The Rock Shakes
It came out of the sky, must have come from space, cracked the air and penetrated the ground in Sheep’s Meadow. There was no massive explosion even though I was certain it was moving faster than any jet possibly could. For 15 minutes, I stood looking up the street in front of my building, not moving, not blinking, starting to sweat, holding coffee for me and my wife. It moved so fast that I thought maybe it wasn’t real, that I caught a glimpse of a shadow or it was one of those floaters in my eye. But then the ground rippled, the buildings next to me jumped an inch and landed with a crash. Some started toppling, others just settled, creaking, slightly askew.
Then I heard a grumble. A grinding, undulating, pulse, barely audible, yet excruciating in its volume. I remembered the phrase “brown note” and worried that I would succumb to uncontrolled shitting, but, thankfully, I kept it together. I looked up at my building. It was beginning to sag.
“Babe!” I was already running back into the building as I screamed for my wife. We rarely ever called each other by our names, opting instead for Babe or Baby, and sometimes Honey. So much so, that it felt weird to refer to her by name when I introduced her to colleagues or friends. As I crossed the threshold of our building’s sagging front door, my wife was already running toward me, our 5-year-old daughter in tow. My wife’s hair was caked in blood on one side, but she seemed unbowed by whatever gave her the gash. She had the stern look of protector-in-chief, ready to lift the building off of her daughter should it come to that. Raylin hadn’t processed what was happening yet, if any of us had at all. She still had her stuffed puppy, NiNi, under her arm. Its neck worn from constant snuggling over 3 1/2 years.
I scooped her up, and without words, the three of us were in the middle of the street looking down 6th avenue. We could hear the creaking and crashing of buildings in the distance. Our own building looked precarious, the facade was sagging toward the street and windows on the second floor were breaking as they caved into the interior.
“The park.” My wife’s mind was always sharpest under duress. Where I would freeze in matters of extreme pressure, she gained clarity from the extremes of life and death. She was never accused of hesitating. The park was three avenues away. It felt like the undulation was coming from the park, but there was nowhere else where we’d be safe from falling buildings and debris, so we started walking quickly, a New York pace, which to the uninitiated would look like jogging. The waves of energy gained momentum and my daughter started whining in pain. As the waves closed together, so did our pace quicken. Until the ground leapt with one electrifying jolt. We were tumbling in the air as soon as the wave passed through us. The breath knocked out of me, I was laying on my back staring into the clear blue. An apartment building’s brick facade crumbling above me. My wife leaned over me with Raylin.
“We’ve gotta move.” She whispered sternly, worriedly, looking at the building above.
Then we were actually running, my wife ahead of me as my daughter finally started crying the anguish of uncontrolled fear. Her little fingers dug into my wife’s back with such force that Kathryn’s shirt was tearing beneath her little fingertips. I don’t think Kat noticed. When we finally made it to the park, it was amid thousands of other Manhattanites. Some hobbled with sprained ankles, some with protruding bones. The waves were gathering speed again when a bright spark of light lanced down from the atmosphere, burning oxygen in its path. The waves stopped and the southern end of the park exploded in an actinic blue flash.
Moments later, hundreds of ships, space ships, descended through the atmosphere on trails of fire, breaking sound barriers and whatever windows and ear drums were left in the metro area. They didn’t turn to burn off speed as they descended. They just plummeted until they were a few hundred feet off the ground before firing retro thrusters. They left no burn marks as they landed. They just landed, one 50 feet from where we were standing mouth agape. In that instant, I knew we weren’t alone in the universe and that we were ill equipped to survive.
The tail of the ship unfolded like an origami iris, forming a curvilinear ramp onto which stepped an attractive humanoid female. Lavender skin, light blue hair, yellow eyes. Even while I was retreating into my lizard brain, the situation felt off. Like the alien in front us looked too close to what I thought an alien should look like. Like the artist who created it was limited to humanoid forms because the actors they painted and sculpted were also human. Then she spoke.
“You’re in danger. Your planet is under attack and it will not survive. You will not survive.”
