Chapter 2 Gray Saviors
I was quite surprised to wake up at all, let alone in a bed. I sat up with astonishing ease. I looked over at my sister. Her breast rose and fell as she took in gentle breaths. I was relieved that she was alive, albeit unconscious. Her face was still quite pale. It seemed as though it would take her longer to recover from whatever it was that almost silently claimed our lives. We had miraculously survived the Chronostat’s collision, but who was it that I had to thank for this? Who had saved us from our ruinous fate?
I got out of the bed and looked around the room. It was very sterile, to the point of almost being uncomfortable. The walls were white, as were the floor tiles. However, there was something that stood out among the colorless room: A banner that was hung above the door. At first, I thought the symbol to be of pagan origin which frightened me since we yet should have been in Germany. The icon was that of a woman holding what appeared to be a star, but upon closer inspection I found that the image of the woman was also composed of miniscule stars, and the larger one that she held was simply a part of the constellation. This image, that I thought to be some pagan deity, intrigued me greatly. I began to walk toward it when my leg was suddenly caught by a chain. My ankle had been shackled to the bed stand. At this moment my utter fears had been realized. Obviously, if I had returned to our own time and brought these people’s technology into existence, they would have recognized me. Worse than that, Germany still should have existed in this future and our savior certainly should have recognized my uniform, but it appeared that Edith and I had been mistaken for invaders. My mind began concluding several possibilities concerning the imminent failure of our mission that I was now forced to accept.
My first conclusion, the most likely, was the simple fact that I would not be able to repair the Chronostat and return to our time. The second most likely conclusion was that I would perish and never return at all. The third, and least likely, was that I would return but simply not take advantage of the technology I had acquired. Out of all of these conclusions, I knew that one would inevitably have to pass. It should be known that I preferred the third and dreaded the first, for I would have died rather than never see the Reich again.
These thoughts that soared through my mind were interrupted by the sound of heavy footfalls approaching from the other side of the door. I reached for my sword but, to my astonishment, found that I was no longer in my uniform. It must have been removed during whatever procedure that breathed life back into us. I prepared to face our captors.
The door opened and, much to my surprise, two women, looking similar in appearance, stepped forward into the room. I shivered in terror as I realized that these women were far from German descent. No, they could not even be human! Their skin was a grotesque shade of gray that gave them the appearance of a corpse and their eyes were a sickly yellow color. Their aura was that of death. I immediately concluded that some foul necromancy was at work, a dark sorcery that disgraced these lands that were once my home.
“Demons! Witches! What manner of creature are you, defilers of the Reich?” I yelled, seeing them, through the eyes of the engineer, as horrors of science.
Perhaps these were not the choicest first words I could have used to address our saviors. The older of the two women promptly walked up to me and struck my face with such force that I fell to the floor. Now, I had been beaten during the war by men four times her size and was able to hold my ground, yet this single woman who appeared to be thirty at most, had toppled me with one blow. As I lay sprawled on the cold, tile floor, I was once again appalled, this time, by how these women had clothed themselves. They allowed their gray, lifeless bodies to be shown in all their horror. They wore what appeared to be some form of combat uniform made of black leather, causing them to contrast sharply with the room. Both of their uniforms had a light, green slash that stretched from shoulder to waist. It appeared to symbolize some high rank that they both shared. However, the younger of the two also had a few stands of her hair dyed the same shade of green, so perhaps it was simply a part of this obscene fashion. Above all of these offenses was the length of their ‘dresses’. I knew no other name to call such an abhorrent article of clothing, these mockeries of feminine apparel. The women of the Reich certainly would have had nothing to do we these savages, all save my sister of course. It was repulsive beyond anything I had ever witnessed. I had seen women at brothels during my youth with more self-respect than these two! I was somewhat thankful that Edith was unconscious and unable to witness such a deplorable sight.
The woman grabbed me by the collar of my undershirt and pulled me up to eye-level with surprising ease.
“Listen closely, man! It’s obvious to me that you’re either a clueless idiot, a Gaelturi spy, or both! Now, which is it?” She demanded.
No, I had certainly chosen my words poorly.
