In the same cloning facility as Sarah, and within a few moments of her own premature birth, John D’Arby had hit the floor hard and begun taking giant panic breaths. His lungs burned and he screamed out in pain. The sound reverberated from the concrete walls. He was blind, and remained on all fours for several minutes until he was able to gain composure. His training as a Marine had taught him to be effective even without the use of all of his senses, but right now his senses were all haywire. He couldn’t pinpoint sounds to determine from which direction they came.

“Improvise, adapt, overcome.” He told himself.

The floor was polished and covered with a viscous solution. Something had shattered and fallen to the ground but he was unable to determine what. There were sirens blaring and he thought he heard symphony music of some sort but had no idea what composition. He began to think about the last thing he could remember. He had volunteered for a military experiment, “Something called the proto …  protoplatypus … protometheus … no …” The racket was splintering his mind. He couldn’t think straight.

He crawled around on the floor trying to get a sense of where he might be. It was dark and wet and he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. “There has to be a switch somewhere along these walls,” he thought. “Had the experiment failed?” He called out loudly to find out if anyone was in the lab with him, “Hello!?” He shouted but nobody answered. “Hello??” After a few minutes of crawling he found a wall and stood up. He began to follow the wall thinking it might lead to a doorway. “Where are the lab technicians? How long have I been out?” He wondered silently. 

Hello!?” He shouted again.

He suddenly realized he was naked and covered himself with his hand. “I must look like a fool to anyone watching me, with one hand on my Johnson and the other on  the wall,” he thought, “then again, who could see me in this darkness?” He wondered if the power had gone out in the whole building.

Little by little his other senses began to sharpen. He could smell burning wires and hear sizzling and popping mixed in with the alarms. It was a blend of sounds and smells that he couldn’t make out separately, they all seemed to run together in his head.

“Have I been drugged?” He tried to remember the purpose of the experiment but was having trouble remembering things. “My name is John D’Arby, Gunnery Sergeant, United States Marine Corps …” He repeated his name, rank and service branch again and again in his head. “Everything’ll be fine. This must be part of the experiment. It’s a test of my abilities. I’ll just have to make my way to a door and find my way out and the others will be waiting for me.” He came to an opening at the end of the wall and followed it into a hallway. The sound of the alarms began to fade as he continued down the long corridor. Without his sight, navigating his way out of this strange prison was going to be difficult. It was like a giant labyrinth. “It’s ok, I’ve been through readiness exercises like this before, I’ll get through this one.” He could tell he was moving away from the room he had been in only because of the sounds decreasing in volume. He wasn’t sure if he was alone or being watched. “Somebody could be standing right next to me and I’d have no idea.” He thought. He reached out with his hand quickly and waved it around to see if anyone was there. He made a slow measured count of his steps and continued running his hand along the wall as he moved.

Suddenly, he was struck by an intense hunger like he’d never felt before. He heard someone coming and he stopped moving. He stood at attention awaiting the person to identify themselves, perhaps they were part of a rescue team. The person ran up to him and grabbed his head softly. He tried to look straight at him but couldn’t see a thing.

ROGER whispered, “Don’t worry, your sight will come with time, wait for me here.” Then he left.

Rensa and Dade had fashioned a makeshift stretcher out of the wading pool and were dragging Jayk back to the bunker. They had developed a siege mentality, and for good reason. The creatures had been establishing new gardens everywhere and one of them was so close it threatened to expose their location very soon. As a result they had begun scouting out new territory when they came upon Jayk.

“What the hell was he doing out here? There’s nothing for hundreds of kilometers. It doesn’t make any sense.” Rensa wondered aloud.

“I told you, he’s a spy! He’s workin’ for them!” Dade argued, “We should’ve killed him when we had a chance! Hang on, we still have a chance.” Dropping his side of the wading pool, he stopped and pulled out a large knife, “I’ll do it now, save us the effort of draggin’ him back and havin’ to kill him later!”

“No, Dade. We need all the people we can get, especially if they’re good with a blade.” Po said thoughtfully. “We’ll give him a chance. Then, if it turns out he’s a spy, I’ll kill him myself.”

“If it turns out he’s a spy, we’ll be dead already!” Dade huffed.

