The stars burned as brightly as they could until, one by one, tired by their exertions, they tucked themselves into the darkness for a deserved rest. They had stood watch over the night and now it was the sun’s turn to guard the daylight hours. Back and forth they took turns, passing off and taking on the responsibility seamlessly. Theirs was a well-worn routine.
Occasionally, battalions of clouds would storm across the expanse of sky to thwart the efforts of those who brought the light. But, their efforts were always overthrown eventually. And, hope was never lost in the interim. The stars continued on and, in their multitude, would shine the brighter through any breaks in the advancing masses. The sun would do the same and thus the world below would maintain heart and faith that the clouds would be defeated eventually.
Sleeper agents, embedded within the world, have bubbled out of their hiding places to explode into the fight. The manner of their attack sends dust and ash skyward, blotting out the sun and stars completely. In the long, dark, years that followed, perhaps only then was hope lost for those below as they withered away without the light. Even then, however, the stars and sun remained and fought on, eventually regaining control of the heavens to once again gift their light to the world.
The light is there, always, fighting for us. It is there whether we seek it or not. It is there whether we understand what it does for us or not. It is there because that is its purpose. It is the because it loves us.
“What you are proposing is … is … genocide, but on a scale that goes beyond the grasp of that word. You will annihilate world populations of not just our species, but all species. You will send this world to a fiery death.”
“True, yes, that is what I propose. But, those who survive will rise from the ashes of that cleansing fire like a phoenix to build a better world than we can imagine.”
“They will face an impossible task of just learning how to survive.”
“They will learn and adapt.”
“Your thinking is stuck in terms of the people you see around you every day: weaklings, puppets of men and women, scum who have been allowed to thrive in an environment that was developed to cater to the least of us. These will be wiped away, if not at first, over time as they fail to survive in the harsh landscape of our future. The strongest, the wisest, the best of us will be the only ones to find a way to struggle on until they can thrive again.”
“And if that actually comes to pass, what then?”
“They will have a clean slate to start over and create a great society again, to create what we should have become rather than what we are now. They will have the lessons of the past to guide their actions along with the life-of-death necessity to succeed.”
“What if you are wrong?”
“I’m standing on a precipice here. If I fall one way, I will be the greatest villain the world has ever known. If I fall the other? I will be immortalized as the hero who helped forge the greatest civilization since the rise of men.”
“… you are contemplating this because you want to be a hero?”
“No, you missed the point. By the time my name has been placed in the tomes of history as a hero, my bones will have been reclaimed by the dark soil of earth where I fall, or am buried if I survive initially. I am meaningless. I am nothing but a name on a page. But, this action… this one moment… this grand gesture of faith in our ability to survive and overcome and achieve greatness when given the chance to start over… That is that truly matters.”
“You are going to kill trillions of lives across the globe on the hope that those lucky enough to survive will be able to do better than we did?”
“Luck will not factor here. Steps have already been taken to ensure that key people will survive the initial strikes, at least. What they do after that is up to them. Faith, however, does play a part. I have unwavering faith that they will succeed, that’s why I’m giving them this opportunity. I’m setting the stage for them to step out of the shadows, perform, and excel.”
“I think you might be insane…”
“Perhaps, yes, perhaps I am. Isn’t that just further evidence that this needs to be done? The world has slipped so far from what it could have been that a crazy person could be in my position of power. What does that say about the people who elected me? What does that say about the people who work for me? What does that say about our allies across the globe? We’ve had our chances to turn things around and we have only made things worse. We have to start over. This is the only way.”
“This can’t be the only way. I know you. You wouldn’t throw away all those innocent lives so callously, riding on some fanciful hope for the future.”
“You’re right, I was joking. I don’t give a damn about our future. I’m just bored and want to see what happens.”
