*Epic Romance Fantasy / Time Travel / Dystopia / Adventure 17+*
“Peace of life,” said the chideman as he poured the blue water from the glass urn into the pool. It was surreal.
“Peace of life.” My response was automatic.
My heart pounded. For thirteen years I’d trained for this. Still I was not ready. The machine’s copper pipes gave off a warm smell that drifted to my nostrils as if precious biscuits were baking in the eating room. The calming scent only made it worse. I was leaving.
On display before every citizen in the community, my bare feet stepped the few inches further to the edge of the pool. Fear haunted my mind. Shivering from head to toe caused my short golden dress to tickle at the tops of my thighs. I brushed away the itch. Goose bumps peppered my arms and legs. I was freezing. For a moment, the massive musics and sounds on the stage overwhelmed me. I was small in comparison to everything here, all present and to this wondrous event. Through dazed thoughts, my focus returned and I remembered to count to three before placing my foot in the shallow liquid.
With eyes watering, my every heartbeat echoed in my ears. Never again would my father’s eyes look upon me. Never again would I feel his warm embrace. I would so miss his gentle, loving voice. How would I bear it? I fought my great desire to turn and dart to him, or steal a look as he sat in his chair upon the stage. Instead, I kept my step.
There would not be another last goodbye. We already said it, and he wanted just the one. It would be my greatest honor to him to leave with the dignity, respect, and position he bestowed upon me, to act older than my meager thirteen years. I had to be brave and pave the way for the others, as he had instructed.
The tears nearly choked me as I quietly sniffed them back. I could scarcely see, but chose not to rub the wet away. Everyone would notice. More would only follow and my eyes would be closed soon enough. The time had arrived. This was no longer wholly my choice. I was being led by my duty and so had to control my emotions for these last few seconds.
The immaculate stage held static, causing the miniscule hairs on my head to stand on end. They reached toward the beautiful colored glass of the cathedral roof in the pod community’s grandest room, as if they too wanted to stay. The urge to run, to escape, consumed me, yet I betrayed my heart, followed my learned directions, and kept my course.
No matter the logic and knowledge in my head, nothing had prepared me for this feeling of claws tearing me apart from the inside out. I fought off the nausea. I could not be ill, not in front of the community while representing my father.
The crystal and copper Pool of Light lay before the five of us, with solar panels running from floor to ceiling as the toner’s chorus continued to sing behind us. The brilliant round majesty beneath my feet, only six inches deep, held the key to our futures and to what would become the whole of humanity. We were taking these steps for everyone. Once we left, we could never return home.
Tarron had ordered that we space ourselves just two paces separated, one behind the next. The four older candidates followed behind me, the taste of anticipation mingling with the hum of energy that filled the great room. My mind whirled.
‘Keep walking forward… do not turn around,’ father’s words echoed in my head.
I was horrified. Chills took residence up and down my spine, causing me to shake further. How would my days unfold without him by my side? How could I leave him alone? My heart was dying.
‘The coming light can blind, if you lose protection of your eyelids,’ he had warned.
Think only of your training and the swim, I reprimanded myself against my inert weakness. Focus. You are leading the others.
I squeezed my eyes closed.
“Your eyes… don’t forget,” I choked out the words, reminding the four following me to keep theirs closed as well.
The desire to see where my feet landed was nearly more than I could endure as I took my next step. Blindly, trembling as I’d never thought possible, I walked on until a humming of energy engulfed me. Then a wall of water, warm and flowing, caressed my face and arms and legs until I was drenched in it. It unnerved me. I imagined my skin would feel this way if covered with a million tiny insects. That vision sent more shivers. I rubbed away the feeling. Fear controlled me. I was holding my breath. ‘Do not forget to breathe, Tolomay,’ I remembered father’s training. ‘Or you may lose consciousness.’
Barely able to manage my thoughts, I took back my air and continued forward.
A light penetrated the liquid as if they were one and the same. Much too bright, even with eyes closed, it rained down upon my body as if it were the sun and had no limits. The burning lasted only a moment and rid me of my chills. Then I was struck hard in the back by a force that seemed more as power than matter. It propelled me through the air so fast I almost opened my eyes, but instead fell into a somersault, ending in a stand as I had been trained.
The grasses felt soft beneath my bare feet. The air smelled completely different... fresh and clean. Was it safe to look? Sure the diminished music meant safety, I slowly peeked to see what tickled my toes. My feet rested on an unbelievable world of vegetation. I turned my eyes upward. Plant life flourished about me. An insect landed on a bloom and dipped its head inside until completely hidden in the bright yellow flower.