“M-My name is Conrad Hartwin, and the girl is my sister, Edith Hartwin. We traveled ten thousand years into the future from Germany! We mean you no harm! I had simply hoped to acquire some of the technology that your world held and return it to the Reich!” I stammered out, trying to remain calm underneath her intense glare.
“Ha! So the Gaelturi’s stealing technology now, are they, and I suppose you brought this girl along with you as a shield, so we wouldn’t kill you on sight?” The woman laughed, tightening her grip around my neck.
“What? No, she is my sister! I would never use her for anything! I am a proud German! I know nothing of this Gaelturi that you hate!” I yelled, shocked that she would ever assume such an atrocity.
Obviously, this savage woman was losing what little patience she had. I stared at the younger woman behind her. The girl folded her hands behind her back and looked away from me. She seemed shy for a girl who dressed so immodestly.
“So . . . Where is this Germany, anyway? Has it been charted, or perhaps your planet was harvested?” She asked, crossing her arms.
“What? No, Germany is not a planet at all! It is here, or it was in my time at least.” I paused. “Though, what do you mean by a planet being harvested? I’m not familiar with the term.” I asked.
“Well, you really are clueless!” The older woman laughed. “As if crashing that vessel wasn’t enough proof! What an ignorant fool!” She released me.
Edith began to stir in her bed.
“My brother is not a fool . . .” She murmured as she struggled to sit up.
At last, she was awake. I had been so stricken with horror and fear of these women that I had not noticed her. I tried to run and help her, but my ankle was still chained to the bed. To my surprise, the younger woman helped Edith out of her bed, showing no ill will toward her.
“You almost killed this girl! You’re fortunate that she suffered no permanent damage from the crash! If she had, then you would have never awakened!” The younger girl chided, which I found quite admirable. The fact that she cared so much about Edith’s safety when she did not even know her was commendable.
“Stop yelling at him, please! He only wants to help his people! That’s all he’s ever wanted . . .” Edith yelled as she ran and embraced me.
She stared up at me with fear in her eyes. It was obvious that this unknown future terrified her. I held her close to my chest.
“I’ll get us back, Edith. Don’t worry. I’ll learn their technology. I’ll do whatever it takes to get us home.” I assured her.
I looked back at the two women who were staring at us with much curiosity and bewilderment.
“Is he your lover?” The older woman asked.
You can imagine my sister’s reaction to such a question.
“What? Oh no! He’s my brother! We’re just close!” She stammered.
“I see . . . Then the man spoke truthfully. Release him, Mairwen.” She ordered.
“Mairwen? That’s a Brittonic name, perhaps Welsh or Celtic.” Edith murmured.
I was quite proud of my sister for being so perceptive. I could not help but wonder why these people, ten thousand years into the future, would use such ancient names, but at the moment, I was more concerned about their disturbing appearances which, as I expected, Edith had not reacted to in the slightest.
The younger woman, Mairwen, stepped forward and produced a key. She kneeled down and began to unlock my shackle.
“Oh, and help this man learn whatever he needs of our technology in order for him to return to his own time.” The older woman said as she began to leave the room.
Mairwen stabbed me in the calf with the key upon hearing this.
“What? Anwen, you can’t be serious!” Mairwen exclaimed nervously. “Just give him a few old books to study. He’ll be fine!” Anwen, yet another Brittonic name, according to my sister.
“No, he needs a teacher, and you’re the most skilled engineer in my service. You will teach him everything that he must know. Show them to their quarters. I had all of their belongings we salvaged from the wreckage taken there. You’ll begin the lessons tomorrow morning.” Anwen said, more sternly this time.
“Oh, that would be wonderful!” Edith said excitedly.
I knew exactly why she was so enthusiastic, and it wasn’t for my lessons. It was the simple fact that I would be spending time with a woman around my age.
“Be sure to please . . . Edith was it? She is our guest. With that, I shall retire.”
Mairwen sighed. “Understood.”
Satisfied, Anwen nodded and left us.
“I’m sure that you have plenty of questions. We can talk along the way.” Mairwen said, beckoning for us to follow her.
Before I could ask her anything about our situation, Edith began speaking to me in our native, German tongue.
