Charnel House Earth: The Death Of Humanity, Chapter 9: Back Into Hell

I was flown to the abandoned airport near Washington, DC again. This time, I was armed with the crossbow and two wireless bugs and several relays. The bugs were to be planted in the air ducts of the alien ship. The relays were meant to be attached to the now idle cell towers that dotted the landscape in between.

I knew that my return to base would be slow, but I didn’t care. perhaps I could glom onto a semi, trailer and all, and abscond with the food that was now sitting abandoned in the stores that lay on my path home. I kind of wished that I had been allowed an assistant so he could glom onto a fuel truck, but I understood why they refused to take the chance.

We knew absolutely nothing about the aliens. How they gained control of their human supplicants. How they detected their victims.

All we knew was that they could not sense me. I did not exist to them. I could slip in on them without warning and leave behind whatever I was asked to leave.

It made me the perfect spy. The perfect thief. And the perfect assassin.

I took aim at the guard the aliens had left to deter me from doing my job. rather than use a large bolt, I opted for the small dart gun on my arm.

the dart hit its target and injected the virus, then disappeared. Perfect hit. The alien guard slapped the back of its neck.

I wondered how the malaria parasite would affect the alien. How quick would it take? What symptoms would be the first to develop, if any? Would it spread through the collective as it did with humans? Or would it ride their psionic connection?

I watched as the alien suddenly collapsed without warning. Interesting. I had not seen that coming.

I slipped into the ductwork of the ship unseen. Unsensed. Unhampered.

It would take time for them to discover their comrade. By then, I would be gone and the bugs would be planted. Hell. I would probably be to my next destination.

I quietly made my way to the conference room. I had but one mission here. I didn’t need any weapons. I only had to plant the bugs.

I was soundless as I went. No need to alert them to my presence. No need to set off alarms.

I smiled. So far, so good. I corrected myself. No need to get cocky. Being cocky caused mistakes. Big mistakes.

***

I slid out of the ductwork on the other side of the ship. Both bugs were now in place and two aliens had succumbed to two different illnesses. I had been very effective.

I had successfully completed another mission. The aliens would never know that I had been there. Not unless they looked at the backs of their soldiers’ necks.

Did they have necks? What did they actually look like? would our cameras catch them as they were? Or as they appeared?

I would have to wait for those answers. Now, I had to make it to the first tower and attach the relay transponder. To do that, I would have to find a car or some automobile.

I was also getting hungry. I hadn’t eaten since I left the base. That had been ten hours ago.

As I slipped from shadow to shadow, I wondered how long it would take for the aliens to program a human to betray me. To help them see me. So far, I had been lucky and they suspected nothing.

But that would come to an end once they realized that I could assassinate them without being detected. I hoped they wouldn’t even try. I hoped that they refused to believe that their comrades had been killed by a human agent.

I hoped that they would believe that their soldiers had accidentally uncovered an old human weapon, some canister of gas, and had loosed whatever had been inside trying to discover what it was. Still, I knew better. Perhaps they might initially come to that conclusion, but they would figure it out at some point.

Then I would be a sitting duck. I would have to hide. I would no longer be able to spy for my own.

It could possibly spur them into finding a cure or vaccine compatible with their physiologies. Or maybe to create a better armor. One I would not be able to find the weakness of.

For now, The mission had been a success. I had proven that they were susceptible to human diseases. I had planted the bugs.

***

I arrived at the last tower and climbed to the top. It was after dark and I wanted to be done. I had spent six days on the road in a truck with two trailers. One was filled with diesel, the other was filled with food.

I had done well. Rather than use the fuel in the tanker, I stopped regularly and siphoned off gas from abandoned tanks at stations. Perhaps I would make more trips to gather more fuel. I didn’t know.

That was up to my superiors. All missions were. As long as I didn’t have to lead, I was happy following orders.

The road headed toward base was a lonely one. Empty. I could remember when the interstate was packed with cars and trucks.

But here we were. A third of the population had fallen into darkness. We were what was left.

We outnumbered them, sure. But we were still without weapons that could kill them outright. Bioweapons didn’t count.

They were dirty. Dangerous. Potentially lethal to us as well.

Their use had to be limited. We could never use them wholesale. It was too dangerous.

BUt what about nukes? We had precision nukes. One that could hit a predesignated target with a 90% accuracy. We also had ‘dirty’ bombs. But how effective would they be?

I placed the relay at the top of the tower, then climbed down. This part of my mission was now complete as well. I went to the truck and climbed in.

Time to head for base. Time to head for bed. And safety.

Charnel House Earth: The Death Of Humanity, Chapter 8: Stolen Gems

I had been fortunate enough to steal ten sets of the alien armor as well as a dozen guns and assorted other weapons. The warcraft I had also stolen would offer an opportunity for the scientists to study and replicate alien technology. The video and audio gave us plenty to observe, but only the audio gave us anything definitive.

For instance, we knew that they planned to make us outlaws. Enemies of the state. And they believed we were dumb enough to fall for their trap.

They wanted us to give in without a fight. Become their slaves willingly. Something that was never going to happen.

“You did good, Jeff,” the head of our intel division asserted, “you got us audio of what they are planning.”

“I felt it was necessary,” I averred, “important. Something just told me to hit record at that point in time.”

“And well you did,” She nodded, “You’ve saved us all.”

“All in a day’s work,” I smiled.

“Now,” she admonished, “don’t get cocky. We don’t want you making a mistake and getting caught.”

“So,” I began, “What’s next?”

“First,” she started, “we allow the science and technology department to study the weapons and armor you brought us to see if they can replicate them. Same with the warcraft you stole. Once they are able to, we wait until they can build you both. Then, we send you out on more recon missions since you are the only one thay seem to not see.”

“And the video of that poor man?” I inquired.

“we will study it to see what is happening,” she sat back, “then, we will run over it with you. We may need you to-plant a few bugs for us.”

“Not hard to do,” I shrugged, “as long as I don’t have to go and blend in.”

“No,” she smiled, “nothing like that. more….ductwork, though.”

“I see,” I nodded, “stealth work.”

“pretty much,” she giggled, “but no theft.”

“See if Tech can design a sniper rifle using the alien guns,” I suggested, “when I have to take on out, I don’t want them to see it coming.”

“Will do,” she promised, “but for now, you will have a crossbow with special bolts.”

“Intriguing,” I uttered, “able to penetrate their armor?”

“of course,” she winked, “and some will carry certain viruses and infectious bacteria in tranq-dart configuration.”

