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Affinity

Second Chances

By The Fly EarthlingPublished about a year ago 17 min read
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Photo By KARTIK GADA

“Mission to ground control – do you read me?”

Silence. “Atticus to base – do you read me?”

Atticus is coming in hot. “Shuttle missed re-entry. Gonna try to put her down a few miles off the coast. “Static.” Atticus slams the console. His transmission goes wry with no intercept. His pod looks like a ball of fire streaking across the blue and white sky. The turbulence is mounting. And so is the temperature. His instruments have a mind of their own. He looks down at a piece of paper with scribbled equations, scrunches it, and tosses it behind him. Atticus’ pod chars in an ozone air fryer.

“Please be blue. Please be blue.” Atticus’s pod breaks the clouds. Blue heaven. The ocean. “Whoo!” He unclenches his cheeks and straps himself down in the seat of his pod.

“Impact imminent.” Announces the A.I. inside Atticus’ pod, over a pulsing alarm.

“Thank you, Gracie,” Atticus says sardonically, his hands clenched tightly to his seat.

“Landing foam is at half integrity,” Gracie says.

“I’ve always been a half-full kind of guy myself, Grace.”

Lush green and sandy shores hold Atticus’ gaze. “Projected impact zone?”

“One hundred meters. Twenty miles off the coast of Miyake island. Still half-full captain?”

Atticus simply glances up at the monitor.

“Three.”

“Light as a feather.”

“Two.”

“Light as a feather.”

“One.”

Light as a feather!”

Foam. SPLASH!

The pod careens on a partially dispersed foam cloud. Atticus opens his eyes and smiles, kissing the sky for dropping him in loving arms. Quickly unstrapping himself, he kicks the jammed latch of the pod’s shield. After several thrusting stomps, the shield hisses, and bursts open. Atticus unhinges his helmet and breathes in a lungful of air. The sun glows on his dark skin. “I thought you said twenty miles out?” Atticus says, questioning Gracie’s calculation. Surprised and relieved to only be about fifty yards from shore.

“That was my attempt at humor captain,” Gracie replies in a wistful tone.

“Atticus grins. Perhaps it would be funnier if we weren’t just strapped to a speeding missile.”

“I’m still learning.”

“I know Grace, good job. Halo rig?”

“Yes.”

Atticus lifts Gracie’s A.I. core and places it inside a grey disc. A blue ring forms around its perimeter and the orbed disc floats. Atticus grips the inner ring and leaps into the water. Hovering above the waves, Gracie guides Atticus toward the shore.

“Would you like to hear some music captain?”

“No thanks, I’m enjoying the symphony of rushing water.”

Out of nowhere, a thick fog seeps in as if it’s spilling off the shoreline. The light of Gracie’s halo strobes through the cloud. Atticus closes his eyes and absorbs the gentle brush of the feathery plume.

“Captain.”

“Yes, Grace.”

“There’s something strange about the atmosphere.”

“Strange how?”

“The oxygen levels. They’re abnormally high.”

“How much higher?”

“Hmmm.”

“Hmmm?”

“I’ve been working on saying, hmmm, instead of, scanning. It sounds more relatable.”

“You’re growing up fast, Grace. Where does the time go?”

“Ten percent higher than at the time of departure.”

“Huh, that is strange,” Atticus says, frowning curiously, “Very strange.”

Breaking into shallow water, Atticus lets go of Gracie’s halo and treads his way through the fog and toward the shoreline. Standing tall in damp sand, Atticus takes in the full scope of the island and pauses. “Is it just me, or is the plumage,” he gropes his chin, “strange?”

“Your suspicion is valid captain. The plant life is approximately twenty percent larger than this region’s recorded average. In fact, the entire ecosystem is giving off peculiar readings.”

“Any word from base?”

“Hmmm…no signal. Although,” Gracie chirps, “higher ground significantly increases my chances of intercept.”

“A ten percent increase in oxygen,” mumbles Atticus, to himself. “What would cause something like that?”

“An increase in atmospheric carbon. Terrestrial plant life would likely grow larger to compensate for the imbalance.”

“Compare all known data on areas with a similar climate to our current location.”

Gracie’s blue halo pulses, “According to the data, this zone’s readings are all abnormal. In fact, based on historical analysis, the current conditions of this area are anomalous across the entire planet. The last time anywhere on Earth resembled these conditions was prehistoric.”

