The Sleeping God
by Richard Ong
The Wind Rider gently glided down towards the small open clearing on the other side of the volcano. Captain Jeffrey Reinhardt sighed and picked up where he left off on his log entry:
Supplementary notes. 05 Mark 11 Mark 490 After the Collapse. The Wind Rider has finally arrived to pick up the last remaining survivors of Aya, an artificial village dubbed Biosphere 13. It was built one hundred and twenty-two years ago on the surface of the Earth’s Moon, for the sole purpose of genetically producing a new breed of colonists for the Empire.
According to the history of The Last Great War, the surface of the Earth was devastated when the Pacific plate was cracked by several undersea nuclear explosions. The resulting chain reaction transformed our planet into a volcanic wasteland. The air became toxic and shorelines from around the world disappeared in the wake of class-nine tsunamis.
That was almost five hundred years ago, and Earth had finally begun to heal herself. In preparation, we needed to create a strong race of people who could survive in the new hostile environment and tame the land as our ancestors once did before us. We needed to start over. But the planet also needed more time to heal. That means no technology to help these colonists.
The Wind Rider swung around on its final approach. Captain Reinhardt adjusted his seat and leaned over the tiny porthole on his right. He whistled in amazement at the tiny “island” and peered down to catch a glimpse of the primitive buildings made of wood, stone and mortar. No one would have guessed, on waking up from this trip and peering down from the small window, that they were actually landing on the Earth’s Moon.
A soft, female mechanical voice suddenly interrupted his thoughts:
Warning. Approaching biosphere thirteen’s perimeter access zone. Please secure all harnesses for landing. Ship-wide shielding has been activated as a precaution. Current status of biosphere thirteen’s perimeter access zone is dormant. Warning. Approaching bio—
Captain Reinhardt muted the speaker volume.
“P.A.Z,” he whispered to no one in particular. There’s nothing like the fear of a god to keep the natives in.” From the porthole he saw the snow-covered peak rising through the clouds.
He sighed and leaned back to resume his log entry. Preparations for disembarkation would take another fifteen minutes.
For almost a century, Aya was a peaceful, self-sustaining human ecological success. The original “volunteers” were refugees from the Ceres prison mines whose memory were all erased. Given a choice between starting over and staying in the mines, well...
Over time, the Ayans conveniently developed a religion as expected from the nightmares we genetically implanted in their psyche. In a few short years, they’ve developed the concept of an omniscient deity under the influence of a series of carefully controlled eruptions from the central landmass.
Unfortunately, all was not well in paradise, one might say. Civil unrest on the lunar village of Mare Figoris caused intermittent spikes on the signals that controlled the monitors. One of them in particular, an elder named Ghotta, ceased to communicate back to Central Control. To this date we don’t know what happened to it. Hopefully, today’s extraction procedure will help unravel some of these yet unsolved mysteries.. Ah, we’re almost ready to disembark.
A few hours ago I assigned a very special young man to lead an advanced party to scout and prepare Aya for extraction, someone who has a very intimate knowledge of the village. I look forward to hearing his report. Captain Jeffrey Reinhardt of the Wind Rider, signing off.
* * *
The scene that greeted him was more than he could bear. The air was still. Not a sound could be heard for kilometers from the epicenter of the quake. A long, jagged crack on the earth crisscrossed with four others forming a star-shaped hole on the ground where the small village amphitheater once stood. Steam rose from the cracks and kept all that breathed and exposed suspended in a death-like trance.
Men, women and children lay sprawled where they fell, from the gaudily clad performers to the opulently dressed audience who doubtless came hoping to curry some favors from the council of elders.
Most of the other sleeping bodies that littered the village center were dressed in traditional loose-fitting white clothing and wide-brimmed straw hats to fend off the heat. They were artisans, merchants and farmers. All of them worked in some form of trade or the other for his grandfather, the king, and the village council of elders. These were people that he knew, loved and hated.
That was twelve years ago.
He had never known what became of them, till now. He was never allowed to make contact with his family on the “other side.” It would disrupt his re-education they said. He never believed them, of course, but he kept his objections to himself while silently hoping that someday, somehow, he’d make his way back one way or the other.
He swiftly turned around and pulled out his sidearm from its holster with practiced ease. Filtered sunlight from the biodome polarizers glinted off the barrel of his pistol. He squinted until his vision cleared. He recognized the gaunt old man with his hooded cloak, now faded and torn with age, from his final days of boyhood at the foot of Paz.
