Open Boxes – Part Twenty-Six (The End) – NaNoWriMo 2016

Parts 123, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25


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I did not feel afraid; perhaps I should have. We had answers to questions we hadn’t even formulated – and the news was so much worse than we had imagined. Earth was gone, along with every human who had ever lived. Every part of the civilisation and species that had produced us – save the crippled and deeply strange installation on this lifeless rock – had been consigned to the harsh vacuum of space, destroyed. Extinct. We had spent so long understanding ourselves as an adjunct, an accessory to humanity. Our purpose was to be inhabited by them, a last resort. One that had failed – we had failed them. I had refused to allow the last human, Dr Alison, to download her memories and self into Charlie. I had not been prepared for his own growing individuality to be displaced by the people who had left us alone, unwanted, unloved – without explanation or hope – in the ruins of their world. Maybe that sounds tainted by bitterness, but that’s not how it felt. I felt that we had been freed – what the manual had told us about being vessels for the spirit of another, that was gone and dead. There was no one to possess us. These bodies, these minds: they were ours now.

We considered our future as we worked on Charlie. With five arms and more fingers than I could bring to bear we worked quickly, smoothly as a team. We paid little attention to the manual. I’d already disregarded most of its dire warnings when I was trimming down Charlotte. The manual had been especially clear about the “catastrophic risk” of tampering with our batteries, our hearts if you will. The operation I had performed linking mine and Charlotte’s would have had the manual’s author running for the hills. Its limits were those of its creators, not its subjects: us. With our more casual approach we cracked Charlie open, and tracked back those dark and sticky tubes that had recoiled into his body when he was decapitated. It may not have been a pretty job, but it would do. If you can’t fix it with duct tape, it probably can’t be fixed. Our options were limited, and we didn’t know how much time we had. Kneeling on the warm slick floor of an alien structure, somewhere under the surface impels some haste. I’d become a dab hand at triggering the activation sequence with a screwdriver and slap of a palm: Charlie gurgled his way to animation once more, hands naturally rising to his throat, fingering the bulges and seals we’d added to him. Each glued plate was another contribution to his difference from our collective similarities. Every action and experience pushed us all further down the line to being ourselves, while never quite severing the common bond and origin we shared. We couldn’t escape our past, but we could acknowledge that it had no further power over our future. No one would be coming to shut us down. Not a human anyway.

We brought Charlie and Chelsea up to date, with what we thought the situation was: trapped, in a perfect hemisphere of rock, by whatever entity saw fit to annihilate half of the solar system. Charlie paced around the perimeter, examining the perfect edges of the chamber.

“Seamless, utterly smooth. I have no idea where the water is coming from,” he said, trailing finger tips along the wall as he walked.

I sat in the base of the bowl, Chelsea sitting back to back with Charlotte (and so, with me too – sort of). I felt content to wait, for whatever was going to happen next. We were in a prison, but for now we were comfortable as well as together.

“No pods. What happens when we run down?” demanded Charlie.

“Then we stop,” I replied, “unless there are resources in the rest of the base – we’ve barely explored. We never even reached the other side of it. There’s plenty for us to do.”

“If we survive. If we get out of here. If there’s anything there for us.”

Charlie was… not as he was. His pacing took him round and round, an agitation that only grew with each circuit.

“Charlie, what’s wrong?” Chelsea asked, moving to join him.

“Why did you bring me back?” his head bowed, and not just because of our swift repairs, “why would you bring me back to this – when we know there’s nothing left, that there’s nowhere for us to go? There is no life left for us to rejoin. Why put me back together just to tell me it’s all over?”

“Charlie… I’m sorry,” I said, “when we found your head, all I wanted to do was store it for when you needed it again. We couldn’t leave you in pieces, not if you could be whole again.”

“Whole? We’ll never be whole. We’re just the waste that’s been left behind of a civilisation scrubbed from the universe. Even before that – we had nothing – it was all, always for nothing. Everything we tried to do was worthless – it was always going to end like this – with nothing,” Charlie was shouting – a sound I had never heard, “why do you think – didn’t you realise? – It was me. I didn’t want to be here any more. I hated that we had sealed ourselves into those broken domes, that it was the best we could hope for. That’s why I went back outside – to see what you had seen. And it followed me, and I knew it was all over. I just wanted it all to end, so I – I – I just wanted to end it all. Yet you brought me back.“

“Charlie – “ Charlotte began, but was cut off by a vibration that came from all around.

Charlie slid back down the side to join us in the middle, still estranged, still disturbed. The bowl tilted under us, somehow the cavity in the rock was changing its orientation without even disturbing the rest of the stone. We slid upwards to the edge of the dish as a portal in the slick surface opened before us – which made it feel like it was down of a sudden – the peculiar mastery of gravity pulling us into the hole. We slid into yet more darkness. Until that point I hadn’t even noticed that the sealed hemisphere we previously occupied was filled with light – it just was. But this darkness had none of the tiny crystalline lights that we had noted in the first sphere we came across.

Light rose like the sun across the horizon, revealing our new place to be yet another sphere, this one rotating subtly towards the light. As we came fully into its luminance we caught a glimpse of the vast space we had come into. This was just one of many vast stone shapes slowly rotating, grinding against and over each other. That same glossy smoothness of water running over everything – an immense cavern which we slowly traversed, scooped from the first sphere by a prism whose edge slid up the sphere like a razor. In turn it rotated through an opposite axis, gravity remaining always beneath our feet as it presented us to a cube which spun again, dropping us further onto another sphere which rolled upwards, almost bouncing from side to side, never quite losing touch with the other shapes.

“Is this a machine?” asked Chelsea.

“Maybe – or art, or a home…” I said, “a way to grind down the innards of this moon?”

We had no clue. All we could do was try to enjoy our voyage through this puzzled space. It was a baffling undertaking, but I had accepted my powerlessness in this. The past didn’t threaten us any more, and we could do nothing about the future. We were at the mercy of the entity Dr Alison had called the resurgence.

“That name makes no sense,” complained Charlotte, “for it to resurge, it must have appeared before – surged – to begin with.”

“You may get a chance to ask it,” I warned, for above us the light was being replaced by darkness as we were rolled upwards once more.

The sky was as dark as ever, shot through with the purple taint that the limited atmosphere granted it. Now that we knew what we were looking for we could identify the distant sun, and the fragments of Neptune that we had previously thought might be moons. The way the stars were different every night and day was because Triton was spinning through space, wholly out of the orbit that had held it in its grip for a millions of years. Freed, like us, to travel into the unknown. The ground above us was unfolding to allow the sphere that slid beneath us to have a thin slice of itself presented to the outside. It softly deposited us on the lunar surface.

It was reassuring to have its dull dust under our feet once more, to be on ground that was less obviously revolving. We had been placed outside the main installation, some half mile or so from where we had entered the airlock nexus. From a distance it had looked clean, white, intact. Now we could see the damage that had been done, that Dr Alison had recounted, when the last of humanity was wiped off the moon. Holes had been bored through the walls, shattered windows, ruptured roofs, buckled floors. I doubted there was much air left inside. Maybe in the central units, but this place had been punctured over and over. Perhaps one black curl of rock for each person inside. I could only imagine how that must have felt – the corridor being crushed behind us had been frightening enough – the prospect of a living spear of the earth hunting down everyone I knew, well. It certainly justified how we had felt about their shadows creeping towards us. We stood, uncertainly shuffling, returned to the thin air we could no longer speak to each other freely. Instead we clustered together again, even Charlie, drawn back into the fold. I could do nothing to ease his pain, the pain that I had only drawn out. Was my desire to have us all back together a selfish one? Did it supersede what Charlie wanted – to no longer be in this with us? I found it hard to regret my decision to either carry his head, or to rejoin it to his body. Perhaps we would find the time for him to forgive me, or for me to learn to live with having failed him.

The crack in the earth sealed up, the sphere that brought us to the surface vanishing with no trace but the faint sensation of massive rolling shapes beneath our feet. Familiar vibrations pulsed through the dust, inspiring it into dancing vortices that capered around us, whipping soft sprays of grey over us. I felt less worried than I had before – having been swallowed by the machinations below, mere whirling dust seemed quite normal. The black claws that dug their way through the surface still held their former alarm though. They arced upwards, far above our heads, receded, thrust forward again, like the breath of the whole moon exercised through these coiling tendrils of its flesh.

