Sam walks into the classroom and is immediately confused, as it appears he is the only student. Perhaps he is in the wrong room. He is greeted by three instructors. They introduce themselves, He smiles and returns a greeting. “Have I entered the wrong room? I am to attend the beginning of history studies for my level.” Sam explains.
One instructor tells him, with a bit of laughter, that the class was not being offered to him to teach him of Shi’ann history. The instructors are historians. They wish to spend some time with him to gleam all they can from his knowledge of past history, from Sam’s era. He will spend weeks answering their questions, and asking a few of his own.
A friendship grows among Sam and the historians. They are a quirky bunch, somewhat eccentric, in a Martark kind of way. He was tempted to call them “The Three Stooges”, but decided he did not want to have to explain the term. Still in his own mind, he knew them as Moe, Curly and Larry. Though his favorite Stooge has always been Shemp. In the next few coming cycles, the three historians shall present to society an updated world history report.
When you live with a physician, you become accustomed to interruptions. Tonight’s interruption comes shortly after dinner. Sam is explaining the items that he had brought home. Newly fashioned tools, reminiscent of Sam’s olden days. With some difficulty, had Sam explained to his instructors, items that would assist his education.
After a trip to a textile production facility, and another long explanation, he is very satisfied with the journal and pen that has been produced under his direction. The journal is about the size of a school text book. The soft cover, has the look and feel of leather, but the fabric was manufactured from hemp fiber. The blank white pages are like parchment, maybe a bit too thick, but Sam likes the feel of the book in his hand. The pen is filled with the nectar and crushed flower of a dark petaled plant. It writes just like a gel roller pen.
He was always a taker of notes, in his previous life. The habit had developed out of his insatiable thirst for knowledge, and as a backup plan, for his memory. Leiyana is excited to see devices from Sam’s era. She encourages him to not only write but to teach her, how to write and read his language.
The communication screen flashes and sounds the two beeps, which identify a call for the Chief Physician. She opens a display screen on the wall next to her. It is a level one message, which Sam knows, means that she has to make an appearance, somewhere. He tells her that he will clean up while she tends to business, kisses her and tells her to hurry back, as he wishes to share dessert with her. She stops at the door and turns to smile at his remark. She has come to better understand his humor. With laughter she says, “I shall hurry, I cannot wait to taste your sweetness.” She winks before she closes the door. Sam thinks out loud, “I’ve created a monster.”
He opens the communications screen to access a connection to the historian’s library. His “Three Amigos” have offered their personal research library to help him advance in areas which he had expressed an interest. Sam has been learning of Shi’ann history, in his spare time.
Having not yet mastered their written language, he moves slowly through the text on the display, making notes, in English, in his cherished journal. The Shi’ann alphabet consist of eighteen letters. Fourteen consonants, representing the fourteen cities, and four vowels, representing, the four directions. Symbolic and profound meaning are attached to many things that this society has produced.
Sam reviews notes that he has taken during his last few study sessions.
The cities each received their name and recognition by the order, that legend states, they had responded to Nantara’s call.
There was never a dispute or war about the order. No record of any war since the Great War.
Each city originally had their own language.
As society advanced, a common language emerged.
Five hundred cycles ago the Chief Counsel set a vote before all citizens and one language was selected.
There was never any type of dispute over the choice of a universal language.
Some groups still retain their cities’ original language, for use in private and memorial celebrations.
The interpretation technology was developed hundreds of cycles ago. A technology no longer needed.
Sky and surface dwellings, together, function as one city unit. Produce from the surface supplies the sky dwellers.
The technology and production of goods flow from the sky to the earth.
Balance in all that that they do.
Many communications and weather satellites are in orbit, telescopes are operated from the Moon and Mars.
Defense satellites orbit the earth. Protection from asteroids and meteors.
Two inhabited space stations are in operation, one between the Earth and Moon, the other is closer to Mars.
They have journeyed to the moons of Jupiter. Human landings on several Jovian satellites have been accomplished.
The Communications Council. Requirements in math and astronomy. ?
Sam breaks away from his note’s review to access his education schedule. There are further math programs that he will encounter. He will ask Jerdon if his studies are moving in the right direction to allow him a chance to enter a career in communications.