I knew there was an “unless” coming. I heard Arnold in my head, “Come with me if you want to live.”
“We have temporarily slowed the attack, but more attacks are coming and it will shake your cities to the ground, ultimately shaking each of you apart with waves of gravity. If you stay, you cannot escape. Thousands of our ships are landing across the earth. We won’t be able to save all of you, but we will try to get as many of you as we can. We are here to rescue you. Quickly, get aboard if you want to live.”
My wife and I looked at each other, then at the ship. It was sleek reptilian purple with a hammerhead shaped front. It looked like a violent predator, as if it would turn you to mush if you looked at it for too long. I couldn’t see any weapons, but, then again, I didn’t know what weapons on an alien flying shark looked like. It was a big ship and could probably fit 500 people, if we didn’t mind sitting on one another. My daughter just said, “wow.” And we all looked up. Everywhere you looked, there was a shark flying through the air or descending to building tops, parks, rivers.
“Rick, I don’t want to get on that thing. Is it possible to destroy a whole planet in seconds? Why would they want to?”
“Mommy, Daddy…where are they from?”
The people around us were similarly frozen, unsure, inquisitive. Go back to our crumbling buildings, or get on a space bound shark with an attractive space faring flight attendant. I would wager that no one within sight had been off of Earth before, and didn’t like the idea of giving it a try at this moment. The woman, if you can call her that, standing on the ramp became agitated and started yelling back into the cavernous ship. The top of the ship unfolded along its spine. A small dome appeared and the air over it snapped into blue translucence.
“Quickly now” the alien shouted. “The enemy is beginning its second attack run.”
Over 82nd street, a descending Shark tumbled as the front half slid off of the back and burst into blue flames before it crashed into the Egyptian exhibit at the Met. The sky above the ship was momentarily ignited with a white stab of light that I could only assume was a laser. I’d find out later that it was a super heated plasma beam that only hard shields could disrupt, provided you had the foresight to point your hard shields in the right direction. The ship in front of us had correctly deployed their shields. As the plasma stabbed toward them, it met the shield and the little dome glowed bright red as steam pushed out from the sides. A few people started running toward the ship, but my family and I stayed where we were.
Another black form appeared in the sky moving at an incredible pace. I could only see it because it was coming right toward the park again, and then I saw hundreds of them, all falling toward the city. One pierced right through a landing shark. The ship didn’t explode and no debris was sent into the air. The ship was only sagging slightly on the left side. The kinetic energy alone should have destroyed us all.
People were now running toward the ship as the groaning in the earth began again. They weren’t full out sprinting, they were still afraid, but resigned to the only direction that seemed life affirming instead of death incarnate. Next to me, I heard a slight tear in the air and a woman, who I hadn’t met and was wearing her bathrobe, caught my eye for a second. And then she was gone. Not dead, that I could tell, just gone, a small divot also missing from the ground. And then people running ahead of me were disappearing, one at a time, ten at a time. Only those under the protective umbrella of the ship weren’t disappearing. My wife, daughter, and I made it onto the ramp and I was struck by the musky, boggy smell of the ship. Based on the alien’s appearance, it should have smelled like lavender and mint, but it smelled like swamp water and gym socks. My daughter was wailing “NiNi!” and pointing down the ramp. In the run, she dropped the poor dog. I didn’t think. I had a father’s Pavlovian response and ran out into the field. Gravity waves pulsing in my stomach.
The alien was yelling something at me and waving at me to return to the ship. I turned after picking up the dog and smelled copper, as if I held a penny up to my nose. I made eye contact with my wife who’s eyes were wide with fear and red with grief. She was yelling toward me and motioning for me to come back to her. And then I was gone.
I was mid-stride when I reappeared. My right foot was still on the piece of grass from Central Park when my left foot landed on smooth alien metal. The change in texture and softness was jarring. I looked down at the grass and dirt that crumbled underfoot and realized that I was not alone. Feet, some with shoes, some without, trampled patches of dirt all over the pristine white surface. Thousands and thousands of people milled about making idle chit chat, others somnolent in their gaze, still others crying or yelling for someone who wasn’t there. I was both worried and awestruck. I noticed the woman in the bathrobe from Sheep’s Meadow. She kneeled on the ground a few feet away, the edges of her robe tanned with New York City filth and Central Park dirt. She muttered someone’s name as she cried quietly.
