Gary Baker, November 2013
(a part of the 'Song of the Julara' excerpts)
[(Sorry this piece is so late!)]
Stars! Look, there are stars!
Hya lifted his chin, breaking chunks of condensed dust and lichen in long stretch marks that hadn’t been moved in centuries. It took his eyes a second to realize what exactly he was looking at, the jungle that had grown around him turning much of the scene into scratches of darkness over the brighter backdrop of pinhole points that speckled the greater backdrop. He didn’t think they were stars, despite the voice so deep within his blessed consciousness telling him so. Hya would have said they seemed more like fireflies, if anyone so much as asked him, not that anyone ever had.
Sure enough, however, there they were, blazing orbs of fusion and energy aloft in deep space somewhere, eons from his little rock, and yet so very close just then. Their spectroscopy lined up along the edges of his vision, numbers and letters, all characters of an age long gone and long since deceased, that seemed to hover where his eyes couldn’t comprehend; almost along the perpendiculars, though still accessible enough.
God, aren’t they beautiful? But Hya didn’t respond, too enrobed in the glory to grasp the flow of time once again.
He felt the rays from light years away gleam over his external circuitry, all smooth panelling under the layers and layers of moss and root matter. It was like bathing in liquid gold in its most base form, the energy of centuries old ions building up within him until he became able to move again.
Hya flexed his fingertips first, noting the crumbly crinkle that the caked silt made as it fell away in tiny wind-blown breaths, then moved to his wrists at the heart of web-like roots. They wouldn’t budge at first, not until he rolled his palms a few times to cut the outer reaches of the rhizosphere into shreds, where he gained minimal range to lift his hands. Hya cut his fixed stare at the benefactors from afar and fluidly glanced down at his hands, woven so intricately in plant matter and soil that his first thought was of the old human nightmare of the swamp monster.
Watching these bonds, Hya clenched his left fist first and began flexing his subsequent elbow. The roots fought hard, their strain heard in audible groans and creaks, until at last his arm flew away with a massive puff of airborne soil and debris. Then, determinedly, he turned to tear at the plantlife housing his right arm and set it, too, free for the first time in who knew how long. Next, with both arms loose to the world again, he lifted his hands and scrubbed away at the lichen and moss coating his smooth domed head and shoulders so that he was completely bare from the collar to his forehead and back down to the nape of his neck again.
After all that he would have sighed if he could, so instead clutched his fingers together and let the night continue without interruption. Judging by the constellations, the planet was right where it should have been, if not a smidgen closer to the sun, and thus meant that sunrise would return eventually.
When it finally did, he was still sitting where he had been, hands resting on the roots as though on his knees, his chin held skyward to peer at the stratosphere as it faded from star stricken to a hazy orange and finally a pale blue-gray. The plants caging him had bloomed with thin translucent flowers, coating what still remained stuck to him with pastel skirts of barely distinguishable reds and blues, whites and violets, so that it appeared to him that he had been dressed by a fairy goddess, had such a thing existed.
Glancing to his hands, Hya looked upon opaque white fingers and a disk-like palm, held together by a flexible, malleable material deeply covered in silt, mud, and even more miniscule roots. Every surface was wrought with dirt, seeming to have lost a sort of gloss that he felt sure it must have had at one time, and all over were the pockmark black spots of ivy anchors where roots and vines had held up until hours prior.
Following the floral roots, Hya was led to find the sight of an endless sea of thick eggshell-white clouds reaching to the horizon and beyond, where the occasional pillar-like mountain peaks tried to rise out like godly green and gray stone fingers. As it was, his own pillar ended with a jutting balcony strewn with jungle foliage amassing with the moss enough to appear as one large organism growing over everything in sight. The outcropping in which he sat kept him in general darkness, with his seat relatively close to the edge, though the deeper inside he looked, the darker it got.
What is this?
“I,” he found himself replying, his voice both artificial and unnatural even to his own ears, “do not know.”
Then go… over there?
The indicated direction was toward a series of rubble piles where several flat surfaces stood like carvings beside solid beams holding aloft several mushrooms and tentacular vines. They seemed to have a purpose in their design, even if only by coincidence, a sort of unintended dichotomy of meaning and curious wonder held within darker shadows within the oblivious darkness.
Hya moved his hands to his sides and pushed, lifting himself up and against the greater roots entangling his hips and torso… to no avail. He was literally stuck there, until either these plants died of dehydration, which, by the way the fog condensed over everything around him, didn’t appear to be happening any time soon, or until he could find a way to break free. He tried to tear at them, only succeeding in releasing the smallest of the roots and vines, but still found himself held firm by the arm-thick roots acting like snakes coiling around a dying animal.
Are there any rocks around? or a knife, perhaps?
But there was no such thing, not near him, at least, where he might be able to reach it easily. So he would have to simply dig it out as he had the smaller roots, it seemed. Getting right to it, Hya started by stabbing a forefinger into the wood and then slowly, ever so slowly, peeling away at the strings within the wood, a task that would have taken him a few minutes with a blade turning to several hours with just his left forefinger and thumb.
