Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Ancient Marches

By Richard Hazlewood – May 2011

I woke as the light hit my face. Squinting, I raised my hand to shield my eyes and let myself adjust to the bright light. With my eyes barely open, I saw that I was lying on a beach, my body crossing the boundary between sand and course grasses. Trees towered over my head, providing the shade that had protected my face as the sun rose. The sun was a bright white blazing through the bluish fronds of a tree. The dark brown trunk rose from the ground less than a meter from my head, extending up for at least ten meters and then exploding in a confusion of fronds that looked like gossamer feathers, swaying slightly in the breeze. ‘Feather leaves,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s wrong.’

As my eyes slowly adjusted to the light, I sat up looking around. The sand extended for almost ten meters to the edge of the water. Waves lapped slowly against the sand and as I looked up, the turquoise water extended to the horizon. Looking to the right and left, I saw the beach extend unbroken in both directions to the horizon, the edge of the grass and trees seemingly cut with a knife. The sky was a deep blue, almost purple, with the too-bright sun sitting about a hands-length above the far horizon.

As I looked around, I realized that several things were wrong. It took me some time to puzzle them out; it seemed hard to think clearly and I had trouble concentrating on any one thing, yet I knew I was not thinking clearly. It was a very unusual sensation. The first thing that penetrated the mental fog was the silence. I could clearly hear the waves against the sand and the sound of the wind in the leaves overhead. As I reached down and picked up a handful of sand, I could feel the course grains in my palm as well as hear the sound of the sand falling back to the ground; but something was missing. There were no animal sounds – I heard no sea birds, no insects, nothing.

As I continued to look around, I realized that what had really been bothering me though was the sky. It didn’t look right. The sun was too white. There was no comforting yellow tinge to the sunlight. The sky, darker blue than I had ever seen before, was not the pale blue it should have been.

I tried to stand up but became dizzy and fell back down to the sand. Reaching out almost blindly, I found the trunk of the tree, unexpectedly smooth and spongy, and used it to brace myself as I climbed to my feet. The dizziness was less this time and after a few minutes my head cleared and I could look around again from my new vantage point. Behind me the trees gathered together and formed a true forest, the grasses giving way to bushes with the same bluish feather-fronds. As I looked up, the ground rose to a series of hills about a kilometer away covered with the bluish frond trees. No birds circled above the lush vegetation.

As I turned around to the ocean, my head throbbed and my vision swam. I reached up to my aching head and felt a bump under my short cropped hair. Short hair? I thought my hair was down to my shoulders… I definitely remember having to brush it out of my eyes all the time. My hand came away from my head with several small red spots of drying blood. Where had I gotten that? I had no memory of hitting my head… now that I thought about it; I had no memory at all.

I dropped back to the sand as the realization hit me. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know my name, I had no memory of my past, couldn’t remember my home, my parents, my friends. I knew at some visceral level that I had those things, but had no memory of them, no details, no faces, no images; just blankness.

I don’t know how long I sat there, my mind a confusion of almost memories and blankness. Minutes? Hours? I was eventually pulled out of my shock by a new sound. Something I hadn’t heard since waking up. I heard movement. Raising my head and then slowly standing up, again using the spongy tree trunk for support, I turned in the direction of the sound. Down the beach, perhaps twenty meters away, a figure moved slowly along the sand. A human figure.  A woman.

I watched her approach, noting her slim form and dark skin under a stark white tunic. Looking down, I realized for the first time that I was wearing the same white tunic. It was a single piece of finely woven material, shapeless, with openings for my arms and head, but no cuffs and no sleeves; a simple garment. I noticed that my arms and legs were tanned and my hands were calloused as if from hard manual labor, but I had no memory of any type of work I might have done. The tunic came to my mid thigh; the woman’s hung a bit lower, almost to her knees.

As she approached, I stepped out from the shade of the tree and on to the beach, giving her a long time to see me and decide what she wanted to do. In this silent world, I didn’t know how she would react to my presence; I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to her either.
When she saw me on the sand, she stopped. Her dark skin glowed in the too-white sunlight. Her black hair was cut short, like my own. Exactly like mine. I remained motionless, letting her make the first move. After a short time, she resumed her walk towards me. Her pace seemed the same.

“Hello” I said hesitantly as she came to a stop a few meters from me.
“Hello” she replied quietly, her voice deep and resonant with a lilt that I found exotic although I had no explanation for why. “Do you know where we are?”
“I was hoping you would. I don’t seem to remember how I got here or my name or anything. What is your name?” I spoke softly as if admitting my ignorance would somehow make it a reality.

“My name?” She hesitated, a look of confusion on her face. “My name… my name is…”
But she could not finish the sentence, like me, she had no memory of who she was. But seeing her, seeing her face and her dark eyes sparked something within my vacant mind.
“Your name is …. Mo … Mo…” I couldn’t finish, it was almost there, almost but not completely there.