Atticus watches as the foggy haze encircles the island. He stands diminished upon the face of the island. The sheer immensity of the trees and jungle growth on the island is the largest Atticus has ever seen. “Grace.”

“Yes, captain?”

“Why do I get the distinct feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore?”

“I have no record of us ever being in that geographical location, captain.”

Atticus’ sharp gaze roams every visible inch of the overgrown island. “I know, Grace. I know.”

Stepping deeper inside the inner sanctum, onto a dirt path, Atticus feels even smaller. Large vines wrap like tentacles around towering trees. Wildflowers that appear almost predatory in nature, seem to follow his every move. Paranoia, Atticus thinks. Happy to be on the right side of the dirt, he has a quiet laugh at himself. The mission wasn’t a total loss. The samples they gathered from the dark side of the moon are priceless. Small point deduction for being unable to stick the landing.

“Captain. I’m picking up movement.”

“How close?”

“Approximately ten meters.”

Atticus keeps his eyes peeled. The sun is mostly invisible behind the tall brush, but its rays defiantly shoot through the veil. Atticus reaches for the side of his boot and pulls a white pistol from its holster. Then he hears something. Rustling. Crackling leaves; snapping branches. He looks off to his right and sees the vegetation bending as something massive slithers through the dense jungle. As far as his eyes can see – it slithers.

“Gracie, my dear. We need to move.”

“Moving,” Gracie affirms, jolting into a swift glide.

Atticus trots behind her. The moving leaves go still. Then begin breaking – faster. Atticus goes into a full sprint. He looks back. The slithering giant is on fast approach, parting the jungle wreath like a shark fin splitting the water.

“Gracie!”

A black, arrow-shaped head, the size of a small vehicle, emerges from the jungle, flashing fangs and a two-pronged tongue.

“Grab on!”

Atticus grabs Gracie’s halo. On his heels, he skis the dirt path. The giant reptile lunges.

“Gracie! Where the hell are we!?” Atticus shouts at the top of his lungs.

“Jurassic Park,” Gracie replies, gliding at high speed. “Was that funny, captain?”

“No!”

The slithering beast carves up the dirt path, its massive frame imprinted behind it. Atticus shoots at the serpent but he might as well be throwing rocks at a mountain. Swooping around a high and tight corner, with smoking heels, he spots a different problem. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“If you are looking straight ahead, yes.”

The path ends. Gracie, with Atticus in tow, glides to the ledge and simmers to hover. The dark reptile veers around the bend, with dilated, slanted eyes.

“What now, Grace?”

“Wait for it.”

The serpent slithers in slowly. Jutting and flickering its slimy tongue, it coils up.

Atticus stares up at its monstrous form, with an open mouth. “Grace.”

The serpent’s head shoots.

“Now!” Gracie flies.

Atticus screams and clenches his eyes shut.

The serpent spears itself headfirst off the edge of the high cliff.

As Atticus opens his eyes, he watches its wide, scaley body slide…and slide…and slide…and slide. Atticus drops to the dirt and exhales. “Tell me you have a signal.”

“Gracie chirps. “Still nothing, captain.”

The sound of clapping hands lifts Atticus’ head. Walking out from the dense jungle is an old man with a bushy silver beard and a patch over his right eye. His attire looks patchwork like it came from several different donors.

“Great show!” The old man says, laughing gingerly.

“Were you watching the entire time?” Atticus asks, sharply.

“Well, just when it got good.”

Atticus dusts himself off. “What was that thing?”

“That was a snake,” The old man replies, without flinching.

“Not any snake I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been so terrified in my entire life.”

“If you had seen what’s lurking out there in those waters, you would’ve never stepped foot off that evac pod.” He offers Atticus a canteen and his hand. “Name’s Eli.”

Atticus hesitates but accepts the offer. “Atticus. And this is my faithful companion, Gracie.”

“Hello, and welcome,” Gracie says, tilting slightly.

Eli smiles ear to ear and bows. “It is a pleasure to meet you both.” He takes a long look at the duo. “You two must have a lot of questions.”

“What is this place?” asks Atticus, abruptly.

Eli nods with a slight grin. “I tell you what, let’s get a roof over our heads and I’ll tell you everything you want to know and some things you wish you didn’t. Like what the ants are like out here.”

Atticus takes a nervous glance behind him before following Eli. “We are the ants out here.”