By the time the local star was beginning to crest it’s way into the little room, Hya had thinned the roots enough to finally slide himself free, though they were still far too thick to be snapped easily. Just one downfall of smooth, glass-like fingers, it appeared.
Finally he was free to stand, his knees creaking slightly as though they hadn’t moved in centuries as he brought them to his chest to lean onto his boot-shaped feet and lift himself to full height. Hands at his hips, Hya watched the world with a new sense of direction, suddenly a new vantage point giving him range enough to see that the whole of his section of the world lay blanketed in the thick eggshell cloud cover.
The spectroscopic readings displayed across the perpendiculars of his vision, citing high levels of methane gas and nitrogen, with equally great numbers of ozone parts per million, suspended water molecules, traces of violent gaseous boron and a various solution of noble gases and carbon compounds. Altogether these chemicals made up the endless clouds that bewildered Hya, neither burning away by the heat of the sun nor by evaporating into the upper stratosphere.
Hya… the darkness has lightened up a bit.
Hya turned, following the words within his subretinal passageways, and gazed into the cavernous room. In the light of the setting sun, glimmering panels and crevices stood out against the greater oblivion. As he walked closer he began to recognize pieces: a computer monitor here, a server encasement there, steel tables with coils of wires and once-living mechanical apparatuses all around.
Best of all, Hya noticed with rising hope, was a solid cube covered in thin vines without much hold on the metal beneath. He knew instantly what it was: a safe to store memory chips and electronics without fear of the elements ruining them. He strode over with haste in his steps and swiped the plants away to unveil the Sulermon logo of a long pike-like fish eating it’s own digital tail.
Something rose inside Hya just then, and he felt a hope that he never knew could exist. This was it. This was his box, his gift, his last connection to those who’d made him from so many nanos and micros floating magnetically within his near-diamond crystalline skeletal core.
Do… do you think it might…
Hya grabbed the dial and tried to turn it, but found it frozen in place by rust and silt, knowing then that it had been too good to be true. It would have been too easy if he had been able to open it that fast.
So instead he began searching around, looking for something, anything, that might help him pry at it, to obtain whatever was within that tauntingly stoic cube. He tried a long metal bar that he found under a molded table, and broke it on the first try, so he tried inserting a fragment of that bar into the dial to carve away the minerals stopping the turning mechanisms, and felt it wear away at itself on the teeth of sturdy gears deeper inside.
Finally, in a moment of pure frustration, Hya spun on his heels and shoved the cube with both hands, causing the whole spectacle to fall over and send the safe rolling into a thick mush of tree roots.
The clamor was thunder to Hya’s circuitry, causing his internals to downshift the decibel levels of what was transmitted to his computational core without his willing control. The receptors in his ears were thus saved the harshness, but it somehow made it less real, like a virtual simulation of what would happen had he done as much in an intricate program setting.
And then he saw it…
No… it can’t be…
There, along the bottom panel of the safe, where the sheer weight of the cube would have prevented any biological being from seeing it, was a hand-shaped indentation directly proportional to his own, with a small sliver of a docking port pushing out from the cube itself. Eyes wide, Hya looked to his right hand, the hand that would fit the indent, and found a small hinged gateway with dirt jammed into the silvery outline. This gate, he realized, was a perfect fit for the port that the cube projected.
I think it’s meant for you, Hya. The sublingual communication urged him onward, urged him to seek what was within that cube, that safe… though now it appeared more like a massive sealed database, with this dock as the only way to read what was inside. Read it, Hya. It has to be important to have been sealed that well.
The comm was right, he wouldn’t get a second chance to discover what was within if he left now. The chemicals in the cloud cover would be sure to degrade the now-exposed machinery within days, if not sooner. Leaving now would be like begging to never know what lay in store for him and his future, it would be like meeting the only one who knew everything and simply asking for directions to the next city over. It would be suicide to leave this be.
Hesitantly, Hya reached his right palm out, kneeling as he did so, and felt the so-called “male” mechanism come to rest firmly within his hand’s port, and only minimal grinding of dirt entering as well.
Instantly Hya found himself with access to a whole new world of raw data and hyper-condensed feeds. Suddenly he had access to all of the human genome, to intricate maps of the geography of the planet… and of videos recorded as these mists began to blanket the world. He read document after document, file after file of everything the humans had thought of it at the time, of articles written for news organizations as they crumbled due to readers panicking and packing for the hills. He felt the awe that Wall Street had felt as the clouds pushed in from the sea as windows shattered and trees wilted within days as the chemicals spread. He traced back further and found the original footage of the comet crashing into the pacific where plume of light struck at three separate locations at once, only to become focal points where chemicals in the alien debris chemically reacted with saline ocean water and started spitting foul pillars of fog that coalesced into one massive, and growing embodiment of human terror.
Hya watched the world die.
Through the course of years, the human race had felt the onset of something disastrous looming over them, and those with the fiscal abilities to escape did so, while the rest died of sudden cancers and blood clotting in places medical journals had never even seen happen before. Drowning while miles from any source of water became all too common, face masks were issued as a last minute measure, but became useless as others started dying of sores that spread as the chemicals virtually ate the human body alive. No one was exempt from the chemical carnage that was wrought, then.
