Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Buried In Tomorrow

by Alex P. Perdian


Africa, 1.5 million B.C.

The Earth sensed a new presence on its surface, something different from the usual life forms swimming in its waters and trampling its flesh ...something having arisen recently. It pushed its consciousness outward, searching, until it found a small group of the new creatures.

At first impression, they seemed similar to the other fledging bipeds thriving on its surface. Their movements followed simple patterns, clearly driven by the need for food and water, to avoid predators, to reproduce... Had it made a mistake? It moved closer, selecting a receptive vessel from among the group, and through that vessel's eyes, taking in the wonders of its own flesh.

It stood on a bluff overlooking a wide flowing river, a rich source of food according to the vessel's thoughts. Behind it, more of the creatures milled about at the entrance to a large cave.

Unlike its previous forays, this time it detected a spark from within the vessel, the dawning of sentience, the awareness of Self. That pleased the Earth. Still, it realized ages would pass before these creatures fully crossed that threshold.

They were only slowly evolving, much as the Earth itself in the beginning, though the Earth's journey was unusually long, having taken upward of four billion years. But then it was first -- and until it existed, nothing else was possible.

Cambridge, England, April, 1830 A.D.

The Earth quickly found a receptive vessel, suppressing the biped's thoughts with ease, but then it had been doing this for hundreds of thousands of years. The vessel was standing inside a small room in the middle of a cluster of stone buildings. Thousands of the bipeds lived within a few minutes' walk, but it found memories of a far greater collection of the creatures in a place known as London, a short distance away.

These creatures were builders, it reminded itself, a trait that had served them well for a long time. But now it was a problem. Cities and their supporting infrastructures allowed more of them to exist. How many more could its body sustain? There were already a billion of them crawling on its surface, a profound change from in the beginning.

Then they numbered only a few thousand and it had nourished and protected them, anxious for sentient companions. Now their numbers threatened the other creatures thriving in and on the Earth.

It relaxed its grip on the biped's thoughts, allowing the creature to think and speak.

"Who are you?" the man said.

"I've gone by many names through the ages," the Earth said, speaking directly to the biped's mind, "but the more common ones are variations on Mother Earth."

"You're female?"

"Those are human concepts. I'm the Earth, its consciousness, its spirit. This planet is my body." The Earth paused, basking in the awe emanating from the creature.

"How can I serve you?"

The Earth drew back, examining the biped's mind in depth, scanning for a spiritual compatibility with its life force, less a prolonged inhabitation leave the creature mentally crippled.

"Have I done something to offend you?"

"No," the Earth said, aware its silence had scared the man. "Talk to me."

"About what?"

"Everything."

####

Seattle, Washington, September, 2017

"Who are you?" Cyan said.

"I'm the giver of life."

"What does that mean?"

The Earth searched for a way to explain itself to the little girl who was reading in bed. "Your name's Cyan, right?"

"Yes."

"And you have arms, hands, legs... a head, right?"

"Everyone does. That's a foolish question."

"Well, that's your body," the Earth said, amused by her spunk. "And like you, I also have a body. It's the Earth, this planet, which means you're living on me, on my flesh."

"How can a planet be a body?"

The Earth hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. The concept was difficult for one so young to grasp, but then the child blurted out, "Are you the mountain god?"

"The what?"

"My mom read me a story about a god who lives beneath the mountain."

"That's me."

"Why can't I see you?"

"I'm only in your head."

"What does that mean?"

"It means you can only hear me," the Earth said, keeping it simple, "not see me. And I'm here because I've chosen you."

"Me?"

"Yes. Don't you want to help me? Others like you already are."

"I don't know. My mom and dad say -- "

"Are you forgetting that I'm the mountain god?"

"Ah... no."

"Good. Then we're going to save your species."

"My what?"

"Let's just say there are too many people living on my flesh, on the planet, and they're hurting me... and everything I hold dear."

####

Phoenix, Arizona, February, 2047

Phillip Negan held his wife's hand firmly, not wanting to let go. He and Cyan were at their operations' base in Phoenix, the Luke Air Force Base, preparing to catch different outbound flights.

"Couldn't you wait?" he said, with just a tad too much pleading in his voice. His wife and the two other members of his team were heading for Australia. But before he could join them, he needed to perform an errand. "It would be better if we went together."