“Chemical warfare,” I mused.

“Yes,” She admitted, “everything from sarin and anthrax to the plague and typhoid.”

“That’s quite a wide range of infectious diseases,” I remarked.

“Perhaps they will spread it through their own community. And their slaves,” she suggested, “though there is a slight risk of it spreading back to us.”

“As always,” I nodded.

***

Cheyenne Mountain became our temporary home. As a bunker, it was somewhat safer than our other options at this point.

We were met by the commander of NORAD.

“You’re trespassing on US military property,” He warned.

“There is no US military,” I responded, “and no nations of the world. There is just us and you. We represent what is left of the world population.”

“What the fuck happened out there?” He demanded.

“Our governments were taken over by the aliens,” I informed him, “there is no longer a president, VP, or Congress. Even the Supreme Court is gone. All are now under the control of the aliens.”

“And the military?” He was hesitant.

“Those who were near the ship are either prisoners or enslaved,” I answered, “Those still on the bases retreated to our location in Iowa and regrouped. It was upon their suggestion that we headed here for safety.”

“Damn,” he breathed, “I was wondering why there had been no word from Washington.”

“The religious leaders of the world gave up without a fight,” I stated, almost as if I had read his thoughts, “and they bowed in reverence to the illusion cast by the invaders.”

“Fucking idiots,” he scowled.

“We have intel that they will be passing laws,” our intel chief began, joining us, “to coax all resistance in peaceably. They will be outlawing resistance.”

“The hell they will,” he seethed, “who collected the intel?”

“I did, sir,” I responded, “since I don’t exist to them, I can slip aboard their ship. I also stole some of their weapons and armor. And a warcraft.”

“Then,” he smiled, “I see no reason why you shouldn’t remain our chief spy.”

“It’ll be an honor, sir,” I saluted.

“For Christsakes!” He exclaimed, slurring Christ and sakes into a single word. “At ease, soldier.”

“We’ll be sending him back in as soon as Tech is finished examining and replicating the alien technologies, adapting them for human use.”

“Good, good,” he nodded, “and what will his mission be?”

“To plant a video and audio bug above both the meeting room he recorded the discussions on trying to coax us in over and above the lan he brought video feed from.”

“The purpose?” He was curious.

“We want to get a closer look at the headbands on the leaders,” She averred, “for one. And for another, we wish to learn exactly what was going on in that laboratory.”

“Very good,” he nodded, “we need to collect all the intel data we can.”

“I suggest that you put out a coded message for all military still out to collect here,” I advised.

“I agree,” he smiled, “and will do so immediately. We’ll try to connect up with Ghost Lake, Groom Lake, and a few other unmarked bases.”

He ushered us inside.

“Unfortunately,” he began, “we aren’t designed to house so many people. We’re only capable of handling 800. Not…” He gestured to our group.

“We understand that,” our intel chief averred, “but, perhaps, we can…expand the facility. Eventually.”

“We were thinking,” he nodded, “that we should go deeper and run tunnels and even, perhaps, creating a city under the mountain.”

“We might even be able to hide the city under the mountain range itself,” one of the men in our group stepped forward, “a few of us are former miners, mudjackers, and sandhogs. I think some of us could even secret the equipment west from the coast.”

“Once enough of a military presence is here,” the general looked at him, “we will see to that mission. You will need cover.”

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 7

7.

 

“We are very pleased with you, Billy,” the head elder praised, “you have restored water to our planet of origin and possibly life.”

“Sirs,” he fidgeted uncomfortably, “if I may be permitted to speak.”

“Go ahead,” the elder nodded.

“I hesitate to agree with your desire to recolonize the planet,” he responded, “as the risk of there being a repeat of all that came to pass there is too great.”

“Oh?” The elder was now intrigued. “Is there evidence of the incident not being unique?”

“In many ways,” he nodded, “yes. Not that I have definite proof, but…”

“But you saw something that made you believe,” the elder finished for him.

“Yes,” he nodded again, “there is a massive wall like structure, something that looks man made, that stretches the length of the ocean basin we were first in.”

“An interesting anomaly,” the elder agreed, “one that makes me inclined to agree that mass resettlement may not be a viable option.” the elder peered at him. “So what is your solution?”

“We make Earth an animal sanctuary where wildlife can roam free,” he voiced, “and place a small scientific crew to oversee the sanctuary.”

“Interesting idea,” the elder smiled, “and is there more to this?”

“Yes,” he admitted, “we can clean up the lunar colony, tear down the original as it would be…unusable….then build a hostel or resort in its place where visitors who go to view animals in the wild can stay while there.”

“This is your project, Billy,” the elder announced, “we grant you permission to do all that you have suggested. But you must wait for at least eight days.”

“That is eighty Earth years,” he beamed, “correct?”

“Well,” the elder chuckled, “close enough to. It is about 400 Earth years. Long enough for the forests you planted to grow. Long enough for the climate to return to as close to normal as possible.”

“Thank you, sirs,” he bowed.

“You’re welcome, Billy,” the elder answered, then bent closer, “and you will be placed as management of this new sanctuary.”

***

“So what did they say?” His mother asked.

“They loved the sanctuary suggestion,” he bubbled happily, “and I am to be manager!”

“I am proud of you, son,” she smiled, “you have finally become an adult. Being given a charge is a sign that the elders see you as an adult. I believe the mission you were given was their test for you.”

“So I am to pick the science team?” He looked at her.

“Yes, son,” she nodded, a tear coming to her eye, “choose well.”

“What about those who have been caring for the animals in the preservation zoo?” He inquired.

“You will have to ask them if they would be interested,” she suggested, “but they would do as a starting point.”

“And you?” He pressed.

“I can only offer technical support,” she responded, “nothing more.”

“But we work so well together,” he objected.

“Yes,” she nodded, “but you need to find others you can work with. Others not of family.”

“Very well,” he was disappointed, “I shall. Wish you could go.”

“Son,” she began, “I have had my fill of Earth. It was a beautiful planet, but I do not want to live there. This is your destiny. Your opportunity to shine. Go. take hold of it and do not let go.”

“I will miss you,” he sniffed.

“And I, you,” she smiled sadly, “but I always knew that this day would come.”

“You always knew that I would leave?” He was surprised.

“We all must leave at some time,” she nodded, “and I knew that you were marked for greatness. Greatness that would not include me.”

“But,” he objected, “this was never the way I intended it to be!”

