A More Glorious Dawn

A More Glorious Dawn

A Story by Pandrogynite
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2010 Short Story based in the post-apocalyptic future, following one of the few hopes humanity has left. First Draft.

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    The bomb was dropped from 35,000 feet. It makes a low whistle and hum as it falls through the clouds, the kind that makes your bones itch from the inside out. The wind whips at my hair as I stand, alone, in a bleach-white salt flat that extends forever in every direction. The bomb hits the ground as if it didn't have a mighty task ahead of it, nonchalant about the death of billions it needed to achieve. The air is silent, and suddenly, the very earth becomes a cloud. My eardrums burst almost instantly, blood vaporizing as it exits my skull. I'm lifted off my feet, almost as if by angels, and flung backwards at speeds that have to be within flirting distance of terminal velocity. I imagine the destruction the bomb must be instigating, knocking down every door and bashing every window, like a burglar of souls. It will not pick and choose, but take the lives of everyone on this planet. I wasn't told this by anyone, nor do I know enough about the bomb to deduce it for myself. I simply know. The planet is going to die, and the human race will be erased right along with it, no more important in this time than the rats or the birds or the trees. The world will resemble this salt flat, a vast nothing, turned level by the uneven thoughts of... of who? I can't imagine who dropped the bomb. Around me, the air is turning hotter. It breaks my focus. I feel my skin blister and tear as I am still flying. The pain is so intense I hardly feel anything at all. I simply notice. My eyes feel like they're turning to liquid. My vision fades. The world turns a shade of dark red, then slowly to black. I don't feel if I hit the ground. Maybe there's nothing left to hit.

    My name is Emily Calvin, and I was born 33 years after the world was supposed to end.

    I blink, my eyes dry in a contrast to the sweat covering the rest of my body. This is the third time the world has ended by a bomb in the past month. Twice it's been by alien invasion. One time it was an astroid. Six times it's been an unusually strong solar flare. Once it ended simply in a white, peaceful light. I dream about the end of the world a lot. It's what keeps me going. That, and the memory of my father, a man who's vision was only paralleled by his genius. A man whose work I took a vow to complete in a way that only a daughter can.

    Getting up from my old cot, I let the sandy smell of the room fill up my nostrils. The air has been much cleaner, as of late, with less and less of the machines in working order and nobody around to fix them. Oxygen content has been higher, so people have been happier, animals have been larger, and everyone and everything sees at least a little bit of joy in the day-to-day. Everyone but my friend Starke. The orange-yellow light shining into my room reminds me of Starke, a dull glow that seems to smolder with no fuel as it dances across the floor. It illuminates, but casts a bad mood all at the same time. I step across the cement floor slowly, letting my feet slide against the cool material and begin to feel sensation after a night's sleep. A momentous one, too. Today is the day I find the final piece of my father's work. Today will be the day I find those who left the world to die in the unknown fires: those who were mistaken.

    It's been 50 years since the world was supposed to end. The men and women with any kind of worth or power joined together not to save the world, but to abandon it. And so, on one particularly cold night, they left through glowing doors woven in science and mystery. Nobody knew where they had gone to, but they had escaped the coming end of the world, and that was what mattered. The problem was, the apocalypse never came. The earth kept on spinning, and 70% of the earth was left orphaned of order, government, or progress. Out of the ensuing chaos, the earth's population dropped dramatically. Some nations disappeared off the map and more emerged overnight. Small-time governments and local powers rose on the national scale. Order was restored, at a cost- the world was reborn as a parody of the once high point of human innovation. Those left could operate the gifts left behind, but could not hope to repair or replicate them. And so the slow, a downward spiral of deterioration began.

    That's where my father stepped in. He saw the plight that exists in this parody of paradise and knew we couldn't fix it, not really. So he made it his life's work to re-create the “doors” that the Lost Ones used to leave. That endeavor cost him his life, once word got around. Not many people want the old ways back. People in power, anyway. Corrupt warlords who have a stranglehold on supplies, what's left of them.

