTRY 9:

Sato wanted us to bury him on the planet. This would have been a very stupid decision, respect, tradition and custom be damned. You don’t get to introduce a foreign specimen into a controlled environment for sentimental reasons. Unless I can’t help it, all experimental protocol will be observed on this mission.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A malfunction in the ventilation system brought to us a very stale smell. Along with the smell came the first sliver of a doubt as to if the incinerator would have been a good idea. We both felt nauseous but only Sato began to vomit. After the first round, he told me, “We should have buried him!”

I said, “Agreed. Waste of oxygen.” He gave me a look and then proceeded to vomit some more. Maybe burying him on the planet would have been a breach of protocol, but the asteroids in orbit would have been viable options. Too much of a hustle, I thought. I did not dwell on the burning remains. That leak in the ventilation system suggested to me that the condition of the ship was deteriorating further. The sooner we landed on the planet, the better. I left to check if the code for the landing sequence was still bug fee, leaving behind the smell of rotten flesh and the gagging sounds.

 

ENTRY 10:

The integrity checks I performed after coming out of cryosleep say various things. Things which can be summed up in flashing red lights. The ship is falling apart in every way possible. There are various reasons for this. For one, the urgent nature of the mission led to the hasty construction of Seven Sacred Streams. The safety checks were not as thorough as they should have been. Secondly, being in crystosasis for the duration of the mission made it impossible for us to conduct any maintenance. Due to power concerns, no robots were brought aboard the mission. Also, the large bouts of radiation the ship has been exposed to have catalyzed the decline of the ship.

Another disturbing issue, even with one crew member deceased…it doesn’t look like there’ll be enough resources to sustain the remaining two individuals for the planned duration of the mission…….

 

ENTRY 15

Before, we never really had any time to socialize, but being the only two humans for millions of miles forced us into interaction. Sato was a very nice human being. Back home, we would never have been friends, true, but talking to him is…refreshing. He has such a pure heart…that kind of unapologetic genuineness which is rare amongst human beings. He has a background in botany and geology. A third generation botanist actually. I have no one waiting for me back home, but he has a family. A wife, 3 kids and a cat.

Opening up to me won’t make me any less strict when it comes to standard operating procedure, but, nonetheless, I’m glad I got to know him this way.

 

ENTRY 21:

I had expected the constellations to be different on Mars, but they were precisely the same. Because of its ties to astrology, I had veered away from astronomy as a student, however, from the iota of knowledge I retained, I could tell that the constellations, though composed of the same stars, are taking slightly different trajectories across the canvas of the sky.

After rationing my meals, vitamins, oxygen and other miscellaneous resources, I have just 24 earth days to complete my mission. 23.36 Martian sols. I didn’t factor in resources needed for a return trip. After what happened, why should I survive? All I can do now is commit to finishing the mission. To make sure all required fields of information are transmitted back to earth.

The night deepens and I face the risk of thinking myself to sleep on the rusty Martian surface. As enticing as that seems, as aesthetic as the scene would be, it would still be very foolish. Despite the weaker gravitational pull of Mars, it’s still a challenge to rise to my feet in my space suit. I walk groggily back to Seven Sacred Streams, leaving behind Deimos as he tears through the night sky, and the constellations, as they watch.

 

ENTRY 1

This isn’t the world we deserve but it’s the one we made. I’m quite honored to have been selected for this mission. Part of me feels that the human race does not deserve another chance. But part of me also feels that we can do this. Maybe its compassion versus masochism again. I went to the space center today where I met the other two crew members. Sosuke Sato and Michael Lee Caddleworth. I’ve decided not to base any judgments on first impressions. On paper, they look good.

The final parts of the ship are being fired off into space for assembly. From the little that I saw, everything about it is geared towards ruthless efficiency. No space for aesthetics. Even an aerodynamic shape was too much of a luxury and had to be sacrificed. Which is why the ship is to be assembled in space. Hopefully, entry into the martian atmosphere won’t be too rough.

I saw Marley at the funeral today. She looked pale, pretty and pathetic. Life in the middle class does not seem to be treating her well. Maybe I should have spoken to her. Maybe I should have tried harder.

 

ENTRY 23:

I keep wondering how all gods are born. Of what I read from theology, gods were born to sustain the minds of primordial man and help their understanding of the universe. But that can’t be the only way. Of late, I’ve taken up the notion that gods are born of obsession.

What is a god after all? Is it not nothing but the object of our worship? And what is worship if not an obsession? I keep thinking about the mission. The mission, the mission, the mission. Seven Sacred Streams ran out of fuel 2 days ago. I can no longer rely on the mobile space ship as a refuge from the unforgiving Martian sand storms. I now have to depend on the surface rover for transportation. Rides on the rover are fun. It’s interesting how I keep coming up with new ways to keep myself distracted from the large doses of radiation I am exposed to due to the shattered lead shield of the rover’s engine.

What is god? The mission is god. Maybe I have a messiah complex. Maybe not. But the fact remains that the hopes of everyone back on earth lies on my shoulders. The hope of the entire human race lies on my shoulders.

Its now a race against time, and the deadline presents itself in various permutations. Will I complete the mission before I run out of resources? Will I die of radiation poisoning before I complete the mission? Will I run out of resources before I die of radiation poisoning?

6 sols more. I have already transmitted all the results of the research I have conducted back to earth. The findings are already painting a very interesting picture. Disturbing to the human in me, but interesting to the scientist in me. Now I race towards Mt.Sharp for a final confirmation of my findings. Maybe I’m being paranoid. I pray I’m being paranoid. Only time can tell.

