Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, Science, Society, Story, Technology, The Ambassador

And Then There Were Five


         It’s been a long time since what happened. Thirty years, as a matter of fact. They insist I need to do this as a warning to the people of the future. Like, who cares about my feelings and the fact that I was actually there, and nothing I can say can accurately illustrate how horrible it was in a way that they can understand.
         Out of the Five, they wanted my account. Out of all the scientists who could have just explained what went down, they wanted me to turn it into some sort of story. I will never understand them and their stupid anti-politics. 
         Because really, who cares? The world isn’t going to last forever. It was a fluke that anyone even survived the Rains of Metal at all. The truth eventually finds us all.
         So, Futurites, thirty years ago I was seventeen, getting ready to move to the city to start training as a satellite monitor. The day the Upward Metal Rain started, I was crossing the levitation bridge from Gras-khashan on my way back to the village, sucking on a food tablet to ease my hunger pains. Stopping to admire the sun rising on the waves under the floating village had made me late for work at the water factory, again. Before our time, Futurites, a group of “underground” scientists introduced cities held up by massive electromagnets in space, since just like in your time, the earthquakes never stopped and it was very hard to live on earth.
         I wouldn’t even have been that late if I had taken my space board into the city instead of stubbornly deciding to walk. I really hated living up in the air. My mother wouldn’t let me get levitation implants so I could fly like everyone else, and I was always in danger of falling out of the village. I was glad that tomorrow, after the six hour skills transfer in the city, I would be moving into my space resort.
         I noticed the strange things rising up from the sea when I was halfway across the bridge, still a hundred feet above the village. There was only one at first, and then within seconds there were millions, as far as the eye could see. Large chunks of lumpy, twisted metal, ranging in size from neighborhoods to fingernails, shooting up into the sky at rocket speed. They banged against the bridge and rocked it hard enough to knock me off my feet. Terrified and confused, I jumped on my space board, hovering uncertainly in the air. A shower of metal seared up my arms and face.
         In about the time it took to grasp the little I could figure out of what was happening, my village was destroyed by an enormous continent of metal, spanning three times the size of the village and half a kilometer at its thinnest point. I looked down in time to see it happen: Shan-Atak smashed to bits as the thing made impact, metal screeching on metal, the screams of the people drowned out. No one even had a chance. Those who tried to escape were wiped out by the smaller pieces, as were the rescue aircrafts that couldn’t fly fast enough. I was so horrified I didn’t realize I was in the path of the metal monster until it hit my board, and I barely managed to get away. I wouldn’t have made it if i hadn’t been on the West side, since air resistance caused the thing to flip so it was on its end like a coin tied to a string, the edge dropping from under me. Actually it was a miracle that one of the other pieces of metal hadn’t killed me. The pieces of Shan-Atak and the bridge slid down its side, falling to their previous levitation levels, except now instead of high-towering buildings everything was only a few meters high.
         I could hardly breathe. I just couldn’t believe it. I still don’t.
         When I realized that someone might still be clinging to life, I flew down to assess the damage. The only survivors I found were Professor Fringe, the twenty-three year old scientist prodigy at my factory, and Chialr, a girl my age who worked in the factory lab with me sometimes. They were somehow both okay. I had never been so glad to see anyone in my life. 
         Professor Fringe explained what a friend of his in the East had told him as we searched the village for people. Basically what happened was the electromagnets had raised up the metal that earthquakes had been forcing underground for thousands of years. The “underground” scientists had suspected they could present a problem, but the governments’ genius plan had been to deal with it when it happened. The electromagnets solved so many of their problems that any possible pitfalls paled in comparison. This had been going on for weeks all over the world. If the world hadn’t hated the rest of the world so much that we shut ourselves off, we would have known, could have prepared somehow. Everyone we knew had been killed, all because the governments had decided to work together in a co-conspiracy for once? It took days to scan the rest of the village for survivors. We found no one, not even a dog. They were all gone. No one answered our calls for help to other cities. It seemed that the government was AWOL. 
         We planned to take Professor Fringe’s levijet to the city of Gras-khashan to stay with his cousin, but that city had been destroyed as well. We hadn’t been there three minutes when inexplicably the jet dropped from the sky, and my space board didn’t work. We barely escaped the plummeting jet with strange balloon-like things that Professor Fringe called “parachutes”, and plunged into the ocean like seabirds. I was knocked out by the cold water. 
         Gras-khashan went down at about the same time we did. They told me that we floated for about an hour, and then the monkey people found us, somebody having finally answered our universal distress signals. We should have guessed that it would be them, since they lived under the sea. The race of the monkey people were the result of a series of experimental genetic modifications performed a long time ago to create monkeys to serve in the army in place of humans, able to command themselves while the rest of us had a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately for the military scientists, the experiments worked so well that the monkeys and apes actually became like humans. After some boring political stuff that you Futurites can look up in the Records, they were freed from military slavery and escaped to live in glass bubble towns deep in the oceans, watching us grow stupider and stupider by the day. The water resistance slowed the rising metal enough to not do any damage to the glorious glass bubbles. 
         It was a shock to wake up from my fainting spell, soaking wet and freezing cold, to those hairy faces peering at me. They didn’t care much for humans and I was surprised that they would take in a few strays for no reason other than our world was falling apart. They lived in perfect harmony with each other, mildly despising us, while we had wars over which country would get to fight whom in which war.  They were so advanced that even the little monkey-kids knew much more than I did about almost everything. There was one young monkey boy named Delnard who took an immediate liking to Professor Fringe, following him around all the time, wanting to know everything he could teach about human technology. There was something kind of adorable about the way that little creature stuck to the Professor like glue.
