Time slows in the unraveling of a fractured world that finally falls – no longer sustainable. Private corporations develop commercial space travel and other habitable zones are discovered. In a move to protect their interests and save lives, they leave the dying planet to colonize another world, they call Keplar. The exodus begins quietly and builds gradually until the last lottery ticket is drawn and those who could afford the tickets have already gone. Anger and resentment are all that remain.
For those left behind, a retreat to the underground and cavernous rubble is a desperate adaptation to survive. Gangs clash with other gangs and self-proclaimed peacekeepers. Now, as before, is a struggle over territory and resources, right to the end.
When years pass in darkness under a sleeping sun, monsters emerge to hunt those that remain. For some, the compulsion for meat is primal, considered dark acts among the shamans. Then even as the zealots come asking for repentance, trades are made. Eventually, only one may remain to carry the burden of all, they say.
On the other side of an unrecognizable world, one man runs day in and day out without ever leaving. He searches for a code held within the locket he knows can transcend him from this place. He is still alive because of it, even in this moment, he is lifted from the present surroundings, and drawn through some sort of memory jack. This locket is like a portal, but he can’t figure out how or who could make such a contraption… or why. But then, he is gone from this space, this patch of dirt always shifting beneath his feet, running to stay hidden from dark eyes and roving cannibals that hunt the hunted; bound to stretch resources and take protein. No, with the locket, there are times he is invisible to that reality, as now, seen by her eyes only, wandering lush gardens for hours on end, and days talking and laughing… loving in the moment, cast in each other’s heart stone. But it never lasts more than one hour of time in the dark world where long days feel like weeks in the garden.
He doesn’t remember where he found the locket or how long he’d had it – it just was; more than costume jewelry or a carnival trinket…, it is an artifact with a heavy feel, a peculiar ornamental that possesses something more – it is a very animated-inanimate work of art, but there is frustration. He doesn’t know how the locket works. In this incredibly special circumstance, there is a code that binds the two halves of each locket into one and can transcend the locket bearer permanently to the world he imagines. All he wants is to leave this dead place and remain in the sanctity of her garden.
Malnutrition sinks his energy and fatigue weighs his spirit. He waits, turning the silver body over in his palm. The chain drapes over his thumb; he tries to remember what he was doing when he traveled the last time to see her. He puts it around his neck, still turning it, studying it for some worn inscription that maybe he missed before, or the secret spot that he accidentally rubbed exactly right. Eventually, he nods to sleep tucked under the arms of the great ferns in the forest.
A long ways from anywhere, he is awakened.
“I can smell him. He is close.”
“Kara likes the hands and feet!”
“What will we do when there are none left?”
“That’s why we have Kara, moron! Ours is the last tribe and will taste the last of our kind. Then man will be reborn in our image.”
“What is that?” The young hunter asks. They peer up into the trees and cannot make anything out other than a large swath of black space above.
“I don’t know.” The older hunter replies with a gaping stare. Just then, a long tongue darts out from the canopy and slurps around his neck and plucks him from his leather loafers.
“What?” And just like that, the hunters became the hunted.
The locket does not take him. Carnage is smeared across the path below. Luckily, the frog monster only attacks where there is a threat and now bounds away through the trees away from where he hides. A putrid smell hangs in the air. If the monsters or the hunters don’t kill him, the environment will. He knows he must find the place where technology did not replace the great writers. There is a library that sits in the inner part of the Last City. He heard there were clerics there devoted to protecting the ancient texts. This was one place he knew carried some hope to unlock the secrets of the locket. Carefully, he unties his rigging and drops from the ferns.
The forest floor is dank and overrun with danger. He peers the path ahead and as he sets off on a trek toward the Last City, he becomes woozy and realizes the left side of his body is vanishing, leaving him caught somewhere between dimensions. This is something new and he tries not to panic as his body is pulled through a wormhole that he has no control over. In moments, he wakes from the chaos of teleportation and is no longer in the forest but standing among great pillars of stone.
The Last City remains a relic of human achievement with once high-rise scrapers that pawed at the horizon now half crumbled in ruin. At the center, the Great Halls of Discourse and the Chamber of Illumination are still intact. Various races and gods of races and other forms are drawn to assemble and consider arguments for the fate of humankind. Some are transported through holographic energy while others materialize in true form.
Remnants of human government, articles of evidence, are brought forth and arguments ensue. Aradian, the Nna, Trel, and even ancient representatives, once human, gather. Eni, a leader of the Nna and Circle of Truth, comes forth, and speaks to the Tribunal.