Resources are dwindling, and with all the weight I’ve lost, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth the ATP to keep writing these entries.

 

ENTRY 17:

My hands are still shaking. Its very hard to write. I don’t want to justify what I’ve just done. It’s easy to fall back on it, but I don’t want to use the age old cliché of “for the greater good.” It was an idea I had tossed around in my mind….almost jokingly at first. But I surprise myself with how quickly I acted when the opportunity rose.

Maybe they’ll hate for it. Maybe I should be hated. But I acted for the right reasons.

Did I act for the right reasons though? Maybe I’m a terrible human being, maybe I’m criminally insane.

I don’t want to write about this anymore. I want to be alone. My hands are shaking.

 

ENTRY 27

Radiation poisoning does not treat the body kindly. Its been a day since my last meal and I know I wont be alive for much longer. I’m so weak, I feel it will soon be impossible to vomit properly. When that happens, I’ll just become another corpse on mars. A corpse that died by choking on its own bile.

I willed myself to be wrong, but even before I had descended into that wretched hell at the base of Mt.Sharp, I knew, with every fibre of my being, that I was right.

I have not the energy nor the time to repeat my exact finding in this entry. The detailed report is already en route to earth. After I clicked the transmit button, I found it fascinating, that an electric and magnetic field, vibrating at right angles to each other, could contain such…….such doom. For a moment, I considered not sending the report. The despair that the mission had failed would have been infinitely better than the despair that all hope is lost. I sent the transmission anyway because I knew better. Better to pass on the burden of releasing or withholding information to someone else.

I lie down now on the surface of mars. A scene not so different from that a few days ago. Days when hope was still our drug. Lone astronaut in the freezing desert.

I sense the shadow of death hovering over me, and at once, I begin to feel, with a deep regret, that I lived an empty life. I begin to feel sorry. Very sorry.

I’m sorry about my dad. I should have been there with him in his final days. How was I supposed to know how lonely it would be to die…with no one by your side. I feel sorry about my high school boyfriend. I shouldn’t have cheated on him the way I did. It’s silly to feel sorry about such a thing now, I know, but I can’t help my feelings. I feel sorry about Marley. Maybe my life would have been better if I had stayed at home with her. If I hadn’t left the town on a quest for education, money, power and glory. I feel sorry about Marley’s daughter…who’s going to die. A daughter who could have been mine. I start to cry.

I feel sorry about the earth. About every single living thing on that planet. About how everything is doomed for destruction due to chemical reactions, psychology, evolution, and the destructive march of time.

I feel sorry about the ship. It was a good ship. Seven Sacred Streams kept me warm and safe.

I feel sorry about Sato…whose body I left rotting somewhere beneath a Martian dune. He did not deserve to die that way. I had no right to be judge, jury and executioner.

I feel sorry about my cells. The multitude of cells which worked tirelessly to keep me alive. In spite of myself, I can’t help but feel I failed them too. This isn’t the world we made, but it’s the one we deserve.

We are all going to die, but I would have preferred not to die alone.

I’m sorry.

 

 

 

MISSION REPORT

FINAL TRANSMISSION

By Dr.Katherine Strange

ABSTRACT:

When I first signed up for this mission, I had no delusions about what was ahead of me. I knew the task ahead would be difficult, and I tried to the best of my ability, to prepare myself. In the psychological evaluation tests, we were asked what motivated us to accept this mission. For my crew members, it was simple: Duty. But for me, it was much more complicated.

I thought at the time that perhaps I was motivated by greatness, that I was the heroine who would forever be immortalized by her deeds, that I was a 22nd century Achilles. But now, I’ve had quite a lot of time to contemplate that answer, and I know it’s false. I was, in fact, motivated by compassion.

It may sound like a lie, for someone who’s spent a lot of time screwing people over in order to climb to the top. But when you’re stripped of a lot of things you thought were important, when you’re stripped down to your bare self, you have a lot of room to think clearly.

Perhaps, being in cryosleep has altered my brain chemistry in some way, and I may have retroactively altered my motivations. Nonetheless, I feel compassionate about all of mankind. And I have a burning desire to save us.

The caveat to having a burning desire though, disappointment cuts through to your very soul. I had invested so much of my emotional energy into the success of this mission. Every night, before going to bed, I imagined the tears of joy on the faces of my superiors when I send in the good news, all but touching their warm faces, all but feeling their relief.

Humans have always been ruined by their own expectations.

There must be some kind of philosophical term for this phenomenon though. It is a twist of such literary proportions that I am almost certain that it has been explored by some creative genius in his thousand page novel and discussed with passionate curiosity in many college classes years later.

To whoever receives this message, if you read it alone, I shed a tear for you, for the burden of this knowledge is not easy on the soul. You can read ahead, navigate through the scientific semantic and statistical reports, cut through the raw data and draw an inevitable conclusion.

Being human, you are going to be frightened by what you see. So frightened that you triple check the data. Your fear will not be made baseless however. You will become even more frightened then, and try to consider the possibility of forgery. Of Insanity. Heck, you’ll be so desperate that a genetic lack of creativity will not stop you from visualizing all possible ways this data could be false.

You can go ahead and read the reports. But that will be a waste of time. I’ll just tell you now what I found, in as few sentences as possible. I’ll be brief…a shadow hovers over me.

Millions of years ago, the first humans evolved on mars. Back then, the planet was verdant and beautiful, with lots of water and so much oxygen. Then, as the eons passed, the state of the planet began to deteriorate. The flora and fauna began to die off. Living conditions were growing increasingly unfavorable. The planet was heading toward a mass extinction level event. An event catalyzed by conflict, decadence and pollution.