“It never is,” she shrugged, “especially when fate takes a hand in things.” She looked at him. “You were always destined to go back. From the first trip we took, that was to be your path. There was nothing I could do to stop it.”

“Couldn’t you have said something?” He inquired.

“No,” she confirmed, “it would have made you want it more. You would have pushed harder. And it would have driven you away from me more violently.

“I had to allow you to do as your destiny demanded. It was more natural. This is what is meant to be. Embrace it.”

“What of you?” He persisted.

“I will still be here,” she affirmed, “and I shall come and visit. Do not worry. And you may have a brother or sister. It is the way these things go.”

***

Billy selected a team. The conservation team agreed to accompany the animals to Earth and to remain there to study and preserve life in a more natural setting. The conservancy cubes were loaded into the largest ship he had ever seen. 

“What shall we call our ship?” Anders, the bug cat overseer, inquired.

“How about The Ark?” He asked, somewhat jokingly.

The Ark,” the scientist mused, “good enough for me.”

“Let’s get loaded up,” he looked at Anders.

“Yes,” the scientist nodded, “let us.”

Billy entered the ship with the science team. He stopped at the hatch and took one last look around. It would be the last time any of them would see Home.

They lifted off after the last conservancy cube had been loaded. The small loading/offloading crew remained aboard. They would return the ship after all was offloaded. 

That had been how he had set things up. They would load and unload the ship, then return Home with the empty ship. He would remain on Earth with the scientists.

He smiled sadly. In a flash, they would be over Earth. There, they would off load the animals according to their original continent. The Americas. Eurasia. Africa. Australia. 

The islands would receive their animals last. There would be fewer to offload. Fewer to get mixed up.

Behind them. A second ship lifted off. This one was loaded with a cleaning and colonizing crew. The lunar colony would be small, just enough to maintain the hostel. 

Their project would be the most important. It would establish a resort where people could stay while visiting the preserve known as Earth. It would ensure that there was little to no contamination of the preserve.

***

The Ark lifted off from Earth and vanished. Its departure symbolized the last chance of leaving the planet. Billy blinked away the tears.

What had begun as a research project had become his life’s work. He was now fully invested in returning Earth to its former splendor. There was no turning back.

He turned away from where the ship had been and vanished into the primal jungle. He would roam the forests and jungles from this point on.  

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 6

6.

 

He had found the same promise of hope at each capped source. Grass had begun to grow where the water had made a wet spot. The discovery gave him such hope.

It showed him that life could return to the planet. Life would return. That meant that once the caps were destroyed, the atmosphere would return to what it had been before humanity poisoned it.

The rains would return. The plant life would spring back to life. Verdant forests and lush prairies would grow.

He hoped that the elders reconsidered their idea of resettlement. He would rather they return the creatures of Earth back here to roam free. Yes, Earth would be best as an animal sanctuary.

Humanity had its new home. It really did not need to return here. They did not need to risk returning to what they had been.

If they wanted to colonize, they should look outward from where they were now. Not back toward where they had been. No need to revisit the past.

Not permanently, anyway. The animals could have Earth once they were repopulated in their respective regions. Humanity could come back and visit, leaving it as they found it.

Not that it would be hard. They no longer hunted for pleasure or even for food. They no longer had the need.

Perhaps they would have to cull the population in order to keep illness down. Then, again, maybe they wouldn’t perhaps illness was nature’s way of doing just that.

He could only hope that the elders would listen. The planet was going to be pristine. Untouched.

At least once every seed had grown and all animal life returned to its rightful place. And once the oceans were filled and once more teeming with life. Why spoil it?

Humanity had destroyed it once. There was no need in risking it happening again. Not after so much work to restore it.

Perhaps they could replace the colony on the moon and use it as a hostel where they could stay when visiting Earth. They could also clean up Mars and recolonize there.

He would recommend this as more feasible. He would push for the idea of Earth as a nature preserve. A sort of open zoo where the animals roamed free in their own environment.

The only permanent human inhabitants would be those sent to ensure each region’s animals’ full return to wildness. The keepers. They could close down the preservation zoos they had set up on Home permanently.

He smiled. It was a grand plan. He just hoped that the elders would agree.

***

He placed explosives on the last cap. He was finally done setting the charges. It had taken three months, but now they could free the water.

He grinned with satisfaction. Every seed had been planted. Every cap was ready to be blasted. 

“Are we ready, mother?” He asked into his communicator.

“For what?” His mother returned.

“I just set the last explosives,” he responded, “are we ready for mass blasting?”

“Did you remember to place the wireless remote detonators?” She pressed.

“Yes,” he averred, “and made sure that the explosives were just enough to destroy the caps, but not enough to damage anything else.” 

“Then,” she admitted, “we are ready just as soon as you are back in the ship and we are airborne.”

“Then,” he stated, “I am on my way in.”

“Any special requests?” She inquired.

“Turn on the external audio sensors,” he suggested, “I want to hear what it sounds like after the caps are blasted.”

“Very well,” she sighed, “the audio sensors will be on.”

“I’m headed back in,” he concluded, “no time to waste.”

“The hatch is open,” she averred, “just hover right in.”

“Thank you,” he stated, “I will.”

He sped to her location.  He had no time to lose. They had to get to a high enough altitude that the mists of the roaring waters did not dampen their ship and cause contamination. They also had to go above the planet and deploy the relay net so that the simultaneous detonation could take place. 

He hovered into the cargo bay of the ship. Getting out of the rover, he made his way to the bridge.

“We need to release the relay net,” he stated, “so we can finish up.”

“Let us get into high orbit,” his mother responded, “that should do the trick.”

***

The relay net was a remote operated retractable device that expanded to whatever size was needed. They would expand it completely for use, then allow it to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. It would not cause any harm to the planet.

Once it was deployed, they reentered the atmosphere and hovered low enough to capture any sound that might emerge after the detonations. And waited. 

The detonations barely registered as more than a distant pop. A soft, but growing roar followed as the waters were suddenly released. They watched on the monitor as the waters washed over the parched ground, flooding over the newly planted seeds.

It was a beautiful sight. He thrilled at the thunder of the water as it flooded forth. The sound of nature at her most pure. Most violent.

Even his mother was enthralled by the sight and sound. It was the first time he had ever seen her speechless. He smiled.

“So,” she finally gathered enough courage to speak, “this is what the elders wanted you to do?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “though I am not so certain we should recolonize.”

“Is that their intention?” She frowned.