"It's not up to me, Phillip. You know that. This is a high priority mission. It came from the President's office. Why don't I go to Seattle? They're my parents."

"No. I said I would take care of it."

"Then I'll see you in Australia."

"Just be careful," he said, reluctantly releasing her hand, and then watching as she ran out onto the runway, yelling for the other two to wait up.

He shook his head. His wife was so driven, determined to make a difference. And that made him proud. But the flipside was that she blamed herself for the planetary disasters taking place, believing if she had been successful earlier, none of it would be happening. What foolishness, he thought.

A smile crept back into his expression as he watched her board the transport, recalling how they met as undergraduate students. Her green eyes and red hair had snagged him immediately, colors contrasting nicely with his more earthy appearance, and it was so refreshing to find a woman not bothered by his shorter stature.

By the time they finished their doctoral studies, they were married. That had been twelve years ago.

Today, both were well known environmentalists, but his wife was the more radical one, the unbending one, and for that, she was paying a heavy emotional price.

####

Phillip crossed his arms, shivering. It was the second of February, and already the worst winter on record. He stamped his feet, knocking snow loose from around the top of his boots. He was in Seattle, home to his wife during her younger years. Now it was a wasteland, another example of nature's fury.

The city was uninhabitable, suffering the same fate befalling the other major cities along the Pacific Rim. Eleven days earlier, a massive earthquake had struck, resulting in close to a hundred thousand dead. The survivors had fled east, hoping to find space in one of the refugee centers still operating.

He spied only a few structures standing amid collapsed buildings, buckled streets and upturned trees, but then fresh snow covered the carnage, cloaking the devastation with a mantle of white. Overhead the sun peeked through a break in the clouds, creating a surrealist effect, turning the destruction into a winter wonderland.

He faced about. Thirty meters away sat an Army Chinook helicopter. Its pilot was standing outside pointing to his watch. Phillip nodded. His superiors had granted him a brief stopover, just time enough to check on his wifeís parents.

Behind the Chinook, he saw Mount Rainier in the distance. The top of the mountain was wrapped in clouds, while on its flanks, there were plumes of noxious smoke spiraling upward from massive fumaroles. The long dormant volcano was awake.

His wife had always felt a mystical attachment to the mountain. According to Cyan, it began speaking to her when she was a child, which of course had terrified her parents, and in their fear, they had her hospitalized for schizophrenia.

Not long afterward, his wife learned to lie, both to her parents and their doctors. But she never wavered in her belief, swearing she was in contact with the mountainís god, a deity furious with mankind, a deity seeking redress.

Did he believe her? Not really. But he kept that to himself, preferring a white lie to hurting her. Thankfully, her so-called Voice retreated a few years after appearing, and since then had remained, for the most part, just beneath her conscious awareness.

He turned back around, using his binoculars to pick out her parents' house. The collapsed dwelling was covered by snow. He sighed, telling himself there was no way he could get closer, by foot or air, but he would keep that to himself. She was already under enough stress... but then so was he, so was everyone.

Twenty-two months ago, unprecedented tragedies had begun to strike the planet, natural disasters on a scale never witnessed before. If global warming werenít problem enough, horrendous earthquakes now shook the land, reducing entire regions to rubble, and dormant volcanoes around the globe had sprung to life with a vengeance.

What was next? Hurricanes and tornadoes were already raking the surface, and massive tsunamis had wiped out most coastal cities, leaving tens of millions dead and homeless. He cringed as a chill ran up his spine. How do you fight nature?

Most third world governments had disintegrated, and some of the industrialized nations teetered on the brink. The latest casualty figures estimated the dead at four hundred million, with another two billion homeless.

Was it the end of the world? Initially, he scoffed at the idea. Now he wasnít so sure.

Cyan and he were members of a small emergency response team, one of many fielded by the government. They were tasked with understanding the mechanisms driving these violent activities, a prerequisite for predicting when and where they would strike.

Behind him, he heard the Chinook roar to life. As he climbed back aboard, his thoughts were of Cyan.

Australia had requested emergency assistance, telling the American government that humanityís survival depended on it. Was it true? Had they really discovered extra-terrestrial remains?

