‘Ephemeral Love’, Melanie Rees

Illustration © 2009 by Miguel Santos

 [ Sarcophagus, © 2009 by Miguel Santos ] Deep within, something churns. A mechanical heartbeat pierces its way to the surface infringing upon the tranquillity, as the sun sinks and surrenders to the numinous night. Amphibians croak in the rich primordial swamps. A myriad of other creatures join in and impart their tunes to the exultant chorus.

In the distance, the silhouette of the mechanical down-shaft seems to be calling, almost beckoning. He stands on the precipice, loyalties divided between obligation and something that remains undefined. He needs to remain here, to dwell in her golden aura, comforted by her tender melodies and vibrant hues. But his commitments seem to overshadow everything else. The masters of the underworld trigger something deep within; an instinctive mechanism tells him that he must abide.

In ungainly fashion, he lumbers towards the shaft. An opaque tubular carriage rises to the surface and with digits of ill-designed dexterity he programs the sequence that will take him to the lower levels of the ancient hibernaculum. The carriage doors close and stars vanish one by one, as he is plunged into darkness and vertical descent. The darkness is not soothing like the visual silence of the night sky, rather an unnatural emptiness: rigid and unmoving. Over the eons he has never felt the urge to unplug, to vanish. Perhaps this is what they once called fear. He flips an internal switch and tunes out to the black commotion.

The carriage opens and reawakens him. Trudging from the hateful elevator, ancient sensor lights are triggered, illuminating the vast antechamber. Although a thick film of dust has settled and a few rodents have taken up residency, it still looks like it did all those millions of years ago.

There are four walls, each sharing a certain grandeur, a certain regality: although they pale in comparison to her. The plasma-infused wall surrounding the down-shaft shines with thousands of images from an age long forgotten. He counted them once, only sixty two thousand, three hundred and seven relayed over and over again: images of people smiling out from the wall at him, people holding hands, children running under sprinklers and walking with bare feet on manicured grass. On the adjacent southern and northern walls lie two huge computer screens and consoles. They span the entire length of the antechamber, powered indirectly through the solar rays captured above. Data flickers across their black surface intermittently. At the other end of the antechamber, the hibernaculum entrance dwindles in the distance.

The tinny voice of the computer echoes within the empty auditorium monotonously, "De-stasis thawing will commence in two hours. Please accept or reject re-colonization status. De-atrophying process will commence in seventy-four hours. Please accept or reject re-colonization status...De-stasis thawing will commence in two hours..." It continues its message repeatedly.

The whirring of the hibernaculum's de-thawing sequence starts up again, drowning out the computer's tinkling and his own thoughts.

Sluggishly he wanders across to the computer terminal and mulls over the readings. Climatic trends scroll across the screen in iridescent green lettering.

"Atmospheric methane: 1600 parts per billion. Nitrous oxide: 280 parts per billion. Carbon dioxide: 290 parts per million. Re-colonisation status: 92.3% optimisation."

Why the re-colonisation percentage is below one hundred puzzles him. Perhaps they are waiting for trees bejewelled with gold leaves.

The whirring intensifies as the second stage recolonisation process kicks into gear. He can just make out the caskets of the hibernaculum, stacked in high, tiered columns, like a tomb. Above the entrance is a golden plaque engraved with the words "Buds for the Valley of New Eden." Soon these so-called buds will blossom across fields and hillsides. Their pollen will blow in the wind to the atmosphere and wash downstream to the oceans. Everywhere will be a mass of bipedal flowers and their pollen.

Masses of them once stood in this cryostat auditorium listening and waiting. They said he would need to remember the 'love' humanity once shared and reaffirm belief in his duties.

Like all of history, he remembers it vividly, although he is still not sure that he understands.

The speaker sits next to him, adorned in full suit and tie, shielded from the scalding heat outside by the antechamber.

In an opulent voice, the suited man commands attention. "Do not fear, my fellow citizens, for our society will return. Yes, we will sleep, but we will re-awake. This fiery planet will cool, gases will dissipate, soils will become enriched, resources will become plentiful and...." The suited man's voice increases another 1.23 decibels as he raises his hands and looks up at the ceiling "And the rain... the rain, my friends, will fall like it once did."

Looking up at the featureless ceiling quizzically, he searches his databanks for information on rain and retrieves images of small children in oversized gumboots splashing in muddy puddles and gastropods leaving silvery trails in wet lawns.