“It was one of the possibilities, yes,” he admitted, “though not the only one.”

“What would you do?” She pressed.

“I would turn Earth into a sanctuary for the animals currently kept in the preservation zoos,” he responded, “with minimal human contact. And almost no human population…just a small number of scientists to oversee the welfare of the preserve. We could…have hover tours to keep contact to a minimum and a hostel on the moon to stay at when visiting.”

“So,” she rubbed her chin, “you’re against recolonization?”

“Yes,” he nodded again, “I am. Why colonize when we can always search elsewhere for suitable planets? What if recolonization sets off the chain of events that originally caused us to leave the planet in the first place? What if we recolonize and end up finally destroying the planet?”

“I see your point,” she averred, “and agree. The risk is too great.”

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 5

5.

 

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.”

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 4

4.

 

Beyond the sixth coring site, he came upon the rusted hulk of a submarine. Had the inhabitants survived? Or had they died?

Curious, he approached it. It was as big as he had believed it would be. No matter. He could still get in.

A simple adjustment to his utility belt and he was at the top. He studied the hull as he rose. It was remarkably preserved for something that should have been rusted away.

But then, there had been no moisture since it came to rest here. No rain. Nothing.

He inspected the sealed hatch. The lock was still intact. Almost as if no one had exited the machine.

That meant that all were possibly still in there. Were they alive? Or had they died?

He shook his head. They couldn’t be alive. These machines had not been built with hydroponic chambers for extended use. They had been intended to remain at sea for short periods.

Once out of food, they would have returned to base to get more. They possibly changed crews at that point as well. Or received new orders and ordinance.

He popped the hatch. A putrid odor rose from the bowels of the machine. The smell of death and staleness.

He touched another button and a bubble popped up around his head. A filter would be needed for exploration here. Something to filter toxins.

He descended into the bowels of the submarine. As he did so, he noticed that some of the lights were still blinking weakly. There was still energy enough stored here to keep the lights going. That was good.

Bodies were strewn everywhere. The mummified remains told him a tale of being trapped within this machine for decades longer than they had intended. Maybe longer.

He sought out what he believed would be the captain’s quarters. He needed to find the log. Or whatever the final moments would be recorded in.

He needed to know what happened. How it happened. And why.

Anything that could help prevent future mistakes. Or future wars. And anything that could add to the incomplete histories the elders currently had.

***

The captain, or what he took to be the captain, sat at a desk in one of the compartments. A stained book lay open before him, his dead, empty eyes staring at the ceiling. In his hand was a stylus of some sort. To one side sat a strange computer so compact that it folded easily.

So unlike the current technology, Billy thought to himself. Now, computers were little more than crystals that projected digital workpads. They saved so much room and used so much less energy.

The data on the old foldable computer would have to be extracted and digitized. After, it would have to be transferred to a crystal all its own. Just as the book before the captain would have to be digitized and placed on a crystal.

Still, the work couldn’t be avoided. The data was important. As was the video feed streaming back to the ship. 

He had switched on his video button when he entered the submarine. He had wanted a record of his entry into this massive machine. He had wanted to record all he saw.

He had not expected things to be so grim. But then, he wasn’t sure exactly what he had expected. Or why.

He had known that no one could have survived in one of these tubs for thousands of years with nothing to eat. And it was very apparent that they had starved to death. Or those who were still in one piece had. 

The rest had become food for the others. Perhaps, because of this cannibalism, the rest had succumbed to poisoning as the rest may have died of illnesses. At least that was how it appeared. 

He took samples from each corpse. Perhaps the samples would tell him what had ended their lives. He only hoped that he didn’t end up freeing some contagion.

From what he could tell, the engineering crew had been the first to be sacrificed. Perhaps they had been the first to die. Or maybe the first to fall ill.

He knew that in situations of dire need, in those times, the ill and the weak generally ended up the first to serve the needs of the rest. It was a disgusting fact in primitive humanity’s past. It amazed him that humanity had survived.

Man had been such a horrid creature in his primitive form. So selfish. So filled with hate and violence. So quick to eat his own in times of need.

He was glad that humanity no longer had need of physical sustenance. It seemed such a distant unnatural thing. So foreign.

He made it to ordinance. Or what he believed to be ordinance. He checked for radiation. 

There was none. The uranium used in the warheads had finally degraded beyond danger levels. The radiation levels in the engine room had proven to be below danger levels as well, though there had been signs of a leak. 

Nuclear power had been such a primitive form of propulsion. Most of it was what was called fission reaction. Splitting atoms to make energy. 

The Savior, the man who had helped the peaceful escape and who had started the colonies, had used what was called cold fusion reaction. Creating energy by fusing atoms in a cold environment. At least that was how he understood the concept.

***

A few clicks away from the submarine sat another ship. This time, it was a surface ship. One the ancients had called an aircraft carrier.

It was huge. Like a massive city that had once floated on the waves. And as it was just sitting there on the bottom, seemingly settling in an upright position, it was even more impressive.

Unlike the submarine, the aircraft carrier had begun to oxidize and the sheeting seemed a bit eroded. Still, it was in fairly good shape. He nodded. He would explore.

Instead of seeking entrance at the lower level, he decided to hover to the top, to the tarmac and explore from top to bottom.

Bones littered the tarmac. Deteriorating aircraft also littered the top deck. Standing at the far end of the top deck, he could see a seabed littered with planes. And other ships. Cruisers. Destroyers. And even one that looked oddly like what had been described as a commercial cruise ship. 

Apparently, they had run our of fuel. All of them. He shook his head sadly.

He didn’t have time to investigate the other ships. Nor did he want to. As it was, he was wasting valuable time exploring this one.

He felt, though, that he should. Maybe there was a similar journal here. Something to corroborate the other one from the sub.

Floor by floor, he walked the corridors and the cavernous lower levels. None had survived and much of the ordinance was harmless. There was even evidence of the same fate as those on the sub. 

A tear came to his eye. It was such a sad way to go. The torture of deciding who to sacrifice. The slow agony of death as it closed in.

Again, he had turned on his video feed. Once again, all was recorded. He climbed back into his rover and turned off the video feed.

He would head on to the plateau once known as North America. There, he would plant the seeds he had been instructed to plant. After, he would seek out the mysterious reason why the rivers suddenly dried up.

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 3

3.

 

Home was fifty light years from Earth but the most current technology could bend time so that one could land on Earth in the same moment in time that they left Home. They could remain in the present even if the space in time was vast.