“Welcome worthy interests and friends of truth through our allegiance to the Gaya. We are here to examine the fate of this planet and the last of humankind. I know your tongue and its reference to ‘Maker’ but there is nothing to fear. I have a subject I think is suitable for this examination.”
The Chamber erupts in a fit of skeptical gasps with gestures of discontent lobbed back and forth.
“You, Eni, are responsible!”
“The human makers should be tried!”
“The Nna must be held to account!”
“Nna! Nna! Nna!” the crowd chants grow, focused on Eni; condemning him to pay for the destruction that his kind brought on the sacred planet.
“Wait!” Eni strikes the thick marble floors with a bolt of energy and time stops leaving all hushed in a quiet stare. “We have the one, behold.” He waves his arm, and the grand doors swing wide at the other end of the hall. A brilliant bead of energy fizzles into the shape of a human – a man who stands, visibly shaken, and confused. “Come forth!” Eni commands.
A long stretch appears before him, leading to a gigantic room. No longer are ferns overhead and darkness is replaced by shadows that dance among pillars of gold inviting him to follow.
“Come! Explain to this assembly why you should live. Share your story and convince us!”
The man starts to step back but cannot move. He is drawn forward.
“Come. Your time is now, and you must speak for all humanity. It is your duty!” Eni is insistent.
The man finds himself standing at the center of a giant chamber filled with beings he could only have once dreamed about. They are super-natural auras, and reptilian beasts, and sentient beings that peer down at him from all sides.
“Speak your truth, Michael.” Eni is gentle as a grandfather with a soothing tone.
“I…I am the last of the humans to be hunted on this planet. It was once lush with life but now wasted and shriveled up…dying.”
The chamber erupts once more accusing the man of making an admission for his crimes.
“Let him speak!” Eni waves and a hush again falls across the chamber.
“My name is Michael Love. I am imperfect but deserve to be spared for a second chance.”
“Why?! How many chances do you think you deserve?”
“Your people have destroyed everything!”
“You squandered the sacred land.”
Many are shouting over each other, and Michael feels claustrophobic and small under their attack. They are right, he knows, and wants to run away from there but still cannot move. He is fixed, legs bound.
Then, Eni whispers in his mind, “tell them about the locket. You are still learning, but they know, and will set you free to find the knowledge you seek.” Michael is taken back, bewildered.
“Shout it, Michael! Let it be known with no doubt!” Eni commands.
“I have the locket!” Michael shouts at the top of his lungs and the room comes to a sudden gasp. There is a stillness as time just stopped.
“I have the locket and have traveled with it to other realms. It is the only reason I am alive. It is a lock to another dimension – a place of peace and beauty – a place where my other half awaits me.”
Eni speaks, “He has the locket! The prophecy is true – he has the locket and has been to the Gaya.” The crowded chamber begins murmuring and buzzing and clamoring over the news.
Michael reaches inside his tunic and pulls out the silver locket, shaped like a tear drop, or half heart. It is brilliant with an energy that comes to life and grows throughout the hall. He has never seen it react this way. Just then, an armored reptilian materializes within ten feet of him drawing power.
“No, Tork!” Eni is swinging his staff and is instantly at Michael’s side with a shield of energy to block the assailant. The Cura steps back and then lunges for the locket. Eni catches him on the snout with a burst of energy and latches onto his throat.
“ENOUGH!” Eni releases Tork who stumbles back cowering before the ancient master. “We must not be petty but remain steadfast.”
Michael has the locket clutched as it pulsates. A blue mist grows around him, enveloping. He forces all his energy, concentrating his will to become one with the locket and disappear.
An overwhelming feeling of love makes him weep. He knows he is to be in her presence and hopes it will last this time. No more monsters or debating alien beings deciding to kill him or not – he will remain in the garden with her this time. He floats in a timeless state untouchable. No more will he hide in the ruins of the past.
Abruptly, the images of the garden are gone, and he is standing in the Chamber of Illumination. Eni is there, along with Tork, kneeling before him. All the beings are in a state of reverence, meditative, as if waiting. Michael doesn’t understand. He should not be here. The locket let him down again. He needs answers. Eni told him that sharing the locket would free him with knowledge to the secrets he sought. He is running out of time. The locket continues to glow as he studies it, trying to understand what happened. Why is he still in this place?
“It is ok, Michael Love.” The voice instantly calms his mind, and he is lulled into the spirit of the woman that he had come to know. But where is the garden? Why is she here?
“Please, take my hand. It is time.” He turns to see her standing there with an outstretched hand. His legs are no longer bound, and he is adrift.
“They can see you – why are you here?”
“We must learn to love, come.”