The incoming call is a very excited Leiyana. A female is pregnant. She is one of the first three who began ovulation. Shardolan and her mate, Herlu, are in a state of euphoria, Sam can hear the voices of joy and laughter over the communications line. This is the first of many such announcements that will occur in the coming months. Sam dresses quickly to join the others at the bio center.
The next few weeks provide a brief return to a domestic couple’s lifestyle. Sam puts much energy into his math and science classes and Leiyana teaches birth and delivery procedures to other physicians. Their evenings are always full of rich conversation, great meals, and romantic comfort. It is not long though, before their domestic coupling is interrupted.
For several weeks, Sam accompanies Leiyana on a tour of cities as dozens of pregnancies are being reported. Her presence is being requested with every positive announcement, and the citizens are all eager to meet Sam, as well.
His next visit to earth’s surface, is a part of the “pregnancy” tour. The surface dwellings for City Eleven is the first ground city that Sam has ever visited. He is not disappointed. Though the city only spans several hundred acres or so, the gleaming skyscrapers are a sight to behold. All of the innovations and advancements he had witnessed in the sky cities, are even more abundant in this surface metropolis. Sam thinks he would like to visit all of the surface cities. And then an idea enters his thoughts. There is a place on the surface which he is very interested in visiting.
The pod craft descends through the thick milky clouds, finally breaking through to a view of the frozen ground below. Sam and Leiyana can see the structures on the surface. The scene is much different from the video that Sam had viewed months ago. Level platforms are present, as well as small permanent buildings. There are pod landing pads that are all colored blue and silver. The pod craft lands with barely a thud. They step out on the landing as a clear dome closes above the grounded craft. Sam follows Leiyana down the inclined walkway.
At the entrance to the tunnel, he realizes that it is also covered by a clear shield, keeping out the life threatening cold of this land. A strange feeling of deja vu, hits Sam. He shrugs it off, sure that his earlier viewing of the video has left an impression in his mind. As they begin the long journey down the tunnel, Sam thinks that a covered entrance would have been helpful, so long ago. Where did that thought come from? He has, at this time, yet to retrieve any memories that explain why his body ended up in this underground facility.
They pass various rooms, with bits and pieces of old and decaying structures and machinery. Sam cannot shake the feeling anymore, this place seems familiar. His mind is reaching, searching, looking for clues that seem to be hiding just beyond his view. A painted number is on the wall, further down from where he is standing. He cannot make it out yet, but something in his mind says “fifty-four”.
As they move in front of it, Sam slows his pace. Leiyana stops, and ask “Is everything okay, Sam.”
Sam answers in a much lower tone, “Yeah it’s... just... kind of ...familiar”. He drops his smile and stares at the painted, but very faded numbers, 54.
“You are very tense, Sam, should we stop for a moment?” Leiyana takes his hand and looks into his eyes. He sees her concern and pulls her into an embrace.
“I’m okay. Just very excited. And yes, I remember that you cautioned me about this tour. Doc, I’m good. Hey, we have come this far, let’s go have a look at this ancient corpse.”
They continue down the walkway, descending into the earth.
Finally they enter the chamber which contains the “mummy”. Immediately Sam experiences deja vu again. The corpse is behind a glass shield. Items are displayed on shelves near the body. A corroded and rusted pocket knife, his pocket knife, lay there next to a crumbled and rotted leather square. He recognizes his wallet. It has seen better days. There is a faded, red, brownish piece of paper or cloth sticking out from the folds of the leather. Sam stares at the twisted and shriveled body. He knows this is his body. The body in which he had lived a lifetime, so long ago. He remembers being this fellow.
Broken reading glasses are displayed on another shelf. He remembers reading books with those glasses. What was the last book that he read? Probably a Koontz or a King. He suddenly remembers the Tao Te Ching, Jung’s The Red Book, and Pale Blue Dot by Sagan. Sam wonders what happen to his copies. Why are those books suddenly so important? He feels a bit light headed and dizzy.
Leiyana stands at his side and ask, “You are experiencing memories?”