    But that's all behind me, now. Today is the day that all of this ends. Today is the day I reach the Lost.

    Without breaking step, I walk across my small enclosure and swing open the dented metal door, letting the harsh sunlight shine down on my face. It's hot on my skin in those first few moments, but as I shade my sore eyes behind my hair, I duck and slide down the small slope in front of me, sand flying up to match the menagerie of buildings before me. Outskirts those on the interior called it. A wasteland, faded into obscurity more so than the rest of the planet. A smell like fresh cut glass at every gust of wind and a blast of heat whenever you came outside, but we did well enough. At least, that's what my father said whenever my mother got in poor spirits.

    Dancing within the red and yellows and blues, I move towards a rather bulky ladder on the side of the adjacent building. It has a face of warped glass, some of the frames missing or cracked. The other two sides are blinding steel, but stay warm at night and never get covered in snow during the winter. I put my hair up behind me in a kind of knot and grab ahold of the first gritty bar. Starke lives up above, in his self-righteous tower of intelligence, second to none, or so he says. I keep telling him he needs to start calling me “None” if that's the case.

    As I grab the top bar, my arms shake as I pull myself over the edge. “Starke!” I yell, my voice hoarse from the night's sleep. I didn't need to call out. He was sitting where he always does. His lone chair on an empty floor, facing the window. He is lost in thought, lost in his own world when the rest of us are lost in this one. But I can tell he's thinking on something important. His eyebrows arc themselves like a coil whenever he has an idea. I wipe the dirt from the climb off of my jacket and walk across the rotting hardwood towards him. My hand finds its way to his shoulder and tenses slightly. “Starke.” He blinks, but that is his only response. He does this, sometimes. Hasn't always, but only he and I know that. “Starke. It's Lee. Emily. We have the last step today. We talked about this.”

     “It won't work”, Starke replies, his voice like gravel coming out of a wooden chute, the words having stuck there for at least a day. “We talked about this. We can't get the part. We'll die. And... I can't say I like life, but death is hardly...preferable.”

     “Oh stop it, you said yourself it wasn't that difficult. We can do this. We're so close! It's been three damned years, the two of us! Gathering up bits and pieces from old machines and constructs. Stealing what we could, buying the rest. It's all for nothing if we don't get this!”

     “It was hardly for nothing. It was a....distraction. Something welcome in this land of hand-outs and mundanity.”

     “It will work, Starke, you said so yourself.”

     “Only because I was intoxicated by your relentless optimism at the time.”

     “You have a toxic aura yourself, so don't blame anything on me. We have to do this. We can complete the door. Please.”

     Starke's gaze turns from the skyline for a moment, his eyelids twitching but not closing. His mouth opens a crack, then closes again. He takes a long, drawn-out blink, then begins again. “I...we... we can. I have no doubt. Your father did most of the work and gave us a spoon-fed path to the rest. But Lee, I don't think this will do any good. You know that. This door, it won't find any lost people. If they left us, they left us and they won't want to come back. Our parents were trash to them. Why would it be any different now? And that's assuming they actually left to a place. This may not even be an actual door. They could have transcended humanity. They could have killed themselves in the face of doomsday and left the rest of us to hell on earth. You have no idea.”

     “I don't need one. My father, he-”... I let out a cough, trying to mask my urge to cry. It's always like this. Yin and Yang. A fight for the only ally I have against himself.

    “I know, Lee. I know.”

    “Then you understand why I...”

     “Yes. I was just making sure you knew, too. Let's get going.” Starke stands straight up, his chair falling on its side from the abrupt shift. The echo it lets out rattles my ears, the entire empty room a reverberation chamber from the bygone era. We climbed down the ladder, down the side of the glass and steel, and out towards the city.

