Monday, June 19, 2006

The Burning: Part Five

Continued from Part Four

It transpired that the probe had suffered little physical damage, beyond some burnt out circuits, presumably from residual radiation, or simply heat. A few components had to be foraged from the bunker's other systems, but a week later, Khem and R'Leef had the probe powered up again, and were ready to send it back up to the surface.
R'Leef nodded at Khem, and placed the probe in the lift. As he pushed the button to close the door, a ball bounced along the corridor at some speed, was deflected by Khem's leg, and bounced off the plastic dome of the probe.
"Oh, heck," said Khem, I hope that hasn't ruined a week's work."
"It'll be fine," R'Leef said, switching on the monitor.
The dingo barged between the two men, almost knocking R'Leef over, and followed his ball into the lift just before the door closed.
Khem groaned, close to despair. "What if the dog breaks it?"
"I would worry more about what your wife's going to say, son."
"About what?" Khem's wife asked. "And what's Ringo doing in the lift?"
Khem looked round, wide-eyed, to see the dog - Ringo - lying down in front of the probe's camera, gnawing contentedly on his ball.
"We tried to stop him," he lied.
"Will he be alright?"
Mercifully Khem was saved from having to answer this when the picture beside him brightened suddenly. He turned in time to see Ringo get up, and bound off into the distance.
R'Leef waited a moment, and once he was sure everything was working correctly, moved the probe forward.
The three of them stood, transfixed by the view. For the first time in over a year, they looked upon the city they had once called home, as it slowly came into view over the hill. The huge towers that stood in the centre raised their heads first, pointing sharply up into the clear blue sky. The vast network of glass and metal that formed the bulk of the city followed, shining in an almost alien sunlight. As the rest of the city came into view, they saw a large area that had been burnt to the ground many months ago.
"Oh no," R'Leef whispered. His own home had once been in the fire damaged zone.
"It';s alright Dad," Khem said. "You can have the biggest house in the city now."
"Thanks," he smiled. "Although I think we should see what other damage has been done first."
The camera zoomed in on the city, its streets - even the highways leading in and out of the city - were still and silent, littered with abandoned vehicles.
"What's that?" Khem pointed at a deep scar running parallel with the highway, from the city out into the wilderness.
R'Leef panned quickly through the city, tracing the cutting's approximate line until he located it on the other side of the city.
Khem's wife had turned ghostly white. "It's the river," she croaked.
They stood in silence, the camera following the dry river bed as it ran out of the city, and into what had once been fertile farmland, but was now dry and cracked, like the river bed. The heat had dried the surface thoroughly, and it hadn't rained in months.
The river ran out of the camera's vision, still dry, so R'Leef focused the camera back on the city. Many of the buildings had sustained considerable damage, very few had unbroken windows, some had had their rooves smashed in or ripped clean off, and others had been decimated by falling debris.
"One day, son," R'Leef said, "all this will be yours."
Khem looked at him, unsure. His wife smirked. R'Leef grinned, and then all three of them burst into laughter so loud and raucous that the rest of the family were soon running along the corridor to see what was so funny.
"The city's in ruins," Khem chuckled, "and the river's bone dry."
"And we lost the dog," his wife giggled.
"But the air's ok," R'Leef laughed. "We made it! We're safe!" and he gave his wife a huge celebratory hug.

A few hours later the lift reached the surface again, this time carrying the eight human survivors of the disaster. All the animals they had with them had been let out into the sun, but for R'Leef and his family, this was their first sunlight, their first fresh air in over a year. After weeks underground with only emergency lighting much of the time, the sunlight was particularly harsh and bright, but the air was incredibly clean and fresh as the last humans alive stepped out onto the world they had to rebuild.
Ringo had found his way back, and lay at the entrance to the lift shaft, panting for water. He slunk into the shade of the lift as soon as Noah's family had vacated it, and lay down again, hot and thirsty.
"So this is all that's left," Uax said.
R'Leef nodded. "This," he said, "and our faith."
"But there's no water," Khem reminded him.
"And it's still so hot!" Zalbeth said.
"Don't be ungrateful," R'Leef said. "We're alive, aren't we? Uax, prepare the sacrifice. We should thank God first. He's given us a fresh start; let's begin on the right foot, shall we?"
And so the hilltop - the very lift shaft by which they had entered this new world - was dedicated to the Lord with the burning of some of the birds they had kept for the sacrifice.
A gentle, refreshing breeze began to blow, and R'Leef thought once again that it carried words to him, although this time the others also appeared to be listening.
"Be fruitful," it said, "increase in number and fill the world. Every living creature which I have saved thorugh you will be under your command. Life is my gift to each of you.
"I now establish my eternal covenant with you, my loyal and faithful servant, and with all of your descendants, and the creatures you watch over. Never again will I destroy the world and mankind in this way. This is my unconditional, eternal promise to you and to all mankind.
"And this is the sign of my covenant with you all - a second moon in the sky. Whenever you see this sign, I will remember my covenant with mankind, never to destroy as I have done now."
The breeze died down, the voice gone as suddenly and strangely as it had come. R'Leef wasn't sure if the others knew, but he was aware that with mankind's sinful tendencies still present in the eight of them, it was possible for things to get that bad again. Reassured by God's promise, demanding nothing of him, he looked at his family, and at the second moon which hung clearly in the bright blue sky. As he looked at this, he saw a cloud form in the distance, growing closer, bigger, blacker by the second. Soon it was on top of them, obscuring the searing sun and the sign of God's covenant, and the rain came down.
Ringo stodd up, and tried to catch raindrops on his tongue. Then his owners tried too, happily getting wet, soaking in the water, sent from heaven to bring life to a world re-born.
R'Leef danced in the rain, singing praises to God, through whose grace the future of mankind was secure.


UKSteve said...

Well, there we are. The story finally finishes. I kind of wonder now why I didn't cut it down to a more conventional short story length, either when I wrote it or before embarking on blogging it.

What I did cut out was the dreadful Hollywood ending with Khem proposing to his girlfriend. (Incidentally, I don't know whether any of the spouses got names in a later draft!)

The sign of the covenant started out as being the burnt out remnants of the supernova, but was scaled down to a asteroid orbiting the planet as a second moon, partly because I doubted a burnt out sun would be visible, and partly because I wanted to use the second moon in Countless as the Stars.

Elliot said...

I think it would work as a short story, yeah!