“Yes, yes I am. I just can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s like something is there, at the edge of my mind, but I just cannot get it into focus.”
Leiyana touches a space on the wall and the glass shield lifts, disappearing into the ceiling. “Perhaps you would like a closer look.”
Sam moves closer to the corpse. He looks at the items on the shelves. The wallet catches his attention. His heart is pounding in his chest. Leiyana touches his arm but he waves her off. The red ticket that is sticking through the folds of the leather tease his memory. He tries to slow his breathing. Then suddenly he receives a clear picture of the red ticket. A soldier had handed it to him on a bus. Sam would need it to board a plane. Suddenly everything comes rushing back. The memories overwhelm him. He stumbles and then falls. He is unconscious. Later, when he awakes, he will explain to Leiyana and the others, all that he remembers, and he remembers it all.
The morning of the day that he receives the red ticket, he is with Beatrice, in bed. It is early morning and they are rising to get dressed for the day. Bea is being playful when Sam’s work phone chimes. She frowns. Sam grabs a pen and note pad, repeating names and numbers. Neither of them are happy to learn that he will be out of town for the next two nights. He kisses her, and tells her that he will miss her. She pouts as he packs his suitcase. As Sam is about to leave, she kisses him and squeezes him tight, holding him a little longer than she normally does. It is the last time that they will ever see each other.
The plane ride to Albuquerque, wasn’t bad. He remembers waiting too long for his luggage at the crowded claims area. Then a rental car ride to the hotel, which happens to be within a block of the meeting he is to attend this afternoon. The hotel room is nicer than he needs for an over-niter, but the company had made the reservations. Sam had always joked about the company that employs him, they treat some of their slaves, really nice.
The meeting consist of the normal grunts and groans from a customer group who feel they are not getting a fair deal for their buck. To every contention that is raised, Sam offers a fair adjustment to the system with which they are working. One member from the group continues to rant on about matters that have already been decided. Sam is getting a bit annoyed and is looking for a break in the man’s complaints to redirect the meeting towards an end.
The end of the meeting comes, swiftly and immediately, as the conference room doors burst open. “Washington and L.A. have been bombed!” a security officer shouts.
Pandemonium rules. Everyone begins to exit the room. Sam hears bits and pieces of reports being shouted throughout the building. A nuclear attack is occurring.
Some memories of tragic events remain always blurry, except for a few seemingly, small and insignificant details. Sam’s memories of the journey to his hotel room, are such. The sound of his own steps upon the concrete and asphalt. The panic of the growing street mob. The odor of his own nervous sweat. People and vehicles moving. The burning smell of exhaust fumes. Everyone is trying to leave the city. Sam only wants to make it back to his room. He is worrying about the kids and Bea as he pushes his way through the crowd.
He is almost to the hotel, near an alley entrance, when a voice calls out. Many voices are shouting, but Sam hears the cry for help. He looks down the alley and sees a figure stumbling. He is bleeding. Sam catches the man before he falls. He is a street person, and he appears to have been wounded. The man is weak. Sam leads him to the closest supporting object. He lowers the old man to the ground next to the sanitation container. Sam removes his jacket and wraps it around the injured man. He shouts to the man that he will seek help and return, then heads towards the end of the alley.
The entrance to the hotel has been blocked. A bus has crashed into the doors, there is smoke and fire, and dead, bloody bodies. The mob continues its panic and noise. The crowds flow down the street like burning lava. Seeing no one of an official or helpful position, Sam returns to the man in the alley. He kneels and places his arm around the small frame of the man. The man is dead. Then Sam hears the roaring screech and looks skyward. His heart fills with fear. Missiles are soaring through the sky. It is the return volley. We will bomb them back. Sam fishes his phone from his jacket pocket, which is wrapped around his dead friend. The phone is dead as well.
He is not sure how much time has passed while he set beside the dead man and buried his face in his hands. It seems that the noise of the riot continued for hours. He is brought back into the moment when a bright light is shined into his eyes. He hadn’t realized that the sun had set, and that it is now dark.
“Are you alive?” the soldier ask.
“Yeah, but my friend here, he didn’t make it” Sam answers.