A wall rose high above, taller than my five story apartment building and wider than twenty city blocks. I put my palm on the wall. It was warm to the touch. It looked like cool metal, but it felt alive, vibrating lightly under my fingertips. An amber glow pulsed across the entirety of the wall. A low tone rang throughout the massive chamber. I instinctively pulled my hand back, afraid of what was next. The glow faded as the lunar surface appeared, the Earth a distant blue sphere, a deep black void beyond that. We were in space, looking at a screen large enough to show all of Central Park to scale.
I had never been so far away from my home, my family.
I wanted to get back to my wife. I willed myself home and hoped that whatever brought me here would send me back. Instead, the image in front of me careened toward the earth until my personal satellite view was filled with blue oceans and green forests. The outline of the eastern seaboard zigzagged upwards. I found New York along the coast and searched the tiny details for Manhattan’s iconic shape. The image rolled inward again until I could see my home town from Herald Square up to Harlem. The Empire State Building tilted toward the East River. The Chrysler Building had collapsed onto Grand Central. People ran away from the devastation, small fleas fleeing.
I focused harder on my neighborhood in the Upper East Side. The roof of my apartment building was cracked down the middle. Black smoke billowed out of the windows. I realized this was a live image, and I was thankful it was a clear morning. I followed the path my family and I took to the park, and saw the Shark my wife and daughter were in. People were crowding onto the ramp. I recognized a man from around the neighborhood. He paused and reached for a woman trailing him. I blinked and he was gone, only to appear ten feet behind me, dirt underfoot.
His wild eyes reflected my inner feelings. I stared at him as he reached out to the viewport, just as I had done. He was right next to me, but I could tell he wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. He was deep in his own trance. My screen was my own. When I looked back, I caught sight of my wife’s auburn hair and daughter’s golden curls, their heads turning frantically. I could only guess they were searching for me. Briefly, very briefly, something caught their attention in the air above and they both looked up at the same time. They didn’t look scared exactly, more resigned. Both were breathtakingly beautiful. The image froze and moved to the corner of my screen like I had taken a screenshot. I wanted desperately to remember the moment. I didn’t know it then, but this image would be available to me wherever I was for the rest of my days. They boarded the Shark and the ramp closed along a thousand folds. As it lifted off, I wanted to follow, but the ground below it caught my eye. It shook more and more violently until it finally liquefied, like an angry child threw a thousand pebbles into a pond all at once. There were a few people still scattered around the park. They were getting shaken apart.
The man next to me started screaming. “Somebody help her. Help! She’s still down there and alone. HELP ME, Please!!!” He trailed off. There was no help for her. No one was coming. The Sharks were gone, and the people I could still see were being pulled apart by whatever shook the ground. Finally, the ground turned inside out. The grass and trees of Central Park disappeared beneath the crust, leaving only freshly tilled soil. Buildings crumbled, bridges fell, rivers and oceans rushed across Manhattan and Staten Island. In 45 minutes, the entire world had been reduced to a pockmarked mass grave. The destruction was utter and complete.
Something inside the man next to me gave up.
I frantically searched for the Shark carrying my wife. The view panned until the image filled the screen. As I looked for reason and context to all of this, my personal view zoomed out. A green square marked my wife and daughter’s Shark. It appeared as a speck against the Earth, but still present, which gave me both hope and comfort. It was short lived. My family’s ship was only one of thousands streaming into the belly of an enormous purple vessel high above the Earth, a Whale Shark.
The Whale Shark bristled with guns and shields. There was no sound, but I could tell it was firing in our direction. There were burn trails of missiles and red circles growing bigger in the viewport. One by one, the circles disappeared, broadcasting our safety. The Whale Shark swallowed a whole continent’s worth of landing Sharks. My wife’s trailed at the end of the line. When safely inside, the massive ship vanished into the blackness of space. My heart sank. An audible sigh propagated through the crowd.