“My name is Mo… Moya.” The look of triumph on her face lit up her features. “My name is Moya!”

She looked at me, some flicker of recognition passing behind her eyes. “And you... you are Ah… Air…”

The sound of the word drew something out of me. “My name is Ara… Arady. My name is Arady.” I said with satisfaction, unable to hide my grin. I am Arady.

I Arady and Moya stood in silence for several minutes, both of us basking in the glow of having a name and taking the time to quietly assess the other person.

Moya was dark skinned, much darker than my tanned arms, with black hair and dark brown eyes with a  broad nose and prominent cheeks. She stood about ten centimeters shorter than me, making her quite tall for a woman. How I knew this, I had no idea, but I did know it. Moya had very white teeth that appeared even whiter against her dark skin and the white sun. She had a habit of lifting one eyebrow that I found instantly attractive. I pushed that thought firmly down. This was not the time to be thinking such thoughts; we had just met.

Our tunics seemed to be identical, even the same length. The material was very soft and had no seams or visible threads. It shimmered in the white sunlight. I pulled on the material but it didn’t stretch; pulling harder, I could not tear it, even using my full strength.

I asked where she had awoken when the length of the silence began to make me uncomfortable. Moya thought for a second then said she woke up down the beach when the sun came up. Further discussions revealed that we both thought the sun and sky looked strange. We apparently remembered the same yellow sun and pale blue sky. I was reassured with this confirmation that I was not somehow going crazy and I could see by her expression that Moya thought the same. One surprising thing she told me was that the ocean water was not salty. It was actually quite refreshing. Moya explained that after walking along the beach, out of thirst and sheer desperation, she had taken a sip of the ocean’s water, expecting it to be salty, but better salty water than no water at all. The water was quite refreshing, with only a little taste of brine. We spent several minutes slacking our thirst as the warm waves lapped gently against our ankles.

A white sun, purple-blue sky and an ocean of drinking water; where were we?

* * *

We started walking up the beach, continuing in the direction she had been travelling. [North] The sea was to our right and the blue forest to our left. As we walked it became obvious that what had first appeared to be an endless beach was somewhat of an illusion, the beach bent slightly to the East and then turned sharply West.

Walking along, we found ourselves walking close together. The lack of life sounds was unnerving and the simple presence of another human being was comforting. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway. As we walked our hands would brush against each other lightly, only for a second. I was acutely aware of each contact between us. After the third or fourth such contact, her fingers didn’t move away. Slowly, almost tentatively, her fingers interlaced with mine. Hand in hand we walked down the beach, following the sand as it made its sharp turn to the left.

Coming around the corner, we both stopped. A few hundred meters ahead of us was a large object throwing bright reflections at us. [Metal] It lay in the sand, tilted on its side since part of the end closest to us rested on an outcropping of rock. The part of the object that touched the rock was bent and obviously damaged. We stood there for several moments, both afraid to speak. Moya’s hand tightened in mine.

The object was about three meters wide and three meters tall, making a square end but with slightly rounded corners; its length was hard to tell at that angle, but appeared to be at least ten meters long. The end facing towards us, actually facing slightly to our left, was open, the edges closest to the rock bent and crumpled as if dropped from a great height. It looked as if the front wall had collapsed onto the sand. Within the object we could see smaller objects against both inside walls with an opening between them. Within the opening there was movement.

As we watched, still trying to figure out what was going on and what we should do, one of the smaller objects on the right side of the container; there was no other word for it, it was a container of some kind; slid down and fell into the shadowed part of the container. As it landed, we heard a scream. A high-pitched scream, a woman’s scream.

Without waiting for Moya, I let go of her hand and sprinted down the beach toward the container. As I got closer, the screaming did not stop, if anything it got louder and more hysterical.

I dashed up the ramp made by the fallen front piece of the container and as I skidded to a stop, my arms flailing to keep myself from falling, I looked into the shadows of the container. About four meters inside the container, one of the boxes had fallen onto a man wearing one of our white tunics. Beside his head knelt a woman; she was the one screaming. The man wasn’t moving at all.

As I moved into the container, the woman looked up at me, tears streaming down her face, “Arady, help me! Rin is trapped! He’s bleeding.

I could see that a large blood pool was spreading from under the trapped man, Rin. The object had landed on his upper body and most of his chest and stomach where crushed under its weight. The object looked like a miniature version of the larger container we were inside, one of the corners seemed to be resting on the bottom of the larger container, resting on the floor through Rin.

I moved over beside the woman and felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one. Rin was dead, crushed by the falling container.