####

As Phillip opened the door of the air-conditioned truck, the heat of Australiaís summer rushed in, wrapping itself around him like a glove. He was four kilometers east of Mount Schank, on the newly active volcano's semi-quiescence side.

Ten meters in front of him, a barbwire-topped chain-link fence enclosed an expanse of lava the size of two football fields. According to the reports he had read on the way over, recent volcanic activity had uplifted the entire area, revealing alien ruins close to the surface.

After stowing his gear in his wife's tent, he was met at the fence's main gate by one of his team members, U.S. Army Captain Matt Ballard, his military liaison and the team's geologist.

Once inside the compound, he lifted up his sunglasses, letting his eyes sweep over the rough and broken surface. "How did they ever find the ruins?"

"Just a lucky break. See those people by the tent?"

"Yeah," he said, squinting at the large open tent in the center. "What's going on?"

"That's the entrance. A lava tube."

Phillip nodded, recalling that lava tubes were natural wormlike holes formed when the outer surface cooled and the hot interior drained away, leaving behind tunnels of various sizes.

"Howís Tamara?" he said, following Matt out onto the field.

"Sheís fine."

He laughed, amused at his colleague's unease. Tamara was their vulcanologist, and Matt felt he was violating protocol by becoming involved with her. Still, Cyan was right. They made a nice couple, two gentle giants towering over him and his wife.

"And Cyan?"

"She'll be happy to see you. We didn't expect you for another day or so."

"You didn't answer my question, Matt."

"All right. I think her Voice is back."

"Why do you say that?"

"Just a feeling."

"It must be the stress," Phillip said, reminding himself that years had elapsed since she last heard it distinctly.

####

Phillip stopped to catch his breath, listening to Matt explain that the miners followed the path of least resistance to reach the interior, expanding on lava tubes whenever possible. The enlarged basalt chamber where he now stood could easily hold ten people. "How much further?"

"Two more short vertical drops and then a long sloping horizontal shaft."

As the descent continued, Phillip learned of recent evidence suggesting that the entombed ruins were part of a complex factory system designed to alter the Earthís atmosphere, probably as a prelude to colonization. But then some eighteen thousand years ago a sudden bout of volcanic activity had destroyed the place.

He now felt some of the excitement so noticeable among the Australians. If aliens initiated a series of geological events only now manifesting themselves, then there was hope for understanding the processes at work... and perhaps ameliorating their impact.

"Watch out!" Matt said.

Phillip pressed himself against the wall, allowing a party of fast moving miners to squeeze by. Overhead, a string of bulbs provided dim light in the claustrophobic-sized tunnel, and though he could hear the ventilation system working, the trapped heat and humidity were too overpowering, drenching him in his own sweat.

At the end of the sloping shaft, he followed Matt into another enlarged basalt chamber. On the other side, he saw Cyan and Tamara talking with three Australian soldiers next to a branching tube.

He grinned as his wife spotted him, opening his arms and rushing forward. "How about a personal tour?" he said, wanting to get her alone.

"Not now. They're getting ready to do some blasting."

Before he could reply, the ground began shaking, and then he heard the detonation. He held onto Cyan.

She was screaming, her hands clasping her head.

"Whatís wrong?"

"The Voice!"

####

Forty-five minutes later, Phillip was comforting his wife in their tent. He had suggested a sedative, but she refused. So he poured her a glass of local red wine, hoping it would calm her down. "Are you going to be all right?"

"I'm fine."

"Then I'm going to take a shower."

"It won't do any good. It's too hot."

"Yeah, but I'm starting to develop a heat rash... and I know I stink. Do you want take one together?" he said, trying to get her to smile.

"Iím sorry I freaked out. It just caught me by surprise."

"Do you still hear it?"

"Yes, but itís faint, almost like background noise."

"Like it used to be?"

"No. Louder. Why's it back, Phillip? I've done everything it asked of me."

He leaned across the small table separating them, deciding he had to tell her. "I know why it has returned," he said in a whisper. "It came to me when the explosion went off. It wasn't a mountain god who spoke to you when you were a child. It was the aliens. Youíre subconsciously linked to them."