    The journey from the ruins that we call our homes is nothing short of an ordeal. My father used to speak of a time when every individual owned a transport vehicle of their own, one that would fly them across oceans and over mountains. I was born too late to see such wonders. The only personal machines belong to the government enforcement or are drones themselves, keeping the power in the hands of those who could grab it quickly enough after the Vanishing. So instead, we walk. My shoes are leather and plated metal, protecting my feet and calves against the wind and rock, but far from comfortable. Wind whips around us as we pass by lines of semi-abandoned homes, if you could even call them homes at all. The sun is dipping low in the sky, the intense heat of the morning having subsided to a cool, almost passive chill that brushes against my cheeks. Starke has been silent for the past few miles, as he often is. I have to break him out of it.

    “Starke-” I begin, making sure to keep my mouth covered from any sand that might fly into it. “How far do you think it is until we get to the patrol area?”

    He smiles. Explanation is his favorite thing to do, besides blatant cynicism. “We're close. The people of the factories are far behind us, as well as our farming homes. We've seen a dozen or so people with pets, no? The economic status is picking up as we go more inland. If we don't find a patrol soon, well, we could always make one come to us.”
  
 I let out a slight chuckle. The fact that we were even traveling inland could have been cause for a patrol pick up, if they still had drones to spare anymore. They wouldn't risk breaking what they couldn't fix. “I remember, when we came here for the capacitor from the water station, that we passed by two trees that grew into one another. That marked the point where patrols began. I haven't seen it yet.”

     “We'll have to keep our eyes out then, won't we, Lee?”

     “For more than a tree, if we miss it” I reply. The patrols were never known for their discretion. If we were identified as outsiders, it wouldn't end well. I pat the soft burlap bag to my side, worn and full of holes, but containing a much more complex piece of technology. My father called it an E.M.P., and although he hadn't built it, he had figured out to use it after he bought it off a traveler for a week's worth of food. Despite my mother's protests, he said it was more than worth the hunger, and I find myself wondering if he's right. He called it a kill switch for all machines. A kill switch? How safe can that really be?

    The two of us work our way up a rocky outcropping, the blue-green grass patches becoming more and more rare as we rise. My boots come in handy, now, as does my jacket- the wind has turned bitter cold, and my organs feel as if they're about to freeze. Only the constant walking has kept my blood from freezing in my veins, and the idle chatter of my teeth has kept my mind alive enough to focus- apt as it is to wandering in situations where it lacks any real stimulation. It tends to wander a lot when I'm back home. But now my body is wandering and I need to focus. The top of the hill is coming up, my calves and feet ache deep in the muscle, my back is sore and my head is light. I can't smell anything but my own blood in my scarred naval cavity. The harsh winds and dry chill have not been kind. The apex peeks at us, an array of golden lights illuminate Starke as he takes the last step to the top. We're standing on the golden scar where the Descolace and Technogoria meet. A stitch that brings together two jarringly different landscapes and encases them in the remains of a once great world. A world I want to bring back despite never having seen it outside of my Father's stories. The tree is there, twin saplings that grew over many decades into a twisted, tangled knot. Their bark is withered from the wind, their branches bare from the acidic air. But they still hold on, the only tree able to stand up to the elements on the entire expanse because of its joining with another.

    “Are you sure you still want to do this?” Starke asks, genuinely concerned, his eyes flickering with the golden light as his hair whips across his face. “We've got one shot at this dream of yours and, well, you know I'm not convinced.”

     “Why did you come, then?”

     “You know why. I've got nothing better to do.” He grinned. A smart alek even now.
    
     “This is going to work, Starke. We just need to take down one drone and get the power source out of its chassis. We bring it to the graradge, hook it up, and then...then this is all done. We walk through it and find the others.”

     “You know that it's not going to be that simple, Lee. Even if we get absurdly stupid thing done... even if we finish it, you have no idea what will happen. It could just kill you.”

     “You don't know that.”

     “Nor do you.”

    I parse my lips and become silent, letting the only noise be the hollow wind and the dull metallic hum coming from deep within the heart of the city. I don't like thinking about what happens when I'm wrong. If I'm wrong. I know I should, planning for contingencies is the smart thing to do. It would have saved my father. But I don't. I need all my energy ahead of me. “Let's just do this.”