Everyone started going rubber room crazy, talking to thin air. Some emphatic in their gestures. The woman in the bathrobe, still kneeling, was shaking her head as if she was responding to a consoling friend. She was making eye contact with something, a ghost maybe, but there was no apparition.
A shadow overcame my thoughts, like a shadow in the corner of the room at night, the kind your mind insists is another person, but is only a jacket slumped over a chair.
“Rick.” A man’s voice gently spoke my name as an old friend would have.
I turned my head and saw a figure slightly taller than me, lithe, glowing a nearly imperceptible blue. His features were elven and narrow. He had only three fingers and what I would call a thumb, though it reached the tips of his other fingers. There was a slight ridge in his translucent grey hair that flowed down his neck, ultimately terminating in a tail that seemed strong enough to be a third foot. His eyes were average size, but angled with the inside pointing upward ever so slightly. His visage and features were both comforting in their similarity to mine and disturbing in their small, but meaningful, differences. Off just enough to create cognitive dissonance. My mind contorted between awe and despair, unable to focus on one set of emotions or thoughts for more than a fleeting moment.
“You are right to feel lost.” I looked around to see if anyone else heard or saw this ghost. “Only you and I can see and hear this conversation. Everyone around you is having a similarly personal experience. I am what you would call Artificial Intelligence, modeled to look like the Ensari. This ship has the capability to broadcast images and sounds directly and personally. There are a great many things you will learn about us and your wife and daughter’s captors, the Hensie.”
“Captors?” A lump of fear clogged my throat.
“Yes, captors. The Hensie raided your planet for conscripted labor. They laid waste to Earth as a controlling measure. It ensures that there will be no surprises or sabotage against their designs. One day they will likely return to exploit Earth and add it to their expanding territory. Which seems moot because they always target a civilization too primitive to put up a defense.” The last part was said under his breath. Odd for a computer program to be introspective.
I couldn’t even muster a question.
“When we learned of their plans, we assembled these colony vessels and sent them to your aid. Unfortunately, the Hensie had already begun the attack when we arrived in the system. We attempted to save as many as possible.”
My personal screen had disappeared. The ship-wide view panel was covered in thousands of blue icons, all slowly converging above the Earth. Their trajectories mapped with pulsing blue lines.
“These icons mark each of your vessels. It is all the human species has left. We were able to save only 189,009,314 of your people. The Hensie were able to abduct 402,495. In the known universe, there are now only 189,411,809 of your kind from the nine billion once on Earth. The ships you see here can hold and keep in comfort approximately 500 million. They are now yours.”
“Who are you? Why should I believe you?” I stammered. The scale of both our destruction and, if this was to believed, our rescue, was staggering.
“You can call me Prime. I am modeled after Stern, the originator of artificial intelligence on Ensar. Stern is also the Ensari who orchestrated the overthrow of the Hensie in our home system. After we chased them from our home, we began defending other species. Their tactics have evolved with frightening consequences. Where previously they would annex a planet and place it under the yoke of their control, they changed tactics once we overthrew them. Since then, they have chosen the path of genocide and enslavement instead of just enslavement. Earth is the thirteenth such planet to succumb to their ‘we’ve come to save you’ ruse. We’ve saved seven such species. Each time making every individual in the species the same offer.”
I looked expectantly at Prime as I waited for the offer.
“Yes, this ship can read your thoughts and intents. It can predict what you want before you’ve thought it, which is why we could track the Shark with your wife without you asking us to and could then show it to you when you wanted it. Shark is an appropriate name given the native species on your planet. A few of your people have called it the same.”
I broke from the conversation, disturbed that someone or something was in my head. People were greeting each other around the cavernous room. I had the sinking feeling that I could be controlled by this ship. If it could read my thoughts and predict what I wanted, could it control me? Could it plant ideas to make me think the Hensie are evil? Could it make me believe that we were with the good guys.
