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“Whatcha up to?” the assistant calls out to Yuki, hearing a clatter from one of the back rooms of the laboratory.
“Umm, just getting some stuff out of storage,” comes the doctor’s muffled reply. “There’s just some stuff in the way here. It’s more cluttered than I remembered.”
“What could you possibly need to get out from down—”
—Yuki peeks around the corner, shoulders and arms wrapped with fake spider webs and plastic spiders dangling from her hair.
“Oh no. Nonononono!” the assistant groans. “I finally got all of that stuff put away, like, last month.”
Yuki shrugs. “Well, if you don’t clean up properly, it’ll come back to bite you. C’mon, let’s get these guys into the Void. The sooner we get through this, the sooner you can help me get everything set up!”
The assistant sighs and gets up from his desk, defeated.
The angry skies grumbled and threatened what living creatures remained below. All were given ample warning before the scorching rains descended to the worn earth. The smallest of insects faced instant death while larger organisms and plant life faced a slow and agonising death, usually not before leaving behind mutated offspring.
The world responded in kind with its own growl towards the heavens—bringing down rocks from cliffsides and trees from several miles all around.
From the distance, the last guardian of Noius Tasdania stood upon his lookout and surveyed the argument from above and below and sighed. It had gotten to the point where each day was visibly worse than the last. Acid rain and quakes over his domain and it had not yet even reached midday. He looked towards the west, the great berry fields, boasting fresh fruit yesterday, were wilting in various shades of gray and brown. The dry beds that had once been lakes and rivers had gone stagnant and run dry. What little water was available in the outskirts of his domain had become so poisonous that all aquatic life died long before the might river flow ended.
His heart sinking yet again, the Elder sighed and thought back to an encounter that seemed a lifetime ago.
Back then, not even thirty years before the invaders encroached on the land under his care, the Elder had noticed the first of many changes: the once clear waters of his great river now ran murky and brown. As he was grieving for the suffering creatures one of them appeared from the thickets of the forest, sweating and wielding a large blade. A child. He could not have been more than fourteen.
With admiration and a little bit of fear, the young man gazed up at the Elder, frozen in his tracks.
‘You’ve come a long way,’ the old man stated in an even tone with a hint of curiosity. ‘What brings you into my domain, boy?’
Letting his blade drop to his side, the young man answered, ‘I came to see what was beyond the city. All the adults say it is far too dangerous to go past the walls—’
‘And you had to see for yourself, hmm?’
‘That’s right,’ the boy replied, nodding. ‘It’s beautiful out here. So many colours compared to the boring white slabs of the streets and buildings. I fancied myself a swim as well. The bathing halls are simply too crowded at this hour.’ He eyed the cloudy waters near the old man. ‘Right about here looks fine!’ He paused a moment and asked the Elder: ‘What are you doing down here?’
‘I am mourning,’ the Elder said truthfully.
‘What for?’ the child asked, looking puzzled.
‘This water, while not unclean enough to harm us, has already started to claim the lives of the creatures who dwell here, who were once so abundant.’
The old man nodded gravely and stroked his stark-white beard. ‘The damage began when the first trees were cleared and the first slabs of concrete poured.’ He gazed off into the distance, opposite of the forest the boy made his way through. ‘The manufacturing in the south has created a smog so thick it is impossible to get along without facial protection. Housing expanded outward to give workers and their families a better quality of life.
‘Off to the west, much of the land has been cleared and excavated for resources valuable to your people.’
The young man stood there, not quite knowing what to say.
Another beat passed and the older man sighed. ‘Do you know how long I’ve been here?’
This question took the boy by surprise. He didn’t know much about the indigenous peoples of the planet, only what little was taught the academy. All the living tribes known to them had been around for dozens of millennia; his own people only landed within the past few centuries—hardly a footnote on the natives’ calendar. An attempt to share the technology was made in the distant past and ultimately refused. Since that time, according to the lectures, little contact had been made with the tribes, only to negotiate new land-usage rights. Few indigenous folk were incorporated into everyday society—they, by and large, did not assimilate well at all. The safest bets were on the farms or in the mines; they were not a city people.
A couple seconds passed and the young man answered: ‘About 80,000 years?’
‘Do I look that old!?’ the Elder said, wide-eyed and blinking.
‘What!? No! It’s not that; I thought you were trying to be profound or something!’
The old man laughed.
‘Really! I thought you were gonna bring it all together—you know…the environment, my people, your people…’
Continuing to chuckle, the older man stroked his beard again. ‘Wasn’t trying to be profound, son, just lamenting on the widespread death and destruction. The world is suffering. Have a look around sometime. And I really do mean take it all in. Within my lifetime so much has changed—and not for the better. I daresay you’ve experienced some as well, yeah? Rising tides. Weather not matching up to the seasons they should be confined to. Think about it.’
The boy nodded. ‘I will…’
So many years ago, the Elder thought. He wondered what ever did become of that boy. Did he think about the negative changes to the world around him and take it to heart? Did he fight for change or did he just forget the words of some crazy old native that he happened upon one day?
Behind him, a schism opened, a blue-white light shone through the tear in the fabric of reality.
A younger, softer voice spoke, ‘All of the others are now off-world, Uncle.’
The Elder stood, looking over his region as he had for 75,000 years. He was lost deep in his own mind again, looking down upon the ravaged lands. His expression was a pensive one, as if on the verge of an epiphany.
Many times in recent decades, the younger custodian bore witness to Uncle’s wild ideas and schemes to slow down or even reverse the damage to the planet or to drive away the invaders. The plans were brilliant…but the damned humans were a persistent bunch.
The younger guardian asked, ‘ Is there nothing we can do?’
The Elder, still in deep contemplation, let his fingers stop fiddling with his beard. His mouth was agape, the words on the tip of his tongue.
His younger counterpart’s ears perked up, waiting for Uncle’s profound words.
Without breaking his gaze at the horizon, the Elder spoke calmly and clearly, ‘Nah, shit’s fucked.’ And without another word, turned to the schism and walked through.
There was nothing more that could be done for their world. Tens of thousands of years spent cultivating and maintaining life undone in less than four hundred. Led by a small group of humans hellbent on profits and the brainwashed masses they convinced to work into an early grave for. The exact instant that level of manipulation was reached, it had only been a matter of time.
“You see? That right there is why you should clean up in a timely manner. Especially when you’re being paid to do so.”
“Yeah, I guess. But me not getting the Halloween or Christmas decorations up within a certain of period of time won’t be the end of all life as we know it.”
A nervous look crosses Yuki’s face and she looks away.
“Wait. What have you seen in there?”
“Boot up the machines, let’s go back in right now!”
“You know we can’t do that!” Yuki sighs. “The best thing you can do now is help me get these decorations up pronto and back into storage in a timely manner this time.”