Rudolfo A. Serna
It was a hulking wall.
A giant spine half buried, still towering in granular flurries.
Digging at the eyes, blinding and suffocating. The sands never stopped. The wall’s ruins piercing twilight and dawn in an auriferous sky that the moon had taken into its swollen arms.
Dust from the asteroid’s collision encircled the planet.
A moon loomed half broken taking up the sky. Crumbling from space, the moon still anchored among belts of debris formed from the meteor’s impact.
The wall was too high to pass, and the caravan of Pilgrims wore the goggles, air masks, and cloaks that protected them against the sandstorms.
They followed the carriage made of wood and rotted canvas, where a dying infant was tucked away in blankets.
The Pilgrims followed the sounds of pans chiming against the wood of the child’s carriage.
The caravan stopped beside the massive wall, where the sentries set up their watch for the night. Stretching out their canopies against the megalith.
The camelus were staked to poles in the sand. The cinched canopies snapped with each gust against their knots and fasteners.
In dull light Mesah leaned over her child, placing her hand on the infant’s feverish brow.
She took a small silver box from under the bundle of blankets and opened it.
The vial of green solution gave off a faint glow.
She broke the seal and drew the glowing solution into a syringe, injecting her baby in the hope that it was enough to keep her from having to sever its head.
The mother noticed Salem standing behind her in the dark while she hovered over their child with the empty vial.
“He will live,” Mesah said. Salem looked at the infant struggling to breathe.
“The serum will save him,” she said.
“It’s not the infection that is killing him,” Salem said, ”He is immune.”
“Then why is he sick?” Mesah said.
“The world. The world is ...”
“He will live,” she said.
“He will live,” she insisted.
“You shouldn’t have given it to him,” Salem said.
The last sample of the antidote to the global pandemic created too late to save the old race.
Scientists had engineered the cure hoping that the Pilgrims would deliver it to the wall’s end at the edge of the ocean, with moon dust blanketing the planet.
Mesah gave her dying child the only sample left, a cure distilled in the labs of the caves, while a new world started under streaks of falling lunar rock. The shattered moon with its craters close enough to touch, and debris orbiting just at the edge of the atmosphere, with pieces falling and exploding in an orangish night sky.
Sentries scanned the desert.
Recognizing the temperature signatures of lumbering humans through ocular implants, their spectrums registering cold.
Those on guard grabbed the handles of their blades.
Through blowing sand, the humans staggered towards the camp, burnt by the sand and wind, baring teeth with bones sticking through flaking paper skin.
Mesah heard the sentries yelling.
Taking the child in her arms, she strapped him in to a carrier and placed him on her back. Stepping out to the glaring moonlight, the pieces of lunar rock exploded from an emptying sky.
The camelus frantically bayed, smelling the approaching hoard.
The Pilgrims’ battle cries mixing with wind and sand, the mother saw the humans emerging from a haze. The crumbling moon was bright, taking up half the sky, coming up over the top of the wall, crossing the high rim of the ruins.
Mesah pulled free one of the coiled ropes from the side of the carriage and unraveled it. Swinging it with all of her strength. She hoped that the metal barb at its end would catch hold.
Pulling the gaff from the ground, she swung it again, its tip scraping the surface, before cratering in the sand.
The onyx beings lurched towards her under the moon.
Throwing the grappling hook one last time with all of her strength——the tip took hold in some unseen crack.
She pulled her and her infant up the wall, while the burnt hands of snarling humans reached for them, with rotted out eye sockets holding what was left of their former countenance.
She pulled with the modified arms that had been designed for greater strength. Dangling above the rabid species, she could not hear her child crying or the humans bellowing, feeling the grapnel breaking loose, she fell ...
Salem surveyed the wall in the orange daylight burnished by the blowing sand.
A hill of rubble rose above them, close enough for them to climb the ruins to the broken surface of the moon poised bright and looming.
Mesah was healing from her bite wounds in the carriage, immune to the infection.
The Pilgrims had been created for a new world, but the last stage of their engineering had yet to be perfected before the caves were taken over by the old race.
The child had remained dead.
The engineers’ science had worked. Salem hoped to preserve the corpse if they should ever make it to the ocean. He could neither weep nor mourn.
The child had been wrapped in burlap.
Crying in her sleep, Mesah fell into the putrid hands reaching for her with the baby strapped to her back, implants replaying the image again and again, driven by trauma.
Climbing the rubble, Salem had hoped to finally come to a place where they could cross over to the other side. Seeing only the sandstorms on the horizon, he had hoped that there would be relief, but there was only more desolation.
“Salem. What do you see?” Samson called out from the foot of the rubble.
“Nothing!” Salem said.
“Nothing? Nothing?” Samson crawled up the ruins.
“There’s nothing,” Salem said, sitting down, rubbing dust from his eyes.
“Nothing. Nothing. Climb and climb, but we never find what we need to know.”
“No. We don’t it seems.” Salem placed his hand on the young pilgrim’s head while passing him on the way back down from the rubble.
“The ocean is wet, sad and sweet, green, it will cool our feet, I cry ...”
“Yes. Cry, Samson, go ahead.”
Salem left the figure sobbing.
The other Pilgrims gathered below him with their tattered cloaks. Removing their goggles and air masks, resembling that which was once human.