With every cell overwhelmed, my delight leapt. Miraculous science! Holy green gravity, it was unbelievable. We did it! I accomplished what I trained my entire life to do!
Magnificent and abundant life surrounded me as far as I could see. The sky was a magical light blue like the ancient’s paintings and pictures; the clouds were bright whites and grays. It had all been true, or was I dreaming?
As hard as it was for my mind to accept my surroundings, I could no longer hold my tears. Crying like a joyous newborn, I breathed in the pure nature of the heaven of the clean world. Its power bore into my soul. The energy of a long sturdy tree line reached toward me in the wind, welcoming my spirit to share in this wondrous space. I looked to the trees’ highest branches. They were much taller than I had imagined.
This was real. Father’s machine worked! We were here!
The much too-loud screech of the hole and noise of the water pouring into this world drowned out the distant sound of the toner’s chorus. My heart shook with uncontrolled excitement.
“We made it!” I shouted over the machines deafening pitch, then turned to view the light point from which I had come.
But… where were the others?
The water fell from midair, waiting for them. As if in warning the sound turned to something altogether different. First came the silence, and then an angry hiss. Elation left me as the air around the running water shifted to a dingy gray. Impending doom gripped my chest as Candra’s face peered through the wall of water. She smiled in disbelief at the world she saw. Why had the pool not spit her out? Why did it hold her to itself? Dread filled my belly even before I heard her shrill scream.
With half her body through, she hovered just ten feet away, her arms stretched toward me. The look of astonishment fled from her face as she let out a sound more horrific than I’d ever heard. Terrified, my mind blanked, body froze. We had no training of this otherworldly power. A moment later, Teresa was at her side, next Florentina, and finally Marva. They did not clear the entryway either and instead, floated helplessly as the glorious and glowing blue water turned a dirty brown.
The scent of a burned out candle permeated the air. Candra’s skin was pulling light from the water into itself. Every blood vessel seeped its treasure from her skin. The others bled, too. Nearly instantly, they were painted in crimson. No longer lit, the water turned as dark as an endless hole and the black backdrop taunted us all. Panicked, I barked the order.
“HURRY! MOVE! MOVE!” I screamed, but none of us obeyed.
Unable to aide them the slightest bit, I stood shocked at their suffering when a brilliant flash of light struck the portal. Their shrieks filled me with horror as I watched them writhe frantically in the midair, black watery grave. Like the dark liquid that hung motionless, the moment was frozen in time. Candra stopped screaming. She was gone.
No! No! No!
Mere seconds dragged like eternity as Teresa’s voice took on a high pitched squeal. Her eyes nearly bulged from her head. I viewed my team members disappear, sucked into nothingness as the Pool of Light made a sizzling sound. Then it slammed shut with a thunderous clap. The water disappeared and I stared at the now empty space in the beautiful green world, my face awash in tears.
What just happened? Nothing could be real. I lost them all, lost all who I’d known, those in my charge. Finally, my feet led me running toward the closed light point. I grasped frantically at the air before me.
“Come back! Come back!” The words choked. “Father, take me back! I want to come home!” I sobbed. “Bring me home! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
I gave way to gravity and fell as a lost spirit to the trembling Earth.
With my cheek against the cool earth, tears dried in the warm breeze. The feeling haunted me. Why had I not reached out to my team when they were in unfathomable pain? I was the curer, the healer, yet stood idly by and watched them each die. I’d failed my life’s purpose, to lead and keep safe and healthy all citizens in the new community. Guilt annihilated my soul.
“I’m so sorry,” I bawled as if they could hear a single word of it.
Crumpled into a ball, I wailed to the enormous trees, now wholly and utterly alone in this strange green world. Why had I lived?
What did it mean to be in love with the world? I could not tell a soul. For it had been long for me, too long. Not that the passion was dead in me. It was alive and well and screamed at me each day from the first sign of sunlight, until I closed my eyes to sleep. This place was more than I’d thought, but the isolation made it impossible to share things with anyone else. It was my birthday and, once again, I spent it alone.
Three years is too long to be alone on this Earth, even with Carmella at my side.
I first saw her after the blast, the one that took the others. Even while the ground shook, Carmella sat looking at me as she did now. It was as if she instinctively knew what it did to them, as if she knew there would be no others but me from then on out.
