Province of the Pacific Northwest
“Ugh,” she groaned, rolling onto her back in the tall grasses, staring up at the swaying tops of pines and evergreens. The smell of dirt and sap tickled her nose, but it was a familiar scent, a comfort, much like the old leather book in her grasp. She let it thud closed to her chest as her mother yelled again from their porch. Wasn’t she always the one warning Hollis to be quiet, to never draw attention to themselves?
Hollis had always asked from whom they should stay hidden, but after last year, she had her answer in the form of a dark red puddle, her older sister’s face pale and perfect and lifeless. Their small family still felt the sting of tragedy each day they lived without her.
“Come help with dinner,” her mother demanded, and her tone had an air of finality to it. Sighing, Hollis pushed herself up, tucking the book under her arm and traipsing back through the brush to their quaint cottage, its slatted wood walls bleached in some areas by the sun, and the green tin roof covered in pine needles. It was all Hollis had ever known. This house, and their top three rules: never leave the property, never be seen by a stranger, and if you are, never speak to them.
As a child, Hollis had tempted fate more times than not, being the more stubborn and brash of the two, but without Willow, she’d reigned in her curious, fiery nature. Her duty was to care for her grandmother and protect her mother. They were the last of the humans, made even more rare because of their gender. Males seemed to have an easier go in this brutal new world, especially ones with wealth.
Mounting the porch steps, she swung open the screen door, greeted by the blaring television. She hated herself everyday for figuring out how to make the damn thing work, its noisiness permeating through even her dreams. Mother said it comforted Grandma, which felt ironic to Hollis.
“Damn these newscasters!” she quipped from her reclining chair, the reddish fabric worn and stitched. Hollis rolled her eyes, tossing her book to the table before rolling up her sleeves. Although it was nearing summer, this part of their province was still prone to blustering, frigid winds and unannounced rainstorms.
Her mother, nearing her sixties, stood at the sink in her favorite faded blue apron, peeling potatoes, her thick, dark hair streaked with grey and pulled back into a tight bun. She approached, nudging her mother with her hip in a playful manner. Their bond was deep and unbreakable, and Hollis had grown to be her mother’s equal in the last few years, able to share her thoughts as an adult. It was a welcome change, but at times, Hollis still felt a child at heart.
“I don’t understand why we are forced to listen to her shit—”
Her mother leveled her with a look, and Hollis rolled her eyes, gripping a small knife and dicing the peeled potatoes.
“It comforts her.”
“Well, it grates on my nerves,” Hollis said to the knife, wondering if that was the instrument that had ended her sister’s life. Her mother shook her hands free of excess water, wiping them on her apron before moving to the stovetop. Their electricity was spotty at best, and they often had to resort to the hearth to prepare meals.
“Ignore it, then,” she said as she passed by. Hollis grit her teeth at her mother’s unwavering answers to everything.
“Hollis,” she chided, and she glanced over her shoulder to the dining table, where her mother stood by her book.
“What?” she asked, still annoyed with her entire day—and life.
“This was your father’s. Please take better care of it,” she said. In truth, Hollis didn’t remember her father. He’d died when she was less than a year old, and in that twenty-year span, she’d never met another human outside of her family. They used to have a neighbor named Elena, but she’d died of old age many years ago, and in Hollis’ mind, she didn’t count.
The old brown book stared up at her, its secrets more frustrating than her grandmother’s obsession with the television. She shrugged, feeling bratty today.
“It doesn’t make any sense, anyways,” she said to her potatoes.
“It’s a Bible, Hollis, not a fairytale.”
“A family heirloom!” Grandma called, not bothering to turn around. Hollis’ knife came down harder.
“So is it real, or not?”
Her mother was back at her side with green beans, snapping the ends off.
“It was important enough to wage wars,” she offered with a shrug.
“Why, because people bought that garbage?”
“It brought people comfort, the promise of something more to life.”
Hollis felt the devious grin on her face as she flipped her ashy-blond hair over her shoulder.
“I want more to life.”
“And I want you alive, and safe,” her mother said, gripping her forearm tight, forcing their gazes to meet.