"And watching over us will be the Guardian, the newest R65 designed to be capable of withstanding the Venusian-like climate, which our world is spiralling towards. He will ensure de-stasis occurs when our world is perfect again. He will endure and hence we will endure. And our economy and society will blossom like the fields of wild flowers that once graced our landscape."

The auditorium fills with rapture.

The suited man's voice mellows and he reels off instructions. "If everyone would like to make their way to the hibernaculum with your lottery ticket ready the stewards will usher you to your respective chambers."

Flanked by large men and a stately woman the suited man is ushered to his resting spot. A young woman half his age and with large belly hastens forward crying desperately.

Black suited men race forward. "You don't even have a pass, miss, please step back." They usher her away as she cries and clutches her stomach.

 [ The Line, © 2009 by Miguel Santos ] Slowly the crowds start filtering across the floor. Many are finely dressed with keepsakes and trinkets strung about their necks. Some are turned away from the chamber despite cries of consternation. People scramble impatiently creating a bottleneck at the entrance to the hibernaculum. A scuffle breaks out. Several brutish men in camouflaged trousers head towards the commotion. Shots ring out. The antagonist falls listlessly to the ground with a thud. Only a few young faces bother to turn around.

The commotion slowly dies down and the 'future blooms', as the suited man calls them, close up in their stasis capsules like petals closing as the sun retreats from the sky.

The auditorium becomes cold. Lifeless. Centuries pass. The computer hums monotonously. There are no other sounds.

The carriage of the up-shaft takes him to the world above. He shambles sluggishly across the cracked clay pans to a nearby rock and awkwardly lowers himself into a sitting position. Topsoil blows into the air with gusty winds. The dusty haze picks up the rays of the scorching sun. The sky glows orange behind silhouetted buildings. He watches as the buildings crumple to the ground over hundreds of years.

Millennia pass. A sound chimes throughout his head, like something hitting metal. He looks up to the scorching sky and droplets of liquid splatter upon his outstretched hand. The water trickles at first and then the skies open unforgivingly. In between the clacked clay pans, a monocotyledon germinates. A tiny leaf blade emerges, twisting and turning, capturing the sun. Several more emerge. A fleshy homogeneous green carpet spreads across the clay pan. Slowly other green gems sprout amongst the carpet. They become woody and grow tall. Far taller than him. Always reaching for the sun.

Millennia pass. The rock he sits on erodes with wind and rain. It turns to dust. He gets up and wanders across the valley. More rain falls and a pool forms downhill.

Millions of years pass. Tiny crustaceans jump and pirouette in the thin film of water. The pool grows and covers the entire valley floor. After an age undefined, it teems with life. Fish come to visit him at the lakes edge. He calls one of them Freddie. Small Diptera with delicate wings and slender legs tread lightly on the water. Freddie snaps at one with his elongated body and it sends ripples across the lake before he dives back down below. Freddie introduces him to his children, and his children's children's children. One of them has little growths on his flanks. The lake starts to become overcrowded. A great, great descendent of Freddie walks up the banks to meet him. Sedges and rushes grow, fringing the lake edge, sheltering her inhabitants as they sing to him at night. He sings back to her a reassuring lullaby. Who the lullaby is intended to reassure he is unsure. She seems to reassure him, with her light and dark, her music and tranquillity, her majestic curves and her tiny creatures.

He longs to see her again; he yearns for her tender breath and exposed soul.

"De-stasis thawing will commence in thirty minutes. Please accept or reject re-colonization optimisation status."

The mechanical intrusion whirrs into his thoughts, pierces his circuits. Addle-pated he looks again at the giant screen that towers forebodingly above him. He cannot argue with the figures, everything is indeed perfect. Long-term climatic conditions are stable, resources have renewed, and there are promising signs of life with fish, amphibians and birds flourishing again.

He dubiously mutters to himself, "After two million years of stasis everything is indeed perfect."

He emerges from the elevator. She is there to greet him. Her rich blue veins slink down into the hills. Two birds perform a pas des deux above the river as something scampers through the undergrowth. Her morning dew glistens with the clear sunlight as if a million shards of mirrored glass have been strewn across the valley. Unparalleled beauty. Perhaps this is what they once called love? No, this feeling is not a fleeting thing; it has grown over the ages. They could not possibly have a word to describe the way he feels for her.

The churning and whirring has ceased.

"So what do you think? Should I give them another million years?" he asks the sun-kissed hills and river.

She whispers back with an earthly sigh, shrouding him in a misty blanket.

"Okay, you are right, two million would be better," he replies, and awkwardly makes his way to the horizon and beyond the valley of New Eden.

© 2009 Melanie Rees

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