Bones littered the plateau. Shattered remains of buildings, glass stripped by fire and explosions, stood like stark sentries above what had been New York City. A blob of oxidized copper sat where a once grand statue had once stood.
The bridge was still there, but riddled with holes. Crumbling. Unusable.
Empty shells that were once cars sat, littering the streets. Skeletons sat within, sightless and uncaring. Sands had begun to reclaim the streets.
It was a nightmare landscape. Something out of his nightmares. How he wished he could turn back.
But he had a mission to complete. In a way, he was breaking the rules at the behest of the elders. He was attempting basic terraforming by reintroducing once native species back into the ecosystem.
The only difference was that he was taking the natural path, not using machines to do the work. All he had to do was find the source of the problem where the rivers were concerned. What was keeping them from flowing?
Had the source springs dried up? Had they become clogged? Or maybe buried?
Had the same happened to the tributaries? Or had the aquifers been drained? Or had the problem been manmade?
He knew that the aquifers had not gone dry, but too many questions flooded in. He felt somewhat lost. He had admission to complete, but no idea where to begin.
He sighed. He would begin at the big lakes at what had been the ancient border of Canada and the United States. He would do some scratchings there as well. In each lake bed.
He hoped that he could turn things around. He hoped he could return waters to this rock somehow. Even a little bit of water flowing could restart the ecosystem. It could get the rains to begin again.
Yes. He would have to get a little water trickling out of the ground. Just enough to restart the rains. Once the rains started, the rivers, tributaries, lakes and oceans would fill up over time.
The seeds he was planting would grow. And maybe long dormant seeds hidden beneath the sands. With that growth, the atmosphere would heal more.
The cycle would continue. Rain, growth, oxygenation…perhaps his actions would bring on more seasons. Perhaps spring and fall would return to separate summer and winter.
He smiled as he thought of what his actions could bring. A renewal. A rebirth.
It could also bring on catastrophe. But that was a remote risk. Something the elders felt necessary to see if Earth could be revived.
The scratchings and corings done in the lake beds had yielded moisture. Water had come bubbling up from two holes left after core samples had been taken. Puddles had soon spread, forcing Billy to abandon each lake bed.
He smiled. Water was to be found. And at this rate, he might be able to return a decent ecosystem to this planet.
“Water in all four large lake beds,” he reported to home base, “perhaps this planet isn’t as barren as we were led to believe.”
“That’s a positive thing,” his mother began, “isn’t it?”
“A very positive thing,” he confirmed, “has the oozing water a few clicks from you begun to build to anything?”
“So far,” she returned, “not that I can see. But the location is quite a distance from me, so it could have become a bigger stream. In this salt desert, it’ll be hard to see much difference until a lake forms…or a river.”
“True,” he averred, “just keep watching. If it does show signs of change, or the water gets too close, go ahead and move to a plateau.”
“Alright,” she answered, “and I will be sure to relay my new location to you.”
“If I happen upon something manmade and believe it will pose a threat to you,” he continued, “something I have to break, for instance, I will contact you and tell you to move the ship.”
“Alright,” she stated.
Shutting down the communicator, he went back to work. First, he would travel to the north. Check the rivers there. He would plant the seeds as he went. Forests and grass would grow once more here.
“Moving to the slope,” his mother reported, “for a better view of what is below.”
He switched his communicator back on.
“East? He inquired. “Or west?”
“West,” she replied, “why?”
“Just for reference,” he stated, “the west slope is closest. The east would give me further to travel.”
“Oh,” she responded.
Humanity had been stupid. They had capped all the source springs of all the major rivers and tributaries. They had literally stopped the flow of all lifegiving water. All in their greed.
Perhaps they had thought that they were conserving. Or maybe it had been an act of war. Or malice. Or greed.
He believed it had probably been the last. Or maybe a combination of malice, war, and greed. And maybe not in that order.
Whatever their reason, they had killed the Earth. After capping the rivers and tributaries, the rains had stopped. When the rains stopped, crops wouldn’t grow. And starvation set in.
By all appearances, they had forgotten that they had capped these sources. Wouldn’t surprise him. Humanity had not been that smart.
They had always been making war for no reason. Hating for even less. And their greed had been horrible.
They had stopped caring about each other. Only money mattered. Not life. Not equality.
And their politics had reflected that. Their hate. Their greed. Their lack of compassion.
But so had their religions. All of them. None of their religions had taught compassion or love.
Both had been their downfall. Both had brought on their extinction. Their end.
Looking at the cap before him, Billy noticed something. It had begun to deteriorate. Just a little.
Where the water slowly oozed from the cap, a small damp spot had appeared and grass had grown in that spot. A ghost in the ruins. The promise of returned life.
He had enough explosives to blow every cap he found. The problem was, how to handle the simultaneous demolition of every cap on the planet. He turned his communicator back on.
“I have a problem,” he announced.
“What kind of problem?” His mother inquired.
“I have found the source of the problem,” he returned, “but it will take weeks to set up all the explosives for a synchronized demolition.”
“Demolition of what?” she pressed.
“The fools capped all sources going to all rivers and tributaries,” he sighed, “all will have to be blown so that the rivers can all run free.”
“Is that within the parameters of your mission?” She was alarmed at his inference of interference in the natural order of things.
“The caps are all man made,” he responded, “if we destroy them, we return the natural balance and set the rivers free. Is it interference if we return things to their natural order?”
“Well, no,” she allowed, “but…”
“I was told to do whatever it took,” he reassured her, “as long as it restored balance and did not use machines to artificially create anything. Blasting the caps off the source springs successfully fulfills that mandate.
“The problem is that we will likely have to go to every continent and island and set charges…which is time consuming. That means we will be here a while. That is, if we want to do this right.”