“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” – Ronald Reagan

Let me tell you a story. Many, many years ago when humankind was still very primitive, before the Nephelum gave us the Metal Stars, we were engaged in a deadly battle to save a planet called Earth…

Jayk was no closer to knowing his destination than how he came to be in this dreadful place. With lips as dry and cracked as the desert appearing before him, he surveyed the purpling sky and felt a droplet of rain that signaled an approaching storm. It hadn’t rained in days, so he was looking forward to a nice cooling shower. It seemed the wasteland stretched away from him in all directions, but up ahead in the distance a selection of broken structures rose from the earth like gravestones. Dirt and debris scattered across the landscape spinning hard granules of sand into the atmosphere. The destruction of the world had almost been complete. There was very little left of how it once existed.

As he got closer to the city he could hear the clamor of bent metal frames and twisted signs banging out their tormented beats against the empty buildings and hollow rooms, inhabited now only by warm weather. The air swirled between abandoned car accidents and along empty sidewalks as it played out the soft mewls of a despondent tune. Twilight bouncing off the only surfaces left intact reflected the light from a darkening sky as the storm took on a startling magnitude. He continued his careful walk through the empty city keeping a sharp eye open for enemies. The  deluge came as the sky opened up sending the rain pouring down in sheets. Jayk stood there, tilting his head upward to the heavens while a smile grew over his face. He reached into his pack and pulled out a folded inflatable banana yellow wading pool and began blowing it up. As the pool expanded, the fanciful words, “Lemonade Seahorse” printed onto the lower inside surface in a bright sky blue and magenta font, could be read; a forgotten children’s cartoon about a tiny horse-headed aquatic creature from a bygone era. It would be used now to collect rainwater.

He found an open structure and went inside as the storm began to play its own discordant melody. The remains of the walls were chipped in spots where the erosion of time and poor construction had allowed the plaster to weaken revealing the metal frames beneath. Rusted bars probed their way through the brick and mortar only further depicting this place as a portrait of destruction preserved in time. A quick study of the room gave the impression that it had once been used as a postal service. He removed his scabbard and sword and placed them behind the counter hidden from view in the event that anyone, or anything, attempted to challenge him. Then he flung off his pack and placed it on the ground behind him to use as a headrest while he drifted off to sleep.

It was at that exact same moment that Sarah was preparing to be born. ROGER was examining the vital signs of a young man in one of the cloning units across from hers. The name on the digital pad read “John D’Arby” and he was a muscular man with dark hair and square features. ROGER would monitor his heart rate and check the fluid in the dark module which held the man in utero until his body, like hers, was  ready for birth. ROGER was an acronym that stood for Robotic Genetic Engineer, and he was a humanoid robot who was designed to monitor the vital signs, prepare the data transfer, and download the neural consciouses of the “preborn” clones. After that he would follow the clones through to the birthing process and aide in any further development until such time as the clones could once again repopulate the Earth. This was the nature of the Protogaea Project, a project established by the government in advance of an impending cataclysmic disaster which would end most of the life on planet Earth. It was designed as a fail-safe in the event of a meteor collision, nuclear catastrophe or some other form of devastating apocalypse that would jeopardize life on planet Earth. Human and animal DNA was catalogued and frozen for later regeneration when the Earth’s levels regained an acceptable climate for life. ROGER was appointed its custodian.

Sarah hung between sleeping and waking, peering through the opaque liquid with misty unused eyes. She could make out very little from her position, floating in the dark chamber filled with a dense amniotic solution. But, even before the memories were implanted into her consciousness, she could already feel a sort of calm which could only be described as a lack of identity. And if she said it was peaceful, this extension of herself into a higher consciousness, one without identity and total connection with the universe as a whole, it would have only been a passing fancy because it was soon gone. The memories of her previous life came as a sudden thud against her brain. The crashing of experiences, personality, growth and disconnection from the world, utter  isolationism and separateness, came as a flood and it tortured her mind to suddenly know.