“She’s an engineer, Conrad! She’s just like you, but a woman! Why don’t you discuss some theories with her?” She suggested. “I’m sure you could learn a lot, even in this short time.”
I responded likewise, in German
“Yes, and she’s also a witch. I’m not even certain if she’s human, and if she is then she dresses like a whore―certainly not the look of a great scientific mind.”
Edith laughed. “Beggars can’t be choosers, Conrad!”
I smiled at her wit and rolled my eyes. Surprisingly enough, Mairwen made no accusation of us speaking in code to support her previous claim that I was a spy.
I turned my attention to my teacher. “First of all, I would like to know what happened to us when we crashed and how you saved our lives.”
“That’s . . . complicated. I suppose I will have to start from the beginning in order for you both to understand. Several centuries ago, a woman, whom I am descended from, discovered a process for creating artificial stars; however, there was only one substance with enough energy to empower an entire star: Seren, a crystal that glows with the light of a star itself.”
“Seren?” I raised my brow in curiosity. “I’m not familiar with that element.”
She ignored me and continued. “Unfortunately, seren can have harmful effects on a body that is not accustomed to its presence. That, unfortunately, was the case for you and your sister. Your bodies were poisoned by the excessive amounts of seren used in our everyday utilities, including the lighting above us. In order to revive you, we had to quarantine you both in that room we were previously in and slowly expose you to controlled amounts of seren until your bodies had adjusted.” Mairwen explained.
I was astounded by this. The fact that these people had solved the mysteries of the stars themselves was quite an opening topic for our conversation.
“I suppose if you can create artificial stars then you also have the ability to create artificial, Earth-like planets?” I inquired.
“That is correct. We find barren asteroids out in space, create a star of proportional size and temperature to make it habitable, produce an artificial atmosphere and magnetic field, bring in several different species of vegetation and animals from Earth, and finally, colonize the planet.” Mairwen said proudly.
“I can understand that much, but these are rocks adrift in space. They do not have a molten core like the Earth.” I shrugged. “How do you compensate for that? You cannot warm a planet with a star alone, and even if you still managed to colonize these rocks, what would be the point? These are barren, like you said. They have no resources of value.”
“I will answer both of your questions at once. These planets do have a core to provide heat, but it is not molten. The only asteroids we colonize are those with a solid core of seren. The crystal provides adequate energy to heat the planet’s surface. We have colonized hundreds of asteroids with liberal amounts of the crystal.” Mairwen said, quite amused at my bafflement.
I was beyond words. The thought that these people, whether they were human or not, had stretched their influence throughout the universe was astounding.
“Excuse me.” Edith interjected. “I have a question. Were your ancestors from an old Britannic kingdom?”
“Oh, my name? Yes, my father’s family came out of Alt Cult, an ancient kingdom of the Britons.” She sighed. “I never knew what he meant by that, though. My father was a mysterious man. Not many people could understand him. It is a common custom among my people to go by names of our ancestors, for it is the only way for us to remember who we once were. Now that we are all one race, we value our heritage greatly. My sister and I were quite surprised to find that you and your brother were of a different race than us. Our father told us that there were once different races of humans that inhabited the Earth, but we never believed him. We just thought that they were fairy tales. How ironic to find that his stories were true.” Mairwen said, laughing to herself.
Then that brutish woman was her sister.
“I see. What you’re saying is that, over the years, all of the races of mankind interbred to the point that it wiped out races entirely and formed one homogenous people. I suppose that would explain your . . . appearances as well as that woman’s abnormal strength. No doubt you possess it as well.” I said speculatively.
“Abnormal strength?” She smirked. “Are the people of your time weak?”
“By your standard, yes.” I said flatly. It was the truth and I was not so arrogant as to deny it.
“Do you mind if I call you Mary?” Edith asked, suddenly interjecting into our conversation once again.
Mairwen blinked several times. “I suppose, but why?”
“Since you said that your ancestors were the Britons, that means that your name means, blessed Mary.” She explained.
I smiled. “How did you know that, Edith? I had no idea you were such a linguist.” I asked, quite proud of her.
“I studied Welsh not long ago, and Welsh is a branch of Common Brittonic.” She said, her voice warranting a bit of arrogance. I wondered if there were any other things I had not known about my sister.