         Since Professor Fringe had his hands full, Chialr told me what she knew. The metal pieces were knocking out the electromagnets, which was why our jet had fallen into the ocean. Anything and anyone that levitated had fallen also. There were now less than a million people left in the world, and they were dying off quickly since there was hardly any land that wasnt shaking all the time or covered in water, and there was hardly any food or potable water. It was hard to process. My village had had a million people in it. Just last week. It was also hard to wrap my mind around how sudden the Rain had happened: one minute I was dreaming about starting a new chapter of my life on the space resort, and the next I was fighting to be able to live at all.
         Now that we weren’t running anymore, the reality of what had happened hit both of us hard. One day I found Chialr in the storage bubble, lost in thought, not even flinching when I sat down beside her. Somehow we both ended up in tears though no words were said, leaning on each other and not knowing why. We stayed like that for a long time, until Professor Fringe came to get us for supper, and after that we never went anywhere without each other, always keeping hold of the other’s hand. And just last week I hadn’t known her full name or where she even lived. Not that it mattered anymore.
         We had been living in the dark of the ocean over a week when the satellite monitors turned the electromagnets back on without fixing them. Don’t ask me why, look it up in the Records. Since the magnets weren’t programmed they did nothing but attract metal, and the Upward Metal Rain started again. This time it was all the pieces of the fallen cities, coming up like a swarm of giant helicopters. 
         And that also meant doom for anyone with levitation implants.
         We knew the magnets were back on when Professor Fringe and Chialr suddenly stuck to the ceiling like glue. We had to strap them to beds in the hospital bubble, and they were screaming in pain. Seeing Chialrhurting like that made me more scared than when I had been watching my village being killed from the levitation bridge.
         One of the monkey doctors in the hospital bubble told me that if we didn’t do something soon the metal implants would shred their way out of their bones and they would die. Chialr’s sobbing screams ripped through me though I wasn’t the one in pain, and I realized with cold certainty that these were our final moments. And there was no time to think.
         Delnard said that the only choice was to let them go. Not too long ago he had found a metal spacecraft and was keeping it for observation; it had a zero gravity setting, provisions, oxygen, and everything they would need to survive until the satellite monitors found them sticking to the electromagnet. If the satellite monitors were even paying attention anymore. I asked if they couldn’t just take the implants out, but they didn’t have the right medical equipment to do that safely. Of course they didn’t. 
         Meanwhile, the bubble habitats were racing toward the surface of the water on a humongous piece of metal like the one that had killed the village. When we broke the surface, there was no telling when it would drop us, if it dropped us at all; we would either be thrown into space, or end up so far into the ocean that the pressure broke them. 
         It seemed that Delnard was waiting for me to decide, and there was no time to think. I was so panicked I told them to just go ahead. While Delnard got the space craft ready, I held Chialr’s thrashing hand in both of my own. 
         I felt my throat closing up. 
         The other monkeys tried to get Delnard to just abandon us and evacuate with them. Time was running out before we broke the surface. He had some trouble getting the spaceship in the port, and they all left. Before Chialr and Professor Fringe were towed onto the metal space ship, she reached out with shaking hands to touch my face. I wanted achingly to kiss her goodbye or extend some other form of final farewell, but something held me back. The door shut between us as I snapped out of my daze, slamming against the door, trying to get to her, and it was too late. We had to go. It was like Shan-Atak all over again. I never saw her again. Not that you Futurites need to care.
         Our escape plan was a pair of miniature helicopters, the kind that were basically just chairs with rotors. We had to wait for just the right moment when the bubbles exploded out of the sea, and any delay meant that we couldn’t get off the metal field before it got too fast for us. We escaped before the metal began to outrun us, though at that point, I wouldn’t have minded being smashed into a million pieces, any more than I already was.
         When we found the monkeys again and were once again out of danger, I couldn’t do much more than talk to Chialr on my CubeX, incredibly relieved that they had made it, and sleep and cry. I happened to catch a glimpse of the world population number on a screen Delnard was looking at, as I passed on my way to the library subble. Five people left in the world. The rest had starved or killed each other or been abducted by the electromagnets. It was like ice water to the face, making me wake up and smell the roses. I walked right up to Delnard and told him that I could not stay there any longer. 
         “How are the Professor and Chialr?” he replied, which was how many of our few conversations started.
         “I wasn’t talking to them. I just noticed those demographic lists. There are only five of us left. I need to find them.” It was crazy, to leave the only place where I was really safe, on a whim, with only a talking teenage monkey to guide the way. It was also the only thing I had to cling to, to save my sanity. Three hours later, we were zooming across the earth-quaking desert. 
         The satellite monitors had managed to fix the electromagnets to keep the space resorts intact. As long as the stupid resorts were running the governments were happy. Apparently they had fled the planet the moment they realized we were all going to die. At least we didn’t have to watch for flying metal.
         Even though you really aren’t supposed to, I chatted on my CubeX as we zipped along on the mini helicopters. “Are you talking with the last five?” shouted Delnard.
         I told him that we were planning to meet at an island named Danamo, somewhere in the Caribbean sea. Really what I should have been doing was steering my helicopter.
         My CubeX told me that I had a message from Chialr at the same time that Delnard got one from Professor Fringe. Chialr’s said: Thank you, good-bye. I was too stunned and confused to reply until it was too late. 
         This was Professor Fringe’s message. 