The soldier helps him stand. “We are evacuating as many as we can. Come on, I’ll lead you to the bus.”
The bus is actually a small military convoy with several vehicles. Sam stands in a line with other survivors who are boarding and notices that the soldiers, maybe a dozen or so National Guard members, are still checking parked vehicles and buildings. No bombs have landed here, and yet the city streets look like a war zone. The fear has caused humanity to feed upon itself. He feels disgust.
Sam’s hotel is only a few feet away. He sees an opening into the building. He thinks he can make it inside before the convoy departs. He wants to retrieve his suitcase and the few belongings that he brought on this trip. He reaches his room with no trouble, but has some difficulty kicking open the door, as his card key will not work. There is no electrical power. In a few minutes Sam is exiting the building. He was right, he made it back in time and is now inside the bus holding the only material possessions that he has left from his life. He opens the suitcase and takes inventory of its contents. There are a few books inside which he thinks are now, just a waste of space. Some items carry the fragrance of Bea. Sam hopes that she and the kids are also on a bus, somewhere.
The bus ride lasted for hours. The passengers are quiet. Some still in shock from the riot. A soldier moves through the crowd, handing out red pieces of paper. These are tickets, the passengers are told. Numbers and letters are printed on the small paper rectangle. The tickets will be needed to board an aircraft, which hopefully, will take them to the safety of an underground facility.
The makeshift desert station reveals that much of the military’s evacuation plan has failed. At least two dozen convoys were expected to arrive here. Sam’s group is the second and last. The bus passengers are quickly unloaded and loaded again onto a military cargo plane. Sam notices the unnatural, orange haze in the western night sky, as he moves into the plane. No tickets are required as there are much fewer passengers than was expected. Without thinking about it, Sam places the red ticket in his wallet. They are in the air within minutes.
The flight takes all night. Sam sleeps off and on, trying to find a comfortable position, inside the cold atmosphere of the plane. The landing of the craft wakes him hours later, and the sound of the wind. Heavy parkas, coats, gloves and eye goggles are passed among the group of survivors. A large sled device is loaded with some luggage and the few personal belongings that the group has in their possession.
One soldier provides instructions. They will need to walk a short distance to enter the underground facility. The temperature outside is life threatening cold. Stay close together and keep moving.
Blizzard conditions buffet the survivors as they walk towards their promised safe haven. Sam wonders how the plane was able to land in this ferocious wind. He tries to make out the surroundings but the wind and blowing snow make it impossible to see anything more than a few feet in front of him. The woman, just ahead of Sam, slips and falls. He catches her. She cannot stand on her own and he lifts her. He begins carrying her, moving forward, through the storm. She is not very heavy, but in a few minutes of battling the wind, he is struggling to keep moving, under her weight. Sam is beginning to wonder if the leader knows where in the hell he is going, as it seems a great amount of time has passed since they departed the cargo plane. Finally, Sam can make out lights and a few structures not far in front of them.
During the first few hours inside the sanctuary, the survivors are counted and the wounded are cared for. Sam lays on a cot in a large storage room with other civilians. The panic and events of the day have left him feeling worn and beaten. He drifts off to sleep thinking of Bea and the kids.
Adjusting to life in the underground sanctuary, proves difficult for all of the survivors. Everyone is in anguish trying to find out about their loved ones. Most have family in areas from which there has been no final report. Other survivors mourn, whose family members and loved ones live in major city areas. All survivors and station personnel are slowing facing the cold, hard truth, they will probably never see their loved ones again.
The military and research personnel show great patience towards their new roommates, for a while. After a few days, some fights occur. Soon everyone understands, that the military authority here is in charge. Sam is actually relieved to know an authority structure that is still functioning. He also has been interacting with the facility personnel, as there is much work to do. In a short time he has become a trusted and reliable friend to his rescuers.
Daily there are briefings among the researchers and military crew. As the weeks go by, the survivors adjust and daily life smooths out. The daily briefings become open to all. Sam and the others listen and learn just how serious their situation has become.
This facility was designed and put into operation to serve as a safe haven for their country’s leaders, in the event of a nuclear attack. The facility is also home to a government funded research project. A small crew of researchers and military personnel have been assigned here for several years. The research is cryonics. The hope of this research and facility is the continuation of our nation, specifically, our leaders, in the event of such a war, as was occurring.
