Location: Northwest Sector of The Triad, Sub-Level 7, Barrack 5 – Early morning hours, year unknown.
Erik awoke alone for the twenty-seven-thousand, three hundred and seventy-seventh day. Looking in the mirror, he again realized that he had no future, only a past.
He splashed some water on his face, there’d be no shower today, and then wiped it away with a cloth that was in desperate need of being laundered. He looked more resigned today than he had on others. His sunken eyes, long since blue, were framed by wrinkles that he wore like scars. Scars so deep, it was as if each year alone in The Triad was a razor that put them there.
After getting dressed, Erik began his daily routine. Walking through the dark halls, he exited the barracks, then headed to The Culina for his morning ritual of protein ingestion. The Culina was about a ten-minute walk from Barrack 5. It was a vast maze of kitchen areas and seating sections that, in its heyday, served more than twelve-thousand people daily. Each person would receive one meal per day in one of three shifts: morning, mid-day, or night. This regimented process went on for far too many decades to count. Today, however, it was breakfast for one.
All of the pantries in The Culina were empty and had been for many years. Erik’s only source of food these days was a flavored powder that, when mixed with water, would produce a thick, pasty batter. With patience, it could be consumed as a drink; without it, a spoon would be required. The powdered drink provided a human being with enough protein and vitamins for an entire day. The proper daily allowance of the nutritious substance could sustain human life indefinitely. The granulate was kept in large canisters affixed to The Great Wall in The Culina’s largest room. Each canister was two feet in diameter and ten feet tall and looked more like bars on a prison cell. Symbolic, as The Triad had been Erik’s prison for the last seventy-five years. Seventy-five years since they left, seventy-five years…since she left.
The nozzle that dispensed the powder was located at chest level for a person of average height. There were no fewer than one hundred of these canisters lining The Great Wall. Erik’s favorite flavor, Red Fruit, had been gone for several years now. But out of desire, stubbornness, and some days desperation, he kept going back to the canister, hoping some powder would magically fall into the bottom of his dirty cup. Today, he would settle for Brown Maize.
After begrudgingly finishing his only meal of the day, Erik made his way to the elevator bank located in The Grand Hall. This was a circular atrium, fifteen stories tall, with elevators wrapping around it on every level: Grand Central Terminal, if you will. It was the gateway to every area of the Northwest Sector, including the monorails that led to the Southwest and Southeast Sectors of The Triad.
If you were to stand on the top level of the atrium and look over the railing, the view would take your breath away. These days, however, it was a dark abyss, a black void that Erik no longer stared into as he did in the years following her departure. It was no longer filled with life, and neither was he.
Most of the elevators no longer functioned, as electricity had been routed to serve only the necessary areas of The Triad. Waiting in front of the elevator doors for several minutes, lost in thought, Erik realized that he’d forgotten to push the Door Open button.
Once in the elevator, he took the short and solitary ride to Surface-Level 3 of The Triad. After exiting, Erik turned right and walked down a corridor that was more than one hundred feet long. The corridor walls were studded with wall-mounted light fixtures that looked like diamonds when illuminated. These days, however, they were dark and no longer shined. The only lights that illuminated his pathway now were the emergency track lights running along the floor, at the base of each wall. The loss of power indicated to Erik that his candle of life was burning down. Each time a section of The Triad lost power, it could never be restored. This was due to The Triad’s Energy Conservation System, or ECS.
At the end of the corridor, Erik entered The Triad’s History Library, an incredibly large and cavernous facility, roughly ten-thousand square feet in size. Though absent of books, the History Library was filled with hundreds of blinking computers and monitors, seven hundred and ninety-eight to be exact. Erik knew this number well, as he had counted them on many occasions. The computers sat alone, humming with historical data that, unless shared with others, was useless information. Not to Erik, though. The knowledge found here was the only reason he rose in the morning. It stood as the only cerebral outlet for this withering old man.
Erik liked The History Library, not only because it offered an escape to an otherwise imprisoned man; but because it was also the coolest place within The Triad. Though the sub-levels were kept at 82°F, the surface-levels were set at 92°F. Heat is the number one computer killer, and, because of this fact, The Triad’s computer systems ensured that The History Library remained at 75°F and no higher.
Here, in The History Library, Erik was most comfortable and relaxed, making it easier for him to delve into his planet’s history. This was the part of the day when he learned of another time, a time that was not his. This period in time had, nevertheless, become his past, present, and future. The knowledge gathered in The History Library helped Erik to make sense of why he was here: his origins, his purpose, but most of all, his sacrifice.
Today, he would continue watching where he’d left off the day before. Erik was reading about and viewing a period in time that was four-thousand years before this one. It was a time that had ultimately forecast the end of a once-proud civilization and determined the final plan for what would become of his kind: humankind.
After his daily historical intake, eight-hours of reading and viewing chaos and destruction, war, and its aftermath, Erik made his way to The Triad’s outer observatory deck on Surface-Level 5, the top level of The Triad. This was the warmest place in The Triad, a balmy 98°F, due to the massive, heat-shielded, triple-paned glass facade. Though it was warm, it was the only place in The Triad that gave him true peace. It was the closest he could be to what he had always wanted to be: a man with a future.
As far as the eye could see, which wasn’t very far, was a vast tapestry of darkness, both of landscape and of sky. Erik would sit, just staring out of the massive observatory glass canopy for hours. He imagined what this place looked like when it was still alive and filled with color. A place where the future was once promised, and the past could be fondly remembered without tear.
Nostalgia and heat caused Erik to nod off. He now dreamt of the time before the others had gone Home. He dreamt of what became of them; and what might’ve become of him if only he’d gone Home with them. Most of his dreams these days, however, were not of the recent past; but rather the distant. His daily history lessons had crept into his present and became what he remembered most. A time so long ago, the mind could be tricked into believing that it never actually existed.