Finally, the event happened, and in the span of a million years, the most complex of organisms disappeared from the surface of mars while the most simple of organic molecules spawned on a planet close by. A planet we call Earth, our home.

The origin of life has always been a mystery. One of the great questions whose answer was unknowable. Unknowable, up until now that is.

When the state of the Earth began to deteriorate, the country’s strongest nations came together to organize this mission. A mission to gather data on the planet mars and find out how quickly it could be terraformed into a new Earth. Well, the joke is on us. One big fat cosmic joke. And with the vast emptiness of space, no one will be left to laugh.

Of what I found on Mars, of the data I gathered, Mars will never ever support life. Not again. Eons ago, before the last humans died on mars, before it become this rusted wasteland, a project was commissioned in which an evolutionary engineering process was started on a nearby planet. When they realized they could not save their home, they at least tried to save their species.

Are you laughing yet? Are you bellowing in hysterical laughter? Imagine how foolish we seem now. Having destroyed our planet to the point where we have to buy bottled oxygen from stores, we seek a new home, only to realize that a previous version of our species destroyed that place a long time ago.

Despite the cruel irony, I think this proves conclusively that the fate of humanity is one of self-destruction. Maybe we should give up. After all, natural selection is a flawless mechanism. Human beings may be destined to burn bright and fade fast.

For all my opinion is worth, I do not think we should despair too much at this realization. The fact that we ended up this way after a second try only conclusively proves that there was literally nothing we could do to change our fate. This should take a lot of guilt off our chests.

If my mission achieved something at all, it has brought to light the knowledge that we are quite close to the end point of human civilization. In spite of this, we should love, and create and be. So that we can claim to have lived.

 

 

THE END

 

TECHNICOLOUR

 

It had been a week since the riots had stopped. However, she still heard strange sounds. Sounds of glass breaking, of car alarms, of honking horns, of anarchy, and of carnage. In their climax, the sounds she heard were mostly in her head—Resilient remnants of terrible times. However, more often than not, the sounds were very real.

In the aftermath of the riots, the remaining survivors had taken to the streets. They were jumpy, cautious people in search of food, ammunitions and other survival gear. The worst had passed, yet their hurriedness remained as a monument to their fear.

Alternatively, there were people fully resigned to the reality of their situation, spending their time breaking into jewelry stores. The decaying bodies of angry rioters and unlucky police officers were the silent witnesses to their meaningless crimes. In this new world, a diamond was little more than a shiny rock.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
The thought of going outside still terrified her. In her fear, she sought to drown herself in isolation. This was an exercise in futility, as the sound of break-ins always kept her acutely aware of human presence.

Thus, she tried another type of therapy. She cleared out all objects from what used to be her bedroom, until it was nothing but a space enclosed by four walls. After this, she sat cross-legged in the center of her room. It was her intention that, with a muted room and a muted mind, there would be no anchor for her bad thoughts to hold onto, and her anxiety and paranoia would fade away in the overwhelming nothingness.

Unfortunately for her, things did not go according to plan. And this was very much her fault, for she had desperately purged from her subconscious a vital factor needed in her calculations. At nightfall, the object she called “a demonic halo” proceeded to cast the room in a bluish hue, and her space was void no more.

Before things had really escalated, people had taken to calling the objects that floated above their heads as “tags”. Insofar as the form of the objects was concerned, “Tag” was a very suitable epithet. The objects were holographic, rectangular and seemingly fixed. Placards floating above each person’s head. Each of them a different color, each of them denoting a different number.

There in the silence, the bluish glow of her tag brought to her mind an image of a scene that took place days earlier. An image of a man bleeding out on the floor while she hid just a few feet away. And before she knew it, against her will, she began to relive, in its full totality, the chaos.

As the night progressed, the PTSD did its worst. That night she lost consciousness in cold sweat and with trembling hands.

…………………………………….

Hours later she was faced with the same conundrum as before. The sun was setting, and with its slow descent upon the horizon came the promise of another episode. Typically, her choice had been to suffer through the night. However, this time, she was leaning towards taking a different decision. This had a lot to do with the fact that her agony had now surpassed her fear.

Naturally, the part of her that had lived through the riots still wanted to remain within the safety of her apartment, but it was dusk, and she wanted to get ahead while it was still light out.
……………………………………
She tried to make as little noise as she could when opening the door, however, due to rusty hinges and deathly silence, her endeavor must have been announced to all the inhabitants of her building, if any remained.

She hesitated after opening the door. Waiting for a sound, for a reaction, for an indication of danger, for the signal to rush back into her room, for the safety of living under circumstances beyond her control, for the safety of her decisions being taken for her.

But no warning came and she was simultaneously disappointed and relieved. In her disappointment, in her relief, her conviction hardened and she began her descent down the stairs.

……………………………….

She stood in front of her building now. It was cold, as she expected, and she tightened her jacket. The street was empty. She estimated that seven out of every ten people must have died in the days before. But three out of ten was still good odds, and she was bound to run into someone sooner or later. She reached into her pocket. The cold touch of the steel of her knife reassured her. Then she began to walk down the street.

………………………………..

A few blocks from her starting point, she reached a newspaper stand. Before the halos appeared, back when things were still normal, she used to pass by this same spot after work, to grab her favourite fashion magazines. She would always give in, against her better judgment, to tabloid celebrity news rather than fitness magazines. She had even developed an acquaintance with the stand’s owner. A middle-aged man named Stanley who had a fetish for Asian porn magazines. Judging by the state of things, he had been caught up in the Helter Skelter days earlier. She didn’t want to think of Stan’s fate. In spite of herself, she began to wonder if he had been trodden by the crowd, knocked down by a car, or shot in the head. The thought of his brains leaking out on a street somewhere made her want to puke.