“We don’t control or force you to believe. The kind of control and suggestion you are talking about is incredibly painful for the subject, so you’ll know it’s happening, even though you can’t do anything about it. The Hensie have no compunction against it, mind you.”
“Enough!” I scolded Prime like a child.
I needed space. The illusion of space, at least. The video immediately in front of me pixelated and the wall peeled away bit by bit until a small room appeared. The room’s walls concentrically rippled inward. More tiny cubes separated from the wall and stacked like water flowing up a waterfall, settling into the shape of a seat, which I took as an invitation to sit down. I reluctantly sat. Even if I had a choice, I couldn’t go anywhere but this ship. The cubes again pooled along the edges of the doorway until I was completely closed in. I was alone and it was perfectly silent for a moment before the room flashed amber and slid like colorless Mercury into a clear picture of the woman in the bathrobe and the broken man.
The room shifted backwards with a thump, pushing me off the seat slightly. The woman and the people behind her faded away. I was being pulled out into space and I could now see the scale of what I couldn’t quite grasp earlier. I wasn’t in a room, I was in a small ship, a pod. The ship I was in just a moment ago loomed overhead, a bright white slab ascending into the darkness. Up close, it wasn’t completely smooth. It pulsed, from bow to stern, like a worm moving through dirt. My pod accelerated backwards and allowed even more of the ship to come into view. Our ship stretched into the distance like an arrow on its way to Earth. It was the size of ninety city blocks. The reflection of the sun on the hull was blinding until the screen in the pod polarized and blocked out the light.
I had wanted perspective and Prime was trying to give it to me. Earth was getting closer. Blue icons appeared on screen and pulsed over our armada. Letters unfolded above our ship, flipping like an old mechanical clock from the 70’s. It settled onto Manhattan Project. Other ships had the same scrolling text. Some had Cyrillic, Hindi, and Arabic words that I couldn’t read, until the pod translated them for me. Hand of God, The Fertile Crescent, New Mumbai, Zeus, Thor’s Hammer, The Seat of Power, Second Star to the Right, and on and on.
The population of the ships oscillated under each icon. Symbols appeared to the left of each name. A flag waving, a shield, a sword, a compass. A sword appeared next to our ship’s name. The population numbers settled. Manhattan Project had 71,406. The exterior of Manhattan Project stopped rippling. Two large waves emanated from the center of the ship and raced toward the bow and stern. At the crest of each, the ship’s color turned from white to dark grey. Gun ports violated the previously smooth hull of the 3-mile-long ship. Some the size of small cannons, others as large as battleship guns. Massive, skyscraper-sized shafts formed along the spine and keel. The front of the ship flattened into a blunt grey instrument instead of the arrow it was just a moment ago. Ships in the vicinity discarded their blank skins much like we had just done. Each had a new purpose. Ours seemed clear.
I rested my head against the wall of the pod and stared at the bright blue thumbprint that was Earth. The hum of the pod vibrated and distorted my vision. I don’t know how long I’d been in the pod, an hour, maybe two. Time was incongruent. I had lost my grip on what made me, me. Me, the guy who was never late for work, never late for a meeting, never missed a school event. I couldn’t get a handle on the time. My mind was blank. I thought I would have been racked with sorrow, pain, maybe even despair. Instead, I ruminated on why I wasn’t more distraught, more sorrowful. I was empty, like someone had used an ice cream scooper to remove my emotions and memories.
The adrenalin wore off and my body started to shut down. My head danced like it used to on early morning subway rides until I couldn’t fight it anymore. My eyes closed and the memories rushed in on me – My wife and daughter in our small apartment experimenting with baking soda, food coloring, and vinegar, my wife at the kitchen table working on her latest hardware project, soldering iron rendering small poisonous puffs under her magnifying glass. My daughter sitting on the grey velvet couch excitedly reading the photo book of terrifying deep sea creatures we got her for Hannukah. A family exploring the world, feeding their individual and familial obsessions. A family deeply in love with each other and the possibilities yet undiscovered.
