Every day, on every street, in every city… the view is the same.
Of course, I don’t mean what it actually looks like, but there’s a dreary monotony to the landscape. Ruins, in all directions. Heaps of broken concrete and fractured steel beams- the collapsing bodies of what had once been homes, shops, and office buildings- baking in the heat of the unrelenting sun. Once-fanciful fountains are now identifiable only by their outlines and what’s left of their plumbing pipes. There’s no plant life… not even dead ones. They were scavenged early on, in the desperate struggle for food that had eventually cost half the population their lives.
The smell is indescribable. It’s misery, anguish… and death.
I see movement… a flash here and there, the survivors scuttling between the ruins. In this heat, one can’t remain outside for too long without proper gear. Through the thin glass of the few intact structures, I hear the weak cries of infants and little children, begging for sustenance their parents can scarcely provide.
Every day, every hour, new tombs appeared on the streets. No one dared to light a traditional funeral pyre; fires only added to the misery. Bodies were wrapped in whatever could be found, laid on the street, then covered over with chunks of stone, concrete, brick, or anything else that had half a chance of keeping the stench of rotting flesh from making everyone stark, raving mad.
We hadn’t resorted to cannibalism yet. It was too much… it had been tried, and it made everyone terribly sick. Better dead than that.
Not so many years ago, this place was an unparalleled paradise, ruled by the wise but mysterious Council of Ten. They were assisted by a network of governors that presided over individual sectors. It was a lush, green land, with fountains on every block. The buildings stretched to the sky, and all work was done by machines. There were even machines that could make things out of what seemed to be thin air. Anything you wanted… anything your heart desired could simply be created. The labor-saving machines freed up the people for more rewarding pursuits. This was a utopia of culture, science, art, and all other forms of human creativity. Sickness was rare, poverty didn’t exist. There was no reason for crime, though it still happened on occasions. Let’s face it… humans do stupid things. I should know.
The old ones say it all just… stopped. One day, the fountains stopped running, the machines stopped producing their unlimited bounty, and worst of all, the planet itself stopped turning. It hovers motionless in space. No one understands why we still have atmosphere and gravity… those things still function.
Well… almost no one.
The old ones are wrong. The failure was more slow and gradual. A few fountains here, a machine there… the rotation of the planet slowed in fits and spurts before it finally stopped completely. It had taken a full month for the people to realize that it wouldn’t start up again.
They hadn’t known, until now, that it wasn’t a planet. Even now, they don’t understand what it is.
There was a race for the small bands of reasonably habitable space at the poles, the terminus between day and night, and the shadows of the mountains. All that tried to settle there were driven out by the governors, who declared that those spaces weren’t for living in. They were for growing food, which is closely regulated by the government in a large, if not entirely efficient, distribution system.
Those few land zones are the only places where the air is temperate enough for plants to survive, and where the irrigation water doesn’t evaporate or freeze the second it hits the ground. Even then, it’s a struggle to convince the plants to grow in such strange conditions.
The dark side is worse than the day side. As hot as the day side is, the dark side is colder. Even with the right equipment, one can’t survive in the cold for more than a few hours at most. The people there were smart enough to move underground, into a maze of maintenance tunnels that provide at least a reasonable degree of warmth, but it’s still a hellish life. They still starve, they still get into useless squabbles over food.
Their gods betrayed them, and now, they’re like children. They can’t understand why their mother has left them and they argue over the slightest things.
It was said that the Council knew everything. The Council reigned supreme… keeping watch over the land and people. No one knew exactly who or what the Ten were supposed to be. Men or gods… perhaps a bit of both. Only the Ten and those that served them knew, and they kept that information to themselves. For safety, or so they claimed. In order to keep the world running as it should, no one could know how it all worked.
There were plenty of rumors, but no one ever bothered to find out. It didn’t matter what the Ten were… they made life good. There was never a reason to question or worry.
Until one curious, stupid little boy changed everything. One child was the downfall of our world.
So much was lost, perhaps forever. The Ten are scattered. Dead, sick, captive… no one knows for certain. No one… except myself, and the desperate handful of people taken into the Ten’s confidence, working to save the world.
As things stand now, I’m our only hope. The only one that has the slightest chance to restore the glory and prosperity we once knew. My task is monumental, in ways that no one else can comprehend, and I dare not share it with anyone that doesn’t have good reason to know. I go about my mission quietly, keeping my head down, searching for three keys that can save all of us. I never tell anyone my name. Ever.
You see… I did this. I was that boy.
Not a day has passed that I haven’t borne the wretched burden of grief for my arrogance and stupidity. Some say I’ve already paid the price- and I did suffer a great deal in the early days, more than any child should bear- but I don’t agree. I take the blame for the pain and suffering to myself, as I deserve, but I can’t let myself be punished for it. Not yet.
I first have to save the world I destroyed. I must save the people before they lose all hope, and there is no one left to save.
For them to live… I must die.