Delnard:

         This is my last message to you. Long story very short: the magnets have been attracting metal in space for as long as they have been around, and it will make impact in one minute and a half. The smallest pieces are five times bigger than the biggest piece from earth. There is no way to escape: the fools designed all the space craft to work magnetically, and if they turn them back on to get away, it will only increase the velocity of the metal hurtling toward us. They have already built up so much velocity, in fact, that it will continue on to earth after it is finished with the space resorts. The fools and their stupid space resort.
         Beware and farewell, 

         Professor Fringe. 

         No sooner had Delnard finished reading the message that a sound like thunder resonated from the sky, rolling and rolling and never stopping. She was gone. They were both gone. They didn’t even have a chance.

         Deep breath.
         Blackness swirls in my eyes like rainbows in an oil spill. 

         This was too much. I had to clear my head, I had to remember that I had a mission. Not everyone had to die. We had to think of a plan. Help the survivors. The future of the human race was in our hands. 
         Forgive me, Futurites, for this unsolicited display of emotion. I hate going back to that black and awful place. There was no time to mourn. No time to think about her. What had happened to the time? Why was there always an emergency somewhere?
         Get to the people and think of a plan. 
         “On to Danamo,” I reminded Delnard, who looked the way I felt. “We have to fly like the wind. Come on. Oh, and can you tell one of your friends to meet us at the island?”

