By Tom Pogson
“cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating
in the hidden realm of thought as in the world” – James Allen
He did not know when it began. The slightest sound inside the pod could overwhelm those first pops and clicks from his makeshift scanner with its three pin lights. When the frightened voice first spoke he was elsewhere, more than likely standing in the center beam room. Sam kept flawless records from the digital readouts below, the thick curved glass separating his face from the hum of the beam. Its radiance swelled and shone bright, showing the Captain’s age.
Every five hours he would do this. Sam still used the same tablet that the Kel had left for him a decade ago. Most pod miners could not even keep the same tablet running, let alone the rest of the work Sam did. He liked to keep busy. There was always something to do on the Howe Shelf, far away from the noise and the dust and the bars of the Central Commons.
How Nina could stand that place, Sam never knew. What kind of life was that for Eliot anyways?
The front room was his workshop, flanked by the mudroom on one side where he kept the tools for the hoverbike and the other the kitchen which was kept spotless. He did have one comfortable chair in the front room, next to where the scanner was chirping louder as the signal grew stronger. The chair was for reading. He had been studying the Kel language ever since his posting. Few things remained of years in the service. His uniform he long ago had incinerated.
Satisfied with his readings, he plugged the tablet into the port in the center tube. The beam itself would carry the signal far up to his exchanger and along the beam in the sky until it reached the Kel Station far in the northern mountains.
It was as the upload finished that he first heard the sound coming from the front room. He leaned over to peer towards the room, having to keep the tablet in place until the upload was finished.
Complete. Hit Send. Send.
In seconds he was kneeling down in front of the table, staring at the black metal console with the rounded ends and the green blinking lights.
The squawk of the noise and static grew with lashings of clear sound. Kel words were coming through the little speaker on the back. It was broken like a sun scraping through clouds. Sam placed his finger over the voice button. With his other hand he gently tried the dial on the side, looking at the tiny digital screen for the strongest signal he could find.
“Pod Miner 78-A listening, anyone out there?”
Silence. Then more noise but it was completely illusive. He moved the dial around more, squinting hard at the little screen.
“Come on,” said Sam “Where are you?”
Then dead silence. Only one light shone; the principal running light of the machine. This meant that there was no signal. Sam moved the dial more, half tempted to slap the side of the machine as if something had suddenly gone wrong with it. He put his hands up in frustration. He had done little tests on the scanner from the radio on his hoverbike, but other than that, the little machine had never been used. He connected it exactly the way he was trained in the W.A. Field Operations. It was flawless then, so what was the problem?
He got his answer.
The sound made him nearly jump out of his skin and reach for his thermal TR-90 in the corner. It was the sound of a ship, its engines crackling and burning hot, racing just over the beam exchanger above the white cluster of his pod. Sam burst out into the Velios night to see the dark grey craft roaring towards the southern canyons. The back of the ship was smouldering great pillows of smoke. Just then the radio scanner burst to life. Sam could only watch, following the ship’s path as a voice filled the front room.
“Going down! Going down! Please assist! We are going down into the Southern Canyons of Velios. Important cargo is ab-“
With the sound of a struggle, the voice cut off sharply. A moment later the ground shook from the impact. There was no explosion or fireball. Sam stayed motionless as the sound returned to the flat quiet as a slight breeze came across the water to where he stood on the edge of the peninsula. High above, the trail of smoke began to dissipate in the evening sky.
Coming to his senses, Sam raced inside. He grabbed the TR-90, his coat, his pack and soon was slicing just over the water’s edge on the curved steel of the hoverbike.
Sam followed the crest of the great falls, a seemingly endless line of froth from the world below as the sea of the Howe Shelf fell away into its roar. There were very few other Pod Miners on islands this far to the south, but he could still see the occasional pod as he flew towards the distant rise of hills and then wooded mountains of the west. No trees grew outside those higher elevations. On the islands of grasses and other meager growth, the nearest working pods were far away, but he could spot them by the thin white line of the energy they pulled from deep in the heart of Velios up to the hovering exchangers in the sky.
