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A home at the end of the world.

by Blunt Pencil 11 months ago in science fiction

The story of one who remained

On August 17th, 2055, the last Salvation departed.

Its gargantuan engines roared to life, enveloping the colourless landscape in a cloud of thick, black smoke. Fire roared and turned sand to glass as the howl of fuel combusting at a million degrees exploded across the rugged earth. The shockwave tore through city windows in a deafening chorus of raw power, and light fiercer than the centre of a star seared across the skyline.

Four minutes later, the ship was barely a dot in the sky, the final echoes of the engine’s bittersweet farewell reverberating through empty streets. In its wake the city slumped against itself, soaking in the first true silence it had ever experienced. Nothing glimmered. Nothing burned. Nothing screamed. Only settling dust and embers drifted through its cracked streets.

Those near the Salvation’s departure were obliterated in an instant, burnt from existence before their brains could process the occurrence. Those beyond the protective walls of the strip were largely unharmed, though their ears rang for several days afterward and any that had looked to the sky never saw the same again. Those that had prepared, hunkered in shelters or travelled far enough from the city centre, rose in the Salvation’s wake with grim acceptance. As dawn broke and red light filtered through the charred city air, shadows began flitting through the suburbs. They were never still, always moving, as if each had a purpose and a destination. One such shadow, in the city’s outer rings, kept to the alleyways. Despite the shared choice they’d all made, the habit of distrust was hard to break.

Vincent kept far from others as he travelled, skirting potholes and rubble and other remnants of generational neglect. It was an effort, pushing through the oppressive city air, and it helped affirm his choice to remain. A Decade ago he’d spent four whole months out in the frigid grasp of space, building the first of the Stations. Even amongst the company of his crew he’d felt so terribly lonely, so out of place. His life was down here with earth beneath his feet and gravity on his shoulders. He just couldn’t leave it all behind.

He walked for days, passing through alleyways and intersections, tightly packed streets and wide-open promenades, all blanketed in eerie stillness. Occasionally he saw others, or at least their shadows, but they always kept to themselves. Any who bore ill intentions toward others saw little point in accosting a man like Vincent. He had nothing to offer, nothing to take from, and it would be several more years before consideration would be given to how much flesh hung from his bones.

By the tenth day he reached the poor outer suburbs, which stretched far larger than the other districts. The first time he’d seen the true size of the city was when he’d been taken up to the Station-building yards. He’d watched the well-known central district recede far below him, its monolithic towers becoming tiny spikes, and around it the whites, grey and blacks of the surrounding structures continued to reveal themselves. Like the bleached coral he’d once seen in an old documentary, the pallid geometry spread like a disease so far that it was visible from space.

Once, as Vincent passed through a blackened hole in the side of a ruddy apartment, he saw others. Not their shadows, their actual, human forms. A family of three, embracing by the last, dying embers of a fire. Beside them was a gun, discarded amongst the dark pool in which they rested. He envied them, being together at the end.

On the thirtieth day, he made it to the Wall. An ugly risen scar that hid the promise of beauty beyond. It had been constructed centuries ago, a last-ditch attempt by a desperate nation to preserve what little they had left. The few reports that had come back in the years since had not looked promising, though Vincent had learned that in the squalor of their collective imprisonment, little could be believed. They had been sealed inside since its construction, the wall protected by guns and charges and all manner of other wicked things. But as the final Salvation had prepared for its departure, it was announced that the Wall would be opened. It was a moment of sullen realisation—truly, Earth had been left to die. And everyone left behind would very well die with it.

He remained behind the stark flat where the city ended and the firing range began. He was cautious of stepping out into no man’s land—where the guns really deactivated? He waited for several hours but no one else stepped out for him, and so with a gritted jaw he took the first step.

Nothing.

He took another, and another, and his old, aching body remained untouched. He continued forward, past the skeletons of ancient desperates and hopefuls. Behind him he heard movement, turned to see others emerging from the shadows. Where they cowards, waiting for someone to try first? No, they were smart, and probably had more to lose than he.

He cried when he made it through the colossal gates of the Wall. Beyond him, a sight he could never have imagined stretched beyond. A horizon.

The land immediately adjacent to the city was featureless, affected by the smog and refuse of the city that had been left to pour out and rot. Yet somehow it smelled sweeter than the city streets, and carried with it a beauty that no iron, glass or brick could ever match. Further beyond lay mountains, and Vincent found calming beauty in their gentle curves and organic lines.

He chose a direction and stuck with it, venturing out into the sullen landscape. He was eager to be away from others, and as he gradually left the city behind his heart grew a little lighter.