"You canít be -- "

"Yes! It explains everything." He was pleased with himself. He had solved his wifeís problem... and his own. No longer did he have to lie to himself, denying his wife was ill. She wasnít. "Itís your genetic makeup."

"But the remains are eighteen thousand years old."

"So? The aliens could be in suspended animation."

"For eighteen thousand years?"

"Then theyíve returned." His head bobbed up and down, his mind racing. "Yes," he said, clasping her hands. "Theyíre here. Thatís why the Voice was so loud."

"But I heard it first in Seattle."

He jumped up, unable to contain his excitement. "Do you think a species bent on changing the atmosphere of a planet would put a factory in only one place?"

Though long fascinated by space exploration, he had kept that part of his life dormant. His wife had wanted a dedicated environmentalist, a mate who shared her passion for the Earth.

####

Matt was in Tamara's tent, explaining that Cyan suffered from intermittent bouts of schizophrenia. "Itís in her dossier."

"Iíve never seen any indication of it."

"Neither had I until today," he said, pacing back and forth.

"Sit down. Youíre making me nervous."

He saw her patting the spot next to her on the cot, and for a brief moment, he was tempted. The perspiration on her face made an alluring glow, and something about her scent pulled strongly at him.

Instead, he grabbed one of the folding chairs, telling himself now wasn't the time, and sat directly in front of her. "She'll be fine."

"How can you be sure?"

"It's just the stress," he said, with more authority than he felt. He reached across, touching her knee. "We need Cyan." There was no need for him to elaborate. With the worldís infrastructure collapsing, casualties weren't easily replaced, if at all.

####

It was midnight when Phillip led his team back down the lava tube. An hour earlier, the Australians had announced that the blasting had revealed a new annex, which was now available for inspection. He justified the midnight adventure by telling his team they would have the place to themselves, if they went now.

As they made their way underground, he periodically glanced back at Cyan, but she refused to meet his gaze. He had hurt her, telling her everything she believed in was false. It wasn't what he intended, but in his excitement, it just came out.

Once they reached the lower chamber, two Australian soldiers joined his team, one leading the way, the other bringing up the rear.

Ten minutes later, Phillip was standing in the newly opened annex, where a jury-rigged lighting system revealed a large sprawling room with only a partially collapsed ceiling, resulting in most of the area being free of lava.

"Wow!" he said, turning around slowly. "Now if there were only some bodies, it would be perfect."

"Who cares about bodies," Matt said. "Look at all this technology."

"Hey, Cyan," Phillip said, turning toward his wife, who was at the far end of the room where a large block of lava had punched through the ceiling. "What do you think?"

"There's someone else here with us."

"I don't see anyone," he said, worried, hoping she wasn't on the verge of a breakdown. Then his mouth dropped open.

Three humanoid creatures the color of basalt had stepped out of the rock. He froze. Then one of them lifted Cyan off her feet. By the time he and Matt reacted, they had vanished into the rock with her.

####

Phillip was sitting on a folding chair just outside the chain-link fence. A hot easterly breeze carried the smell of rotten eggs, but he was oblivious to the foul odor coming from the volcano, as well as the blistering midday heat. His thoughts were of Cyan.

Through the fence, he watched armed parties of soldiers entering the lava tube. The Australians had brought in reinforcements, but a day and a half had elapsed without any sign of Cyan or the aliens.

He bent his head. Why did they take her? Was she alive, a prisoner? He took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. How could he go on without her?

"Are you all right?" Matt said.

Phillip quickly put his sunglasses back on, hiding his red eyes. "Iím fine."

"Thereís nothing more we can do here. We need to get home."

"She could sense them, you know. They probably felt threatened."

"The Australians will keep looking. Theyíre not giving up."

####

Phillip was at his desk on the second floor of a squat three-story building, staring out the window. The rain was coming down in torrential sheets, giving him second thoughts about venturing out. A major thunderstorm was pounding the Phoenix area and flooding was widespread.

In the seven weeks since his return from Australia, he had worked fourteen and fifteen hour days, anything to keep from thinking of Cyan. The Australians had failed to find any trace of her or the aliens.

He glanced around the shared office. With its hodgepodge of technology, it allowed them to keep abreast of developments around the world. His eyes then settled on Matt and Tamara, the officeís only other current occupants, but then it was lunchtime.