He didn’t wear a full rider’s helmet as he always hated those things. He wore that sort of stuff in the early part of the wars and could remember the screaming matches with General Casson when he would insist that all of Sam’s men should be wearing them too. Now he just wore a wireless over one ear.
With his eyes scanning the approaching westlands, he looked for anyone else that was going to swing around the edge of the falls and head south.
“Pod Miner 78-A here, en route to the crash. Anyone else see that?”
No response. The signal went back to the music that Sam had loaded into the bike’s computer. The music was electronic but from decades back. He was barely listening to it as he interrupted it again.
“Hey, Sam Krellor here. Seriously, did no-one see that?”
Somebody must have seen the ship go down, but he was a little concerned to find out whom. It was late on a Friday night and way too many of the other miners were more than likely at the Commons. It was not the kind of help he would want. It would take them far longer to get there and they would be more than likely intoxicated.
“Jesus, aren’t any of you sober?”
Just then, Sam reached the edge where the falls broke into three rivers that split into the southlands and the grassy westlands. He swung around and began the trek into the heart, the map display lighting up below the white wheel.
At least he would be able to secure the crash site before any of those guys showed up. Story of his life, he thought, dealing with a bunch of dumb kids.
He knew where that ship had probably landed, occasionally glancing down at the map. He pressed the spot with his finger quickly. The spot flashed red and blue symbols appeared over the map, detailing the elevation and deciding the best course.
“On board. Navigate lock.”
“Lock complete,” came the female voice response from the bike’s computer.
With the route laid out before him, he soon was able to find his way there. With the spray of the falls at his back, he swung the bike into the narrow slot canyon. The path was so tight that his knees could easily scrape the layers of earth that blurred passed, the spectrum of packed red soils falling away to a soft dirt plain. He began slowing as he passed over a hilltop and came down towards the crash site. There was no question that his work pod was due north of him and high up above the falls. There was no question as the red dot on his map display suddenly changed to an apple green. He was there.
The ship was not.
Around his white bike floating just off the surface of the soil, the southlands slept quietly. Just the slightest breath came from the north, and the slightest low roar of the great falls separating Sam from his home.
From the side of the bike he opened a hatch and pulled out his binoculars, scanning the horizon. Was it possible that it had crashed further to the south? The area was flat for miles in every direction with bluffs and hoodoos only breaking up the canyon-lands. He was certain of it. The ship should be here.
The bike whirred to silence as he stepped off onto the soil and began just walking around, feeling like a fool. As if not being on the bike would solve much of anything.
He kneeled down and looked at the soil beneath him. If something that big happened, there would be a trace of it.
Reluctantly, he got back on the bike and headed further south, ignoring his certainty about where the Kel ship went down. Maybe he was wrong. It was a Kel ship and having travelled on one Sam knew they are incredible machines, so perhaps it made it further than he considered.
But for the miles and miles that he scanned, climbing the bike up to the top of one of the gently sloping bluffs it became clear that there was no ship; just the soft evening wind, the scent of cherry that came from the undergrowth on Velios and the cloudless sky above.
Soon he was back on the whirring white hoverbike, flying past the falls and northeast. For a while it was just him, a single white dot sailing over the water and the low islands. Then he saw another pod, miles from his own. And then another. He knew he was getting closer as they began to pepper the surrounding landscape, and the voices of drunken Pod Miners occasional shouted out.
Ahead of him were the lights of the Commons, a round city stuffed onto the largest of the islands, its two story buildings clustered together like seagulls on a buoy. He swung around to the eastern entrance. There were other bikes and the guards in their grey armor suits watching them come and go. He was always worried that one day the guards would be off duty at the wrong time. He slowed the bike to a crawl as he approached the mouth of the east gate.
“Hey Captain,” said the taller of the two guards flanking the opening in the wall that ran around the noise and the cooking smells and dull orange light.