The biological brain of Sarah Greene 00, referred to as the “double nought” or donor, was scanned and mapped, then processed by biomagnetic nanobots, and finally uploaded and copied to a neural network that housed the total population of the Protogaea Project. The project was spearheaded by her grandfather, Dr. Raymond Lemky, who was professor emeritus at the University of London, Ontario in Canada. His Saturday morning tinkering led to a breakthrough in neuroanatomy and then to the design and study of biomagnetics catapulted an entire discipline of scientific research, eventually leading to a superintelligent A.I. of which ROGER was a product. Sarah’s uploaded memories would be stored in the network until the cloned Sarah’s brain was developed enough to accept the download. The information would then be transferred via the nanobots directly into Sarah 01’s waking consciousness. Sarah 00’s memories would supplant Sarah 01’s memories. 

Slowly, she began to come around. Her mind, a confused disarray filled with the frantic visions of a childhood Sarah had experienced centuries ago. Memories of the  death of grandparents she never knew, yet somehow felt the love for as strongly as if they were her own. Somehow, though, they were her own … now, she kept thinking, kept telling herself. Something else was happening, too. She could make out tiny flashes of light within the room. Light like fuzzy sparks whispering in the darkness.

Cascading down and pooling onto the floor of the concrete enclosure was the sap of an unfamiliar tree. It went completely unnoticed from within the structure. The roots had made their way down and through the reinforced walls, and forced themselves into the huge open room that housed the bodies of more than two thousand souls who had died centuries before and were being prepared to be reborn in this time. Unlike the oozing sap of an earthbound willow or oak, the alien liquid streamed from the root extensions, a poisonous substance unfriendly to metal and concrete. The sour ichor began dissolving everything with which it came into contact. The Protogaea Project, assigned to ROGER, was for the first time threatened by an outside force greater than he could calculate. ROGER became concerned.

The obsidian cells containing the regenerating human clones began wailing. The sound echoed through the enormous room forcing ROGER to make an assessment. The din ruptured the air, crashing against the soft symphony music, Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring, Part One: The Adoration of Earth,” filling the space with acoustical panic. The liquid-filled chamber’s glass enclosures started to whir open emitting a low humming sound from the chamber doors as their amniotic fluid spilled onto the leaden floors. The clones were in danger of birthing too soon.

After a brief nap Jayk was startled awake to find himself being examined by Rensa, a scruffy looking woman with tousled hair and a curious grimace poking out from beneath thick sandy features. She dangled a heavy chain in front of his feet in one hand, and a claw hammer gripped tightly by her fist in the other. Behind her stood Po, a rugged fellow in a loose vest and dark hard-woven trousers. Beside him was Dade, a roguish man with wild eyes, gaunt high cheekbones and a wiry frame, and two others making them five in all, and none too happy to see him.

He sat up on his elbows, “Did I forget to pay the rent?”  

The female crouched down and pointed the business end of her hammer dangerously close to his eyes, waving it back and forth as if trying to decide which one she wanted to hollow out first. “Eany, meany, miney, moe …” She was stopped suddenly by the rugged fellow who silently placed a large paw on her shoulder.

Jayk was certainly perplexed as he gathered himself up, it was apparent these people wanted a fight. He had been in his share of fights, some he had won and some he hadn’t, but it always hurt in the same way afterward. If it was a fight they wanted, they would get one, but he’d have to play it very carefully. One would assume that having a common enemy humans wouldn’t fight amongst themselves, but that was never the case. And, it had never been the case even since he was a boy.

As a young man growing up Jayk called the museum home. It was an enormous stone and tile structure with vast interlocking rooms, a virtual labyrinth of interesting and valuable artifacts. A relic from the old days when the Earth was lush and green, a burgeoning technological magnificence — before the Dark Epoch. He would spar with his friends, bounding from room to room, up and down the staircases and between the artifacts and dioramas. It was in that place that he learned to wield a sword and prepared to fight the enemy. Projectile weapons like those from the old days were no longer in use. There were no places to mass produce bullets, and the substances needed to produce the charge that propelled the shot were no longer refined. The survivors would fight with whatever was available. Axes, bats, bricks, sticks, hammers, knives, all the utilitarian devices of a forgotten world now served as weapons in theirs.

He was jarred from his memories for a moment, a time he had almost forgotten, by a sharp pain across his temple, followed by a clanging in his ears. He had been struck by something heavy and the noise filled his mind, shattering his thoughts. Having been knocked down by the rugged fellow he found himself on the floor again, this time looking up in a distorted squint. Scrambling to his feet he dizzily thrust an outstretched hand with his palm toward them, as if to signal: stop. He needed time to pause and recollect his thoughts — and to get to his sword he had hidden behind the counter.