“I agree with Dade.” Rensa said. “If it does turn out he’s a spy it’ll be too late.”

“It could be too late as it is. That new garden is dangerously close. We may be looking for another home soon.” Po stated.

Dade put away his knife and reached down grabbing a corner of the plastic pool and continued carrying Jayk across the wastes toward the bunker. After a few moments the silence was broken again.

“Hey Dade, I’ve been meaning to ask you … what happened to your beard?” Oso asked.

“He misses it rubbing against his back at night when you spoon him.” Rensa scoffed.

“Watch it, Ren, you’re already floatin’ on thin ice with me!” Dade chided her.

Bursting with laughter, “Floating? What the hell is that supposed to mean? It’s skating. You’re skating on thin ice! Moron!” Rensa continued giggling.

“What’s the difference?! Floatin’ or skatin’, the ice is still thin!” Dade argued.

“Yeah, but if you’re floating above it, you’re not in any danger of falling through!”  Rensa explained full of mirth, “You’ve got no idea how maxims work, do you? Last time you said Oso was like a bull in a china cabinet, and I’m still trying to figure out whether it was a teeny tiny bull, or a really enormous cabinet.” Rensa chuckled as she mocked the images of a small bull with her thumb and finger and a big cabinet with her hands spread wide.

“You know what? My grandmother used to say those!” Dade said defensively.

“Still doesn’t make ’em right.” Rensa laughed. “Besides, Oso was asking about your beard. What did happen to it?”

“What happened to yours?” Dade chortled

Jayk was being dragged through the wastes when he awoke to the sound of Dade mirthlessly snickering at his own wisecrack. He scrambled to his feet, scattering back away from his captors quickly. His eyes darted back and forth until they discovered his sword, in the scabbard, hanging on the back of the rugged fellow named Po, “Easy there.” Po said immediately, putting his arms out attempting to diffuse the situation, “You passed out. We’re just carrying you back to our bunker for your own safety.”

“My own safety? That’s a laugh. As I recall, it was only a few moments ago that you were trying to kill me.” Jayk responded.

“And we still might.” Dade rejoined.

“Hey! Quiet.” Po said to Dade harshly, “We thought you were a spy …”

“Some of us are still convinced you are.” Rensa chimed in.

Jayk made a threatening movement toward her and Po stepped between them, “Let’s all just relax.” He turned to Rensa, admonishing her, “You, relax!” After a few beats he went on, “I understand tempers are high. Let me be the first to apologize. Listen, we’re headed back to our bunker. There’s food, and running water. You can shower, get cleaned up and eat. And, if you still want to leave after that, be my guest. But, we just want you to meet a guy first. Talk to him. Ok? Nobody’s going to hurt you.” He looked at Dade and Rensa dangerously, “In fact, you can have your sword back.” He slung the leather scabbard from his shoulder and presented it to Jayk. 

Jayk took the scabbard like a cornered fox, still a bit cagey. He grasped his sword and looked at them, “I’m no spy,” he said, slinging the sword onto his back, “but, I’ll come with you.”

“Good.” Po said amicably.

Jayk bent down and pulled his wading pool to him, gathering it up and stuffing it into his backpack. “How much farther?”

“About two days from here. We’ll pass the boneyard ahead and then there’s a whole lot of nothing until we get to the bunker.” Po explained.

Jayk nodded silently as they put the sun to their backs and trudged onward toward their destination.

When Sarah revived, her head felt as if it had been split open end to end. There was a thumping noise that increased in intensity every time she tried to move. She could hear a constant dripping and murmuring of small voices crying out. She still had trouble focusing, but found it a bit easier to hear and smell. She was terrified, but didn’t say a word. She was afraid that whatever was out there would hear her movements, so she remained still and waited. As she lay there her visual acuity began to sharpen. She could see that she was in some sort of dark enclosure. The room was large and damp, and reeked of mold and feces. She put her hand to her head and felt a sticky substance. Her hair had become matted with blood. She heard a roaring of some kind, like that of a large heavy beast. As it came closer, her body went cold with fear. The door burst open and it let out a terrible howl. Her immediate reaction was to scream, and so she did.