I looked up into the woman’s face as I tried to tell her, but I didn’t need to. The expression on my face told her all she needed to know. With a loud wail she pushed herself to her feet and ran from the container, right into the arms of Moya who was coming up the ramp and reflexively enfolded the woman in her arms and held her.

I turned back to Rin’s body and gently reached up and closed his eyes. He had unusual features, at least unusual features to me. His eyes were slanted slightly and he had darker skin than I did and black hair. Although he was partly buried under the container, I could see what he was not a tall man. He would have been shorter than Moya by several centimeters.
Seeing that there was nothing more I could do for Rin, I looked back up at Moya and the woman. The woman was also short, quite a bit shorter than Moya. Where Moya had very dark skin [Mahogany] the other woman had very pale skin, almost translucent. Her hair was cut very short, like ours, and was a bright red in color [Ginger]. I could see a sprinkling of freckles on her upper arms. Not really knowing what to do, I stood up and looked around the container.

One wall had tubes on it. Each tube was about two meters long and just over half a meter in diameter. They had a line of four lights along the middle; each tube glowed slightly from some internal light. The tubes were stacked four high with about a meter between them. The four tubes closest to the opening were destroyed. They were cracked and the upper two had fallen and partially dislodged the third one down which rested against the bottom tube. The next four tubes were all open. The top half of the tubes had opened against the wall. Inside was a flat, padded surface. The remaining eight tubes were closed.

As I looked closer, I could see a small metal plate attached to each tube just below the split line. There were scribbles on each plate that I could not understand [Writing]. The eight unopened tubes had four lights next to the metal plate; three orange and one blue. Other than the metal plates with the writing on them and the four lights, the tubes were featureless. On the unopened tubes, I couldn’t even see a seam.

Moving to the other side of the container, I saw that it was stacked with smaller containers like the one that had killed Rin. Each container was about one meter by one meter by two meters and seemed to be made from the same metal as the bigger container. Each container had a flat object attached to the outside and a single light under the flat area. All of the lights that I could see were orange. The smaller containers were stacked from floor to ceiling, about ten high and ran from the front of the container all the way to the back, ten high, three deep and twenty-five long. [750 containers]

Tentatively, I reached up and pressed against the flat spot. An image appeared on the flat object. [Viewplate] The image was of a brown animal with horns. [Cow] As I watched, the cow grew from a small calf to a full grown animal before fading back to its original color. I pressed the viewplate of the next container and a seed appeared, growing quickly to a plant. [Wheat]

Turning back to the two women, I saw that Moya had gotten the other woman calmed down a bit. The red-headed woman, who apparently knew my name, even if I didn’t know hers, was rubbing her eyes, wiping away the tears with her fingers. She looked up at me.
“Thank you for coming back. I wish Rin had been able to see you.” Looking at Moya she added. “Both of you.”

I could see that Moya was as confused as I was.

“Do you know us?” Moya asked, “We don’t even know we are ourselves.”
“You don’t?” And then a flash of recognition lit her face. “Of course you don’t… Cryo-block!”
Moving over to one of the open tubes, she reached inside and removed a small packet about three centimeters on a side. “Take this. It will help with your memory.”
The woman handed a packet to each of us and waited. When we just looked at her, she gave a little “Humph” and reached out, took Moya’s, tore open the top and removed the blue circle inside. Peeling back one side, she placed the blue patch on Moya’s arm where is stayed.

“It should only take a few minutes.” Turning to me she asked, “Do you need me to do yours too?”

Shaking my head slowly no, I slowly peeled off the top of the container like I had seen her do, reached inside for the blue dot; it was cold and slightly moist. Using my fingernail, I was eventually able to peel off the backing and with a hesitant glance at Moya, placed it on my forearm. It tingled a little bit, but that was all. Looking back up at Moya, I could see that she was watching her own patch.

Looking up at me a strange expression crossed her face and she said “Oh!”
She began to smile and nod her head. “I remember now! Renia, thank you so much!”
Renia, that must be the name of the other woman, just smiled back at her. Both women turned and looked at me.
Feeling a bit self-conscious, I kept looking at the blue patch waiting for I didn’t know what.

[Relocation Plan VS-763Q-9]

In an almost blinding mental flash, it all came back to me. I understood.

Looking over at Renia and Moya, I couldn’t help but smiling, seeing an answering smile on their faces.

I turned and looked at the other, unopened cryoberths and read the names on the plates beside the status lights and activation button.

Lorn, Valias, Cron, Jezell, Quen all of the others were there. The status lights of their cryoberths glowing a satisfying orange.

I turned back to the women, knowledge filling my mind, filling my soul.

“Does anyone know where we ended up?”

Moya looked out at the beach, at the purple sky with its white star and ocean of drinking water.

She turned back to me and in a soft voice said, “I think we’re home.”

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