“Ryan,” Sam acknowledged as the young Pod Miners were coming out single file. Their bikes swayed but at least they had the ability to get the guys home, homing on each pod despite the state of the passenger.
“Captain Viking!” came a cheer from a couple bikes back in the line, a phrase that then rippled through the crowd as they were either familiar faces to Sam, or they just did not want to be left out of the fun.
Sam just waved his hand from the two horns of his white steering wheel as he cruised past the ever-increasing line. He didn’t want to ask these guys about the lights in the sky. He was absolutely certain on how painfully annoying the responses would be at that time of night. Very few girls worked as Pod Miners, with the exception of a handful that lived close.
“Well, this is an unexpected delight!” said Nina as she looked up from the autowasher which was always getting jammed with crap from the wide mouthed beer mugs.
“I’ve been here before.”
“Not frequently,” she smiled as she looked into the autowasher, “stupid thing. Hey, you’re a tough guy…want to help me with this?”
Sam walked behind the counter over to Nina who stepped back, pushing the long blonde hair behind her ear that managed to escape her black hair clip. Sam looked inside the orange glow of the machines single opening.
“Wow,” he said with his eyebrows raised.
“Oh, don’t give me that,” she laughed “You never think to clean the thing that does the cleaning.”
“Okay,” he said reaching in and then stopping to look at her.
“Thank you,” he said, grimacing as he inserted his arm inside the machine and began trying to clear away the hairs and food that circled the gears like lichen “Everyone behave tonight?”
“Thanks to the guards. People are accusing the food now of being the source of the problem and of course that’s yours truly. Still waiting for a re-shipment.”
“Like these guys would even want kids.”
“I don’t know, some might. Give Eliot someone to play with. He’s the only person under ten in the joint. Best excuse ever to skip school.”
Just then Sam pulled something out from between two large cogs that shook the whole machine. He reached down and plugged the autowasher back into the wall and the machine chugged at first until it began humming contentedly. He held up a small toy man, made of solid plastic that looked as though his spaceship had just taken a tumble.
“I told him not to go near this thing.”
“Go easy on him. He’s a good kid.”
“I know. You want a drink? I am sure the only thing it does is make you drunk.”
Finally Nina Staarsgard had a chance to sit down. She dropped with a plop into her favorite place next to what the Kel designers though must have constituted a normal fireplace, complete with the metal tools on a rotating rack, and the hearth, only with an oddly oval shaped mouth from which an actual fire relayed heat into the room and smoke up from the pub’s long chimney. Nina had a pink cocktail in a tall glass and her face was covered in the salt of her own sweat. She sat next to Sam on the single couch, looking at him with her large blue eyes as he looked into the fire.
“I don’t see you enough, you know.”
“How have you been sleeping?”
He had been sleeping a little better for the last few weeks. He was almost up to sleeping most nights of the week. Any sound would do it. Silence would do it. Dreams. Sometimes he would just turn over on his bunk and find himself shaking as the tears rolled over his cheeks.
“You didn’t hear about a Kel ship crash landing did you?”
Sam explained what he knew. He described the radio. The great shadow that passed above the pod, the falls and deep into the south. By her expression, and the fact that he had not met any of the boys on the way to the Commons, he guessed the answer.
“Oh, Sammy,” she said putting her hand on his knee.
“I’m worried about you.”
“I didn’t imagine it.”
“I know, but you know what job I did before I became this and you became a miner. This is a symptom.”
She could feel him tense up on the grey cloth and wicker couch. She looked at the big man who stared into the flames, unsure what to do beyond just be there.
“I know. But I saw the craft. I could describe it right down to its intake converters. It was there.”
“Until it wasn’t.”
The clock read 3 am as he switched on the front room lights. The air was still. He had been through the same steps as before, its rhythm soothing the fading shouts as he would duck his head between the rooms of the pod. He had the shower to wash away the sweat. His night robe was clean and soft, hanging in its place on the silver hook behind the door. The coffee had chugged away almost imperceptibly until he returned to kitchen barefoot under the bright halogen light. He reheated food in one of those little black bowls. He put both down next to the radio and turned its volume up just slightly.