He chuckled. Ancient humanity would have claimed that the technology was impossible. But they, his more recent ancestors, had come to realize that nothing was ever impossible. Ancient quantum physics, and ancient astrophysics for that matter, had been rudimentary. Incomplete. Biased enough to ensure that truth seemed to be the impossibility.

Even time travel was accessible now. One could go to almost any point in the past and, remaining beyond the continuum so as not to be seen, observe events of the past. Yet none had attempted it. Not past a few years.

He wondered if he would be given a pass for that as well, once he was done with this mission. He wanted to find out what had really happened. Who had started what? Or had it been a natural disaster?

He also wanted to know what the true origin of the long held religion really was. Had it been a single man? Or had it been something simply made up?

He was full of questions. How did man begin? How did he advance to where he had been when the schism occurred? What had been the origin of that schism? Had it been founded in truth? Or just another lie?

He had so many questions. So many things he wanted to discover. But at the moment, he had to finish the mission the elders had given him. After, he might convince them to allow the other.

“Two minutes until we enter Earth’s atmosphere,” his mother stated, pulling him out of his thoughts.

“Did we remember the rover?” He inquired.

“Yes,” she assured him, “and the packs you were told to bring. I just don’t understand why I have to remain with the ship.”

“The elders talked that they might be transmitting more orders,” he shrugged, “and someone has to be aboard to upload the data I send through com.”

“Oh,” she frowned, “and what was with all those packs?”

“Just something the elders wanted me to do,” he smiled, “nothing to worry about.”

“Not worried,” she sighed, “just seems to be an awful lot of secrecy surrounding this mission.”

“I will probably be gone for a few days, so will have to send data through com,” he explained, “someone is needed here to upload it to the crystals so that it is ready for transmission to Home. No real secrecy. No mystery. 

“I am simply to do my experiments on my own. Nothing more. It was the instructions I was given by the elders.”

“Oh,” she nodded, finally satisfied, “OK.” She paused. “Be careful.”

“I will, mother,” he smiled, “no worries.”

***

What had once been oceans were now deep cavernous deserts. There was no life to be seen. Nothing to hint of the once vibrant world that Earth had once been.

Instead, a swelteringly dry wind met any who entered the desolate world that remained. Billy wondered if the plateaus that had been the continents and islands offered anything cooler. He hoped so.

He would be working up there soon enough. That had been where he had been instructed to plant the seeds. That had also been where he had been told to explore. 

There had been no settlements in the oceans. Nothing but great underwater war machines known as submarines. And even those had their limits where depth was concerned.

He was sure that he would come across some of these strange machines but he doubted if there was any left alive within. After all, there was no food. Nothing to survive on.

At least not where primitive humanity was concerned. Modern humanity no longer needed sustenance. They no longer needed anything remotely resembling food. 

Knowledge fed them. Understanding. Empathy. Wisdom.

Billy studied his surroundings. The trenches were off limits. They were nothing but fiery pits spewing lava.

He smiled. He would travel just out of his mother’s line of sight before making his first test for water. After scratching for water in a few places, he would head for what had once been the Americas.

He was glad that the rover had hover capabilities. It was sort of like a small flying saucer, though not enclosed and mostly empty so that cargo could be stored within. His little cockpit was just big enough for one.

“Am I out of your line of sight yet?” He called back to his mother.

“Yes,” she answered, “and I do not like it. But you have your instructions, so I must accept even if I do not agree.”

“Alright,” He began, “I will do my first scratching here.”

“Alright,” she returned, “ready for data transfer.”

He stopped his rover. He could not see the ship. Good. 

He got out of the rover and dug in the cargo hold for the instruments needed. Finding his core tapper, he walked a short distance and pushed it into the sandy soil as deep as he could. He would be taking six of these cores in his attempt to scratch for water.

***

On the sixth coring, water began to ooze – almost unnoticeably – from the ground. But he had noticed and was thrilled. It meant that the planet wasn’t completely dry. Or completely dead.

He gathered some of the water for analysis. He wanted to see if there were minerals in it. Or if it was completely sterile.

He hoped that this was not a fluke. That would be a horrible thing. It would also mean that this whole trip was for naught.

He hoped to find an answer to what had caused this. Surely humanity hadn’t drank up all the water. Nor had the water simply dried up. Or had it?

So many mysteries. So many strange things that didn’t make sense. He shook his head.

Even with the greenhouse gases that ancient humanity had caused, this was not a plausible end. Poisoned water, yes. Extreme heat, yes. But not total loss of water.

So what had happened? Had their nuclear warfare caused the waters to be stopped up? Had their greed caused all the rivers’ sources to be tapped and capped? 

Nothing here made much sense. There was nothing to indicate exactly what had happened. Not like the colonies on the moon or on Mars.

All on Mars had died from some bacterial plague. The source of the bacteria was unknown. Wherever it had come from, it had spread rather rapidly. 

There was incomplete evidence that the bacteria had been indigenous to the planet. But nothing solid. No evidence could be found to corroborate what the colonists had recorded. 

The catastrophe that had been the lunar colonies was horribly evident. Space debris, most likely a small asteroid, had destroyed the protective bubble and allowed the artificial atmosphere to escape quicker than the machines could create it. Space dust and stellar radiation damaged the machines beyond repair. 

The end result was the death of all within. The investigations into the scene had proven it. He found himself tearing up at the thought.

Ghost In The Ruins: Chapter 2

2.

“What will you do on your next outing to Earth, Billy?” His mother asked.

“I think I will explore a bit,” He stated, “and test to see if there is water anywhere.”

“Have you cleared this with the elders?” She inquired.

“Not yet,” He shook his head, “but will soon enough.”

“What if they tell you no?” She pressed.

“On exploring?” He returned. “Or on the subject of seeing if there is water?”

“Either,” she answered, “or both.”

“Then,” he smiled sadly, “I guess that I will have to obey their wishes.”

“So,” she frowned, “You won’t break with their decision?”

“If they believe that the idea of searching for water is unnatural,” He sighed, “no. If they have no preference, then I will do as I wish. I would rather they grant me permission outright.

“As for exploring…I will accept their decision as one of protection. No need to put myself in danger against their will. What harms one, harms all.”

“Well,” she breathed, surprised, “you are learning!”

“Of course!” He assured her.

He had not told her that he would have disobeyed if he felt there was something just beyond sight that was of importance. Or that he had already spoken, beforehand, to the council of elders on the possibility. After all, he was but a student and did not make the first trip without their permission.