“We’ve never even left the homestead—”
“And we won’t!” her mother bit back, blue eyes blazing, jaw clenched. Hollis felt her stomach tense in anger.
“It doesn’t matter if we stay or leave. Others will find us eventually, just like they found Willow,” Hollis hissed back, discarding her knife and crossing her arms. Pain ran rampant across her mother’s aged face, but she resumed her task at hand.
“Willow chose to leave the safety of our home to see if there was more to life, and she’s dead because of it.”
Hollis could hear the tears in her mother’s voice, and guilt crashed over her like a wave.
“Go set the table, please,” she said, tone curt. Having pushed her boundaries yet again, Hollis obeyed, using the time to tune out the chattering voices on the old box television and think.
She remembered the night Willow had snuck out, having pleaded with her not to go, but Willow had been as tired of this place as she was, and so she went. It took two days to find her, and it was the farthest Hollis had ever ventured from home. She was in a shallow ditch, surrounded by blossoming wildflowers, her clothes ripped and covered in dirt and blood.
Bears and cougars had gone extinct over fifty years ago, and the clean line under her chin had indicated that another human had extinguished her life. They’d laid her to rest next to their father, and that night her mother had spoken words to Hollis that made her toes curl. Even now, in the stifling cottage, a shiver ran through her as she remembered what her mother had said—what humans could do to one another without hesitation, how some found pleasure in such acts.
They weren’t sure what Willow had endured before the end, but to think of even ending another’s life was so abhorrent to Hollis that she rarely thought about it. She glared at the Bible on the table, wondering why so many of her ancestors believed in it, found solace in it. She picked it up, stomping to her room and throwing it into the corner, where it lay, slumped innocently against the wall.
Hollis glanced up from the book she was reading on medicinal plants, sprawled on the floor under a single candle’s light, her grandmother’s gnarled and twisted fist shaking at the screen. She rolled her eyes, but her ears perked up, and she watched the grey, flickering screen with curious eyes.
“The creation, Adam, will be transported to the West Coast labs, where final preparations will be made,” the news anchor said, and a glitchy picture of a man laying on a table was shown. Hollis felt her chest seize as she stared at the unearthly face, enchanted at the slope of his perfect nose and jaw, his closed eyes wide in shape, his uncovered chest smooth and rippled with muscle. She’d never seen the naked torso of a man before, and felt her face flush in a quick rage of fire.
“What is that?” she asked, looking up at her grandmother. Her wrinkled cheeks dipped in a vehement frown.
“These scientists think they’ve solved extinction,” she growled, tossing her fist at the screen again.
“How?” Hollis breathed, many emotions swirling in her gut.
“By creating humans in a lab,” her mother cut in, knitting needles clacking together, disgust clear in her voice as she rocked in her favorite chair. Hollis clamped her mouth shut, listening again as a young scientist spoke, just as handsome as the man on the table, but in a quieter way. Willow and Hollis used to watch the tv only to catch glimpses of men, after which they’d run away into the forest and pretend to be damsels in distress, rescued by the opposite sex.
“It’s been a long project, but to see it come to fruition—to see it give what few of us are left some bit of hope—well, it means everything to me.”
They panned out, the cameras barely able to engulf the entire frame of the giant in one shot.
Something like dread pooled in Hollis’ gut, sensing that somehow, this would turn the tides for humanity, and it wouldn’t end well.
Cole watched the rise and fall of the being’s chest with an acute gaze, though tensed and skittish as a timid mouse. Their creation—Adam—had yet to move, and for that he was thankful. They needed to reach the West Coast of the Provinces without incident, and once there, in a controlled environment, they would pull him out of sedation, and pray he was as human as he appeared on the outside.
The plane’s engine whirred around them like a slumbering beast, but Cole found the sound comforting, for silence did nothing to ease his rampant worrying. Res had remained in the New York Province, on a press tour, garnering more support and more ancient DNA from labs and vaults around what remained of the world. He’d been maniacal and impossible to please these last few weeks, infuriated every time they’d jolted their creation’s heart.