She reached into the stall and took out a newspaper. One of the last that had been published before everyone lost their minds. The cover story read:

DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE A PIECE OF SHIT?
WORRY NO MORE!
FEBRUARY 20th, 2017.
Ever since the mysterious rectangles appeared over everyone’s heads the whole nation has been going crazy!!! Stocks crashed overnight, unemployment skyrocketed and divorce lawyers just can’t get their phones to stop ringing. The holographic placards seem to follow you wherever you go. If that isn’t disturbing enough, think about the numbers they denote. Numbers which most people are convinced represents value. The best scientific minds are at a loss to an explanation. The Minister of Defence is convinced it’s some kind of terrorist attack and has been locked in a meeting with her advisors since the appearance of the placards. The President is yet to give a public address.

One of the world’s smartest economists and a supporting member of SETI, Dr.Mau Koch, has been seen on TV expressing a professional opinion that the number on a person’s placard is actually the value of the person’s life! Don’t be so quick to denounce the claims though, because thought they may not admit it, people have been reacting to the placards in surprising ways. Some people were denied entry into a club because their numbers were too low. Green energy company, SunFlower, saw their stocks fall after rumours surfaced that their CEO had a two digit number on his tag. Rachel Royce and Michael Sputner, celebrity power couple, have filed for divorce. Insiders suggest that this is due to a large difference between their individual numbers. People are starting to get agitated and people are starting to get scared. Police Reports reveal that some minor “incidents” have also taken place, though no loss of life has been reported yet.

An informant has informed as of impending Martial Law! Stay indoors people and stay safe!
-Richard Shultz

After reading the poorly written article, her mind flashed back to the first appearance of the halos. She had been visiting her parents in the countryside that weekend. That afternoon, she sat in the porch reading, while her next-door neighbors organized a barbecue. The fragrance of flowers in the nearby garden and the odour of burning pork combined beautifully to produce a smell that excited her. A smell which she gobbled up in deep, strong breaths.

That Sunday had been tranquil. Maybe even halcyon. But in retrospect of all the horrible things that proceeded, that day had been nothing but a portent of destruction. Like the soft, cold sea breeze that brings to sailors the scent of salt and memories of home, only to turn out to be the first gale of a coming storm.

She had given in to drowsiness and was descending softly into sleep. To her dismay, her peace was disturbed by voices from the house next door. Voices which were rising in volume. Freaking neanderthals, she thought. She had just decided to ignore them when she heard her sister scream. A sound which jolted her into full awareness.

Later that day, what was supposed to be a special family dinner had degenerated into a heated debate. Of course her father, the family know-it-all, was in full swing. His protracted speech made little sense. As though it was more an attempt to explore the full range of his vocabulary than to provide illumination. He was so raucous, mannerless and totally oblivious to the fact that he was showering everybody in spit. A piece of chicken dangled from his beard. She had always thought him so unevolved. He disgusted her.

“What’s the matter sweetie?” her mother asked. “You haven’t said a word.”

“Nothing Ma, just tired.”

“It’s the government I tell ya! Spying on its own citizens like we’re tadpoles in a fishbowl!” her father went on. Her mother, sister and brother, his awed spectators.

She was tired. Tired of arguing. Of noise. She had hoped this weekend would rejuvenate her after her hectic week at the firm. Yet, trouble had found her yet again.

“It’s nothing Dad,” she barked. “It’s probably some kid’s retarded science project. Geeze! Can’t you shut up just once?”

He looked at her, as if he had just noticed she had been standing there.

Perhaps she should have felt guilty. But all she felt was the satisfaction of having gotten her way.

She might have been foolish. Foolish in not showing more concern. It wasn’t exactly her fault. Her fatigue kept her from giving thoughtful consideration to which she had decided was merely a passing headache. That night, sleep did not come to her easily. The blue glow was already having an effect on her psyche.

The next morning, she said her goodbyes as she prepared to leave. Her father did not take notice of her impending departure. His eyes were glued to the television screen. Frankly, she was surprised he hadn’t wrapped his head in tin foil yet. He was watching the channel five news.

“The Government have released a report saying that the holograms are merely part of a population census. All should remain calm.”

Later, as she was being driven to her house, she wondered if she should have kissed him goodbye. She didn’t dwell on the matter though, as she was soon pondering what she had heard on the news. A population census? This is merely an invasion of privacy. I feel….violated.

To distract herself, she began to read her e-mails.

Moments later, the driver of the truck in front of her car saw a red tag and mistook it as a traffic signal. Her driver, in order to avoid the halted truck, turned sharply to the right. Though he avoided the vehicle, her car turned up on the opposite lane, and before oncoming traffic.

………………………………..

A soft bang drew her out of her reverie. With the onset of awareness came a temporary panic. By standing in the middle of the street, lost in her thoughts, she had advertised her vulnerability. She looked around nervously and then started walking again. Her pace had increased perceptibly.

While walking away she fell back into that same train of thought. It was somehow funny, that she had experienced the apocalypse not as a leading character or a protagonist but from a third person perspective. After the crash, she was hospitalized, and a 15 inch TV had been the window through which she saw the rise of madness and the fall of civilization.

A few feet away from the newspaper stand, she heard another bang. This time, her pace was not the only thing that quickened. Her heart started to pound with an intensity that rattled her cranium.

She could tell that something was coming. The volume of the bang brought her to the awareness of two details. One-Something was approaching. Two-It was approaching fast. Slowly at first, and then with a heightened intensity, she began to hear, a rumbling noise. A deep growl, like thunder, but incipient.