As he stood and stretched, he again glanced out the window. Reports of new volcanic activity northeast of Flagstaff required his presence, but the site was a good three hours away. Should he chance the weather? He could pick up a military detachment in Flagstaff.

####

Matt was sitting on the edge of Tamaraís desk. "Ready?"

"Are you sure Phillip doesnít want to join us?"

"I asked him twice." He could tell she was pleased, despite her pretense of disappointment. Since Australia, he had taken to showing his affection openly. "The cafeteriaís going to be crowded."

"Why donít we eat here? Iíll call down an order."

While she was on the phone, he saw Phillip slip on a poncho and wave as he left. He waved back, silently acknowledging that Tamara was right. Phillip needed to open up. Talking about his loss would help. He wasnít the only one who missed Cyan.

Her Italian colleagues had been shocked to learn of her death. He frowned, remembering what the Italians told him.

The southern half of Italy was no longer inhabitable. Volcanic activity and earthquakes had laid waste to the land, as they had with much of Europe and Russia, and several virulent African viruses had worked their way up from the tip of Spain to the middle of the continent, devastating sizable populations.

"What are the latest casualty figures?" he said, as she hung up the phone.

"A billion or more dead... and three to four billion homeless."

He nodded. The numbers didnít surprise him. What did was how one became immune to the stench of death, the constant smell of rotting flesh. With most governments having collapsed, disposing of bodies was impossible.

Yesterday, one of his counterparts in Australia told him Japan had ceased to exist, its survivors fleeing to surrounding countries, and mass starvation was ravaging China and Southeast Asia. "I wonder how much longer we can hold on."

"What about the alien technology? We've sent the Australians some of our best scientists."

"The technology's too advanced."

He watched her scowl, cursing the aliens, saying, "Why can't we find them?"

What could he say? With each passing day, they had fewer resources to search for them. They couldnít even replace Cyan, and it was only a matter of time until the government collapsed.

Parts of the country were already without authority, and military desertions were on the rise. Soldiers wanted to be with their loved ones when the end came, and he didn't blame them.

Religions were having a field day, preaching about the coming salvation, but then people wanted desperately to believe, to feel there was a divine purpose at work.

Too bad he wasn't a believer, but he had made his decision years ago. There was nothing. No God, no Supreme Being.

####

"Is Phillip dead?" Cyan said.

The Earth heard her question and refocused part of its consciousness, seeming to appear before her. "I don't know. I have no bond with him."

"I'm worried."

"What would you have me do?" the Earth said, aware that Cyan was still adjusting to her new role, learning how to exist in non-corporeal form, to move through its flesh at will.

"Help me locate him? I haven't sensed him anywhere in weeks."

"What will you do if you find him? You're no longer human."

"Does that mean I'm not supposed to care?"

"Not at all."

"I still love him. And when I served you as a human, he was there... helping me... helping you."

"Then do something about it."

"How? I don't even know if he's alive."

"Concentrate," the Earth said, feeling her frustration. "Focus on your memory of him."

"But he's on the surface."

"You can exist there momentarily."

"How?"

"Use your imagination. You have no human constraints."

"What does that mean? Don't leave!"

But the Earth's presence was already gone, having decided Cyan needed to do this on her own. She had been the last of the chosen ones to be absorbed, sentient consciousnesses existing within its body, entities destined to be its friends.

####

Phillip was having difficulty seeing through the heavy downpour. He was in a beaten-up old Cherokee jeep heading east, intending to pickup the freeway running north to Flagstaff, but as soon as he tried crossing the Grand Canal Bridge with its overflowing waters, the motor stalled.

"Damn it," he said, telling himself he should have known better. The water was too high and he could barely see. Then the jeep began moving, slowly at first, but with increasing speed it was carried toward the edge.

As it went over the railing, he was only halfway out the door, and then the raging water had him in its grip.

He fought to stay afloat, but the debris laden current and his waterlogged clothing proved too much. With his strength spent, he sank beneath the surface.

But before death claimed him, he felt embracing arms lifting him upward, and then he was coughing up water and gasping for air, staring up into the chocolate-colored face of Cyan.

"Iím here, my love."