“You paint me as the devil, the worst scourge to ever use force, violence, to enact change… how hypocritical. You are all devils. Your very way of life was founded on the same basic idea: change can only happen when you are taken seriously, and to be taken seriously you have to be a threat. That isn’t ideal speculation, that is fact, and you all know it.” “You think I enjoy taking lives? You think I enjoy committing these ‘atrocities,’ as you call them? I take no pleasure from the pain and suffering of others. I do not rejoice in spilling the blood of my enemies. My one, and only, pleasure these days is from the betterment of my people.” “Of course I’m angry, I’m making no attempt to hide that from you, and, no, I won’t calm down.” “It is much easier for you to hide behind your microphones and cameras and judge me than it is to be me and attempt to come up with solutions to problems that truly matter. What is your biggest problem today? Deciding what you will eat for dinner? Fighting traffic on your way home? I have to figure out how to feed two thousand starving children. That isn’t my calling. That isn’t something I’m passionate about doing. It is the task set before me that I must accomplish to the best of my ability, because no one else will. That isn’t even my biggest problem.” “I understand why you vilify me, though. I do. You don’t want to remember the darker nature of your past. You want to believe there are always peaceful resolutions to every situation. That is humane. That is civilized. That is a lie you’ve told yourselves so many times you have begun to believe it.” “We are animals and we use the tools at our disposal to ensure our survival. Some animals can talk their way out of anything. Some animals can outrun their troubles. I’ve never been very good at talking, I don’t abide those political games, and I’m too old to run anymore. I am, however, a good shot, and a good teacher of men who are willing to fight for their homes.” “There is a saying, ‘Let them eat cake,’ I’m sure you are familiar with it, yes? Well, we have no cake in my country. The rivers and lakes have vanished, and our manufacturing industry with them, and we have nothing to export, nothing to barter or trade. So, we go thirsty. The fields have gone dry from drought and we cannot grow crops to sustain ourselves. So, we go hungry. We still have our pride, though, and we will not be treaty to charity. There is no such thing as free goodwill. We will not be in your debt. It would be better to die than to find ourselves slaves to the whims and demands of others. And, as already stated, we are animals and we will not allow ourselves to die off. So, we have our pride, and our guns and we will do what we have to so we survive.” “You paint me as the devil, and perhaps I am in a way. I am your devil. But, remember this, while you film me here and now and spin my words and my actions to tell one story, history is written by the victors. In time we will tell our own tale, one of an oppressed people rising up against the odds and building a glorious nation, and in that story you will be the devils.” “You will be the red-coats.” “You will be the red-coats.”
What you are about to read is a bit messy and, at over 1,100 words, rather long. I’d say it is worth the read, but I think that’s really up to you whether or not it is actually worth it. A story of life and death and choices and perspective… there is a section in the middle where you can choose one of two options, but the result is the same, and then I think you might be surprised by the ending…
Anyway, happy reading, if you choose to do so, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments after you have finished.
“Tell me what happened.”
“Am I dead?”
“Your story should answer most of your questions.”
“Yes, we all have a story, and yours must be told before you can continue. Take a moment, there is plenty of time. Collect your thoughts and then tell me what happened.”
We killed them all.
It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The terrorists were causing such a mess, blowing themselves up, and innocents with them, their psychological toll on the rest of the world was devastating. But we couldn’t catch those responsible. They were too good at hiding behind other innocents. Eventually the world grew tired of their tactics and, unanimously, decided to completely suppress that region.
Blown away. All of it.
I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised how quickly the resultant period of peace was replaced for further conflict. Once that nuclear option had been visited, countries were more and more willing to use it to quell other disturbances and disagreements.
With nations decimating each other globally, local issues also escalated quickly: North against South, Red against Blue, and neighbor against neighbor. Fathers turned against the sons they didn’t understand. The youngest generations pleaded for peace even as they were placed with their backs against a wall. The oldest generations cackled with madness and slipped away as they were forgotten. Everyone else fought, and bled, and died.
Except for me…
Somehow I went unnoticed through the bulk of the strife. I didn’t spew politics on street corners. I didn’t judge those different from me. I kept my mouth shut and my head down. When things got really bad I hid until the shooting stopped. I think I was lucky to be missed by the wandering rogues and mobs that swept through the cities. It wasn’t skill or cunning. I was curled into a ball in the closet, sobbing in fear.
When things got quiet, I eventually found the bravery to leave the house and go look for other survivors, others who had hidden away while society imploded. I traveled the Earth for two years before giving up and returning home, alone, the last of the humans.
I did the best I could to take care of myself. I found clean water. I grew healthy food. I had a good shelter. I thrived. I thrived until…”
….. (option 1) …..