I forced myself awake, unable to stare my previous happiness in the eye. The image of my two girls stared back at me in the pod’s view port. It mocked me. It comforted me. I desired to be with them, to smell their hair again, to fall into each other laughing again, to complain about the mess my wife made as she built her circuits in our too small apartment. That desire turned into emptiness, emptiness that filled up with hatred and anger. I willed the picture away and looked back toward Earth.
It was larger now, the size of a tea cup. I could make out the swirling brown dust clouds that now covered the land masses, but before I could get a closer view, the screen flashed amber and showed the interior of the Manhattan Project. Two men and two women stood on a platform in the center of the great hall, looking both lost and confident. They stared in the same direction and nodded quietly. They were listening quietly to someone who wasn’t there. This is what people look like when they talk to Prime, I guessed. There was a possibility they were all crazy, but that seemed less likely.
The screen zoomed in on a slight Asian man standing in front of a woman in a sari. He nodded, and then said his name. Xiaoping Luo. Prime was apparently talking to all of them at the same time, a whisper in their ear. The pocket of Xiaoping’s blue button down was torn revealing a deep gash in his chest. I could imagine the metallic blood smell that emanated from his wound. I didn’t notice at the time, but it was definitely odd that he hadn’t been bandaged yet. He seemed weak.
A pressure built in my head and a shadow fell across my thoughts, much like when Prime appeared, but more invasive, more personal. My eyes were open, but my sight darkened and my sense of sound quieted. When my vision snapped back, I was in an empty warehouse. A tiger prowled inside a cage. I could see it, hear it, smell it. It felt real, but I could also feel my back pressed against the seat of the pod. I tried at first to close my eyes, but the scene still played out. The ship pushed it into my brain. I had no choice but to go along. The tiger snarled and panted as it paced back and forth behind the bars. It lunged at the door to loosen the bolts. I feared the tiger because it was vicious, but there was more to it. I had a deeper fear of betrayal and a sadness, like the tiger belonged to me and I was the one who had put it in the cage to protect myself. The shadow pulled away from me and left a cavity in my mind that slowly filled in with my regular senses. I reached out for the sides of the pod to steady myself. Xiaoping covered his mouth with his hand and kneeled on the platform sobbing. The woman in the sari reached out to console him.
In that moment, I knew Xiaoping. I knew his strength was easily misdirected. I knew he was on the knife’s edge of snapping. My mind recoiled, the way you recoil when you see a bully from your childhood. Xiaoping was a man you avoided. I had never met Xiaoping before, but I knew who he was and what he was to me as if a lifetime of experiences had informed my knowledge. But I didn’t know why this was happening.
“Pri..” I started to speak, but caught myself mid word.
– Prime? I thought quietly to myself. Small pressure built above my ears.
– You and the people on this ship are picking a Captain. This is much like the organization of the ships before, except this is a conscious choice.
– It felt like I was there. I could smell a tiger, and when it was gone, it left an awful ache behind.
– The first few times are the hardest, but you will get used to it. You can see how mind control would be painful.
On the platform, a few men dispassionately dragged Xiaoping’s collapsed body off of the platform.
The screen zoomed in on the woman in the sari. She was short, but she moved with a grace that made her appear taller. Her long, dark hair was pulled behind her ears, which made her eyes even more bright and welcoming. She looked to her right and nodded, Prime must have given her more instructions. She spoke her name, Anita Singh. The image of a table filled with a home cooked meal appeared in my head. A chair was pulled out inviting me to sit. I could hear a woman humming over the din of clanging pots and plates. The smells of naan bread, cardamom, and cumin registered in the back of my brain. The anticipation of a happy family gathering washed over me. I longed for that familial connection, but it stirred the deep anger inside me. A love lost instead of a love gained. I steadied myself as the shadow lifted and the image and emotion tumbled away. Anita was a connector. She would bring us together, but she couldn’t send people to fight and die.
