Setting snares on a brushwood rise fading into the distance. Candlelit cold fingers labouring with wire as my wind chilled face shivers in Griya’s darkness.
This churchyard world manifests cold, emptiness and shrill nocturnal sound around me. I return to my camp with an empty stomach as a companion, the last man standing in a lost world.
Flint cut. Pain engulfs my finger. I Lost concentration watching dull sparks drop onto tinder striking a rusty file with a shard. Ignoring the discomfort, I cook beneath stars, sensing wind stirring the trees. Finally lifting my heavy steaming pot from the glowing ruby embers, I eat my meal of bulbs and boiled insects and then sleep.
My disintegrator pistol died. Damp or dirt inside and it evolved into junk. Fumbling with electronics highlights my ineptitude and I save face by discarding it. No more smouldering food falling from on high with a satisfying thud. No city or supermarkets, only this knife, food, fire and the Griyans as the stuff of my dreams.
I will die soon. It is time to sharpen my knife a final time like elderly Volkssturm oiling rifles before a Russian assault. Fire smoke swirls black debris in the torrid night sky while sapphire stars shine gem-like spread across a financier’s tablecloth.
Olea is gone. No more rose water and lively eiderdown talk to soften my thoughts. Her face is a fading shadow’s mask, nearby and at peace. I will bury her tomorrow, but now I will sleep.
Morning shakes me from dreams spent in singular worlds to face life’s consequence again. Nearby the Ziggarat, Griyas sandstone mass overwhelms all in looming presence. Everywhere the Griyans, transparent crustaceans from the world’s depths float like spores upon the sunlit breeze. Bland throbbing eyes divine all human mystery with dispassionate indifference like businessmen passing over mossy tree bark or a river pebble’s sheen.
The Ziggarat looms over the city’s grey fields like a monstrous spider twitching its feet to strike a flickering shadow. Huge rock craters gnawed by iron mandibles pockmark the plain like lunar asteroid collisions. Millions of sandstone blocks testify to an astonishing vision dreamt in the strange creatures’ subterranean pools millennia ago.
I trace an ascending line upwards through sky to the pyramid’s apex. Robot ships are marshalling in a halo of twenty bright points. One new thorn blossoms in the crown of light every month. On the onboard computers, mechanical reason sparks and malfunctions in the damp of imprecise causal assumptions. A false constellation supported in the heavens by untenable explanations like a god awaiting landing orders that will never materialise.
Cheerful motion, confident expectation, and routine complexity the stuff of youth are gone. Fur clad creatures prowl amongst winter frost with starlight speckled grim eyes, look up, see nothing and begin to howl.
With heavy cruel wooden tip in hand, I walk on rocky plains where the vines grow. My hair is matted and clothes filthy. A Saxon crouching in reed beds before a foreigner’s cathedral watching foreign flags flap in the azure sky.
The eels awaken below and my heart thumps. Crawling forward on my belly in the grasses, my face sweating slashed pine tree resin, I proceed unobserved. Calm observation and suppressed fear weave my hunting clothes threaded with a needle of belly stitches.
An alien snout emerges momentarily from its sandy burrow to sense and weigh the air. The creature pauses to reflect while I synergize with its intent. The eels depart their dens with Scoria’s ascent to swarm like moonlit snakes, taking risks to ensure survival.
From within quiet warbling. A few moments pause then the melody’s repetition. Still and quiet as the creature’s head unfolds slowly skyward like unfurling bracken. From nearby lairs darker voices respond in unison. Cold songs, distant and unknown make killing easier. Come on friend. Yes! In an instant I pull the snare violently, knot tightening around its neck. Eyes bulge in frightened shock to ceases song and struggle for existence.
Abandoning caution, I arise and frantically pull rope, face contorted and sealing pacts with strange gods to strengthen the chord. But it is over, the creature is dead. Human endeavour processes a natural product, white fish eyes on an icy fishmonger’s slab.
Look at this. The meat will keep for months. I hack away at the corpse, slicing thin strips of flesh to smoke beneath embers and leaves. Sitting back contentedly, I consider newly awoken thoughts flooding into the mental vacuum left by the satisfied desire to find meat.
INTERAG escaped my attention while I struggled to survive. As a serious child I lauded the scientific achievements of the Interpretation Alien Guarantee Facility. My father worked there and we paid it a family visit on a hover bus. Entering the huge complex I was absorbed by pipes, laboratories and the complex’s management. ‘If you remember anything from your visit here today Ladies and Gentlemen, please remember INTERAG makes possible communication with our hosts the Griyans’.