For more than seventy years, Erik had been studying the past twenty-thousand years of his planet’s history, but mainly the last six-thousand. He believed that if he had been alive during the critical times of monumental human failure, the catastrophic loss of common sense, and the epidemic of irrationality, then maybe, just maybe, he could have done something to prevent the unraveling of his civilization’s existence. Erik concluded that mankind’s greatest flaw was its inability to learn from its past mistakes.
Flashing lights and sirens.
Erik was suddenly rocked into consciousness. He wondered for a moment if this was part of his dream. But no. This was the day he had hoped for but never actually thought would come. A day that, when it came, might not even matter. But on this day, matter it would.
Location: Artesia, New Mexico. The Michaels’ Home – Friday, September 5, 2035.
A school bus came to a stop in front of the Michaels’ home, and three grade-schoolers got out and ran into their house. Lola Michaels was there to greet them, just like every other day. She was still a ‘stay-at-home-mom’ and intended to remain one.
“Hey, guys! How was your day?” said Lola. Running past her were the twins as if they didn’t even see her. Erik and Lilly made their way into the kitchen to get some afterschool snacks, jockeying for position along the way. Little Carrick, however, made a b-line for the stairs, as he was going to get online with his friends and play video games in his bedroom. “Homework first, Carrick!” Lola yelled to him as he disappeared around the top of the stairs. “Got it!” he yelled down to her.
Lola rejoined Kinzi in the kitchen, who’d been sitting at the table stuck on hold with her bank for the last twenty minutes.
“Still on hold?” mouthed Lola.
Kinzi grunted, “I hate talking to computers!”
Erik and Lilly were tearing through the pantry, it was grocery day, and they couldn’t wait to see what goodies mom brought home.
“Kids, be quiet! Aunt Kinzi’s on the phone.”
A few minutes later, Lola made her way back over to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up to Little Carrick. “Carrick, don’t forget you and your father are going to the Mall to get new shoes. Be ready to go in thirty minutes.”
“Okay!” Little Carrick yelled down from upstairs.
Kinzi was off the phone now, and Lola joined her at the table for a coffee.
“Phew, I never imagined three kids running wild in this house. I still remember when it was just Carrick and me, the house seemed so big then, now it feels like…” she paused, “well, Home, I guess.” She smiled at Kinzi, who returned her smile.
“Where’s Jordan, by the way?” Lola asked Kinzi.
“Chiropractor, he hasn’t been the same since coming home from Zenith.”
“That’s an understatement!” thought Lola. “None of us have, nor will we ever be.”
After a few moments of reflection, Lola said, “Time has flown by so fast, Kinzi! I can’t imagine what life would have been like for us if you two never moved to Artesia.” Lola shook her head while taking another sip of her coffee.
“The kids are growing up so fast!” said Kinzi. “Little Carrick is as tall as the twins now.”
“He’s a beast!” Lola’s eyes grew wide. “That kid’s going to eat us out of house and home,” she laughed.
Kinzi laughed along with her.
“Kinz, do you ever think of Black Earth anymore?”
Kinzi’s eyes opened wide, and she took a deep breath and sighed before responding, “Lola, I think about it every day. I think about THAT day in particular.”
Kinzi remembered back to that day, a day that changed everything and everyone. For everyone involved, time would be measured by what happened before September 8, 2027, and what happened after. That day, however, would be frozen in time. That day marked the beginning of the second half of their lives, and it would never compare to the first half, “NEVER!” thought Kinzi.
“We never seem to talk about it much anymore.” Lola looked sad, staring into the bottom of her empty coffee cup.
Kinzi reached across the table and took Lola by the hand. “I can’t speak for Jordan, but for me, the events of that day are with me every second of every day. Its memory seems to live and breathe inside of me.”
“But you never talk about it,” Lola wore a look of sadness, unable to understand why.
“I know, it’s just that I tend to internalize everything, I always have,” said Kinzi, “ever since I was a little girl. My parents thought it was weak to show emotion.”
“Do you and Jordan talk about it much?”
Kinzi shook her head side to side, “Jordan rarely brings it up, but at night, I can hear him dreaming about it. Sometimes he wakes up crying but doesn’t share his emotions. We save it for the anniversary. Therapy’s helped him over the years, but he hasn’t gone in months.”
“I wish I could talk to Carrick about what happened,” Lola’s gaze found the bottom of her cup again.
“Lola, why don’t you come to Houston with us this year? You never come; it’s sad,” offered Kinzi.
“Nah, that’s your guy’s thing. I’d feel out of place,” Lola shook her head, ‘no.’
“That’s ridiculous!” Kinzi was always surprised by Lola’s reaction. Every year they had the same conversation, and she’d always decline the invitation.
“Besides, you forgot that we’re all going to Suwanee this weekend. Carrick’s going to be so happy.”
“Do me a favor, would you? Put a black rose on Erik’s grave for me.”
“You and your black roses!” Lola laughed at Kinzi.
“What?” Kinzi pushed Lola’s hand and laughed.
“You and Carrick are so much alike! Black roses! Silly!” Lola laughed at her best friend.
Suddenly, a horn rang out from the driveway, startling the two. Out of habit, Lola started to get up when Kinzi said, “I got it,” giving Lola a wink.
She walked to the foot of the stairs and yelled up, “Carrick Michael! Your father is waiting outside for you. Let’s go!”
Just seconds later, Kinzi was back in the kitchen when they heard two feet hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs. Little Carrick yelled, “Bye, Mom!” a slamming of the door followed his words.
The words, “I love you too, Honey!” echoed out of the kitchen, but Carrick didn’t hear them.