“I never knew my name’s meaning.” She smiled brightly. “Yes, please call me Mary, and thank you.” Mary said, bowing her head to Edith. This gesture led me to the conclusion that this was an imperialistic society.
Mary then opened a small compartment in the wall and stepped inside. Edith followed her, but I stopped abruptly.
“It is a dead end.” I murmured.
Mary laughed. “No, it is an elevator.”
“An elevator?” I exclaimed. “Then where is the pulley or the latch to release the water?”
I received no answer as Mary pulled me inside. I was wise not to resist, for if I had, it is likely that only part of me would have made the ascension. Once we were inside, I watched carefully to see how this machine was operated. I was shocked when Mary said the words, “level twelve,” and the elevator shot upward.
After we exited the elevator, I saw three other women walk by down the corridor. I noticed some subtle differences in their uniforms compared to Mary’s, but they were no less appalling. Not surprisingly, they glared at me with their horrific, yellow eyes. They also regarded Mary with suspicion, though she ignored them.
Mary stopped outside of a room that I assumed was ours.
“I have one more question, Mary.” Edith nudged me in the side. “You wouldn’t happen to be married would you?” She asked, smiling at me.
I rolled my eyes and began to walk through the door.
“Marriage?” Mary’s eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding? No one gets married . . . not anymore.”
I gasped and stopped, halfway through the door.
Edith blushed. “Oh, well, then perhaps a lover, or are you courting someone?” She asked awkwardly.
Mary shook her head. “You misunderstand me. It isn’t that we choose not to marry. We simply can’t get married because there aren’t any men left.” She sighed. “Conrad, you’re the first man to step foot on Earth in the last twenty years.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I was the only man left on Earth, but how?
“And how, might I ask, do you intend to survive if the men are all dead?” I said bluntly.
“But how are all of the men dead?” Edith asked in disbelief. “Was it a massive war?”
“No, the men aren’t dead, but they might as well be. They went away and they won’t be returning . . . My mother has issued a cloning project in order to keep us alive, but I often question if she made the right choice.” Mary cleared the lump in her throat. “I mean, what’s the point of living, knowing that you’ll never be able to get married and raise a family. The next generation will be so disconnected, with nothing binding them to one another. It breaks my heart, but I suppose we brought it upon ourselves.”
I shook my head in frustration. “Still, I do not understand why the men would all just leave together without taking any women with them. It’s suicide. They will eventually perish as well.” I said, infuriated that mankind’s fate was to destroy itself.
“No, they won’t die, because once they reach their destination, they will never have to fear death or pain again.” Mary said, managing a smile.
“What occult nonsense . . .” I scoffed.
“If they were going to some paradise then why didn’t the women go with them?” Edith’s voice quavered. “It doesn’t make sense!”
Mary held out her hand, signaling that our conversation was over. “I’m not one to discuss politics. It’s not important to you two. I’ll be back tomorrow to get you, Conrad. Once I teach you everything you’ll need to know about seren, we’ll use it to build your . . . time machine.” Mary smiled, trying to lighten the mood. “Then, you might be home by the end of the week.”
”We? I’ve worked alone my entire life. I don’t―”
Edith stepped on my foot.
“My brother would be overjoyed to have you assist him!” She said happily.
“All right then,” she crossed her arms. “Be ready to work and study hard; however, I’m not sure what you’ll do tomorrow, Edith.”
She laughed, trying to hide her embarrassment. “Oh, don’t worry about me! I’ll find something to occupy my time. You can spend all day with him if you’d like!”
Mary sighed. “Well, if you’re sure, but try not to get lost in the compound. Anything you brought along your journey should be in your room. I believe you were also supplied with a few outfits as well. Good night.” Mary said and bowed deeply. “And I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning, Conrad!”
I let out an uneasy laugh and nodded slightly. Mary smiled and walked off down the corridor. We entered the room. It was very simple. One could even say it had a monastic feel to it. I was satisfied, for it reminded me of my days during the war. Edith quickly began searching through that wicked wardrobe.
I sighed and sat down on the bed. “Edith if you wear any of the clothing they gave you, I will be very ashamed.”