She began shuffling backward on her feet and hands until she hit the wall behind her. She was terrified. The creature towered over her, its body was enormous. It reached toward her with a taloned hand that she scrambled to avoid. Her senses were still unrefined, but her movements were automatic; instinctive. She was quickly subdued and fitted with a heavy chain around her neck and then tossed into another room filled with people who were also bound with chains and shackles. There she lay completely nude while she watched in silence as the others around her drifted in  and out of consciousness. Their skin was filthy and leathery and covered with sores. They were marked by exhaustion and their bodies bore wounds that would never heal. She began to sob uncontrollably.

She curled into a ball on the floor and remained there for some time until a withered looking man shuffled over and knelt beside her. He reached out to her with bony hands and gently placed a jacket around her as she shivered.

She uttered a small “Thank you” through damp eyes and he moved back away.

Who were these people? Why were they here? Questions rolled around in her head until she drifted off to an uncomfortable sleep. The dreamscape of her mind was fertile ground for the accelerated growth of Sarah’s newly implanted memories. As she moved to an unconscious state the memories of her previous life began to invade that space.

“Dr. Lemky, Dr. Lemky …” A young man’s voice called out while trailing behind the aged scientist. Raymond Lemky turned to see a clean-cut man in his mid twenties impeccably dressed in a suit and bow tie. “Dr. Lemky, I was hoping to catch you after your talk.”

Dr. Lemky smiled politely and greeted the young man with deference, “I don’t believe we’ve met.”  

Extending his hand to the doctor the man continued, “No sir, but I’ve studied your work for years! Your paper on the mag-lev technology that pioneered the project to return the Earth to a green planet, abolishing roads and parking lots forever … well, let’s just say I was blown away!”

“That was a long time ago. I was probably around your age when I wrote that.”  

“My graduate thesis was on your work, sir!” The doctor’s eyes twinkled as he gazed fondly at the man standing before him. The next generation of scientist, he assumed. “But, it’s your latest work in gene therapy and biomagnetics that brought me here today. What a leap in technology … you’ve given rise to a whole new scientific  discipline! I mean, The Atom 2.0, you’re truly a pioneer, sir, and still going at your age!”

He studied the young man’s face stoically and in a measured tone replied, “One must always be flexible. The greatest minds are those with range. Wouldn’t you agree?”  

“Oh, absolutely sir!”  

“Besides, I am merely a figurehead … younger, brighter minds than mine are the true pioneers of that technology. Although, at my age, this will most likely be my last great legacy for humankind. After all, how many times can lightning strike?”  

“I couldn’t agree more, sir!” They both smiled at one another as if sharing a private joke.  

Finally, Dr. Lemky asked, “Did you have something you wanted to ask me?”  

“Well, to be frank, sir …”

Papa!” Shouted a lovely red-headed young woman who ran up to the doctor and gave him a firm squeeze.  

“Birdie! What are you doing here?” Dr. Lemky asked, hugging his granddaughter tightly.

“I’m playing at the philharmonic and mother said you’d be giving a lecture here tonight. I’m so glad I caught you!” Sarah replied happily.

“It’s so good to see you!” Dr. Lemky said, turning his attention back to the young man, “Excuse me, what did you say your name was again?”

The young man said, “Arthur … Arthur Dent, sir.”

“Well, Mr. Dent, this is my granddaughter, Sarah Greene. She plays cello for the  London … or is it the violin?” He said with a sideways glance at his granddaughter.

Sarah batted at his arm scoldingly, “Oh Papa, stop!” Looking at Arthur she confided, “He knows what I play! He thinks the cello is a man’s instrument.”

“I’m just saying, the violin is much more feminine.” Dr. Lemky explained.

Arthur chimed in, “For a man with such liberal views as yourself, sir, I’m surprised your views on music are so conservative.”

Sarah looked up at her grandfather to say, “He only says that because he prefers the sound of the violin to the cello’s deep resonant tones.”

“I do so miss your practicing in the house when you were little.” Sarah slid an arm into her grandfathers, “Now that I’ve got you, let me take you to dinner.”

He looked down at her angelic face and replied, “That sounds wonderful, I’m famished. Your grandmother won’t let me eat a thing anymore. It’s all beets and carrot sticks!”

