Remnant

This is a disturbing one. I think it’s a little heavy-handed in places but I haven’t written much lately so ‘rust’. I don’t feel like coming back to it later so here it is and here it stays.

Drumming like thunder, the sky full of sparks and flashes, we heard the masses approaching long before they crossed the hill. In silhouette, they seemed even more ominous than we knew they would be, their horses mighty and straining against their riders, eager to get into the fight.

We lost that day, not only the battle, but the land we’d held sacred for centuries. Before the sun fully rose, they had descended on us, and none save the cowardly and the unfortunate survived long enough to know where this would end.

They numbered five thousand. Seven thousand if you counted their horses, which were every inch as battle scarred and ready for a fight as those they came with. We numbered two thousand, and only then if you counted in the number of gods the Holies prayed to. Their gods didn’t arrive. We were left to die on our own.

What is it with power that it’s so attractive that those who have it or want it lose their humanity? It’s not as if they can take their power into death, and as far as I can tell they are blinded and made stupid by their lust for it. They create need where none exists, so that they can make excuses to take. For them, there is no joy in receiving; the joy is in the taking without asking, or by manufacturing trouble and invoking it as a just cause. They are children; naughty, spiteful children, and others die for it.

Unsatisfied with the land they had and the bounty present in it, they began beating the drums of war, wearing their own people down over time and calling it presenting a convincing argument. When your choices are subservient agreement, imprisonment, torture, or death, which will you choose? And so they formed the false consent of their people, who did not want to see their children perish but knew, in their land or ours, many of them would die anyway, and needlessly. From false consent, common consensus emerged; they talked their way into believing their own nonsense.

A new land was desired by those who wanted freedom from tyranny. They wanted to breathe the air of the free, and so they travelled to our shores and their boats vomited out them and their possessions. We were curious about them and their intentions, but we were not blind to the fortifications they immediately set about building. They came from strife-torn lands looking for freedom, and yet the very first thing they did was to set up the conditions for more strife. It made no sense to us, and it still makes no sense to me.

The land they called their own was ours. My people had been here for thousands of years and yet when they intruders came, bedraggled and with sickness aboard, we gave them space. We tried to welcome them and to discover their intentions but they were hostile toward us. Fifty of us had gathered there at the top of the rise, looking down on the beach they’d landed on where, in landing, they’d damaged or wrecked our fishing boats. They knew we were here and they knew this was our home, but they came without invitation, took without asking, and killed without provocation.

The first shot they fired raced through the air and killed a small child who had been standing with her father, one hand in his and one thumb in her mouth. She was four years old. They called us savages, even though we had never waged war on their babies as they had on ours. They declared our land Terra Nullis, which in one of the old languages means empty land. They considered that we were part of their species, but not part of their kind. It was strange to us, to be thought of as the wrong kind of human.

We forgave them the murder of one of our own. We brought gifts and medicines, the former to make their adjustment here more comfortable and the latter because they had brought sickness with them. We built and rebuilt our boats, moving them further along the coast. The newcomers burned them to the waterline on that first night after they were launched.

What had we done to encourage so much hatred in them? It was a question we discussed and wondered about for many months. It took a long time to arrive at the answer, because we had to learn a new way to think about the question. They hated us because we were alive, and their hatred burned deeply because they wanted to take what we had and they needed to justify it to themselves, however falsely.

Their landing point expanded and their buildings grew as the shoreline forest diminished under their onslaught. The animals learned not to come close and the sea life became scarce, not because there was not a glorious abundance of life but because the invaders would not venture far. They were like termites, hollowing out the tree they were in, oblivious to the other trees. They simply wrecked their first site and then abandoned it, moving down the beach and once again destroying our goods. They reasoned that if we had gone there it must be because we were hoarding the riches of the sea and the forest. Hoarding, that’s what they said.

The air, always so clean before, took on odd smells and the stench of their habits. Our farming and grazing was affected by pilfering, and it became so untenable that our choices were to push back or to move back. We moved, taking our possessions with us and leaving all as we had found it. Even that wasn’t enough for them. Curious about why we had left, they decided we were ‘looking down on them’, and they hated us all the more.