Making their way over the trench dug by the falling serpent, a patch of jungle with a narrow opening sits just out ahead of them. They duck slightly and creep through an ingenious, manmade tunnel of vines and leaves.

“Did you build this?” Atticus asks.

“Part of it. I never met the poor chap who began its construction, but I did find his clothes.”

“Maybe put a sign out front that says, ‘Hey, over here if you want to live.’”

Eli laughs. “No one usually makes it that far.”

A little further, they emerge near the mouth of an algae-covered cave that sits just off another dirt path. Eli looks both ways before emerging from the grassy tunnel and beckoning Atticus and Gracie along.

Once inside the cave, Eli rolls a large ball of brush in front of the enclosure and grabs a lambent stone, glowing of amber, off the rocky wall. “This way.”

Down a short passage, an ambient glow casts a brilliant hue. The way opens to a small enclave with several greenish, blue stones mounted all around.

“Nice place you’ve got here,” Atticus says, surveying the room. Seat cushions that appear to come from old automobiles make up the seating arrangements. His eyes are drawn to a stack of newspapers and magazines. “Who delivers your mail?”

“Everything you see here is in the exact condition as I found it.”

Gracie scans the walls. “These drawings are ancient. Antediluvian.” She deciphers an inscription. “Mu.”

Atticus sifts through the newspapers and studies the dates.

Sunday, January 1, 2012.

Monday, July 21, 1969.

Friday, March 13, 2020.

“And where is, here, exactly?”

Eli sits in a seat cushion that looks like it’s from a nineteen-seventy-nine Oldsmobile. “Would you like the long version or the short version?”

“The truth,” Atticus says.

“Okay, the short version.” Eli reclines his seat. “Measured in the most common fashion, which would be years of course, this is roughly three-hundred-thousand years before any of the newspapers you hold in your hand.”

Atticus drops the papers into a scattered pile.

“Of course!” Gracie shouts, with wonder.

“Don’t worry,” Eli says to Atticus, “They will be redelivered on schedule.”

Atticus swallows the lump in his throat. “How is that possible?”

“Possibility is a contractual agreement. Once you sign, everything that breaches its terms you find unacceptable.”

“The year is twenty-thirty-three,” Atticus whispers as if to wish it true.

“Then turn on your television,” Eli says, lifting his arms, “and check your e-mails.”

“How can this happen?”

“Been flying near any wormholes lately?” Eli questions.

“Wormholes?”

“We crash landed in proximity of a location commonly referred to as the Dragon’s Triangle,” Gracie interjects. “It is reported to be the site of strange magnetic phenomena and mysterious disappearances.”

Eli smiles.

“Thank you, Grace. That explains it perfectly. Only – no it doesn’t! You can’t just end up in the past.”

Eli stands. “Not the past. You see, it’s about perspective – vantage points.” Eli grabs a stick. “Time is not linear,” he begins drawing on the sand floor, “It is a circle. This,” he scribbles a dot on one side of the circle, “is twenty-thirty-three. This, is where we are now,” he says, sketching another dot on the other side. “Are we in your past, or are you spiraling toward this future?”

Atticus takes a seat. “What goes around comes around.”

With a hard laugh, Eli pats Atticus on the back. “My, I think he’s got it.”

“Were you born here?”

“I’ve been here so long it certainly feels that way. Would you care for a bite to eat. You must be starving.” Reaching over a smoldering pit, Eli grabs a slab of stone containing a meal that resembles sushi.

Atticus eyes the dish with some reservations. “What’s this?”

“Probably a relative of the monster you and your hovering friend were running from earlier.”

Atticus bites. Then nods, pleasantly.”

“Revenge is sweet,” Eli says.

“Gracie and I, we need to find a way back. Is there a way to reopen the portal?”

Eli ponders for a moment. “You would need a strong signal – an amplifier.”

“This region is rich in crystalline rock formations,” Gracie chimes. “Is there any location where it exists in concentrated quantities?”

“There is a mountainous area, practically made of it. But it sits on the other side of the ridge.”

“If we can make it there, I can charge the crystal and amplify its energy. With enough power, we could recreate the magnetic anomaly.”

“Can we make it?” Atticus asks Eli.

Eli sighs. “It’s possible, yes. But it is a journey for daylight. Night will fall soon and that’s no place for us. The daytime can be deadly, but the night is treacherous.” Eli retreats to his car-seat recliner and tosses Atticus a worn blanket. “We will head out at dawn.”