The few stationed personnel are the ones who initiated the rescue of common citizens. They did so, when the military and government evacuation plans had failed. It was a last minute effort to save lives, any lives. The troops who gathered citizens among the few cities were contacted by facility personnel. The highest ranking military officer among their group, is a captain. He seems to be a quiet and reserved man, but definitely in charge. His report of the events of strikes and counter strikes, will be the last information any of them will ever have of the outside world.
The multiple nuclear strikes came swiftly and unexpectedly. Washington was hit first, New York, L.A. and Chicago were next, beyond that, the captain could not be sure, as most communication had been lost. Current readings of the local atmosphere reveal that it is not safe to be above ground. The facility has enough power to supply their electrical needs, indefinitely. Water and food, on the other hand, will become an issue in the coming months. Volunteers are requested and everyone begins working. Military personnel assign the civilians to projects which might help them all extend their chances of survival.
The first earthquake occurs while the general population is sleeping. No one is seriously injured, but their water supply has been compromised. A second, deadly earthquake will occur months later, though Sam will never know of it.
He oversees the food and water distribution system. He is the first to report to the captain, how grave their situation has become. At current levels, they will exhaust the water supply in a month, the food may last a bit longer.
At a daily briefing, Sam ask about the cryonics technology. This causes a huge discussion, and then, an argument among the military leaders and the researchers. The researchers report this may be the only way for them to survive their current predicament. The captain and others do not have the same confidence in this plan. Sam is able to find out that researchers have successfully placed in stasis several primates, and revived them, with minimal complications. The primates had been in stasis for six months. He spends much time thinking about this opportunity. One less person to consume food and water, would have some effect on the survival of the others.
During the evening meal, as they all gather in the large cafeteria room, he looks in the faces of the seventy-five other survivors. Some had arrived with children. Many, like himself, came alone, separated from their families and loved ones. There is again discussion about other survivors, out there, somewhere in the world. Then Sam made his announcement. He would like to be the first human volunteer for cryonics research.
The night before he is to enter the cryonics chamber, he cannot sleep. He is struggling with his fear of the unknown. Then he remembers a quote from some Zen guy in the past, “We do not really fear the unknown, we fear the known coming to an end.”
He walks quietly down the hall to the makeshift library, and grabs two books, a King and a Koontz. He allows his gaze to roam across the shelves, looking for something. There they are his contributions to “the last library on earth” as several survivors have named it. Sam always threw a book or two into his luggage when he traveled. He has offered his personal copies of The Pale Blue Dot, The Red Book and the Tao Te Ching, for the other survivors to enjoy. Perhaps these books are his last gift to humanity. He runs his fingers across the books, and smiles remembering the many insights that he had gleamed from them. Sam wishes he had packed the Bragavad Gita and Walden, as well. He heads back to his room. Perhaps a little reading will help calm him.
He had cracked his reading glasses a few days ago, when he dropped them, while working. But since he can’t read without them, he suffers looking past the hairline crack in the lens. He is just getting settled into the King novel “Revival” when the captain knocks at the doorway.
“I’m glad that I caught you awake.” The captain seems somber.
“Oh yeah, just a little reading before I enter the deep freeze.” Sam laughs, smiles, and lies, hoping to lighten his friend’s mood.
The captain looks as if we wants to cry, shakes his head and says, “I know that we have discussed this before, but I need you to convince me, not to interrupt tomorrow’s activities. You don’t have to do this Sam, we may yet find another way. Look, I’ve reworked your numbers, we can make aggressive adjustments to our ration allotments, and extend our resources three fold.” The captain pleads and hands Sam a clipboard. Sam hands it back to the captain, shaking his head.
“Thank you for your concern, Sir, but my mind is made up. I am one of the oldest people here, even older than you. I could claim my age gives me certain rights, or as I see it, a certain duty. Sir, by doing this, everyone else has a little bit better chance of survival. I have studied the plan and have chosen to place my confidence in it. Anyway, if I’m wrong, I’ll never know it.” Sam pauses, then adds, “But you better wake my ass up, the first chance that you get.” He grabs the captain by his shoulder and looks into his eyes. The two men understand each other, respect each other, and yet here they are trying to convince the other that he is wrong.