“Don’t worry, Conrad, I’m just looking for a nightgown.” She said as she threw several articles of clothing from the closet.
“I dread what you will find . . . Is my uniform there at least?”
“Yes, it’s in here. My orchestra dress is too.” Edith said, pulling them out to show me.
“I will wear my uniform tomorrow. I believe that this is a military base, so it should be adequate. As to who this homogenous people would fight, I do not know. Mary’s sister mentioned something called the Gaelturi.” I stroked my beard. “Since she thought I was a spy under them, I would suppose that they are at war. I will inquire Mary about this tomorrow.” I said, pondering how a war could possibly break out amongst these people who were not only one race but one gender as well.
I looked across the room where all of our possessions had been set aside.
“Your violin is undamaged.” I said cheerfully.
“That’s a relief. I was worried about it.” Edith said, never diverting her attention from the wardrobe. Apparently, she wasn’t nearly as concerned as she said she was.
I gave her a disgruntled look. “You don’t seem to take offense at how these women display themselves . . .”
Edith laughed at this. It was a trivial matter for her. She actually seemed quite interested in the culture of this future world.
“You can’t judge a person by how they look, Conrad. You have to discover what they are like inside, what kind of person they are.”
Once again, she had made another statement that the engineer could not understand. Was a person’s appearance not a direct reflection of their personality? How do you discover what kind of person someone is? The engineer’s perception was too shallow to comprehend any of these thoughts.
“Did you find anything suitable?” I asked anxiously.
She sighed. “Well, I think this is something you’re meant to sleep in.” Edith said as she removed one of the accursed articles. Oh, what sin she held in her tiny hands! I’m not certain how one would describe such an obscene thing. All I can say is that the slender, sleeveless thing would be barely long enough to cover her hips.
I gawked at the thing with disgust. “I would certainly hope that one would only sleep in that travesty of a gown. I doubt even these women would wear such a thing in public.” I smiled. “Why not sleep in the dress they had you wear for our treatment?”
“No, this dress is heavy and cumbersome. I would get uncomfortably hot if I were to sleep in it.” Edith said as she removed the white medical gown.
I inspected my own gown. “It would not surprise me if these outfits contained some amount of that seren material. I’d say that they used this clothing to regulate our exposure to the stuff.”
Once Edith had changed, she lay next to me on the bed. The gown, or whatever it was, looked better on her than I had anticipated. Perhaps my sister’s innocent nature was enough to offset its immorality. Yes, there were in fact two beds in our room, but we slept together just as we always had since she was old enough to sleep in a bed. Even before then, when she was an infant, I would often hold her in my arms while we slept.
As I began to drift off, Edith spoke.
“Um-Conrad, do you think it would be all that bad if we didn’t return to the Reich?” She asked hesitantly.
I did not respond, for she already knew my answer.
Edith sighed. “I know how much you love home, but I feel like you could be very happy here if you gave it a chance.” She whispered.
I closed my eyes and exhaled deeply.
“From what Mary told us, this world is doomed. The final hour of mankind is slowly ticking away.” I said, trying to dismiss the subject.
“I don’t think Mary told us the whole story, Conrad.” She speculated. “Even if she did, you could be the savior that these people need.”
I laughed richly.
She furrowed her brow. “I’m serious, Conrad! If you were to have a son, you could save this generation.” Edith said, placing her hand on my chest.
I managed to control my laughter. “I cannot save these people; they are doomed. Obviously, God is punishing us for some great evil we committed.” I shrugged. “Perhaps He plans to wipe us out and start over. It wouldn’t be the first time. That is the only logical conclusion.”
Edith sighed. “Well, promise me you’ll think about it. For now, you need to rest.” She smiled mischievously. “You have a big day tomorrow.”
“I will. Good night, Edith.” I murmured.
“Good night.” She whispered and rested her head on my shoulder.
I closed my eyes, though I could not sleep. My thoughts drifted off to what Mary had said about the men never having to fear death or pain. Just where could they be going, and why hadn’t the women accompanied them? However, more than anything, the engineer wondered if this place they sought was beyond the confines of science, something he could not comprehend. He wanted to go there more than anything and be able to understand the world beyond his shallow, physical sight.