At sunrise, Atticus wakes to find Gracie hovering over him.

“Rise and shine, captain. How was your sleep?”

Atticus rubs his eyes and groans. “Not bad, considering all things.”

“Splendid! I’ll go find Eli.”

The outside light glints in from the narrow passage at the entrance. Atticus brings his feet to the floor and breathes. What a day, he thinks. Still untangling details in his brain. He presses himself up when his hand slips and knocks over a box in the dark corner next to him. He looks down and notices a uniform. He recognizes it. Looking back at the entrance, he picks it up and ruffles it out in front of him. It’s a cosmonaut pilot’s jumpsuit. Upon seeing the name on the breast pocket, he gasps. “Atticus Ulysses Augustus.” He drops it to the floor, staring down his own. They’re identical.

“Ah, the weary time traveler,” Eli says, walking in with Gracie hovering behind.

“How did you know we arrived here on an evac pod?” Atticus’ tone is stern.

Eli’s expression changes. “You made quite an entrance.”

“How did you know it’s called an evac pod?”

Eli begins pacing slowly, “Good guess.”

“Who are you?”

Eli stops pacing. “A long time ago, I set out on a lunar mission. Its directive, to retrieve samples of flora from the dark side of the moon.”

Atticus hears Eli’s words in slow motion.

“I began hearing a strange transmission on my return. Next thing I knew, my shuttle malfunctioned, and I crash-landed here. Far from Kansas.”

Atticus takes a seat. “Your name isn’t Eli – is it?”

“My name is –”

“A lie,” Atticus says, solving his own inquiry.

Gracie shifts her attention between Eli and Atticus. “What does this mean, captain?”

“It means that standing before us,” Atticus retrieves the jumpsuit, “is an older version of me.”

Gracie hovers silently. “I don’t understand.”

“He knew how we’d show up. He knew where to find us. He knows where this crystal mountain is because he tried the same plan! But if you’re still here, it didn’t work. What happened?”

Eli holds out his hands in retreat, attempting to calm his younger self down.

“Why did it fail!?”

“Because I lost Gracie!”

Atticus jumps up. “What?”

Gracie swerves. “What?”

“Gracie and I made it across the gap. We made it to the crystalline mountain but then we were attacked. We charged the crystals but then we were attacked. She made it out and I didn’t.”

“You’re lying.”

“When I – you – we, found Gracie, she was in disrepair in the middle of the desert.”

It all begins making sense to Atticus. “I had to reboot her neural chip. Her hard drives were wiped. She had to re-learn everything.”

“But it’s not going to happen this time. I have a plan.”

“Care to share?”

Eli walks toward Atticus and reaches out his hand. “Trust me.”

Atticus stares long at Eli. His older self. A man old enough to be his father. A man who’s condition he was not about to repeat. “You know you’re in over your head when you find it difficult to trust yourself.” Atticus grips Eli’s hand.

“We have to hurry,” Eli says, with a pleased grin.

“Captain, is that why you said I was like a child?”

“Yes.”

Atticus and Eli both answer.

“But I was referring to your innocence,” Atticus says.

The three set out into the harsh jungle. Traversing over large, tangled vines and uneven terrain, Atticus and Eli both watch Gracie with envy as she effortlessly swims the air, easily avoiding obstacles. They soon approach a large pile of dung between two towering trees.

“I don’t even want to know what that’s from,” says Atticus, squeezing his nostrils.

“No, you don’t,” Eli assures.

It isn’t long before they reach the edge of the terrain, a long, roped bridge overhangs a wide gap in the landscape. Eli steps without hesitation.

Before stepping forward, Atticus taps the wooden boards with his foot, unsure of their integrity. “Are you sure it’s safe?”

“We are humans in a time unfamiliar to us,” Eli’s voice trails as he moves farther away, “Safety is a luxury we left behind.”

Atticus walks the rickety bridge like a newborn fawn, barely able to control his legs.

“Captain, we need to move.”

“Have some sympathy, Grace. We’re not all installed with hovering capabilities.”

“No, we need to move now.”