And finally a man by the name of Bruce Arias-Kalmor, out of the Iranian territories in western Russia, formerly under control of Sweden, a long-time inventor of experimental SCUBA attachments and gear, invented an engine that utilised electrical currents in the ‘Mist’ to power a series of turbines capable of hefting over three-hundred times it’s weight. Published in the Modern Tech Journal, Arias-Kalmor’s work became the godsend that humanity needed. Suddenly the worlds wealthiest were able to start lifting whole estates off the ground, housed in web-like lattices of carbon fiber and steel, and so began the rise to the skies.
Hya gaped, unable to control his incredible, wondrous awe.
Finally, with so much more to read, Hya found a lone folder deep in the subsystem of the database, entitled: “for my dear Cassivelaunus, the survivor of humankind”. Curious, Hya opened the file… and out popped the image of a young scientist standing beside him, the room suddenly transformed into what it once had been, a skyscraper laboratory above the rising mists.
The once-open wall was now a long series of bay windows overlooking a vast cityscape where the Mist was slowly pushing in over redwoods and pines at least two storeys tall, the darkness shed by thin beam lights set into the speckled ceiling. And before him, standing in a white lab coat with both hands clasped behind his back, stood a young man in his early thirties.
“Hello, Cassivelaunus,” the boy iterated with pride, “the fact that you are seeing this means the time has come where out backup generators have broken down completely and thus have charged you to the maximum.” He looked out upon his wall of notes where various diagrams indicated body parts and wiring systems within circuits. Hya took mental screenshots just to be sure he could reread these all later if the VRV, the virtual reality video, happened to fail midway through. “My name is Marcus,” the boy continued, “Marcus James. Real quick: believe me when I say this: I am not the one who created you, not alone, at least. You are a syndicate of various fields of technology pieced together at utmost care with the latest of human research, our kind having finally bested our elders just as the dawning of humanity comes to a close.” He turned to Hya once more, smiling as broad as a parent to a child who’d just won the nobel, “you are our way of bettering the future, of seeing to it that everything we know continues long into the future where it might assist the worlds of other sentient beings on how to prevent what has happened here to us in this age.”
Marcus glanced out the windows at the Mist. “No one really knows why this happened to us, but what we do know is that this Mist came in the form of a gaseous comet, and has brought elements previously unknown to man which have begun degrading into the chemicals of the Mist by reacting with the sodium dissolved throughout the ocean.” He stepped a few paces toward the windows and sighed. “I, personally, am the last one here. The others all fled to the estates to ‘ride this out’ as they claimed would happen. But it won’t work -- I’ve looked into the technology of these engines: it doesn’t add up. There are far too many variables to allow these estates to stay afloat, plus the fact that even if they did stay above the Mist, the resources would dwindle incredibly fast.
“The human race is at it’s last and ultimate end,” Marcus turned to Hya again and looked him in the eye as if he were actually there with the young man. “That is why we -- I -- called you Cassivelaunus, the name of an early British clansman who fought back against the infamous Julius Caesar and won more often than not. This Mist is our next Caesar, my friend, and so you must become our legendary hero to survive us all and live to show what we have done for the universe with science and observation, with culture and religion, with alchemy and… well… artificial intelligence.”
Marcus walked back over to Hya and placed a hand upon the man’s arm. He could feel the soft warmth of Marcus’s fingers and palm pressing into his crystalline flesh, could smell the man’s sweat as he secretly feared the oncoming death that surely he would face within the next few months at most. “You are our proof that we have succeeded, Cass, the fact that you exist means humanity and all it stood for has not been in vain. We will now outlive everything, embodied in the memory cells of your artificial existence.” A tear slid down the young man’s cheek, “just know that while the rest of us will be dead by the time you have woken, you still have a mission to carry out. In this database you will find documents on your production, files on how you will be able to repair yourself and how to fix things when your circuits start to fail with age. All these things are repairable and can easily be done once you know how.
“Furthermore, there are packages I want you to download, packages containing raw details about everything you might wish to know as well as some with things to add to your arsenal of other goodies, such as infrared vision, body morphology, and handfuls of others.” Marcus leaned against the table nearest himself and shrugged. “From here I simply want you to go out there and explore. I want you to document the new world, if it still exists beyond this room, and to compile this data into forms that might be of use to other sentient races. And that’s the other thing: I want you to seek out other races. The universe is far too big to be just us with this level of intelligence, and I want you to find them and bring them to our level if they aren’t already.”
Finally the man smiled with a dejected, lopsided grin. He almost seemed to look at Hya with a brotherly hope, with the eyes of a father figure ready to die to keep his newborn child away from harm. “And if the worst comes to worst out there, Cassivelaunus,” another tear streamed down his cheek, “I won’t take it personally if you decide to go about another mission. Hell, I don’t think I’d be able to argue much if you chose to simply give up and let your circuitry cease.”
He reached a hand over to a remote on the table beside himself. “End transmission.”