She started to run, but in her panic, she lost her balance and fell hard. The adrenaline flooding her system numbed the pain she had been expecting to just a dull throbbing.

The source of the sound was much closer now. She willed herself to rise but her muscles just would not obey. Despair was taking over now and tears began to flow.

“Quick! Over here!”

She turned and saw that a few feet from her, standing to the side of the road, at the entrance to an alley, was a short man, beckoning.

“Over here, now!” the man said.

She was frozen in place.

The sound grew louder and louder. Closer and closer, it came.

Then, in several quick movements, the man dashed to her location, heaved her to her feet and helped her into the alley.

Moments later, it came thundering past. And she saw that “it” was actually not as abstract as her mind had made it seem, for “It” was actually “they”.

In the relative comfort of the alley, she looked toward the street and saw several men on horseback galloping at full speed.

Hooves collided with tar to create small explosions. And over the sound of that terrifying noise one of the men shouted “WOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOO!”

And as quickly as they had come, they were gone.

“We’re safe now,” the man said.

She said nothing as she was still panting.

“That was some crazy bunch,” the man said. “Damn. I think one of them had a chain of grenades over his chest. Were those assault rifles? Good thing they didn’t see us.

“My name is Errol. What’s yours?”

Silence.

With subterfuge, she slipped her right hand into her pocket.

“Not much of a talker I see,” Errol continued. “I don’t blame you though. We’ve all changed.”

She turned to look at him. Critically, this time.

He was average in every sense of the word. Except for two distinct features. One, he had a wide scar above his left eye. Judging from the look it must have been recent. Two, his tag glowed a light green. On it was the number 22345.

“We have to get going. Can’t stay here for two long. They might be back. Or worse.”

She wanted to protest, in spite of the fact that he had just saved her. However, with the horsemen in mind, she found herself thinking that he might not exactly be the worst company.

Hesitantly, she followed him.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

It had been a day since she had decided to leave her apartment. A day since the crazy horsemen. She was now in what used to be a bar with other survivors. Among them, Errol, his brother and six other people.

Since she followed Errol to this location, she made sure to keep a cautious distance from everyone. She rebuffed all initial attempts at small talk and soon, they all knew not to bother her.

They had spent the previous night in silence. As if they were all in denial of the reality of their situation. As if they did not want to taint their delusions with conversations.

However, this night was looking to be different. Maybe it was the bottle of booze they had shared earlier, but Errol and his brother Siegfried were feeling very chatty.

“Come on Errol, you really think this number above my head isn’t currency?” Siegfried said.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous Sig,” Errol said. “The government said it’s just a population census.”

“The government. Ha,” Siegfried said. “You’re so naïve Errol. None of those fools knew what was going on!”

“C’mon Sig”

“Listen here little brother. They say it’s a census yet people all around the world have these tags above their heads. Some people have even been spotted with numbers waaaaaay in the trillions. Even your lady friend there should be proof that the census claim is pure horseshit.”

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Then what exactly are these numbers Sig!” Errol barked.

“I really can’t say for sure, little brother,” Errol said. “Everybody seems to have their own opinion. But there are several key pieces of evidence that could inform your own opinion.”

The bar quieted down. Everybody was now listening in on the conversation with an intensity.

Siegfried, who was a natural showman, adjusted to this attention with panache.

He went on, “A friend of mine at the factory had a wife who worked as a janitor at the space agency. He told me that a few days ago, she had stopped going to work. She hadn’t been fired or anything. Apparently, they had discovered something which they absolutely could not risk being leaked to the media.

“Unfortunately all their efforts were futile. A few days after her suspension the channel five news reported that astronomers had discovered an artificial mega-structure lurking behind Jupiter.”

Channel five news, She scoffed. She remembered the news item very well. She was in the hospital, recovering from a foot surgery that day.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Mae, a middle-aged woman, said.

“I kid you not, my lady,” Siegfried said. “Look, I know it all sounds ridiculous. But Mau Koch, you know Mau Koch, right Errol?”

Errol grunted in affirmation.

“Well, anyway, Mau Koch figured the whole thing out,” Errol said. “In an exclusive interview with Richard Shultz, he revealed that the “mega-structure” was actually an alien ship!”

“There’s no such thing as aliens,” she said, speaking for the first time.

They all turned to look at her.

She did not cower at their stares. Rather, she went on, “There’s no such thing as aliens. Channel five news is trash. Other news channels reported that the ‘mega-structure’ was actually a ninth planet just outside the solar system. ”

Siegfried smirked at her and then took a sip of his beer.

“Well Ma’am, you have your beliefs and I have mine,” his tone was so condescending. As if she was nothing other than an ignorant buffoon.

“But Sig,” Mae said, “You can’t possibly expect us to believe that. I mean, come on, aliens.”

Sig smirked again, “some of you are so stupid that you won’t even believe something when it hovers right over your head.”

Silence.

She felt very insulted and was about to raise her voice when a man said, “I think we’ve exhausted all other rational possibilities.”

She turned and looked. It was the man they called Karl. A former sociology professor.

“I don’t like the sound of aliens any better than any of you do,” Karl said. “It may be absolute bullshit. But when last I checked, no nation in this world possesses such an advanced holography technology.”

He gestured to his tag. “567,768” it said.

“All this time. We have lived under the assumption that humankind is the only race in the universe. This belief stems from the age long evolutionary mechanism of self-centeredness.

“Human beings have an inborn habit to glorify ourselves. Religiously, we are the chosen people. Mortal, flawed and ordained by the gods. Historically, we are the winners, the survivors. The sons and daughters of the kings who did not fall in battle. Scientifically, we are the perfect people. The right combination of genes necessary to thrive and to reproduce.