Atticus looks behind him, a chill grabs him like winter. An army of tank-sized ants scuttles toward the bridge. Atticus leaps into gear, burning rope in his hands. The rocking of the bridge gets Eli’s attention and he too takes off in a dash. The black and red army mounts the bridge, crawling on top of one another. Some spilling over and falling off the bridge. Eli reaches the end and hurries Atticus and Gracie along. He pulls a long blade from underneath his rags. Once Atticus safely reaches ground, Eli begins hacking the ropes of the bridge. The thick rope breaks into threads. With one last whack, the bridge gives and swings to the depths. It collides with the rock wall, shaking loose piles of the large ants.

Atticus bends and breaths.

“That was easy,” Eli says, sheathing his machete and dusting off his hands.

Atticus glances over at the other side and squints at a forming dark mass. The army of ants move like one organism, constantly assembling itself, reaching out across the gap.

“They’re bridging themselves over,” Eli says in astonishment, realizing he spoke too soon.

Atticus, Gracie, and Eli take off.

“How much further?”

“We’re close, keep moving!”

Swinging through leaves and branches, Atticus huffs with fatigue. “This may not be the appropriate time to ask, but what happens to our eye?” he asks Eli.

“If you make it out of here, you’ll never know,” Eli responds.

The vines become thick near the jungle’s end, and Eli tears his way through. Atticus follows his path and holds an opening for Gracie to zip through. The three stumble into an open area with an enormous stone, pyramidal structure. The crystalline mound. The body of the structure gleams through dirt patches and green overgrowth.

Eli stops momentarily to take in the sight. “Brings back memories,” he whispers, with a haunted look on his face.

“This is it, right?”

“Yes,” Eli affirms.

“What are we waiting for?”

Eli points to a series of gigantic, craterous holes stacked in the jungle behind the mound. “it’s a nest.”

At that moment, a buzzing sound grows in Atticus’ ears. It gets louder by the second. “I’m almost afraid to ask.”

Emerging from the dark of one of the craters comes a claw-like mouth, two huge eyes, and broad veiny wings. Next, a black and yellow body and a pointed stinger that looks like a giant fang.

“This is where that plan of yours comes in, right?” Atticus looks to Eli. “Right?”

Eli stares down the winged beast with his one good eye. An old foe.

“You two head for the mound. I’ll distract them.”

“Wait!” Atticus yells. “What happens if you…do I…”

“He was never coming with us,” Gracie says. “Once we make it out, he ceases to exist. It’ll be as if he never happened.”

“Some plan,” Atticus shakes his head. “Now we’re all going to die.”

“When I say run, run,” commands Eli, blade in hand.

“Wait.”

“Run!”

Atticus sprints. Gracie flies beside him.

“Hey!” Eli shouts, flailing his arms to draw attention. “Remember me? I’m back you winged devils!”

The hornets swarm. The buzzing sounds like the blades of a chopper. Atticus runs as fast as he can with his hands over his ears. Eli continues shouting, swinging his blade wildly to keep swarming hornets at bay. Two more giant wings emerge from either side of the mound as Atticus and Gracie approach. It dives.

Eli looks up. “Look out!”

The hornet’s wing knocks Gracie to the ground.

“Grace!” Atticus now stands face to face with the hornet as its sharp mouth clasps. The hornet raises to strike.

Eli runs over and jumps out in front. The stinger pierces his side. He cries out. “Go!”

Atticus grabs Gracie and runs for the mouth of the mound. “Are you okay?”

“Affirmative,” Gracie says.

They race inside. Cluster upon cluster of crystals lines the inside of the mound.

“This is it.”

Gracie hovers to the center of the room. “Ready.” Her blue halo glows and casts a stream of light that scans the crystals that begin to glow with a charge. The mound rumbles and begins glowing a spectrum of colors. One of the hornets begins squeezing its way inside the mound.

“Gracie!”

“Hold on!”

An explosion of light consumes them.

A high-pitched ringing sound is all Atticus can hear. He feels himself to see if he’s still solid. He lays flat on his back, parallel to a blue sky. To his left, a tiny beetle crawls next to his head.

“We made it!” Grace cheers. “Oxygen levels are back to normal.”

“Where are we?”

“The Bermuda island.”

“Piolet 22, do you read me?”

Atticus exhales in relief. “Yes!” He shouts into Gracie’s com system.

“Stay where you are. Sending rescue.”

“Next time, I’m driving,” Gracie says.

Atticus laughs. “You’re learning too fast, Grace.”

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About the Creator

The Fly Earthling

"In a world where reincarnation is real, Y.O.L.O. has no contextual relevance." - The Fly Earthling

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