He went out into the cool of the Velios night and looked out at the south where the sound of the falls softly rumbled below the canvas of starlight. The glow from the beam at night brushed the back of his greying brown hair.
Below was the soft green of the growth that seemed like grass but never grew. Little grew here or ever changed that he had seen. The breeze from the north hills was almost imperceptible. He had never been near the hills that climbed to the mountains, for the simple reason that he calculated only so much time between his regular reports. For a moment he mused that it was too bad his dreams didn’t fall in line with the quiet of the Howe Shelf. Some of the miners hated things in their new home, longing to be on some other planet where the other survivors must be having a great time. Sam almost preferred to stay here. Dani was here. His work was here. It was better than his dreams.
For the past few weeks, they began with the same strange story being played out before the usual barrage of gun fire and the scrambling of men. It was his home town, but desolate. That at least was like Velios. It was as if everyone had simply winked out of existence.
He would walk down Main Street, past the white tall trees and red swing sets of the park to the heart of town to find he was completely alone. He walked into the back of a bakery and up into the law offices that had always looked down from above. It was all there, every detail. Eventually he would run into the girl.
He never saw her face completely but she was young and had never seen her before. She always grabbed his hand to try and pull him away from where he was going. But where he was going was inevitable. It was a place where he shouted orders as he ran to the transport, its mouth open like a great bear trap. Fast forward to the crash. Then again to things that he could not even describe. Reports of the bombs falling. Blood of his troops on his face and his uniform. Bodies of civilians, or at least parts of them. He knew they were the lucky ones. It was all going to end soon. The reports continued. He was never as good at science in the academy but only a fool would not realize that there would soon be no place left to hide.
Then came the Kel. It wasn’t like any movie. It was done so fast that everyone in the ship surrounding him seemed to instantly arrive. Some were military like him. Some civilian. No one spoke. No one moved.
The ship left orbit, with the remnants of Earth visible below. There it was, inflamed and sick, its atmosphere soon worse than Venus or Jupiter.
No one moved.
Sam sighed out and turned around to go inside.
Sam stood in shock. It was her. He could absolutely swear it. It was that same girl from his dream. She looked like a young girl from earth in her mid teenage years somewhere, but it wasn’t quite right. Even though the shape was essentially the same, her skin had too much an overall blue tint. Her eyes were a shade of bright green that he had not seen before the time he would want to forget.
“Hello?” was all he could manage.
“There you are,” she smiled “I have been looking for you since the crash. We all have.”
His mind raced. She wasn’t human. He had never seen a Kel before. The rescuers of everyone had remained tucked away somewhere on the ship that no one could find them. Even here on the planet, they supposedly lived in the north mountains, but the kids that went up there never found anyone. The said it was like a tomb.
“I’m a representative. You may call me Baye.”
“You were on that ship!” he suddenly realized.
“Yes. And your action did you credit. It is but another reason we sought you out. Come. It is time.”
She took his hand this time and let him inside of the pod, passing the living room towards the beam room where she walked around the humming light to the one place the hatch could open.
“Time? For what? I’m sorry, Baye…I don’t follow you,” he stammered with his eyes widening as she opened the glass case that separated the room from the great beam. He had never opened the case before. The sound was excruciating.
Her grip on his hand tightened. She smiled at him like a mother smiles at her child as her other hand went into the beam. Sam did not have time to scream.
Sam awoke in a leather chair. The similarities to his chair in the pod were so close that he briefly thought it was a dream. As his eyes opened the reality became apparent.
Before him lay the world. The rays from the distant sun had begun to creep across the landscape. Through the round glass windows he saw a beam of white energy that slid from the Howe Shelf now far away, passing high above the Commons to just beneath where he sat. He was in the Kel sanctuary, a tower high above the rest of the building. It was near the converter where the ships would refuel. It was that place the kids had explored. They found nothing. That was years ago. On this day it was he and the one called Baye. The room was silent. It seemed peaceful despite the confusion he felt. He got up and turned around to face her in the round room.