Wrapped in burlap, the corpse of the dead infant was carried on the back of one of the pack animals, while his mother slept in the small carriage that had held him.
The ridges of the vast crater could not be seen in the blowing sand, and the broken end of the wall disappeared in the orange haze.
The Pilgrims donned their air masks and goggles, descending into the crater gouged out by a falling moon, breaking open the surface of the earth, shattering the desert and its giant wall.
They would have to find a way to the other side of the crater to follow the ruins to the ocean, watching for anything moving in the swirling haze.
The camelus were herded down a steep slope. And even though the animals had been designed for such conditions, they could only last for so long without sustenance, without foliage to graze on, while the pellets to feed them ran low, along with the canisters of water. The Pilgrims would be forced to slaughter their herd to survive.
Eventually they would all perish, to be fed on by the old race, or to be buried by the desert sand.
They were protected at the bottom of the crater where the winds had subsided. Finally stopping to rest in the red dust. One of the pack animals got loose, wandering from the rest of the herd.
A shepherd chased it. Following its tracks to a crevasse in the crater’s wall, just wide enough for the animal to fit through.
The shepherd followed the animal between the rocks.
When she emerged through the crack She could see its tail, and then its head tugging at the tentacles protruding from a purplish, faceless, malformed body attached to the end of a long fleshy stalk that sprouted from the stone and sand.
The tentacles languidly danced above the purplish green trunks, and the shepherd stared at the aberrant life forms that covered the canyon floor.
The shepherd felt a cold liquid on her toes, a stream of water gliding across the stones, soaking through her weathered boots.
Salem heard the voices of the other Pilgrims that had followed the shepherd through the break in the crater.
He found them reaching out to the tentacles of the life forms he couldn’t recognize or identify from the old books he had studied.
The forest of tentacles rotating purplish and green, shimmering in the orange light, and it was unclear whether they were plants or animals, only that they lived.
The Pilgrims dropped to their stomachs and plunged their faces into the shallow flows coming from somewhere beyond the morphon garden.
The pilgrims ripped parts of flesh from the tentacles, stuffing it in their mouths.
Salem could hear a soft cry starting to rise up from the canyon floor.
Panicked at first, he thought it was the humans moaning from somewhere close by, but then realized that the sound was high and melodic, like a song they had heard from old recordings, an angelic sound coming from the canyon floor.
Salem pulled the spongy flesh from the tentacle, feeling the minute hairs on its velvety surface. Putting it in his mouth, he hoped that his modified digestive tract would process the organism.
Salem ate the bitter flesh, and he could feel the small hairs of its skin going down his throat. After swallowing, he cupped the water and drank. He could feel the grit, but the water was clear and did not have the metallic taste of the canisters.
The Pilgrims laughed, acting as if there were no more roving humans to threaten them while they fed and splashed water on their faces, ignoring the cries of the creatures they chewed on.
Salem dug a piece of flesh from the purplish limb to give to Mesah, to carry it back to her as an offering to his mate.
In the haze he could see the core of a large black stone. Its surface pock marked with crystalline. And like the purplish green bodies that the pilgrims ate, the black crystalliferous stone was of an unknown origin.
He saw Mesah through the haze as she carried the corpse of their child still wrapped in burlap to the wailing garden in the fading light.
“Mesah!” Salem called out, but she walked past him with the body, laying it out on the rocks at the foot of the beings that swayed and wept, and then she knelt before them.
“Save him!” She said, “I know you can. Save him!” The rest of the Pilgrims stopped plucking at the purplish stalks and drinking the water trickling from the stone.
He watched the young mother kneeling.
Slowly the rest of the Pilgrims began to kneel before the wailing beings.
“Save him!” They said, their voices echoing with those of the crying morphon. ”Save him!”
Salem watched the Pilgrims wishing for the infant to live again, to smile and laugh as children were supposed to.
They had been repaired by the engineers and were to replace the old race. But it was not certain whether or not their offspring would survive without further modification.
The words almost left Salem’s mouth, but he resisted, he knew that the infant would not return, that the engineer’s science would keep the child from being human.
Wrapped in burlap with the engineer’s science still within. The child had been too weak to survive. It had not been modified for the new world. Maybe if they had more time, to grow him strong, Salem had thought.
“Save him,” the Pilgrims continued to say, “save him,” as Salem continued to feel the urge to say the words, but did not.
Mesah picked up the child and felt the bundle in her arms move.
She looked down.
“See! I knew you could save him!” She cried to the creature, its tentacles swaying with the remaining moon taking up the sky above them, clouds sparkling with lunar debris.
Emerging, the infant broke free of the burlap, and the mother gave it her breast to nurse from. Its cold lips gnawing at her teat until breaking the skin, drawing blood, she cuddled the human as it weakly kicked. The wet gurgling sounds coming up from inside while it drank.
Salem had been wrong, the engineers and their science had failed. More modifications were needed.
He reached for his blade.
Samson sobbed, mumbling to himself, “sad and sweet, sad and sweet.” Shaking his head. "They were wrong, Salem, they were wrong ..." The wailing garden continued with their song, and the falling moon rained down exploding over the ruins of the last world, and they were all too human still.