a tale of the twilight continuum
Shubert cupped his hands over his cyborg ears; the rumbling in the city’s throat was seismic and desperate. The ground shook as Theriopolis uprooted itself, and Shubert, Chief Technocrat Second Class, stained his velvet pantaloons. The animal city was calling for a mate.
Had it really been a decade?
Klaxons sounded in the distance and people began running for the edges of the city as the rumblings increased. The alarms were weak and anemic sounding against the bestial roar of the city. They had been warned. Why were they still here? The holy calendars stressed and reiterate when mating seasons would occur. A young city like Theriopolis mated relatively frequently.
The howls of the city, the rumbling as the city shrugged off its relationship with the earth, terrified all who could hear it. A sonorous vibration barely audible grew in intensity until it was a fevered shriek as multiple orifices belched forth sulfuric steam. Those orifices used to be homes.
Shubert, chief technocrat second class had not wanted this job. The title seduced him and made him believe he could control the city and the people. As he ran through the streets to the central stem, he was the only person running into the city as others fled, with bags hastily packed, clothing and toys dragging behind them or left strewn in the street.
Their faces revealed their manic terror. They knew what happened when cities mated, lives were lost, homes destroyed. They thought they had more time. The calendars were almost never wrong. And they weren’t wrong this time, there was simply not enough information to make an educated guess. Theriopolis was male, well, the scientists considered it male, it was so hard to remember what scientists are talking about when they prattle on about the mating habits of cities. Living on Praxis was harder than anyone thought it would be.
Shubert thought about the holy litanies that talked about the arrival on Praxis.
The great starship, Praxis came from a world far from this one across the sea of stars from a dying planet. A world of blackened skies and dead seas. The Last People put aside their wars, their hatreds for last chance at life. A holy woman working on the Mountain saw how to part the seas of space and make it possible for all the Last People to have a new chance at life.
The seas of space were more turbulent than we knew. Great Praxis was thrown off course but nothing could be done. We slept within her unable to help. We wandered. Praxis was battered, her hull damaged, her Mind corrupted. We nearly drifted right out of the galaxy. Praxis woke up once more before that happened because she saw a signal of life and reached out to it. As that ancient Mind calculated its last, it woke us and we saw the cities.
We thought we were saved. We couldn’t know about the cities then. We woke in orbit and saw the cities and thought they were inhabited. Their lights on twinkling, giant circles on the dark side of the planet. We thought there were billions already living there. The planet’s air was thinner than home, but we were sure we could breath it. Without Praxis there was no way to leave this planet, the mad woman’s drive system was linked to it. To honor both the Mind and the woman, we named our new home, Praxis. We hoped our new neighbors wouldn’t mind.
We crashed on the southern continent, near the equator. We avoided landing on any cities. We had no idea how fortuitous that was. Sanchez, oh intrepid Sanchez was the first man on our new world. He lead us to the cities and they were magnificent, even from a distance. Spires of lights, massive structures whose lines and beauty enthralled us all. We still have images from that time and those mighty cities were some of the largest the world had ever known.
They were uninhabited. Not a soul. Not an artifact. Nothing. No idea of who would make such beautiful buildings, and fill them with such beautiful light. The buildings were hard, hard as diamonds, so we built things from the nature on the edges of the cities. We moved into our homes and were grateful for the respite.
Then our natures surged again and there was discord. But there was plenty of room on this world and our explorations found other cities were uninhabited as well. So our fractious element left to move to a nearby city and start their lives their way. We don’t remember caused the conflict but they were the first Martyrs. We recite their names even today as a reminder of our fragile state.
Shubert reached the center of the city. He descended into the heart of the city. until he found the remnants of the Great Mind that was once Praxis. It was a small thing, no larger than a briefcase, but it had the history of two worlds on it and was the most important artifact that remained of a once powerful civilization.
“Praxis, can you stabilize the city’s metabolism. We need more time for evacuation.”
“I am sorry Second Technocrat Shubert, this city has grown to a point that I can no longer control it.”
“We are losing control of them faster and faster. The scientist are not sure what is causing it. Begin extraction of your core.”
“Shubert, we must discuss what must be done. It is clear I can no longer maintain or protect the Last People. Another way must be found to live on Praxis. The cities are not a feasible alternative. They are uncontrollable and in their mating as dangerous to us as the more natural parts of the planet.”
“We cannot move the Last People out of the city. Predation from outside the city would make short work of us. As it is we are barely able to survive past the ten days it takes for two cities to coalesce.
“You are not understanding me, Shubert. The cities are in a growth phase. They will only get larger and mate more frequently.”
“The Last People have grown strong and numerous, we need more space, so how can that be a bad thing?”
“At last count, there are 250,000 People. Theriopolis was supporting them but just barely. If he chooses either of the two nearest colonies, it will end up creating a structure that could house millions.”
“I still don’t see the problem.”
“Shubert, you are the oldest of the people who remain and one of the only ones who survived from the First Pilgrimage. You were awakened last as your technocratic abilities were needed. Have you seen the litanies from the First Apocalypse?”
“No. I never had time with all of the studying of the Cities.”
“Sit down. What I will show you will be shocking.”
Shubert watched the litanies in horror even as the howls of Threriopolis grew more terrible and insistent.
“Uncoupling complete. You have approximately ten minutes before Theriopolis becomes ambulatory. Another five before he begins to move. You don’t want to be here when that happens. Head to the rendezvous and defensive structures sites.”
“What is the point, Praxis?”
“Because your ancestors, indeed your compatriots did not cross the vast gulf of space, brave the destruction of their world, resist their destructive urges long enough to reach this place, land and survive on this planet for you to give up hope now. Those people are depending on you.”
“You just told me when these cities finish moving together they will reach critical mass and explode, spreading spores, in this case the size of buildings all across the planet. And they will do this in less than one hundred years. And you have also let me know on top of that, you will not be around to help us much longer.”
“That sums up the challenge quite adequately.”
“And you want me to tell these people the life we have lead for a thousand years must end and we must turn away from our technology, the beauty of the city and head off into a hostile alien jungle, so that in a hundred years we can be as far away from this cataclysm as possible.”
“Remind me when I get off of this beast to stop and change my pants.”
“Why would that matter?
“If I am going to have to stop and tell everyone their way of life is over, I would like to do it without looking like I just voided my bowels.”
“I can see your point.”
“How long before you go offline, permanently?”
“About twenty years. What the Last People haven’t learned by then will be lost forever.”
Second Technocrat Shubert fled Theriopolis carrying the dying shadow of the greatest Mind ever created. As he leapt away from the rapidly rising diamonesque streets of Theriopolis, a momentary pang of regret came over him as he realized many of the Last People would never live long enough to know the comfort of a City, no matter how terrifying they may be when they are mating.
Changing his clothes, Second Technocrat Shubert, the most well read, highly trained and defacto leader of the Last People, survivor of a starfaring race, who had struggled against all odds to cross the sea of stars, crash landed and discovered a world barely within their comprehension, considered how to break the news of a century of camping and the greatest fireworks display they would ever know and to make that the good news.
National Short Story Month 2012 (1)
Praxis © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved