In a murky dark cell, she laid, naked, roughed up, chained by her wrists and ankles to a roughened brick wall. Karin finally found some time to breathe after she was passed around from men to men with the sack over her head, each goon satisfying himself while she resiliently focused on the bigger picture. Her lack of struggle and bored attitude killed their interest fast as they went on to other prisoners. In spite of that, they removed her prosthetic leg, and kept it for themselves. ‘Let the bitch hobble,’ one said while Karin crept close to the wall. Her eyes confused if it were blind as the darkness was all the same. She felt cold wet grease from the sides of the walls. She ran her fingers until she reached an area persistently vibrating from the other side.
‘Water,’ disappointed that she must be in the basement. Knowing how Lucas operates in such a grandiose and boisterous manner, it only made sense that his fortress was a high rise of some sorts, and the king always resided at the top. She bit her lip thinking of a way she could get his attention.
‘Arghhhhh!’ she started screaming, erratic, not in pain but just to be a nuisance. ‘Hey!’ a bang from the outside over the door. She kept screaming until 2 large goons barged in along with a small glimmer of light shone from outside gently warming her sillhoute.
‘What?’ a gnarly one yelled.
He approached as she held her hands forward stopped only by the chains pulling her back. Confident, the goon came close.
She gently fumbled until she could touch his hand and brought it to her lower stomach, moving it downward. She could feel his pulsations increase, excited. The other brute started laughing. She then brought his neck closer between her thighs before twisting her left hand over his neck, the chain gripping hard on it. He kept pulling back, making the chains tighter, honestly doing the work for her. The other goon panicked and started pulling on him even more. One minute was all it took and the goon fell to the ground. The next one was furious. He slapped her forcefully as her head hit the ground.
‘The fuck did you do?’ he shouted.
‘You want to die as well?’
‘I’m going to kill you,’
Karin started laughing, ‘No you’re not. Lucas needs me. And until then, everyone that comes in here will die, and I will make sure of it.’
The goon backed off. ‘You’re a smart one. Go! Tattletale!’ she cackled and he stormed out leaving the corpse of his dead comrade right where he lay, between her legs over the cold greasy floor.
‘Alright Lucas, now you come to me,’
Golgotha was just a shadow of the vibrant town it once was. No flea markets, no brothels, no inns, no nothing. It was a barren shadow of itself, just rubble, scrap, and flickering lights. The dust had not even fully settled. Kim and Kira threaded the streets and kept close watch for marauders.
‘Look!’ Kira excited. ‘Bodies!’
‘They were dead before the storm,’ Kim said confidently. Kira squinted curiously at her. ‘See!’ Kira pointed at the bullet wounds made from shotgun shrapnel all over the bodies.
They noticed the bodies forming a pattern leading them somewhere. ‘They were in pursuit,’ Kim said scavenging the pockets of the corpses. She found herself a small pistol she could use with ample ammunition inside.
‘And it ends here,’ pointing at the last body. Kim noticed a long trail escaping the town. ‘And whoever they were pursuing most likely escaped,’ Kim smiled a bit.
‘Probably whores, this town is fully of them.’
Kim lifted her brow, surprised. The concept of prostitution was something so foreign to the democracy. It was considered archaic, barbaric and uncivilised. People didn’t pay for sex anymore instead just engaged in it for free fun, no matter the kink, everything was negotiable. She remembered the last time she had sex with her husband, and how long ago that was. However, this right here was the older side of the universe, and the rules written vary considerably with modern view.
‘Is that what you’re looking for?’ Kim stared into a distance. Above the rocky steps, there was a road leading up a hill. From down below they could make a tall metal tower.
‘Yes,’ Kira smiled. ‘That’s definitely a communications tower.’
She pressed forward as Kim followed behind, cautiously peering in all directions.
Up the hill, was a small bunker below the tower. A tall fence barricaded it from intruders. ‘Move,’ Kim cried out as she sliced the wires in one swift swipe with her claws and then started tearing her way through.
The doorway was open with the door itself missing. An open tunnel led to a dark basement. Then Kira saw it; a familiar symbol. She smiled to herself.
‘What?’ Kim was beginning to get curious.
‘Kira flipped the sleeve of her shirt inside out. Kira was stunned to see the exact symbol. ‘For the people!’ Kira smiled as she walked in. She palpated the walls hoping to reach some sort of switch. ‘Oh stupid me,’ she laughed as though she had realized something and then just clapped twice. The lights began to turn on.
The place lit up dimly though as only some of the lights worked. There was a soft hum from some machinery in tall black boxes stacked all over the room with the occasional spark of fire between them. The room was moderately sized and the symbols were everywhere. Kim saw the words, ‘The Democratic Nations of The New Utopia!’ written in bold engraved into the metal.
‘This wasn’t just a comms hub,’ Kira appeared excited as she dusted off a desk surface and started hitting her finger on it. The desk lit, and so did many other desks. Glowing fonts of varying symbols shone bright and Kira kepts pressing on them, and even more coloured lights lit up. A large screen projected bright. Kim had not seen that much light since her little trip to hell recently when she was on the verge of death.
‘The technology is…’ Kim was stunned mid sentence.
‘Impressive,’ Kim conceded, swallowing her pride. There was no way she could downplay how amazing it felt to experience this.
The screen shone bright and proceeded to play some animation.
‘Good morning!’ a voice spoke. Kim’s claws were out and she was ready in a defensive stance.
‘Relax, that’s an AI,’
‘Artificial Intelligence Miss,’ a tall animated figure of a man in tuxedo greeted them from inside the screen.
‘It talks back?’ Kim was mesmerized but she didn’t want to act all doll-eyed.
‘Oh, so you’re fake smart?’ Kim retorted.
‘In a way,’ the image replied.
‘Deric, please enlighten our friend what her home actually is,’ Kira stood smug, her hands crossed. She finally felt like she was in charge again after all this time.
‘Certainly,’ Deric the AI figure replied. A quick video played just briefly showcasing their planet and the terraforming project, pretty much the same video Kira saw in Mr Hendrick’s presentation. Kim’s eyes were glued to the screen as it flashed various images that from the bustling cities, to the high-rise shopping malls, various cuisine, gardens, beaches and entertainment hubs. It was nothing like she had ever seen before. The sky was clear and the land was rich with water and vegetation. The Red was everwhere but it played well with everything else, from a tinge in the soil to the coloring the vast mountainous expanse and all that was beautiful. Kira caught the jaw literally drop from the friend’s mouth.
‘That was all here?’
‘I recognized that picture, Old Mama!’
‘Old Mama was once Sector 46, residential suite. Here is a current image,’ Deric immediately laid two pictures side by side.
Kira recalled having been there. ‘That’s the place, where the monsters were,’
‘Cannibals!’ Kim felt the need to correct her. She noticed Kira moving her fingers to the screen and started to wave her wrist. The pictures on the screen moved according to her command.
‘What happened?’ Kim directed toward Deric.
‘Bad weather.’ Kira interjected.
‘Far more complicated,’ Deric insisted on answering. ‘Hmm,’ Kira cleared her throat and shook her head at the screen as if prompting Deric to not explain any further. Kim understood the gesture. ‘What are you not telling me? Un-complicate it for me won’t you Deric?’ she directed at the AI once more without interruption this time.
‘Certainly Miss,’ he replied graciously and then continued, ‘The terraforming initiative of Mars-4 was at its peak excellence until the 5th year where there was an unprecedented rise in population, so much so it couldn’t sustain. Crops and livestock were in short supply and the weather conditions only it made it far worse. Preliminary reports pointed to the increased fertility of women in the planet for reasons unknown, and due to ethical reasons, initiatives to halt the progression of mankind were stopped.’
‘Are you blaming the survival of our species as the threat to the planet?’
‘No, I’m just saying there was a miscalculation. Perhaps if the demand fit the supply…’
‘Keep your judgements to yourself Deric,’
‘So you people fucked a lot, so what?’ Kim intervened. ‘Why didn’t we leave then?’
‘Kim!’ Kira placed her hand on her shoulders. ‘You sure you want to know this?’ Kim was getting answers today regardless. She looked sternly toward Kira’s hand before it was willingly taken it.
‘There were 30 vessels initially planned. Each for mass exodus to another planet, carrying mainly essentials for the first few trips and the rest for later. For budgetary reasons 5 were successful and the rest abandoned.
‘Elections, and an intergalactic civil war,’ Kim replied.
‘And what does he mean by “Essentials”?’
Deric started playing a video recording. It showed people getting on board huge ships with large suitcases.
‘Essential personnel are staff that would take priority in all ships Exodus 1,2 and 3. They were of course the scientists, medical staff, engineers, politicians, and everyone else with Level 1 clearance,’
‘Basically rich people. People that fund the terraforming projects, people that keep the government and the universe as we know running,’ Kira intervened as if trying not look embarrassed.
As more footage played, Kim moved closer to screen. She figured how the video library worked and she too raised her hand and started to swipe. The more she did, the more the footage she saw, and all laid chronologically, from the ships leaving, to speeches of promise of Exodus 4, then 5, then nothing. Further videos were just shots, documentary footage and personal recordings of strong winds, houses destroyed and cities collapsing into rubble. There were guns, tanks, and fires everywhere. People were taking live video from pocket devices of civilians mercilessly killed right in front of them. The land had seen war and famine. Governments rose and collapsed in every age or two and soon enough a desolate planet was all that was left leaving a familiar terrain of angry and unforgiving red.
‘The population as per Exodus 1 was estimated to be about 37 billion, that too just homo sapiens alone not counting other flora or fauna. By the end of the census this library has collected, about 1.5 million still survive.
Kim gulped trying to process the information. Kira hesitated to approach her but slowly braced herself touch her shoulder. She noticed Kim’s eyes slightly glow but not a tear dropped.
‘You abandoned us,’ Kim whispered as she was being touched.
‘I wasn’t there,’ Kira replied with a sombre tone. I had no idea until a few months ago myself.
‘And now you dare come back,’ Kim gripped her fists tight. Kira felt the animosity and started to withdraw. ‘Kim, I had no idea. That’s why I’m here. I want to fix things. The way we left, you wouldn’t have stood a chance to survive this long. But here you are, living.’
‘Living?’ Kim shrieked tilting her head toward her, eyes locked.
‘You call this life “living”? What about all the stuff I just saw? Looks to me like you didn’t care to check because we weren’t important. Not “essentials”,’
‘Precisely miss,’ Deric replied.
‘Shut up Deric! You are not helping,’ Kira held her arms wide open, surrendering, begging her friend to forgive her.
‘Politics is weird. Trust me I know, and it is late but I am trying to change things. That’s why I’m here and that is why it is imperative that I get home and relay the message that you are all still alive and self-sustaining after all these years. It’s really a marvel.’
‘We don’t even know you exist anymore. It is far too late. You could have been there. You could have helped my family.’ Kim’s fists got even tighter and for the first time ever, Kira saw a tear rolled down her cheek.
‘Worse part is, you’re not the only ones.’ Kira found her back to the wall. ‘There are other planets too, all with their own stories, lives, and… families.’ Kira felt defeated, saddened by the failures of the government she so proudly associates herself to.
Kim clenched her jaw. Every nerve in body wanted to strike Kira down, smash the screens and destroy the place. But she understood that nothing would change. All she could do now was reunite a mother to her child in space, and hopefully get rich by the end of this. Everything else was immaterial.
‘I’m changing the deal,’ Kim gave her friend an ultimatum.
‘You bring me along with you when you leave, and you pay me for all my services all the way.’
Kira felt oddly comforted by that. Money was never the issue. But deep down she knew she couldn’t do this alone.
‘Deal!’ Kira agreed smiling.
‘I sense a partnership taking place,’ joked Deric.
‘You know for something that claims to be intelligent, you’re a little slow,’ retorted Kim. Kira chuckled a little, and so did Deric appreciating the nuance.
‘Well then, I need a relay Deric. I need the government to know I’m here,’ Kim found herself new spirit.
‘I’m afraid if that were possible I would have already done it miss,’
‘You have been sending messages?’
‘Since the beginning’ Deric replied.
‘And nothing has come back?’
‘I’m afraid not. Not for decades. Gregorian Universal time of course,’
Kira appeared disappointed. ‘And?’ Kim was anxious.
‘Although a hypothesis I have based on my diagnostic is that it might be that my signal strength was insufficient.’ Deric continued.
‘That has to be it,’ Kira replied without a second thought. ‘Can you locate us the nearest comms tower? A bigger hub maybe,’
‘Certainly. I will print you and offline map to take it with you,’
‘You’re not coming?’ asked Kim with a worried look over her face, to which Deric replied, ‘I’m afraid that’s not possible Miss. We will meet each other again at the next station. They both gently nodded at each other affirming a newfound kinship between AI and human.
The printout was complete and though the ink was faint it was still something Kira could work with. She payed close attention. ‘There! Sector 72, can I have a satellite image?’
‘Certainly!’ Deric pulled up a shot of the aerial view of a large complex that looked like an old prison.
‘Oh shit!’ said Kim, ‘I know that place. Do we really have to go there?’
‘I don’t see any other choice. Closest one after that would need us to cross the ocean.’
‘So be it,’ Kim sighed and took in a deep breath, readying herself to meet with a fate she had never thought she would meet.
‘Alright!’ Kim was ever ready and charged before turning to exit. ‘Catch you later Deric. Let’s stock up! I remember a good wine-shop from back in the day. I wonder what’s left of it.’
‘There is, actually,’ Deric noted.
Rayna was cold, shivering and walking in along a muddy road in the midst of the forest. She had no idea where to go so she just followed the trail the trucks left behind. At first she was feeling hopeful as the tracks were fresh and easy to make out but things started to get trickier toward sundown as the light too was getting dimmer and dimmer. The foliage was so dense that even moonlight was difficult to get through.
‘Pyre! I should rest and make pyre’ it clicked in her albeit a little late. She then realised it was not going to be that easy. Karin had thought her from their travels about the right kind of wood and technique she needed to employ. She had never done it herself before. Karin always did this thing where she would skillfully light a match when stroked against her prosthetic leg but Rayna was now the one who feeling severely handicapped.
She made note of where she was as she studied her surroundings and covered a mound of leaves over the mud tracks as a pointer to continue again tomorrow. As for now, she needed to find wood, twigs and everything you could need to start her ‘pyre’.
She started surveying, and it was particularly difficult as everything in the forest was extremely wet because of the heavy rainfall the night before. Still, that didn’t stop her.
She eventually found a solid piece of dry wood and then she started to place the end of a solid twig perpendicular to it and started to roll between her palms as Karin taught her. Every second she stopped because of a splinter, she just sucked on her fingers and tried again, and she went at it for hours till much later into sundown.
Rayna heard noises, the same noises from her passionate night before when everything was heaven, however this time they sounded more threatening. She decided to keep going. ‘Come on please,’ she begged and prayed. She could hear growling from a distance, and she wasn’t sure if it was fear creating illusions or actual threats of wild beasts around her waiting to pounce for fresh meat. She kept rubbing and rubbing. Twigs broke and she started again.
Then, she saw a small trail of smoke, and a hint of that burning wood smell. She remembered Karin telling her once that some days that smell is the best thing she ever smelled because it meant she was staying alive that night. It wasn’t particularly aromatic but it meant ‘pyre’.
The flames rose not long after. Rayna was careful to blow on it and add more twigs and leaves as soon she had a burning bush going. She moved closer to the fire to warm herself and the eyed the surroundings for threats. She noticed how swollen and rough her hands had become.
There was movement in the bushes, every now and then, and she kept alerting herself to it. She had no sleep that night until the morning.
‘Hello!’ a woman in a dirty top and denim shorts stood above her. Her hair was until her neck and she held a gun to Rayna’s face. She realised she was lying on the floor, next to a dried up bush in the middle of the forest.
‘The tracks!’ Rayna’s first thought raced to her and she jumped and ran to where she put her marker. The leaves were all gone, blown away or messed up by critters, and the mud had dried up. The tracks however were still distinguishable however not as prominently.
‘Hey!’ the woman came running after her. ‘You from this forest?’
‘What?’ Rayna wondered but dared not speak.
‘You? You from here? Is there a town or village here? We need gas. Or are you lost?’
From behind her another woman approached, clothed top to bottom in loose polymer clothing, smiling broadly from ear to ear holding some mushrooms in her hand.
‘This grows here?’ she asked.
The other woman didn’t seem all that pleased with her friend’s cavalier attitude.
‘What are you doing? Can’t you seen what is going on here? Really? The mushrooms are all you care about?’ she said frenetically waving the gun about.
Rayna found it comical the way the two of them bantered with each other.
‘And what are you smiling at, Milk?’
Rayna immediately stopped smiling.
‘Poor thing, why are you doing this to her?’ the other lady tapped her friend’s shoulder.
‘You seem rather relaxed about all this. The car has stopped. Oh! It’s the wine from last night isn’t it? Are you still drunk? Girl, you told me you could hold your alcohol. Or is the mushrooms?’
‘Those aren’t those kinds,’ Rayna answered to her surprise, and to the surprise of everyone else. ‘They can be cooked, and they are quite harmless’ she continued.
‘I am a little hungry,’ said the friendly woman swaying about. ‘Can you cook for us?’
‘What?’ the other woman was aghast.
The woman with mushrooms walked ahead to greet the young girl and offered them to her.
‘Thank you. You’re quite pretty too,’
They left back to Kim’s car where Rayna noticed a rather large supply of goods stashed at the backseat of the convertible. If she found these people to be untrustworthy, she thought she would at least steal the car, and learn how to drive it.
Kim stared puzzled at what had just happened. She holstered her gun back in and joined the other two keeping a close watch on their newly found acquaintance.