    Starke smiles a little back at me. His face has been unusually happy as of late, unchararistically so. I wonder if it's all a show for my sake. That wouldn't be like him either, though. Without a word, we both begin to descend the hill, the back side of it incredibly steep, like the side of a bowl sculpted in dirt and grime. The wind lessens as we get farther down the hill but still stings. My skin is red and chapped, dirt is slapped on my cheeks like frozen tears. But I'm more determined than I've ever been. The closer it comes, the more achievable it is. The last piece...

    A mere hour passes and we're standing at the edge of Technogoria. I look at Starke again as he stares upwards, wide-eyed, at the towering structures ahead. They are similar to the buildings back home, slightly taller, perhaps, and much cleaner, but they are being used. A city full of light and vibrancy is infinitely more alive than one that has been left hollow and devoid of life. A fluorescent glow of gold emits from each floor of the first building as it reaches to the grey, hazed sky like the tiers of a false sun. Stories have escaped the city on occasion. Travelers telling of these buildings and the happenings within them. They leap to the fantastic and the insane more often than not, speaking of six-winged beasts at the peaks of spires and red-eyed demons that devour those who do not keep in line. All lunacy, of course, but one element of the stories stays constant- the enforcement of law and order. Once the initial power struggle ended, all-encompassing rule became paramount so the powerful remained so unchallenged. No weapons were allowed within the city's reach, even so far as back into my home. But we don't need traditional weapons. Just my Father's foresight and a little bit of rebellion.

    “Starke, are you ready to do this?”

    “To destroy such a beautiful thing and risk both our lives for a guess, Lee? You know damned well I am.” He grins back. The farther we've come, the less thoughtful he's become. Or perhaps he's just internalizing it all. It doesn't really matter. He opens his pack and takes out a large rectangle of stone. It's attached to a small handle that was perhaps once polished, but has become matte with age. Starke holds it gingerly while tracing a finger up and down it until he finds the hidden button on the side. A metallic click echos and the handle suddenly extends outwards, popping to about three feet long. He grabs the new handle and wields the hammer with a sense of satisfaction in his eyes. “All right, time to smash as soon as you're all set up”. He points to a slight dip in the landscape a yard away. “You can duck in that little nook and wait. It'll be safer for you. Just make sure you don't miss the trigger, ok?”

    I nod as I feel my face relax into a solemn mask. This has to go exactly right. We're running on stories and traveler's lore and we have to get this exactly right. No problem. As I kneel in the dirt, my back to the rocky clifface, I take out the EMP from my sidebag and think about this. How anything and everything can go wrong. How, a minute from now, I could be climbing for my life up the mountain I spent an hour climbing down. How I could be sitting in the dirt a few feet away, contemplating how this doesn't even attract a drone. But my father's memory is stronger than these fears. It triumphs in the face of what-ifs and hows. I lay the EMP on the ground beside me and flip open the cracked plastic casing and eye the large red button on the top of the otherwise unremarkable metallic dome. “Starke!” I whisper at a yell. “I'm ready”.

    A massive bang breaks my concentration. The sound of shattering glass fills my ears as Starke drives the hammer into the first glass window of the building. Yellow light bounces off of them before them embed themselves in the ruined earth. Not even a moment passes before a shrill while pierces my mind. A siren of some sort has alerted an authority, even at this ungodly hour. Exactly as we planned. I peek over the edge of the rock and see Starke, gripping the hammer tightly against his chest, as if it can save him from what's coming. Only I can do that.

    A human yell interrupts the siren for a moment before fading back into obscurity. Another one breaks in, a cry of anguish and fear from around the corner of the building and the next one. The cries multiply, and I shut my eyes. Whatever is coming obviously doesn't rely on discretion. Suddenly, I feel a sharp pain in the top of my scalp. Warm blood trickles down my cheek as I feel my fingers through my hair. Glass stabbed itself into my forearm, then into my thigh. A window above has broken above me, raining down the crystal shards into my flesh. The siren stops as I try to pry the glass out of my arm, cutting my fingertips in the process. The pain is making me more and more aware, though. More alert.