We lost the sea, but we adapted. The mountains at the back of us housed our ancestors. We lived as close to the dead as we felt was respectful, not wanting to disturb their peace. Our valley was fertile and we hoped it was safe now. There was no further back that we could go.

They came out of the night, silencing our dogs and other animals. They were quiet, deadly quiet, and our first inkling of their presence came when we heard distant screaming. We were up and running, grabbing whatever we could to use as a defence, but we were too late. First we found one body, that of a young girl who had probably been the one to scream and alert us. Her throat had been cut. Fifty paces on, we found another body, and then another. By the time we reached the end of the trail of human wreckage, seven of our young girls and women had been found dead. The invader’s raiding party had been specific; they were looking for females.

Only babies, the sick, and the old slept through the rest of that night and the one following it. We had been tolerant of the newcomers. Too tolerant, some said, and it was difficult to disagree with them. Pushed out of our own homes, our connection to the sea cut off, our animals poisoned and slaughtered, and our females taken for rape or, if unsuccessful, murder.  It reminded us of the old days, those thousand years ago when greed and stupidity was sold as ‘rights’ and ‘wisdom’, and the masses bought into it because they wanted to profit from it, as long as someone else lost and as long as they didn’t have to do the fighting. The old evil had reemerged.

We had tried giving them what they thought they wanted, but they kept wanting more. We had fallen back and fallen back, hoping they would finally have enough of what they wanted, but as the Wise Ancient had said:

The only difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has limits.”

After the third planetary war, groups of survivors had emerged. Some went their own ways, intent on living out their lives in isolation from the humans who still carried that sickness of mind and spirit that thought war was winnable and god was on their side. Over generations groups formed and changed, each seeking out the destiny they wanted. For us at least, that ushered in nearly a millennia of peace. We lived close to the land but we were not savages. We developed a distinct culture and its customs, we had a written language, an education system, and most importantly, methods that meant we didn’t have to exchange anger with anyone to get what we wanted.

Now, it seemed, the old hatreds had visited us again. These people didn’t just want to win; they wanted us to lose. They spoke of entitlement and deserving and god-given rights, but they spoke of them only in terms of promoting their own selfish needs and wants. We had learned of them, by them. Some very few were not unkind to us, and in the course of those new friendships they told us of their travels and travails. Among ourselves, we came to think of them as locusts, descending in numbers unsustainable and destroying everything in sight before moving on to the next victim.

A liar doesn’t admit to being one because that would require telling the truth, and to some people the truth is an undiscovered country or an enemy to be avoided at all cost. They lie, sometimes because it’s in their interest, but always because it’s in their nature. And so, when they sent a delegation to apologise to us for what a few ‘hotheads’ had done, we noted that their apology seemed insincere and abrupt, and their questions quickly flowed toward knowing about our food supply, livestock numbers, and the number of people in our homeland.

We knew they could not be trusted, and they knew it, too. How often had they fallen in on themselves, casting out the misfits and practicing all sorts of barbarity on each other. They didn’t know us and they didn’t know themselves. We knew the time was coming. They would attack in main force, not because we were a threat but because our existence offended them. We were the potential they hated, because to be like us meant they would have to change, and change meant they were wrong. They would destroy us to ‘prove’ they were right. Sheer bloody madness.

When there’s nothing left to lose, there’s nothing left to lose. Some might call that fatalistic and pessimistic, but they are usually the ones who are safely ensconced in their homes, protected by others. The armchair warriors who talk about a world made better if only everyone would listen to them and do what they say. That world killed itself ten centuries ago; a failed experiment.

We made what preparations we could. Some of them would come as a surprise, we knew, because the invaders hadn’t even attempted to chart the territory and so they had no idea that other villages existed in more remote areas. We sent out messengers to warn them of the impending sunset on our way of life, and they surprised us by volunteering to join with us, knowing it was a battle we couldn’t win. Their thinking was that destruction was inevitable; the rapacious greed of the invaders meant only the timing was in question. Better to stand for something than to kneel for anything, they said. Our hearts fell. In doing what we thought was right, we had invited a worse result.

Drumming like thunder, the sky full of sparks and flashes, we heard the masses approaching long before they crossed the hill. In silhouette, they seemed even more ominous than we knew they would be, their horses mighty and straining against their riders, eager to get into the fight.