The screen shifted to a man who introduced himself as Marko Pinder. His chin was as severe as his hair was dark. He was a head taller than Anita with a barrel chest and tree stumps for legs. His sweatpants and ragged t-shirt were covered in dirt. His shadow invaded my thoughts. A brick wall appeared in front of me. Marko yelled over his shoulder. Spit flew from his mouth. I could smell his breath. He held a sledgehammer in one hand and adjusted a gun in his belt with the other. He walked slowly up to the wall, lifted the hammer over his head and swung it viciously. When the wall didn’t give, he swung again with more force, more anger. Each time the hammer hit the bricks, fear built in my mind until I felt the urge to flee. When his hammer crashed through to the other side of the wall, he pulled the gun out of his belt and fired blindly into the darkness, his mouth a wide grin. As the shadow lifted, Marko grimaced. He stepped backward with his head bowed in defeat. He was an indiscriminate killer. He would win a battle, but never a war.
The last candidate stepped forward. She said her name, Brienne Foucault, with a thick French accent. Her hair was cut in an angular bob, a sharp contrast to the softness of her features. A white and blue patterned dress peaked out from behind a white lab coat. Above the breast pocket, it read Foucault Parfumerie in an airy script. She was taller than Marko and quicker in her movements. My vision blurred and I saw myself sitting across from her with a chess board between us. I reached out and tipped over my black king. I had lost. Most of my black pieces lined her side of the board. Only a few of her white pawns sat next to my side. I felt defeated. There was no chance of winning. She reached out and reset the board. I knew I would lose again. I would always lose, but I felt a kinship with Brienne. It was the kind of kinship you feel for a teacher, with a background noise that I would do something to disappoint her. She had a strategic mind, willing to sacrifice when necessary, in the service of a greater victory. As her shadow departed, I wished for it back. I wanted to follow.
Foucault stepped forward. I got the impression that she didn’t know what else to do so she waved and smiled, much like the Queen of England. The room quieted down. The screen flashed amber again and the viewport shifted away from the newly minted Captain to show the area surrounding Earth. Thousands of ship icons appeared on the map. Manhattan Project now had the name Brienne Foucault under the ship’s name. Other captains appeared under each ship. A wave of new shadows from the other captains darkened my head as the view slid across the armada. A crashing wave and a feeling of instability, a drowning man with an elbow on his back coupled with a feeling of retribution, a warm embrace and the comfort that came with it, a punch to the jaw and a feeling of resilience, a cold drink in the hot sun that stung your throat but left you refreshed, a dog tearing a shoe apart and a rising anger. Shadows cycled for what felt like an hour. When it came to Manhattan Project, my kinship grew stronger for Brienne. Our ship’s name pulsed slowly and then more quickly, ultimately changing to viridian. Four other ships followed suit for each division of humanity.
The screen’s view pulled back to show the crowd on the ship. People mingled and bumped against each other, as if a concert had ended and they were waiting for the next act. We had a leader. We had a ship. But what were we going to do with it? We were in a vessel built for a war and I, for one, had no idea where that war was. My mind felt tired, my body felt weak.
– How can this be so easy? It’s too easy.
– I told you before that the ship knows your true intent.
– That was a private thought.
– There is no such thing, Rick. At least not from me. Your people can’t hear your thoughts unless I let them.
– Can you turn it off? I don’t want you in my head.
– It can’t be turned off.
Prime’s shadow disappeared again. He was right, at least, about one thing. It gets easier.
A distant star lit up on the screen. The explorers, lead by the Copernicus, along with their defensive ships, lead by The Hand of God, turned toward the distant star. They accelerated briefly and then disappeared into the blackness. Two more stars lit up momentarily. The colony ships split into two groups, lead by Tree of Life and Fat Lady Ain’t Sung Yet, and then turned their ships in the two opposing directions. They leapt into the unknown.
We stayed behind and orbited our decaying planet. I would never touch the grass, taste the salt on the ocean air, or eat a New York bagel again. I wanted to kiss my wife’s lips and hug my beautiful daughter again. I longed for the only thing that would truly fill my emptiness. On the way, though, I would try to fill it up with revenge and death. And when I finally kissed my wife and held my daughter, it wouldn’t be close to what I hoped.
I still clung to NiNi as the pod hummed alongside our ship, my ship.
Sol by Christopher Hazlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://robotissmiling.com/?p=261.