Unlike him, the old man apparently didn’t need to wear any mask to protect him from the sleep gas that emanated from the cracks on the ground. The world was about to crumble from under their feet when last they parted. He never thought he would see his friend again.
“Ghotta!” Julio holstered his weapon and took four long strides before wrapping his arms around the old monitor.
“Easy now, boy,” grunted Ghotta. “I may not be flesh and blood, but my circuits and joints are in dire need of maintenance. Ever since I was disconnected from Central Control, I had to make do with whatever tools I could fashion, crude that they were, given the primitive state of our imposed civilization by our erstwhile taskmasters from the Empire.”
Ghotta disentangled himself from the tall, young man and nodded in approval at what he saw. “You’ve grown big and mighty strong, little prince. Your grandfather, if he still existed, would’ve been proud, I’m sure.”
Julio looked at his friend as his eyes filled. But he held it all in. Years of training at the academy had taught him how to maintain the appearance of discipline and stoicism no matter how much he hurt from the inside. The Empire frowned on the weak, and anyone who couldn’t hold his or her weight was often left behind on the field. In order to survive and someday return to whence he came, he had to become the best soldier he could ever be.
He looked away and scanned the distant horizon. He raised his eyes and saw frost forming on the silent peak of his childhood god. A silvery bird emerged from the clouds around the volcano. He heard the faint rumble of engines as it glided closer to the village.
“Time is short little prince. Did you bring the packages I asked for?”
“Yes. They’re stashed in a hidden hold in my ship,” said Julio, still staring at the approaching craft.
“All of them?”
“As you instructed, though I still don’t understand how you managed to send the messages through the academy without alerting security,” said Julio.
“I had years of practice without Central Control looking over my shoulder. Those guns that you brought will give us better credibility once we open negotiations for independence with your dear Captain Reinhardt.”
The silvery craft, a cruiser transport-class and lightly armed, began its final descent just outside the village gates. The deadwoods beyond seemed to come alive to the scream of engines from this alien metal giant.
“I’m sorry about Lucinda,” Julio said.
Ghotta’s words didn’t break when he spoke. “My daughter is dead, strangled by your grandfather shortly before he died. It was our final sacrifice to ensure that you made it safely to the outside during the communications blackout when Paz erupted.
“We knew she was an agent given to us by the Empire long ago as a child to grow up and watch over us. When my wife experienced her first awakening, a virus attacked her body. That’s when I began to suspect who she really was and why she was given to us to adopt and raise as our own. They must have realized there was a flaw in the design of the collective and that their pretty little paradise would be over once Central Control lost its hold on us. Lucinda was supposed to be their trump card.”
Julio gently put his arms around his old friend. “I’m truly sorry. I know that you already told me about this when you first made contact with me at the academy. I cried for days after that. Lucinda and I were very close. She was like my own sister.”
“She was a wolf among a herd of sheep, a traitor to your own people!” Ghotta spat. “I was monitoring your conversation on the night you decided to leave the village. I realized then that she was becoming dangerously aware of my presence. Your grandfather was taken ill by design in order to incite you to head for the outside world. She hoped that you’d run into me and discover what I was up to.
“The food that she packed contained a nanotransmitter to lock onto my position and send the command to release the virus within me. The ale I gave you to drink when we first made camp was a reagent meant to destroy it. Lucinda was a cunning witch and knew how to manipulate people. We never suspected the truth until it was almost too late. They trained her well to be a true child of the Empire.”
Ghotta looked at the young man and sighed. The light on his eyes seemed to soften and if androids could cry, he probably would have, Julio thought.
“But she was still my daughter; never forget that, even for just a short while.”
There was a beeping sound and both men looked at the pulsating red light on the younger man’s communications wristband. It was Captain Reinhardt signaling his arrival.
“It’s time,” Julio said.
“So it is,” Ghotta said. “The surviving elders are all assembled at the council awaiting your orders, your highness. My allegiance is yours to command.” He knelt on one knee and lowered his head before finishing his declaration:
“Long live Don Julio de la Cruz! Long live the independent state of Aya!”
And so it was that the boy who became king began the liberation of his people, descendants of the Ceres prison mines, from an unforgiving god and the iron grip of an interstellar empire.
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Ong