On the thirty-fifth day he came upon the wreckage of the Rescue. It stretched four or so kilometres in each direction and much of it was still aflame, despite the months that had elapsed since its failure to breach the atmosphere. He took time to gather tasteless cubes of food and water pellets that had fallen in hulking crates from the wreckage, and decided that the name of the ship had been accurate. The crash had saved these people from a miserable life of false hope and aimless travel. They had nowhere to go, no planet in mind. They sought only a way to escape from a problem they themselves had created. Vincent saw no attraction in such an existence, and once again envied these passengers for the peaceful sleep they now enjoyed.

As he began making his way out of the wreckage someone grabbed his shoulder. A younger Vincent would have thrown an arm back, tried a wild punch and then run for his life. But now he simply stood as a group of dishevelled young men and women moved in front of him. ‘I have nothing to give’, he said, and was surprised by the hoarse cracking of his voice. He hadn’t used it in so long.

‘Food? Water?’ the woman who had grabbed him asked. Her tone was inquisitive, not aggressive, not like the gangs he’d heard shouting at night back in the confines of the city. Vincent opened his bag, an old leather thing he’d been given by his father. Apparently its material came from an animal, though he could barely imagine how such a thing was possible. He pulled out the supplies he’d collected and gave them to the woman, who began counting them out.

‘Look, he’s still got something in there! He’s hiding something’, growled a man to his right, who pushed his way through the group and wrenched the bag off Vincent’s shoulder. He pulled out two metallic cylinders and shook them curiously. ‘What’re these? What do they do?’

The woman snatched the containers from him and returned them to the bag. ‘Nothing you want, idiot. Here, I’m sorry.’ She gave it back to Vincent and slipped two food cubes and one pellet of water into his hands. ‘Thank you.’

He nodded, but didn’t move until they’d left.

On the thirty-eighth day, he heard a sound. One he couldn’t place. He was sure he’d heard it before, a distant memory from his childhood, but it remained aloof, flitting away whenever he tried to grasp it.

On the fortieth day, he heard it again. It was sweet, soothing, completely unlike the harsh mechanics of the urban orchestra he’d lived in all his life.

He was down to a single portion of food now, and only a little more water, yet he pushed on. Incredible though the landscape was now that he’d made it halfway up mountains, he longed to reach their top and further on, so that he couldn’t see the city behind him.

By the forty-fifth day he was out of food, and barely had enough water to keep himself going. In the evening twilight when he could no longer pick his way up the incline, he took shelter in a dilapidated building. It was an old farmhouse like he’d seen in the archives, and though the house itself was barely there—just a few walls of rotting wood and stone—the barn to its side stood stoic and welcoming. As he lay and drank the last of his water, he heard a scratching above him. A curious noise, like the sound of papers rustling. Then, from a hole in the rafters, something brown-feathered and white-faced fluttered out, making for the barn’s open door. It was lit by the glow of a half moon, and he realised he’d seen something like it in a book before. It was an owl.

‘I hope you don’t mind me sharing your house’, he called after it as it left for its nightly hunt. ‘I shan’t stay long.’

On the forty-sixth day he collapsed. He’d made it to the top, and the city still stretched behind him and he had to go further, just a little. But without provisions, he couldn’t push on. He took out the cylinders, reluctant to open them so close to his goal. But he didn’t have a choice if he couldn’t to…

There was something in the grass, just a few metres away. A bag. Colourful, artificial fibres, like the sort his son had used to take to school. It couldn’t have been out here long. He opened it tentatively, then let out a whoop of joy when he saw what was inside. Tinned food, still in date, and flasks of fresh water. He took some out, just enough to make it to his destination, and set his miraculous find on the stump for whoever came after him. He hummed as he cracked open a can and ate real food for the first time since he’d left, its flavour invigorating his soul. And as he ate, that sound drifted through the skies again, and he realised what it was. Birdsong. Seeing that owl had confirmed it. Their calls of freedom and joy spurred him on, and with renewed energy he resumed the final leg of his journey.

On the fiftieth day, he came to it. The perfect spot. A flat of lush foliage, complete with small pond, and a view more incredible than anything he’d seen in his life. The landscape stretched infinitely beyond, even bigger than the city, patchworked with greens and yellows and browns and blues, and trees! So many! And behind, the mountain obscured any trace of that foul city.

Vincent held the cylinders tight to his chest. He would show them this place, soon. When they were together.

He opened the jars and scattered the ashes into the wind. Then he sat down with a contented sigh. Soon, he would be with them, and he would be happy. But for now, he was content to relax, and enjoy the sights and sounds he’d waited his whole life to experience.

He was home.

science fiction

Blunt Pencil

I write things! Sometimes short things, sometimes long things, sometimes things that aren't worth doing anything with so they go in the thing bin. Idk, we'll see what happens

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