Without a blink or so much as a shiver, she sat frozen on that rock, looking at me with those heavy lidded eyes. That day I cried for hours, longer than I cared to recall. Carmella did not know of self pity. Pity does not help a creature who’s struggling alone to survive in the wild.
She was a different breed, but we were friends, two females living together as silent partners, Carmella and I, lizard and gardener. We relied on each other. I liked to think it she had the nature of truly caring for me, aside from the insects I fed her. Garden crickets were her favorite and in ample supply on the hillside.
Not those little green ones, mind you, but the big black ones that squirmed in her mouth and crackled as she swallowed them whole. They were too big for her, but none the less, she gobbled them up even while they caused her to choke.
The lizard would never learn not to bite off more than she could chew, but who would blame her? Perhaps crickets were her chocolate. It’d been so long since my taste of chocolate. Something as diminutive as a little choking would not have prevented me from inhaling a chunk of the sweet brown heaven, if one were available in this place. I’d have devoured it.
So there I was waiting with Carmella, each Tuesday the same routine. Even in oblivion, consistency ruled the planet. Tarron told us it would be like this. He said the waiting would be grueling, though he himself had never and could never swim in the light; he was too old. But he was right. The waiting was hard and you could not train for that.
I prepared myself for three months before my swim, isolated myself whenever possible from the rest of the group. I stayed in my room, ate alone, camped for three weeks straight in the wooded side of the lab’s property. I did it right, just as Tarron trained me to. I thought I was ready when the time came to take the step. I thought I was. I’d been wrong.
No one could ever be prepared enough for the waiting because I was never sure what I waited for would come. Another day, another glorious day, but without human companionship I looked to creatures for comfort. Though they could be wondrous, there was so much to be missed by the human glance, the words, the smile, the touch. Yet this was why I did it, wasn’t it? All of us in Tee-Pod were spirits who loved the world and humanity.
Carmella blinked, scampered toward me, and ran onto my hand and up my arm, finally resting on my shoulder. I rubbed the top of her head. When the coddling stopped, she leaned in for more.
It was Tuesday afternoon and the sun beamed hot. Would one come today?
No one came. They never did. One hundred eighty seven Tuesdays and still no one came. I plucked her from my shoulder, carried her back down the knoll, into the hillhouse, and set her upon the floor. She scratched at the hard dirt wall to sharpen her claws as I finished preparing dinner. I was good at dinners.
~ ~ ~
The floral bouquet I gathered of spring dandelions and violets would prove tasty as a side salad this eve. The rabbit stew had cooked all day and the meat was so soft it had fallen apart into thin strips in the clay pot. The only way I liked my rabbit was tender and stringy.
The smell couldn’t help but force me to remember my first hunting experience in this new land. Even though the little hoppers were abundant, it still took me two days to catch one, once I finally set it in my head to. After practice, I could snare a rabbit in fifteen minutes.
Still, I preferred chicken meat to rabbit. Chickens were easier to catch, but rarely seen. They hid, so squirrels were what I ate most. The one thing I disliked about making squirrel was those tiny bones. Trying to get the meat off them if you cooked it whole was like shelling crab for its precious meat at the eating room back home. The best thing about squirrel was that they weren’t scarce, and tasted better than rabbit. Even at that they evaded me this morning, so it was rabbit I found myself eating tonight.
I removed the flora from the counter and began plucking the pieces from the stalks. I used only the leaves from the dandelions and the petals of the violets, then threw the scraps out the door for the rabbits to pick at. Slipping the new wooden plate from the old one beneath, I uncovered the other herbs and checked them for moistness. The parsley and basil were damp enough to enjoy fully. Putting a few large pieces of each into the salad, I reached for the hanging leather bag near the window and added several drops of apple vinegar. Carmella was on the table waiting for me. I threw her a strip of rabbit meat which she engulfed in a quick moment and then I sat down to eat.
Once again I wondered who they would be sending and when he would get here. My mind was patient, but my heart grew anxious. Had Tarron really told me it would be a year or two, or had it been so long I’d forgotten? Living alone, I suppose I’d forgotten some things about humanity, but in all certainty they said a year or two. Either they were mistaken, or he was late.
I hoped I would remember social skills when he got here. Worried about communication, I’d kept up with my languages by speaking to Carmella in each of them throughout my day. I wondered which language he would speak. Which pod would he come from, Tee-Pod, Crue-Pod, or one of the others? I did my part. Where was he?
It crossed my mind that father couldn’t fix the machine, but of course he would fix it. Aside from being head of the science division, he was a Seer too, after all. He would view the Pool and know I was...