Musical Chairs

It's founders called the planet Chalcogen it was now an all but forgotten outpost on the infinite frontier. It was the deepest man had ever reached into the endlessly inflating void, but they very quickly lost their grip. The disappointed lords of Olduvai the nexus of the interplanetary network had to look to that lost corner of the cosmos with unquenched ambitions as they plotted a future return.
To them, the forsaken colonists were simply casualties, nameless and expendable. The hapless colonizers descended upon the planet like locusts on a field, intent on stripping everything they could. They worked with the efficiency of a swarm.
The society was stratified into specialties reinforced through the generations that made them operate like the components of a colossal planet-eating machine. Their bodies were augmented by nanomachines that tailor made them for the alien atmosphere. Over time, they became more and more mechanical until much of their anatomy had become obsolete, but an apocalypse as abrupt as it was unexpected threatened the humans with extinction. Immense reservoirs of magma bubbling underneath the planet's delicate crust exploded with atomic release from their subterranean chambers and covered the planet in a burning ocean that made the surface glow as bright as a star. Only those dug into the peaks of the planets jagged mountains survived. The gleaming metallic domes of their sprawling complex rose out of the ground like ant mounds. These structures enclosed the last few square meters of earth where the humans could emerge from the catacombs and look out over the burning landscape. It wasn't long though before their titanium sanctuaries were threatened by the rising lava and the doomed colonists preferred to say below where they couldn;t see the burning death creeping towards them.
The narrow corridors of the hive like complex were packed with people waiting in a heavy silence that made the florescent lit confines feel all the more claustrophobic.  
All activity in the compound had ceased. Everyone staked out a spot at their designated access points so that they might feed on the Bioelectrical chargers in the hopes the electric sustenance would keep them alive just awhile longer.There was a sharp hiss and rows of the metallic pillars began rising from the floor.  A verticle row of LED lights flashed red keeping the mob at bay.
Wires dangled from the cylindrical structure like tentacles that swayed in the air as the internal mechanisms elevating the metal pillar propelled each others mutual revolutions.
Sara absently ran her finger on the port installed on the back of her son's neck. It was a small puncture in the flesh lined with a polymer. It was the feeding point hardwired into Malcolm's body.
There was another child by her side a sad and quiet little boy named Omar. Sarah had taken charge of Omar after his parents were lost on the surface along with Malcolm's father.
Malcolm and Omar were lifelong friends, and Sarah couldn't allow him to be orphaned as so many other children had. Parentless children had no caretakers here. The ones who were left alone starved, and often in full view of everyone else. Fear had banished compassion.
But Sara was just as vigilant in protecting Omar's life as she was her own son's, even though the rising tide would eventually swallow them. Not having to die alone was the last thing she had to give the children.
As the time ticked by propelling them and everyone else in the colony towards the inevitable and the food supplies dwindled, she still shared what they had with the boy.  It wasn't much he at least wasn't alone, and that was the best she could do. She clenched the boys hands.
 “Get ready” she whispered her eyes fixed on the blinking lights.
 Malcolm nodded, and Omar's grip on her hand tightened. Her legs bent as if she was getting ready to leap. She felt the crowd inching forward.   Sarah's legs tensed she looked around and saw everyone's eyes fixed on the cylindrical machines.  On the outside, they all appeared human and, for the most part, they still were, but underneath their flesh embedded in their bodies were machines that merged with their anatomy. These cybernetic implants regulated and altered their bodies natural processes making them adaptable to life on a planet very much different from humanities long abandoned celestial home in the Milkyway. This technology regulated their biology with the cold arithmetic of algorithm required routine maintenance that was no longer available to the forlorn galactic colonist. Only a charge from the massive energy stores of the great machine could keep their inner machinery humming and keep them alive. Everyone had to plug in at regular intervals, or the implants would fail and death would be swift, but just like everything else in their synthetic environment energy was dwindling. Soon not everyone could be connected to the electric life blood. More and more stations went offline and soon every time the inhabitants went to charge it was like a game of musical chairs, the losers died, and this number crept a little bit higher every time. There was little Sarah could do to shield herself or the boys from the reality.  She had them shut their eyes. She tried singing to them; she told stories; she did whatever she could to distract them from the gut-wrenching sounds of crying men pleading for mercy or the sight of withering bodies clawing at their throats.  It filled their minds with constant nightmares.
She had to hush them back to sleep from nightly premonitions of death. Thier subconscious foretelling of the day their useless lungs filled with the poisonous atmosphere constantly seeping through the breaches left by accelerating decay
Death tormented the terrified colonists the way hungry wolves terrorized encircled herds of sheep. It loomed like a shadow while it waited patiently to claim every last one of them.
Sarah's knees began to buckle, and the sweat streamed down her forehead and stung her eyes. She felt her mouth run dry, and her hands went numb. The red lights continued their steady blinking, and her thumping heart seemed to be in synch with their rhythm. Panic heightened her senses and the fraction of a second the lights turned off before coming back green was a moment she could pinpoint in her memory. She felt out of her body as she lunged forward dragging the boys with her. Thier little bodies jerked forward unable to move as fast as her. The heard of panicked settlers surged forward, and Sarah stumbled. Her left hand was suddenly empty. She looked back and saw Omar reaching out to her.
“Help!” Pleaded the boy.
Sara's hand snapped out and pulled the boy up. Compassion is often the first victim in societies facing imminent annihilation. Sara and the boys were pushed to the ground by the human current. The stampede threatened to trample them, but Sara regained her footing and moved forward. They fumbled through the panicked heard. She felt fingernails dig into her flesh and elbows jab into her body, but she managed to slip through the wall of desperate humanity with both of the boys at her side. She managed to grab a wire, and she plugged in. She felt the current flow through her body as if her blood was beginning to hum with a subtle vibration. She looked to her right where Malcolm had been, but it wasn't him plugged in next to her. She looked to her left and to saw Omar about to claim the last plugin point. Malcolm was just behind him. Sarah couldn't see any connection points left. She looked back at Omar now fumbling to get the wire connected into his neck. She quickly shoved the small boy the ground and reached for Malcolm and pulled him towards her.
She quickly plugged the boy in and breathed a sigh of relief. The chaos of the mad dash had quieted. Only the voices of the doomed ones who hadn't made it could be heard and in a while their deaths would be white noise. Sara looked down and saw Omar sitting quietly looking up at her. “I'm sorry,” She whispered.He stayed silent. His ebony marble eyes twinkling under the light locked with hers.
  She clenched her eyes shut and held Malcolm tightly against her, but she could still see the dark orbs glaring through her. The boy didn't struggle he didn't beg he slipped away quietly. His tiny corpse was sprawled out in front of Sara, and she had no choice but to step over it. It was a cruel reminder that killing him hadn't saved her. She would share the same fate, perhaps that's why he stayed quiet. Every time Sarah and Malcolm returned to the chargers she knew was one-day closer she would have to choose between herself and her son.

Popular posts from this blog

There are no closets in foxholes

The Borderline Angel of Death

The Bronze Bull