She stood by the center of the room where the wooden floor boards intersected at something that resembled a podium. A single black switch rose from a square flat top.
He tried to formulate a first question. He opened his mouth to speak.
“We have been watching you for some time, Captain Krellor,” she said, motioning almost reluctantly then to the black switch “we knew that this task needed the right person from your people.”
“For what?” he asked “Task?”
Her smile had gone. She paused. She looked to her left as if she had been instructed to continue.
“The Kel have been given a sacred trust since the founding of the Great Council. We come to the aid of people that have fallen, we plea for their path to be changed through further research…and then, when that hope is lost…we complete our duty. It is our sacred trust.”
Sam felt himself go cold. He had not felt this way since the first moment in the Kel ship.
“What do you mean?”
She seemed to force herself to keep looking at him. She continued with her softly spoken words.
“It will be instant. There will be no pain. No suffering. All biological life on Velios will simply vanish.”
“But,” Sam said imploring to her “is this happening everywhere else? Why is this happening at all? Why am I not trying to break your neck right now?”
She did not back up at the last threat. Sam did step forward but something about her seemed more dangerous than she looked at first glance. He turned to find a door. There was nothing. The room had become smooth like the inside of an ostrich egg.
“I am but a vessel of the Kel people, so my ‘neck’ as it were is indestructible, as am I. To your other questions, your species suffered immediate sterilization during your planet’s final hours. We have been trying to fix this, but we have had no success. And the stories of your people being on other planets were admittedly a lie. All of this was, even your work. The ships that came were our own. We needed to keep your people calm and busy while we pleaded with the Council. We endeavoured to give you hope. That is our charge. And then…we knew we must find a person who would be appropriate…for the final task.”
“Final task,” he said.
Sam walked around to the front of the podium. It was a switch, lit blue that was clearly meant to be turned to the right. How the kids who came up to this room never found this escaped him. He looked from the switch to the world below. He thought of Dani and little Eliot.
“But this…” he tried “This can’t be it.”
He turned to his right to face her. She appeared on his left.
“Is any of this real?”
“It is your choice now, Captain Krellor,” the voice of the girl changing into that of a more masculine voice. A voice of soft authority “You could delay a little while. We could continue research, but… we have very few provisions left suitable to sustain the human species. We have hoped for more promising outcomes, but they never came. Our records indicate the health of the young boy…he will be first to perish.”
He stood there for a moment. He placed his hand on the podium. His knees felt almost weak.
“We are sorry. So many of your people made such incredible strides to avoid coming to this but…this is not the first time Velios has been used for its final task. We can only pray it is the last.”
“So that’s it,” Sam said, a tear coming down his cheek “that’s it.”
The rising light of the distant star crept into the room, warming his skin.
“This is the one word we left out of the Kel language you studied. Velios.”
“Hospice,” said Sam.
He placed his hand on the dial. Baye lowered her head. The dial turned.
There was a moment after Sam was gone, that the Kel stayed motionless. Baye stood with her head lowered, not looking up even as the podium lowered into the floor, disappearing with the softest click.
“New species en route. I will make preparations. Yes.”
I did not arrive at this plot or my publishing it lightly.
Whether it resonates or if there is a benevolent people like the Kel or a place like Velios I don’t know.
I do know that each and everyone of us, and not just people in power, can make that dial stay to the left or swing to the right.
Our world is our choices.
When we support hate, when we demonize, when we practice any form of discrimination, when we go on the attack instead of trying to learn and empathize we threaten the clockwise motion of the “Velios Dial.”
This story is my ghost of Christmas future for the world. It is the opposite of Ollie and Emma. Every cause has an effect. Some doors you can’t go back through.
We are one 7.5 billion member family. Our family comes from many different cultures with different views on the details of life. No one is the enemy. No one is wrong. We can learn from each other.
Our strength is communication. Our power is community. Our future can only occur united.
This was but a shadow of things not yet occured.