On their final attempt, Cole had rolled his eyes to the ceiling, silently begging God for this one small mercy, this last chance for humans to survive. The heart monitor had blinked to life seconds later, and Adam took his first breath of 22nd century air.
Cole wondered at just how old this DNA was, for scientists and carbon daters had been proven wrong in the past. With such leaps in technology, he figured their guess was more accurate than it had been fifty or so years ago, at least. It was one of the few benefits to such advances. The others had caused turmoil and upheaval amongst humans, wiping out millions in a matter of days.
He’d not personally lived through the Great War and subsequent droughts, plagues, famine and skirmishes, but his family told him stories of great uncles or grandfathers who fought to preserve life, in any sense. It was the least Cole could do, now—attempt to keep preserving it.
He quirked his head to the side, studying Adam. It still felt so strange to think that this being had a name, given to him by one of his creators, and a cheeky one, at that. They’d dressed him in simple clothing; a plain black short sleeve cotton shirt and gray athletic shorts. Nothing else would fit the man, for his size was unprecedented. A backpack near Cole’s feet held all the necessities a man would need; razor, comb, toothbrush, extra clothes, shoes, snacks. Once he acclimatized, they would have to teach him how to be…well, human.
They’d encoded languages into his brain, a simple bit of technology developed decades ago, and so he had all the words he’d ever need, in any language. Adam would not have memory of the past, that Cole was aware of, but part of him wondered if somehow he would sense it. They’d pegged his DNA (or rather, death-date) to be around 1600 bc. His body had been the perfect specimen for their research, as he’d been found preserved above the arctic circle, frozen through and spectacular. Even then, they had never guessed at how dominating his frame would be.
It was rather alarming, watching their creation physically grow past the limitations they thought possible, but Res had been nothing but ecstatic. He’d been like a proud father, shouting and cheering as Adam’s heart beat its steady rhythm, and Cole had seen the cogs in his brain turning like a well-oiled clock, now that the impossible had been accomplished.
Cole sighed, leaning his head back against the hard headrest, eyes trained on Adam.
“You’ll be known as the savior of humanity, and I’ll fade into the background,” he said to the still being, as though he could listen and sympathize.
“I don’t mind that,” he said, straightening up, fixing his glasses. “It will be a welcome change, honestly. Res is…well, Res is Res, and I can’t blame him, after all he’s been through. I just hope you’ll…come to understand, someday. Shit, what do I know,” he ran a hand through his brown hair, his frustration mounting.
“This was wrong of us. I shouldn’t have let Res get so carried away, I should have stopped him, somehow, I—”
Cole’s heart ceased beating, his body seized up, as Adam’s heavy skull turned in his direction, a pair of luminous, golden eyes piercing his soul.
The giant, though restrained, lifted his arm as easily as if the straps were made of paper, reaching to the tubes in his nose and throat, ripping them out, all while watching Cole, unwavering. His movements were mechanic, robot-like, but Cole knew in his gut that would fade as he became used to his body.
Thoughts ran rampant through his mind on what to do, but being imprisoned on a cargo plane in the middle of nowhere, his options were limited. The monstrosity of a man sat up, stiff neck turning to stare vacantly at his arm, where the sedative was being pumped into his body. Cole reeled as he tore the IV out without flinching.
“A-Adam,” he said, holding up a hand in a calming gesture of peace. The being paid him no mind, snapping the restraints on his legs. The heart rate monitor indicated no change in the steady rhythm before he tugged it loose from his chest under his shirt.
“It’s alright, A-Adam,” Cole said, voice and entire body quaking with unrelenting fear. The monster turned his godly face to the young scientist, and a malicious smile curled itself onto his lips like a serpent. Cole’s heart stopped beating.
Adam opened his mouth, and a string of noises, jumbled together in what Cole sensed were words, tumbled from his throat. The sound was of no earthly language Cole had ever heard. It was demonic. Pure evil. The hairs on his neck stood on end.
The being glared, angered, it seemed, that Cole did not react. He stood, slow but without falter, looming above the young scientist.
“My name is Oberon, and I am no savior.”