It went on for days, the craters in the earth filling with blood, and the stench of death everywhere. Skirmishes gave way to main battle and collapsed again into skirmishes. They had fashioned crude flares and missiles that just as often as they launched, blew up on ignition. They left their own dead and injured where they lay, all humanity lost to them. They brought their now-orphaned children up onto the crest of the hill, using them as human shields while the ‘good men and true’ regrouped behind them.

They invoked their god and called out about Glory, but if they were in so much of a hurry to get there why did they cower behind children? They called out all sorts of vile taunts and they desecrated the bodies of our fallen. To be captured was to be tortured, humiliated, and put to death.

Our numbers dwindled, as did theirs. Our goals were unequal. We were fighting to protect something; they were fighting to destroy everything. That thought came to me, there in the middle of another pitched battle. This was a fight we didn’t want, and it was a fight they needed to have.

I felt myself pulled into a quiet that was absolute, where I saw everything and knew everything. I saw their history and ours. I knew their minds better than they themselves did. They were students of chaos, made mad with the sickness of their philosophy. I saw the trail of destruction they had left; the death and scorched earth. They were long past the point of reason and discussion. Their sickness was voluntary and, in their view, made right by common consent.

These were the biological and philosophical descendants of the world-killers of the 21st century. They were the last remnant of a sickness they had spread across the planet. If we didn’t stop them here, more death would follow in other places until perhaps someone else in some place else had the insight and method to stop them.

I stumbled through the fighting, looking neither left nor right, and it’s a miracle to me that none reached out and simply took my life. I sensed the swirling chaos on the ground and in the air but I was not and could not be affected by it. Floating in and out of consciousness, I somehow made it to the Pillar of Light, a tall obelisk of black onyx that housed the Switch. I tapped in the code, which all had known for centuries, and when the small door swung open I reached in and removed the Silver Lining.

Hefting it into my right hand, I swung down and picked up a fallen sword before making my way back into the fray. Where necessary I swung, as if in a dream, looking straight ahead and completely unaware of the death I was imposing as I walked. My compatriots, good men and women all, spread the message and understood it. They rallied to me, opening up a way with their weapons and bodies so that I might have clear access. In the middle of the battleground I stopped and laid the Silver Lining down, opening its clips and its lid.

I knelt, and the tears began to come. First the switch on the left, and then the one on the right. A red button popped up from where it had been seamlessly embedded, and looking neither left nor right I placed my palm on it and pushed down. A glistening rod shot up above my head and from it a thunderclap emerged, followed by waves of blinding, arcing light. There was a deafening roar, and then there was silence.

Still on one knee, I unbent my head and looked up. A circle about me, ten paces in all directions, was untouched. All else, as far as my eyes could see, was flat and blackened. Dead cinders on the ground, lighter than fine dust, were all that was left of everyone and everything. Gone; it was all gone in the flash from the Switch. The Earth makes noises, but here there were none.

The war is over but the battle goes on. I don’t live with myself; I war with myself. I sit here, looking out over a sea full of ash and the silver bellies of marine life killed when the oxygen was burned out of the water. I realise that in unleashing the Light I have done more than sacrifice our people to wipe out the virus that was the intruders. In that second when I acted, their virus infected me. It had to, or I could not have done what I did.

All the intruders, the last remnant of the planet killers, are dead. Except for one. In that dying moment I had to leave my people and become the thing I hated. I was now the last remnant.

I knelt, and the tears began to come. First the switch on the left, and then the one on the right. A red button popped up from where it had been seamlessly embedded, and looking neither left nor right I placed my palm on it and pushed down. A glistening rod shot up above my head and quickly, I stood up, finding salvation in the Light.

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2 thoughts on “Remnant

  1. On 16 July 1945, the first atomic bomb was exploded near Alamagordo, New Mexico. The American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the laboratory at Los Alamos where it had been built, who witnessed it, said later: ‘I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita… “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”’

    I am constantly amazed and awed at your insight, PD. Disturbing, yes, but that is always a function of the greater truth. I don’t think it is heavy handed at all. I think there is a great world weariness in your character, and that’s very appropriate.

    I also appreciate the extreme irony of the name, the “Silver Lining.”

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