She would have been a bit disappointed had he done so. She was always trying to find ways to discourage his curiosity and to curb his desire to know. She was, after all, his mother. 

Well, to be more precise, she was his parent. Humanity had become asexual as it evolved, making two parent families a thing of the distant past. He simply called her mother, as she preferred a feminine presence.

He, on the other hand, would be known as someone’s father since he preferred a masculine appearance…though he could change at any time. Strange how evolution worked. 

Still, evolution drove the wheels of nature. Change was inevitable. And what was now the norm would, somewhere down the line, be phased out as sexual coupling had been. 

And gender. Gender was not really necessary either. Not really.

He knew neutrals who had hundreds of children. Neutrals resembled neither and yet both. They were what ancient Earthers would have called androgynous. 

He smiled. What a wonderful time he lived in. How different humanity was than it had been. 

It was now without hate. But then, it was no longer bound by religion in any form. No texts told them how to believe. 

Difference was seen as simple individuality. One could choose their gender appearance. Or they could choose to remain neither. 

No one sat in judgment of any who desired to be any of the three. After all, they had learned that the soul had no gender. Not really. 

Genders began blending when sexual unions became a literal fusing of male and female. Then, there was no need to fuse. The two halves were born as one. 

That wasn’t to say that one couldn’t have multiple partners. On the contrary. One could.

But it was rare. Almost no one sought a second pairing. Almost.

Besides. It wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t really sought after.

They had come a long way. As a race. As a society.

They were no longer divided by color. They were all the same drab grey. They all looked pretty much the same. 

Everything that had driven humanity on Earth was gone. It had all been replaced by sameness. Dull. Boring. But enlightened.

***

“Billy,” the head elder began, “we give you permission to explore the ruins of Earth. We also give you permission to scratch the surface to see if there is indeed water there. If your findings come back positive, then Earth is indeed healing itself. If they come back negative, then we will know that there is no possible future for the planet.”

“Thank you, oh great ones,” he bowed, “while I hope for the best possible results, I realize that things may not go that way. I am fully prepared to fail in finding any sign of life or even water.”

“It is good that you are ready for such,” the elder responded, genuinely surprised by his honesty, “for you must not forget that prehistoric man, our ancestors, had what they called biological weapons as well as something called nuclear weapons. By the exodus, they had developed such horrible weapons that could cause mass destruction on a global scale.”

“I understand that, oh great ones,” he nodded, “and I understand that they constantly warred with one another over such things as color, creed, sexuality, and all the base things.” He hesitated. “But I do not understand how long it took for some of the effects of their weapons to degrade.”

“Hundreds of years,” the elder stated, “so most of the radiations should be gone.even those that were left unused and that have begun to degrade, should be harmless.”

“Then,” he looked at the elder, “I should be safe?”

“Yes,” the elder nodded, “does your parent know that you are doing our work for us?”

“No, great ones,” he shook his head, “she does not. I…have  not told her.”

“Do not inform her that we are behind your expeditions,” the elder ordered, “she does not need to know. At least not yet.”

“And if my findings are positive?” He asked.

“We fully intend to send back a few colonists to reclaim the planet,” the elder replied, “once it is proven that the planet can successfully sustain life.”

“Will my experiments cause change?” He inquired.

“They might,” the elder averred, “but it is a risk we are willing to take.” He paused. “Take seeds. Plant them. Monitor them over the next few expeditions.”

“Grass?” He pressed. “Trees?”

“All the plants in hydroponics,” the elder instructed.

“Yes, great ones,” he bowed again.

“Your parent should stay with your ship,” came the final instructions, “and monitor for offworld messages and your data transfers.” 

“Then,” he was surprised, “she would not accompany me into the field?”

“No,” came the answer, “you must do all on your own. In secret.”

Ghost In The Ruins: Prologue & Chapter 1

Prologue

Earth was a dismal pit of despair. The greedy continued to drill for oil and dig for coal despite the efforts of the enlightened few who saw that the excess, the greed, was killing the planet. And so, mankind continued his drive to extinction…religion and greed blocking all enlightenment.

Among these enlightened few, Jim Barry had been an obscure soul. His success had been recent, but not at what he was about to become known for.

Though he had always been a thinker, a man of reason and uncommon intellect, he had never pushed the envelope in quite the same manner as he was about to. Now, he sat at a table, drafting the plans for a massive fleet of craft.

“What are you doing today, Jim?”  The voice of his assistant brought him out of thought.

“I had a brilliant Idea,” He smiled, “and as you know, I don’t have many.”

“Ooo,” his assistant stated excitedly, “I like this! Who is it for?”

“well,” he swallowed, “I had thought of offering it to the religious community…what with their expectations of rapturing off this hunk of rock and all…” he looked up at her. He could see that she was clearly amused. “But if they don’t take it, we’ll see how many of our fellow humans, those of us who are enlightened enough to understand what greed, hate, and religion is doing to the planet, want to go in search of something better. Let the ignorant have their way with Earth.”

What is this?” She pulled the plans for the terraforming equipment from beneath the plans he was currently making.

“Terraforming equipment,” He looked over at her, an eyebrow cocked, “why?”

“So,” she began, “this goes with that?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “as do atmospherics machines, gravitational generators, and shield generators to protect from possible asteroid bombardments.  There are hydroponics labs, tool and resource replication labs, and medical labs.”

“and I suppose that there will be stasis pods and self contained perpetual engines?” She pressed.

“Of course,” he smirked, “how else are these things going? Seriously, though, they are far from perpetual motion engines. They are, however, somewhat self-driven and based on continuous cold fusion reaction.”

“How do they work?” She was intrigued.

“They pull in elements from space,” He explained, “and fuse the particles together using a cold fusion reactor. No radiation leaks. No human interaction…unless they break down. And that is highly unlikely.”

“I see,” she nodded, “and who is going to pilot this thing?”

“Three crews,” he nodded, “two in stasis, one out for a single year. Each rotating into their routine at the end of the year. No contact with their charges.

“Only the medical crew and technician crew will have any sort of contact with the passengers. But not in a way where the passengers will speak to them. More like to keep the stasis units working and the occupants alive and breathing.

“The idea is to keep the passengers in stasis until they reach their destination. And before you ask…there will be three tech crews and three med crews. They will do as the flight crews. Rotate…until deep space where timers will be set for so many years once automatic pilot takes over.