“I thrived until I got lonely.
Humans are, were, social creatures and my mind split, shattered, so I could fill that void. Even that wasn’t enough. The split personalities, the delusions, the hallucinations, couldn’t replace actual interaction.
And, once I realized how little joy I had left there was only one thing left to do.”
….. (option 2) …..
“I thrived until I got sick.
I’m not sure if the water wasn’t actually as clean as I’d thought, or if I hadn’t grown healthy food, or if I just wasn’t equipped and knowledgeable enough to combat the diseases that doctors and nurses used to hold in check.
It doesn’t matter what the culprit was, the end result was the same.”
“Thank you for sharing your story, and now… If you would please…
I’m sorry for the break in protocol, but stay with me for a moment. Normally I would place you in the boat and send you on your way to find whatever waits for you next, but, I’ve been told this is the last story I will ever collect and I’m feeling an emotion that is foreign to me. I think it was you would call sadness. And perhaps a touch of fear as I’m uncertain what will happen to me next.”
“You don’t know what happens next?”
“My role has ever been the final scribe. I take down the stories and send the tellers on their way once they are done. I don’t know where the boat takes them. I think the destination is different for all of them, but I do not know that for sure. The currents of the river swirl chaotically at times. The boat disappears at different points in the gloom…
I’m sorry. I’m rambling. I’m not used to talking this much.
To answer your question, no, I don’t know what happens next.”
“What are you going to do when I get in the boat and fade away like all the others?”
“I’ll wait and see if the boat comes back for me. If it does, I will get in and see where I end up. If it doesn’t, then I will wait here until I’m told to start collecting stories again or the boat does return.”
“This is disappointing.”
“Death. I hoped there would be more structure, that it would make more sense than living. This all seems just as muddled as my time on Earth. Nothing is certain.”
“Who said this was death?”
“… I assumed, based on my exit from the world…”
“Death is a word that humans made up to describe the specific change that marks the end of their life on Earth. That’s all it is, just a word. Why would you expect anything that came after to provide more worth to who you are?”
“I.., I don’t have an answer to that.”
“Good, you aren’t supposed to.”
“It’s okay to not know everything, to not have an answer to every question, to exist and react to new situations based solely on your feelings and your hopes. As you said in the beginning of your story, you did what you thought was best at the time. That’s all that was ever expected of you.”
“And now I’m expected to get in the boat?”
“Everyone who came before you did.”
“But, that doesn’t mean that I have to… right? If I feel like staying here and continuing to talk with you, what will happen then?”
“I have no idea.”
“I think I’ll stay for awhile, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
“Are there pages left in your book?”
“And your pen still has ink in it?”
“It has never run out.”
“Then, perhaps we could write some stories together?”
“Go ahead and talk. I’ll write down your words. That is what I have always done.”
“Where should I start? Oh… I know. Are you ready?
In the beginning…”
… out of the void a world was formed. It was a masterpiece of beauty and a shining beacon of hope in the darkness. It was created from the collective desires and joy of all who had come before it, and all who would one day walk its surface. It was violent and peaceful. It was complicated and simple. It was perfect because of all its imperfections.
“This is going to be a good story. I can feel it.”
Bloodied, bruised, broken and strung out after three grueling battles, you emerged from the fray when all but a few had written you off. The odds were against you. The world was against you. But, your fans believed. And you believed.
As the sweat of the jungle poured from your aching limbs, you advanced across the pitch towards a fourth foe. You would not advance further.
Casualties took their toll and the probing speedy attacks finally found the chinks in your impressive armor, those weak spots where wars are truly fought and won, or lost. Even then you battled on, refusing to accept that all hope was lost. The odds were against you. The whole world was against you. Your fans believed. And you believed.
If there hadn’t been a time limit on this particular battle on this particular day you would have found a way to regain the ground you had lost.
So hold your heads high, be proud of what you accomplished. Enjoy the triumphs of your first battles. Revel in the glory of having succeeded where so many others would have and did fall. Care to your wounds. Spend time with your families. But, keep your swords sharp and your wits about you, because you will be called upon again.
And next time, though the odds will be against you, and the world will be against you. Your fans will believe. And you will believe. That love of the game, that passion, that never-say-die attitude matters more than the rest.