         We got there just before sundown.
         That place was a surprise, a sight to behold. Danamo was beautiful and alive with colors that I hadn’t seen in a long time and enough food to last. It was strangely intact and barely affected by earthquakes at all. The other four said they had all been having a vacation here when the Upward Metal Rain started. The ground was only vibrating a little, still enough that we could walk. Everyone else was already there, in an odd pyramid shaped building that was slowly falling apart. It was silent and dark in there. The four were sitting in a loose circle, talking in low voices; the oldest was the same age as Professor Fringe, and the rest were my age.  
         We barely introduced ourselves before getting down to business. I was about to mention how death-seeking metal lumps was hurtling towards the earth when there was a sound like an explosion outside. We gaped in horror when we saw it was raining metal again, and Danamo was being obliterated. We ran to the shore where a subble had arrived, diving into the murky ocean before it even broke the surface. Leonard from the south had a near miss, and we pulled out as a metal torpedo exploded behind us. As Professor Fringe had said, some were bigger than three big cities put together, and they pelted the poor little island like bullets to scale.
         We huddled together in the center of the subble, and Dana told everyone that we were going to die. For now, the magnetic force fields around the subble deflected the metal, only to have it bounce off of the next subble or back into the air to fall on us again. It was like an almost-silent game of ping pong. While Dana was freaking out and Chanda was trying to calm her down, I talked with Delnard and the other two about what to do next. No one was ready to accept that we were the fate of humanity. All we did was go in circles, until the Monkey Elder came and brought order to the court. 
         “The fate of humanity is in your hands,” he started off with. 
         “With all due respect, sir, we know,” I said, trying not to let it sink in. 
         He gave me this funny look. “I am not like your humans were. You need not call me sir or give me ‘all do respect.”
         “Okay, cool,” said Shas-Le. We laughed in a nervous, cautious way. 
         “Your kind have finally managed to destroy themselves,” he went on. I think he sounded downright gleeful. “There are five of you left. I propose that you stay here, in the subbles until we fix the bubble habitats. We might run out of room in time, but we will deal with that when it happens.” He nodded to himself and left before we could say anything. It was the obvious solution, and yet it wasn’t really a solution at all. It didn’t solve the fact that everyone we knew was dead.
         The four slumped against the wall, exhausted, but I convinced them that they needed to sleep in beds. We had our own rooms, but they all ended it up in my room by the middle of the night. After that, we never went anywhere without each other.
         That’s pretty much the end of the story, I guess. We spent most of our time rebuilding the threads of humanity, engineering children in the lab and slowly getting on with what we were to do “next.” We made a vow that no matter what, nothing like that would ever happen again. So this is me, contributing to that vow. 

         That was the past. Thirty years ago, as of today. We aren’t as close as we used to be. Since then I have been elected governor, and there are almost a million of us now, and my council is talking about building another bubble city. And during this time, I realized that no matter how many people we warned, something else would come, something that we didn’t even realize could happen. A freak accident, to anyone on the outside. 
         Hours after saving the document, Delnard opens the subble hatch without letting me know he’s coming in, and I quickly erase the image of Chialr from my holopic and swivel my hover-chair to face him. 
         “Sir, I’ve just made a discovery,” he says, which is how most of our few conversations started. He knows this time not to bug me with scientific jargon and just spit it out. “The tectonic plates are diverging, and thousands of new and active volcanoes have been born. And also, the atmosphere has been so damaged, evaporated water is leaking away, along with our oxygen. In a few centuries, the whole world will be one giant rock. No oceans, we cant live on the ground, we cant go down the magnet road again, and this could be the end.”
         I regard him emotionlessly. “They could live in space. Don’t worry, Delnard, years ago I was one of the last of my kind, and i’m not going out that easily.”
         “But the plates–“
         I wave him away and turn back to my hologram screen. “Don’t worry,” I say again. “We’ll deal with it when it happens.” 

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