“the only thing that should awaken the crew before the set time is if something happens. Staying out of their intended path. A near miss with a comet or asteroid. If a stasis tube stops functioning.”

“You have this all thought out,” she giggled, “don’t you?”

“It pays to, yes,” he chuckled.

***

Tests of all the components had been a success. The ships were ready. All he needed was a customer.

Talks with the religious community had failed. Miserably. Not that he had expected them to succeed.

The extremely religious had always wanted to rule the world. They had desired a theocracy for centuries. Now, if all went well, and the majority of humanity desired to leave, they would finally have their chance.

He sighed. He hoped the rest of humanity was more open to relocating. Let the destructive keep this ball of dust. They had already destroyed it.

“Sir,” his assistant announced, “They’re here.”

“OK,” he nodded, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Very good, sir,” she averred, “I will tell them.”

She left and he put his head in his hands. It was now or never. He rose and headed for the door.

“The craft are light and durable,” He began, moments later, standing before the representatives of nearly every nation, “as are the stasis tubes. As passengers, all will be placed in stasis for the length of the journey.

“Crews of techs and medical personnel will monitor all passengers until deep space is achieved. Then. they will also go into stasis until such time as they are awakened. The same will happen once the navigational crew get us to deep space…they will also go into stasis until the passengers reach their set destination. there, they will land the craft so that the medical and tech crews can unload the now awakened passengers.”

“What will be the cost?” The German representative inquired.

“We leave everything behind,” He stated, “this planet, the currencies, our homes, cars and most belongings. Some of us may even leave behind family members.” He looked around the room. “If this is a price you are unwilling to pay, then by all means stay! Just know that they will probably kill you for being enlightened.”

“We can always rebuild,” the representative from Ghana admitted.

“And we will,” he assured them, “as we will have the aid of terraforming equipment and any other technology needed for both survival and protection.”

“What do we have to gain?” The Arab representative asked.

“Don’t you mean what do we have to lose?” The Japanese representative returned.

“I see no need to think this through,” the French representative announced, “I know many who would jump at this chance.”

“So do I,” the Russian representative nodded, “anything to get away from oppression and hate.”

***

Several unmarked ships lifted up from every country. Aboard, teams of astronauts who had trained extensively now guided the ships out into space. Techs and medics kept a vigil over the passengers who were now in stasis.

Among those onboard as passengers were Jim and his assistant. Neither had desired to remain. Behind them, his abandoned labs now burned.

1.

He remembered summer. Earth had been a cacophony of seasons. Extreme heat. Extreme cold. No in between.

Not at all what he had been promised. But then it was over a thousand years after man had caused the massive disaster that had sent the species, the race, into extinction with the rest of life. Well, those who had refused to leave.

They had been extremists. The Inheritors they had called themselves. Radically religious. Closed minded. Hateful.

Those seeking better lives, more peaceful lives, had left Earth behind in search of paradises never before experienced. The rest were left to their own devices. Their own hatred. Their own ignorance and greed.

“What are you thinking, Billy?” His mother inquired.

“I do not understand,” he answered, “history says that Earth was once green. That man greedily cut down the forests and drained the fossil fuels, polluting  the water and air. And yet, the air is back at breathable levels. Has man been gone so long that the planet is healing itself?”

“Perhaps,” she nodded, “though I would hesitate in the belief that the air is breathable for very long. After all, the plant life has never really rebounded.”

“But could we terraform it back to its former state?” He pressed.

“Probably,” she averred, “but the planet is tainted.”

“Tainted?” He was confused.

“It holds the memories of those who destroyed it,” she explained, “and the disease that drove them to oblivion.”

“Couldn’t we make it a sanctuary?” He was still trying for a yes.

“Possibly,” she stated, “but that is against the natural law. The planet is to heal itself. That means we cannot intervene.”

“But we terraformed our planets,” he objected.

“That was over a thousand years ago, Billy,” She reprimanded, “we have learned so much since then. How not to go against the natural laws. The universal laws.”

“Well, yes, but,” he struggled to object.

“We have learned that all things are in balance,” she continued, not allowing his objection to take shape, “that we should never take more than we need. To never become greedy. That the old ways were wrong.”

“I know, but,” he tried again.

“We learned that terraforming was unnatural,” she brushed the attempt away, “that it harmed other planets. That other planets held new and better food sources than our old ones.  That evolution was always the natural path.

“You remember the skeletons in the museum at home? How they don’t look like us, but are our ancestors?”

“Well, yes,” he snorted.

“Humanity changed over those thousand or so years,” She taught, “after leaving Earth. Each planet hold a different evolutionary branch, each with its own unique appearance.”

“Sort of how,” he began to see what she was trying to tell him, “how evolution caused the color variations of humanity on Earth.”

“Yes,” she smiled, “now you are getting it.”

“So,” he scratched between his antennae, “if some of us came back to Earth…”

“Possibly,” she admitted, “but as I said. I wouldn’t be too sure of the air being at levels that could sustain much life. After all, the plant life has yet to return to normal and I am not so sure that Earth is still fertile enough to support much life.”

“And the sun?” He asked.

“What about it?” She returned.

“They once claimed that it would blow up,” He replied.

“There is still five billion years, give or take a few thousand,” she mused, “just as man had predicted that there was about 7.5 billion years…but that was before the avent.”

“So,” he smiled gleefully, “there is still a chance that life can evolve again?…here?”

“Yes,” she giggled, “I suppose so, given the right elements and the right natural push.”

***

Home world was nothing like Earth. The seasons here never became too cold or too hot. The old colony was now abandoned, no longer suitable for the new race of beings that had risen from the human colonists.

Plant life here was different as well. As was the animal life. But then, living here was different.

Few left the new home world unless it was to do research and none ever left for long. Here, only peace existed. Here, only symbiotic coexistence happened.

There was no crime. No greed. No hate. No lust.

Only a single mind. A hive mind. Something that had been a side effect of the planet’s unique atmosphere.

Much the same had taken place on the surrounding planets where other colonies had sprung up. Each planet had added to the humans. Changed them in a unique way.

But all had changed for the better. Mentally. Physically.

Billy had enjoyed his visit to Earth but had been saddened by the state of the planet. It had been completely destroyed. Its forests had been cut down. Its animals had been driven into extinction, man with them.

But what had saddened him the most was that there was no longer any surface water. The whole planet was a giant desert torn apart by massive eruptions. The colonies, Or what he had seen as colonies, were completely empty and crumbling. Eroding.

As were the land masses. They were all eroding. It had all been so surreal.