“Sam, I admire your courage, but your efforts here are helping the group. You make a difference. We need you. Please consider how we will continue without you.” The captain begs.
Sam breathes in and says, “For all we know, we may be the last people alive on the planet. What if we are? What if there are no other survivors? Shouldn’t we make our decisions from that point of view? Forget saving our country, we may be the last hope for the human race. Captain, I appreciate your concerns, but I have to do this. Please, let me at least try.”
Sam stands, paces the floor and continues, “Imagine that humanity arises from this time...someday, from this time of death and destruction. Maybe we can prosper once again. Maybe we finally get it right, and in a future age, where we do not try to kill each other. Imagine if we learn to coexist, to work together for the survival of all!” Sam gives a smart ass smile and says, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
The captain embraces him and says with a soft laugh, “You’re not going to sing it, are you?”
Sam slaps his friend on the back and says, “If you don’t let me go, I’m gonna start singing Kum Ba Yah.”
The two men continue their discussion until the captain is sure that he cannot change Sam’s mind.
Their conversation is emotional and heartfelt. This is no longer a meeting of captain and civilian. Two friends, two brothers are saying good bye.
When the captain finally departs, Sam is relieved, as he is feeling the desire to give in and not go through with the plan. Along with his fears, his does not want to give up the connection to these people, his fellow survivors. In his mind though, he has already made this decision for his children and Bea. Somehow, his choice, his sacrifice, is a prayer for their lives.
Leiyana is setting beside him when he awakes. “Hey Doc, have I got a story to tell you.”
“Your story will have to wait, I need to examine you before our flight home.” Leiyana sounds bossy but her eyes show relief.
“Really, I feel okay, how long was I out?”
“Long enough to make your physician nervous.” Leiyana continues her examination while Sam looks around the room, which doesn’t seem familiar.
“I remember much about this facility, now, but not this room.” Sam says.
“After excavations had begun, the need for other structures here was evident, as not all of the facility was of a sound state. There is evidence that throughout the last few thousand cycles, several strong earthquakes have occurred in this area. Which is why we found the remains, frozen in ice. Several areas had been flooded by a damaged water supply tank, due to the quakes. The outside cold made its way in, and froze the body.” Leiyana states.
“Yeah, there was an earthquake while I was here. Were any other remains found?” Sam remembers with fondness, the others, who shared this sanctuary with him.
“Yes, several dozen individuals, though their bodies were not encased in ice, and they were not preserved as well, as, uh...yours.” Leiyana speaks softly, as she knows that again, he is reminded of the loss of all he knew before.
Before they board for the flight home. Sam ask to look around the facility once more. He wishes to spend some time with his memories of this place and the people he knew here. As they take their seats in the pod craft, Leiyana notices the small clear container that Sam holds in his hand. He raises it to show her.
“It is just a memento of this place. I gathered some dust from the floor of my former sleeping chamber. I know it may seem foolish to you, but I wanted to have a token of this place.” Sam explains.
“I do not find it foolish, Sam. It is good to respect the past and to remember it. There are several traditions of the Shi’ann, which honor the soil and sand of the earth. We consider the elements as sacred.”
He laughs, “Maybe your ways are starting to rub off on me? Or maybe...” he kisses her, “I have a little Shi’ann in my blood.”
Unexpected dreams plague Sam’s sleeping hours, shortly after his return to City Seven. Nightmare images of war and destruction are the contents of his unsettling visions. Dreams of drowning in water, of being covered with dark dirt and rocks. Leiyana had cautioned him about the psychological effects that may arise due to his recent encounter with the ancient remains. Sam had not been concerned about it until Leiyana awoke him in the night. He had been screaming in his sleep.
She encourages him to discuss his nightmares the next morning. He is comfortable speaking with her about his dreams, as he knows that she is trying to uncover his anxiety and fears. After sharing with her his nightmare images, Sam assures her that he will be fine, and begins preparing for the day’s classes.