“Wait,” he muttered. The word erupted from his lips before he had a chance to engage his brain. He stood motionless for an angry moment.

“You wear the alb of a practitioner of Omaha,” Po growled at him, “which means you are an enemy to us! Defend yourself like a man!” He spat out the last word as if it was distasteful to him. Slowly, it began to make sense to Jayk. The rugged fellow mistook his cloak as one worn by the followers of that strange religion of Sid Mantelis, the ones who believed their animal gods would save them from the usurpers. They must have been following him.

“No, now listen to me …” Jayk implored him.

“No, you will listen to me! There is no reasoning with your kind!” Po interrupted and shot Jayk a quick distrustful glance.

Jayk barely had a chance to react before Po’s powerful hands were upon him, tossing him over the counter — exactly where he wanted to be. He fumbled around for a moment searching for his sword, when he heard the female ask, “Looking for  this?” She gripped his sword by the hilt and allowed it to dangle heavily. Fear and anxiety washed over him in a cold sweat and for a pregnant moment he didn’t know what to do.  

Po eyeballed him from across the room, and then in one swift movement he leapt the counter. Suddenly they were face to face again. Po lunged at him with a mighty fist as Jayk’s instincts took over and they began to fight. Jayk dodged and felt himself deliver a powerful blow to Po’s side with his left fist. His skin was much softer than the rough creature’s hides Jayk was used to and he watched as the man lost his footing slightly. He wasn’t expecting someone of Jayk’s build to return such a devastating jab. Regaining his breath Jayk tried again to  communicate with him. “I don’t want to fight with you!” Po looked stunned, “Our  fight is with them.” Jayk motioned with his palm open to nowhere and watched as Po pulled a blade the length of his arm from behind his back.

“You’re right. You don’t want to fight with me.”

“Oh, you’re a cocky one, huh? Alright, let’s see what you’ve got!” Jayk finally made the decision to fight and urged Po at him.

Po sliced into the air and Jayk narrowly missed having his stomach splayed open and the contents poured onto the hard tile floors of the abandoned post office. Jayk yanked down a metal stand between them, reached for the ceiling joist, and kicked him hard in the chest. He floundered for a moment, but to Jayk’s dismay he seemed unfazed. Across the room the others stood ready. Jayk knew if he attempted to escape they would surely kill him. He needed to get his sword back somehow.

He had always been fascinated with ancient implements such as those. Jayk had found one in a shipping container when he was a youth. When he found his first sword he could barely lift it. Over time Jayk read the tales of knights and warriors from books, and the weapons became an essential tool for survival. Countless usurpers met their end at the edge of his blades. Though, he feared, in this instance he may be outmaneuvered. Somehow, he would need to get them all outside.

“Oh, we’re wasting time! Finish him already, Po!” Dade complained loudly. “Or, I’ll do it!”

He had dodged several of Po’s attacks and it seemed Jayk lacked the willpower to kill another human. Suddenly, he saw a chance and his lips curled into a clever smile. Jayk studied the flow of Po’s open vest and took his opportunity to make use of it. Quickly, he dropped to his knees just as Po got close. Jayk thrust a sinewy arm into the open sleeve of his vest and spun around until his back faced him. He slid his other arm into the remaining armhole of the vest and grabbed Po’s wrists slamming his knife hand into a metal counter several times until the weapon finally dropped. Then he bent forward slightly, and swiftly brought the back of his head crashing into Po’s nose and mouth repeatedly until he was bleeding from both orifices. Jayk lunged backward and forced Po into the wall behind them both. Dazed and off balance Po had no counter to the attack. Jayk lurched forward and flipped  him over his back sliding both arms from the vest as he stood up. Po sat lamely with his head bent forward and his arms sagging at his sides, defeated. Jayk scrambled for Po’s knife as he watched the others rush the counter and deftly slid it under Po’s throat tilting back his head. Using his body as a shield Jayk sneered at them.

“Anyone else?” The others slowly put away their weapons and stood silent as Jayk released his grip from around Po’s neck. He was about to explain once more how he didn’t want to fight when a sharp pain splintered his mind again and he blacked out, dropping to the floor.

“Whoa! What happened to him?” Rensa asked bewilderedly.

“Who the hell knows!? Maybe he was tired?!” Dade said mockingly. “Hey old man, you ok?” He questioned Po, moving toward him. “You fought like crap! What the hell?”