“But if it turns out we are not alone in the universe, all those beliefs are merely self-comforting lies.”

Siegfried broke the silence first, “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“So how do these three elements fit into the narrative?” Errol asked. “First the tags. Then Aliens. And then the carnage.”

“Two elements, my brother,” Siegfried replied. “Just the Tags and the Aliens. The carnage was entirely a construction of human beings.”

“That can’t be right Sig,” Errol said. “After the tags appeared, shit just started going south.”

“Things had been going south way before the tags appeared, Errol,” Karl said. “The tags were merely catalysts. The carnage that followed was the climax of human decadence.”

“It is truly sad,” Karl continued. “Human beings have never been perfect creatures. But the worst thing to happen in the history of human kind is the advent of self-consciousness. Of rational thought.”

God did not plan on our consciousness developing so well,” she spoke, surprising everyone including herself.

Karl looked at her and smiled. “A line from a poem, if I’m not mistaken? But it’s rather superbly appropriate. Human’s should never have evolved to the point of developing a consciousness.”

“Why,” Errol asked.

“Because with consciousness, our actions were no longer directed by instinct. And we now had the power and free will to defy nature.”

“Well that went on great for us,” Siegfried said, taking another sip.

“I know right!” Karl replied. “Lead-poisoned drinking water, human cloning, carbon emissions, unnatural weather patterns.”

“The atomic bomb,” Errol chimed in.

“The atomic bomb. The apotheosis of it all.”

“You men are being to abstract,” Mae said. “The riots started because people started to believe that these numbers above our head represent the value of a person’s life. That belief was the trigger that upset the social order.”

“And who said they don’t represent value?” Karl said. “What Siegfried said about the space agency isn’t some made up rumor. The mega-structure is not, as they would have us believe, a ninth planet.

“It’s true they found something lurking beyond Jupiter. And its true that it was an alien space ship. Soon after the discovery was made, a probe was sent out. They found the aliens all right, but they were all dead.”

“What?” Siegfried exclaimed.

“The Aliens were all dead.”

“Who killed them?”

“Not who but what. Many astrobiologists and astrochemists believed they were diseased. Who knows, maybe it was some space parasite.”

“This makes absolutely no fucking sense,” she shouted.

“I know. I know it makes no sense,” Karl said. “Before the riots started, one of the popular theories circulating among higher ups was that aliens were actually here to enslave us.

“Some intellectuals thought that numbers on the tags represented our serial numbers. But a conflicting and popular idea was that the numbers represented the value of our lives.”

“What criteria did they use to judge the value of a person’s life?” She snapped. “My number is the highest I’ve seen yet I’m nothing special.”

“I think,” Karl said, “The criteria used is unknown and unknowable. The question itself is a deeply philosophical one, well beyond our tiny minds. Even beggars and junkies have been seen with higher numbers than kings and politicians”

“Why did they even need to display these numbers?” she asked.

“I really don’t know. When you walk into a supermarket how do you determine the price of items?”

“Are you kidding? You think they intended to sell us? To who?”

“I don’t know. To other aliens I suppose.”

“Oh fucking bullshit.”

“Look, I know this is very hard to take in,” Karl said. “This narrative didn’t go exactly how anyone thought it would go.

“The aliens are dead. And their price tags have already catalyzed the collapse of governments. It would be naïve to consider what took place in the last couple of weeks as anything other than an apocalyptic event. The end of the world has come to pass. But instead of a super flu, a volcanic eruption or a meteorite, we were destroyed by an unlikely combination of events.

“It fucking sucks. To be left behind in this senseless world. But we’re here now. And I don’t know about you but I want to live.”

Karl finally stopped speaking and the silence that followed was heavy. Everybody was taking in what he said and everybody was contemplating the future.

She was thinking too. Karl was right. It didn’t matter how the world had ended. Only that it had. Maybe she was lucky to be alive. Maybe she wasn’t. But the long night had come and she had to live through it.

The world had become a cold and dangerous place. Filled with the insane and the fearful. This group was her best chance of survival. Sure, they weren’t perfect. But they were her best shot.

After all, she wanted to live.

DAWN

Life is a funny thing. Even in death. The more you get, the more you want. At first, you’ll be happy just to hunt. Just to kill. But soon, you get inventive. Shall I kill killers today? Or thieves? Prostitutes? Children? Shall it be a quick death? A slow death? A sip? A feast? Before you realize, you’re in full swing. Discretion never meant anything to you in the first place. You’ll feed right there in the night club. A perfect scene to stage a murder. There among the cacophony of lights and the dissonance of guitars. There among a hundred not-witnesses. What does it matter, as long as you arrive at your coffin before the sun comes up?

Sometimes, when you try to avoid the most obvious dangers, you fall prey to the more insidious ones.

Gone are the days when I lived wild. When I was a young vampire high on the remnants of my human blood. Nighttime fumblings with strange women in dark alleys easily transformed from sexual endeavors to nutritive ones. Sometimes they were combinations of both.

Blood was never enough for me. I would always combine with alcohol and drugs. Deep during the night, on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, speed and light trails would combine to produce psychedelic episodes of epic proportions. In those moments I was a true Modern Vampire of the City. A creature of the night. You cannot experience true hedonism until you’re free of the fear, of the inevitability, of death. Being immortal, I went all out.

But sooner or later however, you realize that actions have consequences, even in death. Spend so long avoiding the Reaper, He soon finds you.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The members of my Coven were hunted down and slaughtered like dogs. Squealing and yelping like pigs before the butcher. I never fully realized that there is no grace in death. No. Not until I watched my brothers die.