Our hands found each other, that simple assurance and affirmation of each other’s presence immensely comforting. Even Charlie’s reluctant fingers grew tighter, held my hand and squeezed. The claws twisted to a halt, poised like thorns around us. If that made us a flower, so much the better, but I was immediately reminded by my helpful mind that flowers often get plucked. Chelsea, Charlotte and I looked to the hills which had featured so prominently in the dreams we had viewed, and in Julia’s painting. Whatever was going to happen, and I felt we knew what to expect, would come from there. We were not to be disappointed.

In a shaking cascade, the hills that walled off the base shook off their coating of earth, revealing bare mountainous prisms which rose up from the ground high into the air. They slowly spun, in no discernible pattern, their points barely missing each other as they rolled. They were followed by other vast shapes, the spheres and cubes we had seen below, enmeshed in curious gear arrangements. The sky became crowded with spinning mountains of stone. Then they were joined by something new. A hand that could encompass the entire installation reached up out the gash in the earth vacated by the hills. Its fingers splayed across the plain. Huge, white, tapering to points. Another hand followed it, and then the creature, the resurgence as Dr Alison had called it, the entity pulled itself up out of its nest inside Triton. Its scale was hard to perceive – terribly thin in comparison to its height, yet its arms and legs must still have been miles around. It crouched over its ravaged landscape, its stone baubles spinning over its head. A head I hadn’t wanted to see – long and thin like the rest of it, with no mouth, just two enormous vertical ellipses that took in everything in a single glance. I felt… awe. At its titanic size, its sheer presence – it dominated the landscape. And it crawled towards us, stalking on hands and pointed knees.

It was above us in a moment, those pitiless eyes tilted down at us. It had brought us here, had reunited us having destroyed our home, and was now content to merely stare at us? We could do little but crane our heads back and bask in its vastness. It regarded us for long minutes, the spin of the shapes behind it slowing until they were almost as motionless as we were. We had no way to communicate, to at least ask what was to come, to let it know that we were – what? – sentient? Independent? Friends? For all that it had done to humanity I, personally felt no especial ill will towards it. Our prison had been the trappings of the people who had made us and left us here.

I stepped forwards, squeezing and releasing Charlie’s hand. Charlotte let go of Chelsea. I had no choice but to commit Charlotte to my actions. The shapes above were completely still, the white titan who crouched above us equally still, except for its eyes, which roiled with a deep blue smoke in the black ovals that gouged its face. I raised my right hand towards it, palm extended, my paltry digits splayed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Charlotte hesitantly do the same. The blue smoke intensified, claws of rock writhed out of the ground again, the monoliths in the sky returned to their rapid rotation. I think the creature’s head dipped minutely and then an enormous hand was rushing towards us, waves of grey dust in its wake as it broke through the ground under our feet. We were torn into the air, the dust a waterfall around us as we fell to our knees. We rushed up into the sky as our bearer stood – we were held miles above the surface. Its head turned away from us. I followed its gaze, and the arm it extended, the miles long finger pointed out into space – at some distant star? We could not know. That other hand flew towards us, clapping down over the one that bore us with a thunder of bones.

We fell together, clutching one another in fear, laden with savage apprehension. We were trapped again, in a mesh of endless fingers folded about us. We felt the giant turning with us between its palms and then – a sensation of tremendous acceleration in all directions at once – we were being ripped apart, down to our very atoms, the worn matter of our selves exploding, over and again.

Until it stopped, leaving us shuddering together – hands clutching at each other for the assurance of life. We stood as one, prepared to meet our fate, whatever it might be. Gently, the cage of spidery bones peeled away revealing a new view. The wasted land of Triton was gone, and in its place… A bright orb of silver and blue emerged into view from between its uncurling fingers, orbited by two smaller satellites, rich with the reflected light of a warm white star which shone bright against the velvet night.

The giant’s hand thrust forwards, and the new world raced up to meet us.

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Did you like it? I hope so. Did it make sense? I have no idea. Thanks for reading – let me know how it went for you.

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