As the giant mud creature, with his wifeís face and body, carried him ashore, he was too stunned to speak, and then it set him down gently in knee-deep water.

"You can't be real," he said, finding his voice, but the creature only smiled, saying, "I love you."

"Who... who... what are you?"

"It's me. Cyan."

"No!" he said, jumping backward as the creature toppled onto its back, its thin mud legs having disintegrated under the continuous water assault. "It's impossible."

"Don't be frightened."

He stepped closer, listening as the mud creature said, "Iíll do my best to protect you, Phillip, but you must be careful. I canít always be around."

He shook his head, mouthing soundless words, and then he snapped out of it. "Donít leave me!" he said, kneeling next to the creature's head.

"I can't stay. I'm needed at home. But Iíll be back. Iíll find..."

"No! Don't go!" He reached out to touch her, but she was gone, having dissolved before his eyes.

"Oh, Cyan," he said, gazing at the spot where she vanished. Then something stirred within him. He rose slowly, remembering her words: I'm needed at home.

####

After making his way back to the base, Phillip rounded up Matt and Tamara, herding them into the small windowless office that served as a conference room.

Perhaps it was a sign of the times, but when he finished speaking neither one doubted him. Rather they questioned whether the creature was Cyan. He swore it was, and he said he knew where to find her. Mount Rainier.

"You really think she'll be there?" Matt said.

"I'm sure of it." His two colleagues were facing him across the brown coffee-stained table. "That area was always home to her, no matter where we lived."

"Itís too dangerous," Tamara said. "The mountain could blow at any time."

"Theyíve been saying that for weeks." His eyes darted back and forth, pleading with them. "Sheíll be there."

####

Matt was talking with the Chinook pilot, discussing their options, when his squad leader spoke up, saying, "We can do it sir."

"Are you sure?"

"Do we have a choice?"

"No," he said, angry with himself. Lowering his men to widen and flatten a landing site was a risky operation. They were hovering above the Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainierís northern flank.

Why had he come? He could have said no. But what if the creature really was Cyan? At first it was the earth running amok... or God exacting revenge on a sinful humanity. Next it was aliens. Now what?

####

Once his men climbed back aboard, Matt ordered them and the Chinookís crew to stay alert, prepared for an immediate liftoff. Then he turned to Phillip, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"She's here."

"All right. Let's go."

####

Phillip stepped away from the Chinook. While circling the mountain, Cyan called to him from this spot. He was sure of it, but now her voice was silent. He glanced up the mountain, worried. The clouds were creeping lower.

His eyes then shifted to a steam vent some seventy meters up the slope. Something about it seemed odd, out of place. "Stay in my tracks," he said, hoping he didn't get them all killed. They weren't equipped for a winter hike, let alone a climb.

He moved up the mountain, at times plunging through snow up to his waist. Why did Cyan choose this place? Was it because they once climbed Rainier via this route? That would be just like her, he decided, smiling in spite of himself.

A few minutes later, he stopped to catch his breath. Behind him, he saw Matt and Tamara following, struggling with the snow and altitude. Then the snow underneath him collapsed.

Before he could react, he was lying on his back partially buried in snow, at the entrance to an ice cave. He sat up, examining himself for injuries, guessing he slid about four meters.

"Phillip, are you all right?"

"Cyan!" he said, scrambling to his feet. Just inside the cave, a rust-colored glow showed where a lava tube had punched through the ice wall. "Are you in there?"

"You shouldn't have come, my darling."

His hands shook as he took off one of his thick gloves and gingerly touched the tube's rim. Satisfied, he peeked inside seeing bedrock, deciding it was wide enough to walk through if he crouched low.

"Phillip! Are you down there?"

"Right here," he said, sticking his head out the cave and peering up at Matt and Tamara.

"Are you injured?"

"Iím fine. Slide on down. Cyan's here." He then turned and entered the lava tube, following it to a small chamber where he could stand upright. But it was empty. Where was she?

"Where's Cyan?" Matt said.

"I thought she was here," he said, facing his two out of breath colleagues, but then Tamara shrieked and he whipped back around.

A glowing orange-red figure had stepped away from the far wall. It was Cyan, dressed as he last saw her in Australia, every detail the same, except for the orange-red color.