Po rubbed the back of his head and grabbed Dade’s hand as he helped him up, “He’s stronger than he looks. We should bring him with us, let Wax have a talk with him.”

Rensa huffed, “You guys grab his feet.” She commanded the other two, reaching for his arms.

The tough fibrous supports of the alien vegetation, searching for minerals and nutrients, had burrowed low into the ground breaching the deep compartment that contained the clones. The birthing chambers, which were linked together by miles of cords and cables, were damaged subsequently causing a catastrophic chain reaction that led to the early termination of the project before most of the clones had a chance to mature. The project would be a total failure and ROGER could do nothing to stop it. The housing that encased Sarah’s chamber slowly began to unseal as the weight of the dense liquid pressed harder on the burdened opening. Sarah could feel herself being ripped from the vessel while the hatch mechanically shifted open in one continuous motion. The tubes feeding her body and the cables wet-wired to her brain were torn from her flesh. She crashed onto the hard ground in a deluge of fluid. The pain was excruciating as her senses were attacked and she lost consciousness … but she survived.

She was aroused by the sound of sirens. Like a plangent roar splitting the air and pouring through her as waves of clamorous thunder. She was dizzy and couldn’t  see. Somehow, she knew they were sirens, auditory hallucinations without visual sensations. A disembodied voice came to her and peacefully welcomed her into this strange new world, informing her that her eyesight would sharpen with time. Because she had never before used them her eyes would have to learn to see — her brain to make sense of the light coming into the optic nerves. A faint glimmer of inner turmoil penetrated her mind suddenly. She was no longer within the confines of the iron membrane which had been her home for so many months. With all the problems she was experiencing, temporary blindness, lack of acoustic recognition and nerve malfunction, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be out. She was being thrust upon the world without the ability to fully understand her surroundings. On all fours she attempted to stand, but found herself slipping on the fluid soaked floor of the underground facility.

“You have to leave this place, it isn’t safe for you to remain here. Whatever damaged the biochambers may be dangerous to you. I am aware that you are unable to see and hear clearly, but you must come with me. I will lead you out of the laboratory and to the surface of the Earth, there you will have to wait for me as I return to find other survivors.” ROGER’s voice was tranquil and honest, and without hesitation she followed him.

The two of them traveled for several minutes through darkness. Sarah thought she could faintly make out a voice beckon to them, “Hello” in a tone demanding attention, but they moved too quickly and the voice was lost in the shadows. ROGER held her hand in his and led her up to the surface. She could vaguely make out the sounds of large steel doors thrumming open and felt a rush of hot air against her face, then ROGER suddenly stopped moving.

“What is it, what do you see?” She heard herself say.

All she could make out was a bright yellow light that seemed to cover her visual field.

“Something is terribly wrong.” He uttered faintly.

Sarah stood there for a moment holding his cold hand in hers.

“Get down as low as you can,” he whispered, “and begin moving backward quickly.”

She had no idea what was wrong, but whatever it was she could tell it frightened him. She lost her grip and was suddenly alone. She knelt on the ground trying to make out the images appearing before her; polygons of blue and red, large fuzzy shapes terminating just beyond her line of sight. She struggled to make sense of the babble around her. She thought she could make out grunting or snorting, the clanging of chains and the flapping of wings. But, the sounds came in bits amidst the noise of her own mind. Objects would slowly come into view, but they were  distorted and lacked meaning. Then, just as quickly as they appeared, would vanish. Auditory and visual hallucinations fed her derangement as she attempted to wrangle their meaning in brief bursts of logical reasoning. Colors began to form into shapes and solidify as her left and right hemisphere tried to communicate and make  sense of all the noise. Sarah tried using her memories, the memories implanted into her brain, to determine similarities between what she was seeing and what Sarah had seen before. The shapes became objects and slowly she began to determine which sounds were being made by what objects. It was difficult, almost as if she was redesigning her brain. She started to realize the grunting was coming closer to her.

An animal?

Sarah held her hand up to shield her blurred vision from a sun-baked skyline. She squinted to see what was merely a few feet ahead of her. The noise was becoming louder and she thought she could make out the sound of feet crunching the ground. Her olfactory senses were attacked simultaneously and a horrid smell filled her nostrils. Something cold and hard poked the side of her head and she batted it away with her hand, then suddenly lost consciousness.