There were the heroes of dark fantasy. The Van Helsing’s and Ben Mears’. Heroes not unlike knights of folklore, facing goblins, giants and dragons. Good and evil were never blurred lines to them. And glory and fair lady were always one climax away.

And then there are the animals known as hunters. Perhaps the greatest sign of their cruelty is their creativity. I had been captured once by hunters. Death did not come as I expected. Instead, I was skinned. My body was the canvas. The hot knife was the brush. And the hunter was the artist. A dark artist indeed. The echoes of my screams complimented perfectly the sadism of the act. As the sun rose, and my consciousness faded, I thought that I would not live to see another sunset. However, I woke again at night, to see that my wounds had healed, and that the hunter had come, once again, with his knife. The prolific Picasso. The resilient Mozart. It was then that I realized that those who died during the hunt were the lucky ones.

As fate would have it, I escaped. I was rescued in fact. The various vampire factions in the city had decided to put aside their differences in order to battle the rising threat of the hunters. The enemy of my enemy. However, I had had enough. When you’ve almost been tortured to madness, you come to realize that there’s absolutely nothing poetic about burning bright and fading fast. The hunters had asserted to me just who was top of the food chain. The message was clear. I fled.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Hilton was a small town. Right about in the middle of nowhere. The people were plentiful and simple enough to promise sustenance without trouble. Provided I didn’t get too excited, I would live for decades without arousing suspicion.

Here in Hilton, I experienced for the first time in death, just what it meant to feed for survival and not for pleasure. In the city, I could feed several times a night. However, in Hilton, I never ventured beyond a body a week. And it wasn’t always humans. Sometimes cows, sometimes pigs. Sometimes I didn’t even kill, I just fed. Word travels fast in small towns. Get too excited and soon you’d have mobs, torches and pitchforks.

I made my nest deep underground in an old well. The water had long since dried up and the place was full enough of rodents that would sustain me in times of difficulty.
The life I would have in Hilton did not promise to be glamorous but it would be long. If there’s anything I learnt in captivity, it’s that I want to live, even as a dead man.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Fast forward several months and we come to my current predicament. It wasn’t simply death by sunlight or by hunger, but rather, a cruel combination of both. I had exactly three days. Three days after which the sun would rise, never to set for eighty-two days. Never to set for eleven weeks.

I should have seen this coming. I should have known. But in the midst of the hunt, I attuned my senses to focus on the dangers before me, at the expense of the awareness of less immediate dangers.

In the city, I was so attuned to the cycle of night and day and night and day. How was I supposed to be aware of the planetary revolution? Of the shifting axis? How was I to know of the summer solstice? However, ignorance is no excuse and nature is unsympathetic. The midnight sun was coming for me. Bright, unforgiving and seemingly eternal.

Vampires, by default, lose consciousness when the sun comes up. Provided you have enough blood in your system, you wake up once the sun sets. A fully grown human being has enough blood to sustain me for about a week, but the solstice promised to be several times the length of a week.

The danger was very real. The sun would prevent me from hunting. Without hunting I would run out of blood. Without blood I would never wake.

Desperation is a funny thing. You could call it a facet of madness. I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t. However, I knew that if I went to sleep I would never wake. My options were thin. I couldn’t skip town. The next bus would arrive in Hilton the day after the Summer Solstice began. I had just one option left.

It’s very funny. Something you would read out of an old fantasy novel really. A “ritual”. Something I picked up during my brief affairs with the elder ones. At the time, I listened just as an indulgence of their weird habits. I was skeptical of such things at first, but later, it occurred to me that a walking, talking, flying dead body is in no position to be skeptical. My desperation further pushed me to try it.

The ritual seemed simple enough. A small concoction. A tiny price to pay. Bloodsucking monsters? 24 hour days? Human sacrifice seemed a fitting addition to this debacle. Just three people. Three people and some minor casualties. Maybe.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The people of Hilton are very religious. Old fashioned in a way. It’s the type of town where everybody knows everybody else by name. For this reason, I rarely ventured among the living during the night. I lived purely as an animal. Sleep, rise, hunt. Repeat. But my project meant I had to break this routine. A price to pay for my continued existence.

The child was fairly easy. Early as dusk came, I rose from my well, to prowl the school playground. The dying light did not bother me, since I hid in the shadows. Unseen but seeing. When playtime was over, I followed two young boys as they walked home. I had no time for games. I did not frighten them. There was no talk of “did you hear that?” At a fairly isolated location, under the cover of trees, I swooped down.

You would think a virgin would not be difficult to find in a small town high school but it would shock you. I employed the same strategy I used with the children. Waiting in the shadows at dusk. Eventually, one girl isolated herself from a pack. Foolish, I thought, as I began to follow her. When I got close enough, my heightened sense of smell told me that something was amiss between her legs. In anger, I fled. I searched desperately for another child before they all went indoors. A maiden, innocence, and the light of the lord. No age had been specified. In time, I found one, and returned quickly to my well. I had already killed the first child and drained his blood into a chalice. The second child constituted my supper that night. The fate of the former would befall this child. The child was kicking and screaming. Crying. Perhaps in life I would have felt for the girl, but as a vampire, you tend to see all humans as what they ultimately are: fodder.

My incisors had already been claimed by hunters. In order to puncture his veins, I drew my knife.

Two nights had passed and the final night had come. The summer solstice was upon me. Light of the lord, your time has come.

I did not have to rise early in order to hunt the priest. I waited and waited until midnight. My stomach rumbled and though the urge to drink from the chalice was strong, I resorted instead to the rodents. Finally, the hour came, and I rose from my well. All black, like a true harbinger of death.