"You shouldn't have come, Phillip. Iím about to cleanse this area."

"What does that mean?" Matt said.

"Just what it sounds like."

"Why? Are the aliens making you do this?"

Phillip saw his wifeís amused expression, and then she turned to him, saying, "Tell them, Phillip."

"Me?"

"Iím sure by now you understand who... and what I am."

He nodded, not bothering to hide a sad smile. He had been wrong, as had she. It wasnít a mountain god or aliens she was in contact with, but rather the Earth.

With his eyes riveted on Cyan, he cleared his throat, saying, "The planet's alive and Cyan was one... is one of its conscious manifestations." He paused, thinking, telling himself it all seemed so clear now. "She was the Earth's last attempt to change mankind's fate, to grant us a reprieve from our... our sins."

"Sins?" Matt said.

"All it asked was that we halt our wanton destruction of its habitat, the decimation of its other life forms."

"Are you serious?"

"I wish I weren't," he said, aware his two colleagues were hanging back, keeping him between them and Cyan. "But think back to before the calamities began. Our numbers were in the billions, way too many people for the planet to support."

"You can't lay that on the whole human race."

"No. Not everyone. But definitely on those in power."

"Cyan," Tamara said, "What are you... I mean what does the Earth have you doing now?"

Phillip listened quietly as his wife spoke, staring into eyes that seemed as much alive to him as her human ones once did, learning that she was now carrying out the Earth's cleansing policies. "How much longer will it go on?"

"When it ends, there will be tens of millions of survivors. That will be humanity's second chance."

"Oh, my god," Tamara said, "you mean this is going to continue until there's only a few million of us left?"

"Mankind brought it on themselves."

"What about the aliens?" Matt said. "How do they figure in all of this?"

Phillip watched Cyan back against the wall, and then, speaking softly, say that some eighteen thousand years ago they tried to colonize the planet, but the Earth destroyed them, as it did their second attempt.

He shook his head, seeing the irony, from protecting to pruning. "What now?"

"I have work to do."

As his wife began glowing brightly, partially merging into the wall, he sprang forward, "Wait!"

"No! You need to leave now while there's still time. All of you."

"Letís go," Matt said. "You heard her."

"Why?" Tamara said. "Whatís the use?"

"Leave!" Phillip said, grabbing Tamara by the arm and shoving her into Matt. "Heíll protect you. Youíll survive."

"What about you?" Matt said.

"Iím staying. Now go!"

As the two humans fled, the Earth made its presence felt within Cyan, saying, "Give them time to get away."

"What about Phillip?"

"It's his decision," the Earth said, feeling her sorrow.

"Please go, my darling," Cyan said. "I want you to survive."

Phillip stared at his wife, at what she had become, and a part of him wanted to flee with Matt and Tamara. But then the thought of life without her terrified him, more so than death, he realized. "Iíve always shared your life... and Iím not about to stop now."

The Earth heard Cyan's silent pleading. It was an unusual request, but not unexpected. Why else had she maneuvered the human into coming here? Still, she had served well through the years. "Yes. If it's his choice, he may join you."

"Are you sure, Phillip?" Cyan said.

"Do you really need to ask?"

"Then come, my love."

The Earth stood back, watching as the human walked into Cyan's open arms.

####

Matt was sitting on the floor of the Chinook with Tamara at his side, just behind the pilotís compartment. Everyone was on edge. Mount Rainier had erupted a few minutes earlier. They all heard it, but the only damage was to their nerves. They were out of the immediate blast zone.

"What is it sergeant?" Matt said. His men were sitting quietly, bundled against the cold, but their squad leader had kept glancing in his direction.

"Sir, weíve got to know. Did the aliens get him?"

Matt scowled. Upon returning to the helicopter, he ordered it to take off without explaining why Phillip wasnít with them. How could he? The truth eliminated hope. And right now hope was all mankind had. He locked eyes with his squad leader. "Yeah. They got him."

THE END


© 2009 Alex P. Perdian

Bio: Alex Perdian is a Technical Consultant from Washington state. His stories have appeared in the following webzines: AlienSkin, Glyph and Worlds of Wonder.

E-mail: Alex P. Perdian

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