Arthur saw his chance and took it, “Sir, do you mind if I tag along? It would give me a chance to pick your brain for my thesis. That is, as long as you don’t mind, ma’am?” He said as he bowed his head ever so slightly.  

She looked at him and decided in an instant, “I don’t mind, you’re more than welcome to come along.”

It must have been half an hour, or two days, John wasn’t sure. He sat there waiting. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and got up and continued moving in the direction from where the man came. “There has to be an exit, or an entrance this way. Maybe he had been one of the lab techs. Something must’ve gone wrong with the experiment. The way he spoke, it was as if he was trying to keep me calm.” John thought.

“Hello!” He called out again. “What the hell is going on here!?” He shouted.

Nobody answered. “I’m starting to doubt whether that lab guy is coming back. Things must really be screwed up.” In the distance, down the corridor, he started to see something. A hazy light at first, but he couldn’t focus on it. He began to pick up the pace; before long, he was running.

When he got to the source of the light, he felt the warmth emanating from it and decided it was the sun. He stopped just short of the exit and stared for a moment. His eyes were strengthening, he could tell. He still wasn’t able to make much out, but he realized quickly that it wasn’t the darkness that prevented him from seeing. “Maybe that’s what that lab guy meant by my eyesight coming back to me.” He wondered if it was the drugs that affected his sight. He knelt in the doorway and strained to look out as far as he could. “This is getting ridiculous,” he complained, “I can either wait for the lab guy to return, or continue out of the building on my own.” He looked back in a moment’s hesitation, but decided to go on. He stepped out of the facility and looked around, but could barely make out a few colorful objects that swayed in the breeze. The sky was red and behind him was emptiness. Nothing about this landscape made any sense. As his eyesight began to return he realized the objects weren’t swaying … they were actively moving.

At first he didn’t understand it. He squinted hard to see them, but there was no denying it, they were moving of their own free will. The more he watched, the more he realized the objects were rooted to the ground. They were plants, but the plants were aware, somehow. They were beautiful … blue and red trunks, purple and orange leaves, shimmering gold and white vines with satin finishes and long stems that seemed to be reaching out grasping at unseen enemies. For a moment, he was petrified. He didn’t know what to do. He just stayed there staring for a long time watching their movements. It was a while before he got up from his crouched position there in the garden. He was nearly surrounded by them. Behind him was a vast emptiness leading to what looked like tall buildings far off in the distance. He was confused, and tormented by his confusion. His nakedness was offering no protection against the harsh sunlight. He had to find some clothes; he was slowly realizing Earth was very different from what he remembered.

“Have I been transported somewhere? Another planet maybe?” He wondered. “Had they done something in the experiment that knocked me out for days, perhaps months, while my body had been taken to an alien planet?” He rambled on, his thoughts becoming increasingly conspiratorial and troubled. He began to run as fast as he could, heading straight for the city. “If there are people on this world they must dress in something; I can find some clothes and get some answers.” He reasoned to himself.

He ran through the desert for several hours until he came close enough to make out the signs. He stood on the outlying rocks and crag faces and examined them for a moment. He was shocked to notice that they were written in plain English. For a second he stood in horror, but maintained his composure. He was on Earth, still. He thanked God for that. As his eyesight sharpened he noticed movement coming from within the city. He also noticed the buildings were severely damaged, crumbled and bombed out like a war zone. He remained on guard. Climbing up onto one of the rock faces, he crouched there waiting. Watching in disbelief, he saw several figures of large height moving through the area. They poked and prodded, going in and out of the empty buildings. Skeletons of buildings with their façades ripped down leaving only the steel frames intact; windows with shattered glass and empty doorways leading into nothing. The creatures moved at a labored pace, slow and methodical, as if they were searching for something … or someone. He watched as the sun made its way behind the darkened skyline. Ahead of him the clouds swirled oppressively, indicating a passing storm. The world had become a wasteland and these monsters were in charge now. He started to think he was the last man alive. They were obviously hostiles, these beasts. They carried weapons of some sort. As they walked toward the outer rim of the city where the sidewalks ended and the desert began he could see them tossing vehicles aside with little effort. The prospect of waiting for that lab technician to return was becoming more appealing to him as the minutes went by, but retreat is only ever a last resort. He would bide his time until they were gone.