He had hoped to see a glimmer of hope. Something that would tell him that the planet was healing. Or Beginning to.

Instead, he had seen that the damage might never be reversed. The planet was dead. Useless.

It had been completely drained. Now, it just took up space. Like Mars and the rest of the planetary system it was a part of.

He sighed. The thought was depressing. And there wasn’t anything they could do to bring it back.

He would have to study it a little more.  Maybe he had missed something. Maybe he had overlooked some clue.

Yes. That was it. He had missed some clue.

He had overlooked the obvious. And though he could not terraform, perhaps he could scratch the surface to find if the planet still had water. And if he found water, maybe the planet could heal itself.

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Shard Chronicles: Houses of the Holy; Episode 1, Chapter 2

2.

 

John was paralyzed by the scene playing out in his head. It felt so real that he thought he was literally there! It was so dark! So frightening!

Santa appeared. Not the traditional Santa, though the creature was dressed in the same red, white, and black suit, but a Santa that had fiery red skin and a hideously demonic visage. Instead of a bag, this Santa wielded a sword and a club.

“You will bow to me!” It demanded. “I rule the world! I am your god! You will observe my day! You will speak of no other! You will bow to me!”

“I bow to no one,” he heard himself say.

“Then prepare to die!” the Santa cried.

It seemed to take him forever to come to the realization that he didn’t need to run. After all, the dream had begun the moment he had gone to bed and fell asleep. How long he had been asleep was anyone’s guess. One hour? Two? Three? All night?

Then, he turned and faced the monstrosity. Suddenly, it stopped chasing him and became indecisive.

“You hold no power over me,” he stated, “be away with you.”

And then, it was gone. A wisp of smoke marking its passing. He opened his eyes and looked at the clock. It was 4:30 AM. he had been asleep most of the night.

Again he had been shown something. But what? What had been revealed to him? And why?

As with his vision of the headless bodies, he could tell no one. Not one soul. Otherwise, they would think him crazy. Or merely seeking attention.

He knew he wasn’t crazy. Nor did he really want attention for such things. They frightened him. Confused him.

He didn’t like the idea of having those kinds of dreams. Nightmares. Nightmares that he couldn’t wake from until they were over. Nightmares that held messages.

No, he would rather gain attention from things he did right. Not dreams he had. Or visions. Or anything that could be misused.

He rolled over and went back to sleep. Maybe he would have better dreams from this point on. Darkness consumed him and he drifted back to dreamland. This time, there were no Santas. Only dark worlds filled with war. Destruction. Like an old war movie.

But at least it was less frightening. Less abrasive. He could handle war scenes.

Perhaps it was because home was a warzone. Or because it was a break from the religious crap his parents believed. Whatever it was, he was willing to watch it play out.

Bombs were exploding everywhere. And yet, he was oddly unafraid. It was as if he was in the lead of those around him. They seemed to follow him into the thick of battle without question.

But who were they fighting against? And why? What had happened to the world?

***

He hated dreams. But here he was, in the middle of yet another terrifying dream. Mystery of mysteries. And all mysteries seemed to be shown in dreams. And nightmares.

This time, he was being chased by a giant horned ram’s head. Or was it a goat’s head? Or a mixture of both?

There was no body. Just a head. A living, bodiless ram’s head. Or goat head. First black, then changing color constantly. And that grin!

It was almost human! And extremely evil! As if the head meant him harm.

No words. No warning. It simply appeared and began chasing him in his room. Then up and down the stairs.

Again, it took him seemingly forever to realize that all he had to do was turn and stand his ground. Maybe hours. And even when he did, he hesitated.

When he finally turned to face it, it shrank and disappeared. He was getting tired of the cryptic dreams. The strange, otherworldly visions. He wanted a peaceful night’s sleep.

Something he had not had for a while. When he wasn’t having dreams that scared the shit out of him, he was dreaming of wars in places he had never been. Ruined cities. And yet they all felt so familiar. So normal.

It unnerved him. He was a child. He wasn’t supposed to have these kinds of dreams.

And yet, here he was. Being given clues. But to what? And why?

***

He loved hearing the coyotes howl just outside his window. It was one of the plusses, for him anyway, of living in the country. Another was being around animals. Playing hide and seek with the goats. Having a safe haven from his sister in the old barn near the lower pastures.

For some reason, the spirits there defended him. Hid him. There was no other way to explain it.

The old tack room was a great place to find solitude. And John loved to be alone at times. Especially after being threatened by Leanne.

There, he could ponder the meanings of his dreams and visions. Not that he would have any revelations, but he pondered them anyway. But because they haunted him on a daily basis.

And the coyotes put him to sleep. So soothing. So serene.

Thunder had the same effect. It was soothing, especially when it was distant. Even the sound of rain soothed him.

But there were dangers out here as well. Lightning. Tornadoes. His sister.

But he had friends. Billy Marliss and his sister, Nicki. Their sister Regan was too young to hang out with them on the bus. Nicki, though seemed to have a crush on him. Billy, though, watched his back.

And then, there was Nicole Arlington, who also seemed to have a crush on him. She would sit with him when Billy was not on the bus and want to play house. Not one of John’s favorite games, but it passed the time.

Then there were Craig Wills, Danny Harolds, Wynn Paldry, Jonnie Pensley,  and Stan Johnson. Chuck Fields and Jeff Upheldt didn’t really count. They weren’t as close as ‘the gang’. Penn Dringer had moved in Kindergarten, so he had long since faded from importance.

But even ‘the gang’ was not as close as Billy and Nicki. Or Charles and Nikki. Those were John’s closest friends.

Billy and Nicki lived just up the road. John could go visit them any time. Charles and Nikki were family friends and he could visit them whenever his mother went to visit theirs.

And then, there was Ellie, Donnie, and Daria. The Morrisons. John’s father was a friend of their father, his mother a friend of their mother.

Finally, there were the Walstons and the Maldwells. The Maldwells were also old friends of John’s parents. But the Walstons were ‘church friends’.

The Maldwells had seven children. John had become friends with the two youngest, John and Terri. Leanne was friends with the others as they were too old for John to get close to.

The Walstons were a whole different matter altogether. All of the Walston children were too old for John to be friends with and their parents made him uncomfortable. Robert Walston was a braggart and Mindy was a prude. A snob.

All the boys were too old to be too friendly with. The girls as well. John was too young to enjoy cars or girls. Nor was he interested in racing, football, or wrestling.