    My ear twitches as I hear a loud whirring noise out of the broken window above me. My eyes drift upwards and I snap my head downwards when I realize that it's happened: the plan has worked. At least part of the way. I hear Starke yell, and press the button as a wave of nausea overtakes me. I can feel the blood rush out of my head, and then...

    “Get up, Lee. Open those giant doe-eyes of yours and look at me.”. Starkes' voice bounces around my head. I attempt to crack my eyes, but immediately shut them when the searing sunlight reveals itself. I can still see a little bit of it, a red glow of where it powers through my eyelids and into the retina.
“St- Starke?” I manage to mumble.

     “That's it! There you are. Ok, open your eyes. I'm sick of dragging you.”

     “Drag-?” the world is still cloudy, as if I'm viewing it through a smoky piece of glass. The land around me is flat, and we're on some kind of paved road that's only partially cracked and ruined. Red rocks litter the earth around us. “Starke, what happened? Where are we?”

     “We are currently four hours out of Technogoria, well on the path to your father's little workshop. It' should happen upon us soon, assuming you can stand. Because I'm not dragging you any farther.”

     “Drag-?” I repeat as I look down. I'm sitting on some kind of bent metal sheet that's got a long leather handle tied through two holes at the end. To the side of me is our two satchels, somehow both covering the ends of a rather large object. “Starke, what is this?” I say as I attempt to untie the bags from one another.
“That, Lee, is what you and I almost died for. That is the drone's core capacitor.”

     “It...what? Starke, how did you get this out and...oh God.” It hits me that I don't remember anything after the 
EMP pulse. “Starke. What happened?” I place my hand on the surprisingly hot metal sheet to balance myself as I stand. My head gets a rush and I smell dried blood in my nose.

    “It went exactly according to plan, Lee. Well, mostly. The drone came out of the building after attacking some residents. It could hover! You should have seen it. It had these kind of eye-sensors, an array of segmented tentacles with red glowing eyes on the end that swept out of the inner shell which was kind of like a long egg. It burst through an upper story window and you got hit with a lot of the falling glass. It came right at me and extended these arms out of nowhere, but then you hit the pulse and it just fell down dead. At that point a lot of the city's residents ran outside to tear the thing to pieces. I got a few to help me pry a piece of armor off and I used their belt to make it a sled for you. One of them gave me water to wash you off and clean the wounds, and then a kind old man helped me get the capacitor out without damaging it. And all I had to do is give them the rest of it. They're just like us, Lee. They may live in a better lit city, doing different jobs, but they're just like us. I cleaned you off, stopped the bleeding, and have been dragging you ever since.”

     My facial expression kind of stops forming, my eyes dilate and focus right in on Starke's smug face. “You magnificent b*****d.”

     “Don't I know it.”

     I take a step, carefully, making sure to test that I even can. “I've lost a lot of blood, haven't I?” I ask as my foot trembles as I set it down.

     “Loads.”

     “Well thanks for not letting me die”

     “I try. How else are we going to fix the giant suicide door?”

    I stop in my tracks. Starke is sneering, but he hasn't changed his mind at all. He went through with all of this and still thinks that a third of earth' population killed itself rather than encounter the end of days that didn't even come. “You have a cheery outlook on the death of billions, Starke.”

     “I'm just saying-” he begins as he grabs the sled and begins to walk. “I don't think that, even if the people of the past had a teleporter, they would have had a place to go. It just doesn't make sense. Why wouldn't they die quickly and painlessly instead of waiting around for the end? They didn't colonize anywhere. There's no record of any of it.”

     “You're just grasping at straws. You don't know what they did.” I snap back, defensive. “My father had it worked out. He knew what the machines did, and if he were around he could tell me!”

     “But he's not. And really, whatever he realizes it was, he would use it. Two billion people used it in the past. Why would he be any different?”

     “Because he wanted to call them back, Starke. Not kill himself. Not escape. He wanted to fix the world.”