I flew slowly over the town. It was such a small town. Full of so many innocent people. Yet, no town is fully innocent. Each settlement, each gathering of humans, has its own dark secrets. And as I flew over this town, I sensed that evil was taking place elsewhere. Incarnate in other forms, in other shapes. Under the cover of the night, behind locked doors, and under the institution of matrimony.

Eventually, I came to perch upon the roof of the church. The priest was within. I could smell him. I stood on the roof, and surveyed the town for a final time. And then I went in.

The pastor was kneeling before the altar as I entered, praying. Deliver us from evil. I smiled.
I waited till he had finished. Finally he rose. Sensing me perhaps, he turned.

“Ah son. What brings you here this time of the night? ”, he said. I sensed that deep behind his bravado, his fear was beginning to take shape.

I decided to humor him.

“Father I have sinned”, I said. The sarcasm was imperceptible in my voice.

“Well, it’s never too late to bring your woes upon the lord,” he said. “Come, join me.”

He took a seat at the pew. As I started my long walk down the aisle, I began to imagine in my head just I would kill him. Perhaps I would snap his neck. Perhaps not.

I sat down at the pew with the priest. He looked gaunt. Worn, even.

“Was just ‘bout to turn in before you came in son.” He began. “Now, you can tell me all what’s troubling you. But before we begin, share a drink with me.”

He reached into his robe and brought out a bottle. I raised my eyebrow in skepticism.

“Can’t blame an old man for havin’ a little sip now and then, can you?”

It smelled like common booze. He took a long drink and then handed me the bottle.
I took a sip. He seemed satisfied.

“Now what was it you wanted to talk about son?”

“Father”, I started, looking down.

“Father I have-”, I paused. My head was spinning lightly. A brief dizziness caused perhaps by the swift motion of my head when I decided to look away.

“Father I-”

I choked. A burning sensation had started in my oesophagus. My body felt heavy. I fell towards the ground.

The periphery of my vision consisted only of blurred lines. I turned to face the priest, and in my confusion, I could just make out, what looked like a smirk on his face.

He rose.

“It isn’t holy water if that’s what your wonderin’. Holy water is good, sure. But for some robust types, it just goes straight through their system.”

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I turned away, trying to organize my thoughts. To consider my options. My strength was fading fast. My insides were on fire.

“When the Rudolph twins disappeared, I thought it was nothin’”, he started. “Just kids being kids. I thought they’d soon be found.”

“Then, I started to get real suspicious when little Clarice Withers also went missing yesterday.

“A younger hunter might not have caught on this soon. But when you’re as experienced as I am, and you couple those disappearances with complaints of sick livestock and amnesiac wives, you just know, there’s a bloodsucker in town.”

The priest was standing over me now, a shotgun in hand.

“Small town like Hilton, we don’t get many of your kind around. But guess you got sloppy. And I can almost understand your haste. With the summer solstice comin’ and all.”

My senses began to go haywire. I could hear spiders beneath the floorboards. The sound of their crawl threatened to split my head. Far far away, a thunder strike all but shattered my eardrums. The priest was still talking. His slow speech cut through my sensory overload like a knife through butter.

“Maiden, Innocence and Light of the Lord huh? Figured you’d get me easy? I don’t blame yer though. How’d you know that weak old Father Castor was a retired hunter?”

BANG!

The whole town must have heard me screaming. Tears gathered in my eyes and saliva dripped from my mouth. My now destroyed leg further slowed my crawl.

The priest quickened his pace.

“Back in the days, I used to live for the hunt. Nights spent crafting traps just to hear some ol’ bloodsuckers squeal. But I had to give that up. I couldn’t keep up anymore. No, not after I lost my left foot.”

I was getting desperate now. Frantic.

“Got caught in one of my old bear traps. They had to amputate my leg. I had to give it up.”

BANG

The bones in my chest had mostly been smashed to bits. My screams barely made a sound this time. The air would not rush into my lungs.

“I decided to move back home. Serve the lord a different way, you know?”

He picked me up and pinned me against the wall. He wasn’t nearly as weak as he looked.

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”

In one swift movement, I reached into my cloak, took out my knife and stabbed him in the eye.

“AAAAARRGH!!”

“YOU MUTHAFUCKIN’ BLOODSUCKER!”

Nobody had to tell me to take this opportunity. With a burst of strength I started to flee.
I couldn’t fly. Not while I was this weak. Not like this. Instead, I leapt, fell, crawled and leapt again.

In time, I made it to the town graveyard. Beyond which was the high school, beyond which were some abandoned buildings, beyond which was my well.

I propped my body against a gravestone. I couldn’t navigate by sound since my senses were going haywire. Miles away, I could smell the blood of the priest as he bleed all over the floor. Fireflies cut through the air like airplanes.

My nerves were failing and I had no energy left to take to the sky.

I couldn’t die here. I just couldn’t. Was fate so cruel as to draw my attention to the impending danger of the summer solstice just to let me die of a gunshot wound?

I lay there for a while. That thing called hope kept me in mental cycles in which there was a possibility of escaping this predicament. A squirrel will run up to me. A bird will fly over me. Their blood will rejuvenate me.

As time went on, my expectations were becoming increasingly unrealistic.

My brothers will find me. Robert Long’s hysteric wife will come for a midnight stroll. This is all a bad dream.

Fuck!

My vision was failing. My breath was slowing. One of the last things I saw before I lost my sight completely were the shadows. Shadows which were deepening. Shadows which were lengthening.

The midnight sun was rising.