     “And if he realized he couldn't? What then? Do you know he was really murdered? Do you know that?”

     “Starke...why are you saying these things?”

     “Because, Lee, I don't think this will work. I care about you, I really do. I've come with you through all of this, years of it, because I know you won't rest until the machine is built, but I don't want you to use it! I couldn't stand it if you were wrong.”

     “You couldn't stand being right? That's an interesting change.”

     “Lee...”

     I stare straight ahead and walk. The ground turns to brown and pale weeds and I walk. My ears ring, blocking out anything else Starke has to say. I won't hear it. The ground begins to dip and I see the door to my father's shop up ahead amongst a cluster of smaller homes. There were over a dozen of them, but the one my father used was a large square building with a pitched roof and a large cone spire at the head of it, topped with a sideways X.

     People peek out of their windows at us. I know they are- they always have since my father started using the building before I was born. I used to ask why, and he would always answer the same way “because they cling to the past in a way we do not.” I still don't understand what he meant, but at this point, it hardly matters. I glance behind me as I get close to the door. Starke is behind me, dragging the cannibalized sled and our prize. His head is down, however. His look is far from the usual dynamic it possesses.

    I push on the large wooden doors, brass handles ripped out long ago to reveal only the unpainted wood beneath. The inside is well lit, mainly windows like the majority of the larger buildings back home or in the city. There is a cellar past a few rows of seats and a pulpit, and we descend it with an air of mockery for the task ahead.

    As I enter my father's workplace, I can hardly stop myself from remembering all the other times I've come here. Skipped a day or two of work on the farm and simply come here to admire what my father did with his life. So many things unfinished. Small miracles made of gears and chemical reactions litter shelf after shelf, hand-drawn diagrams float atop one another on every desk. But this is now my workplace, too, and has been for years. In the center of the room a large black obelisk stands. Put together with the finest collection of stolen parts the world has ever seen assembled, it is my father's child, but mine as well. The door out of this place. One to wrench back those who left it and make them bring about a proper dawn on the planet. One that is infinitely more glorious than the one they left the sun to rise on.

    “Lee-” Starke says behind me.

    “Not now, Starke. I need to figure out where I hid the last instructions...”

    “Lee, I think that I heard-”

    “What is it Starke? I'm serious.”

    Stark screams at me, throwing the sled and capacitor down the stairs. “LEE! RUN!”

    I spin around as Starke sprints up the cellar steps and slams the door behind him. I hear his voice, elevated and angry, yet wavering in fear. A metallic hum emanates from above, chased by a scream. Someone is here. Something is here.

    I nearly trip over myself as I scramble for the final list of steps. The capacitor is just a catalyst, everything else should be functional once it's integrated into the machine. I find the steps and begin to plug the capacitor into the side of the monolith: an ugly organic addition to the otherwise geometrically beautiful mechanism. A low hum almost immediately comes out of the machine, one that makes my blood quake and my eyelids feel like they're going to burst. The machine begins to glow, a white light emerging from the seams. I hear a crashing of wood as something breaks down the cellar door. There are no more screams from Starke, only one loud crash after another. I don't look back. I know exactly what it is- another monster from the city, come to stop me like it did my father. A metallic monster wielded by a small-minded man. But the monster doesn't matter. Perhaps Starke was right, and that this door will do nothing but kill me. Surely that would be preferable to the monster a few steps away. But I know better. This door will take me beyond, and I don't need it to be here to return.

Epilogue:
     So now you understand how I've come here and heard my tale. Come back with me, make your world right again, because it is yours, no matter how much you sought to abandon her in a time of need. Please.

© 2012 Pandrogynite


Author's Note

Pandrogynite
This is a first draft of a short story, so feedback is critical! I need all I can get, good or bad. Thanks for reading!

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Added on October 29, 2012
Last Updated on October 29, 2012
Tags: future, dawn, robots, apocalypse, post-apocalyptic

Author

Pandrogynite
Pandrogynite

Raleigh, NC



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I am not so much a writer as an a*****e with a word processor. But I get along how I can. more..

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