Not so, time for independent verification. My dad was indifferent to INTERAG and more concerned with the forthcoming storm. He was always stocking food tins and learning primitive survival skills. Apart from his job, he avoided all science because modernity was a backward step. He went about his research work with the dedicated enthusiasm of a French Patriot working in a Nazi armament factory. Ironically, he was continually promoted and this irony firmed his resolve and gave inspiration to his preparations.
He was always wandering around woods, binging home tinder fungus and trying out different herbs and leaves for the pot. The real world was not going well and most sought refuge in virtual entertainment. He was ahead of the curve but people were slow to appreciate this. One evening my socialite mother finally tested my father’s nettle soup and I knew the game was up as this Machiavellian gypsy always charmed a situation’s hidden essentials from her balding superior’s indiscretion and knew where the wind was blowing.
‘Good isn’t it?’ My father said as she put the spoon into her mouth.
She said nothing and went upstairs for a long time. He had clearly won a Pyrrhic victory and all evening smiled grimly.
The colony was resilient and survived each knock more dented and bruised. At the Ziggarat, employees were fired, salary cuts and protests sign posted prosperity’s dignified decline. The uninspired stoics grew accustomed to hunger, while the sensible left for the dwindling possibilities for pleasure on other worlds.
Griyan contractual intransigence hammered the final nail into the gas pipe. Despite impassioned appeals to logic the Griyans steadfastly refused to renegotiate the terms. Either resources were switched from sandstone to mining or the colony would go bust. The Griyans refused.
When we wilfully misread the stipulated clauses, we incurred the Griyans displeasure. Soon after, the sky darkened in colour to the shade of artificial night when spores erupted through the Ziggarat pores like an exploding puffball. Children cried and there was a generally unsatisfactory consumer experience in the malls. After 48hrs of vitamin D deficiency the management hurriedly compensated our counterparties for the misunderstanding and launched a full impartial enquiry into their own wrongdoing.
Loss making sandstone production was resumed and the colony ran as a financial centre trading worthless sandstone default swaps to palm off debt onto richer colonies. In their mansions the mangers sighed, prepared their leaving speeches and packed up the dinner service. For a long time there was no leadership, only sermons from visiting bishops swaying bowls of incense and checking up on things. Even revolutionaries, pirates and religious fanatics passed us over. Production ceased and the Griyans showed leniency to the remaining idiots by turning off INTERAG and leaving the colonists to slowly die out, which they did.
I stand outside INTERAG. Overgrown lawns and Ozydamnium mists sadden me. Slivering Elvers, the immature Griyans are sheltering from harm in shaded corners. A giant crab scuttle sideways down an escalator waving its pincers looking for something to scavenge.
The Palace of the People stands before me on a massive hill. Here the quantum machinery was housed in enormous buildings that translated between English and Griyan desire. The building’s massive glass revolving doors are rusted and broken. Taking a metal girder I smash the through the glass like a Gothic horde storming a Roman city.
Inside the silence packed massive rooms, glass ceilings filter sunlight down through the soundlessness. Inspirational murals cover the marble floors.
The external factory pipes and cables feed into the palace then proceed along the vast corridors. Here was housed the presidential Ziggarat hotline. On the balcony he solemnly translated new directives to the assembled multitude. Struggle, Change and Nation: all the familiar sleight of hand sealed with an imperious wave and the cheer of the thousands.
Nearby a pipe has been smashed open with yellow tarry fluid oozing into a solidified pool on the floor. I kneel down trying to ascertain the liquid’s properties. Cutting through network cables reveals nothing more enlightening than common fibre optics.
Further into the heart of this massive partnership programme and I cannot discover how communication happened. I cannot interpret the wrecked electronics and anything valuable has been removed leaving scattered jig saw pieces all over the complex. I need meat and am only wasting time here and decide to return home.
In the night I dream of soft murmuring, like the rattling of a train on an endless journey beneath the stars. I explore the warm pools beneath the planet, and wonder if I could be satisfied there.
The next day I am in low spirits. Sitting down despondently I raid the emergency fund of potential experience to suppress nihilistic thoughts. A visit to the Ziggarat is in order. A youthful optimistic rush floods through me as I pack rucksack with meat, candles and water and prepare to set off. I am deploying my final reserve in a gamble for Antwerp. Sweeping aside council to fight a defensive campaign and gather in the harvest before winter, I set off to squander my silver.
No resistance from nature or internal psychological descent allows me to reach the A602 unopposed. The Ziggarat looms like a terrifying black shadow. Millions of irregular blocks, small as pebbles or vast as skyscrapers are joined together in strange patterns, while honeycombed tunnels are torn into the superstructure like sea fury eroded caves.
Everywhere the Griya toil and construct labouring over the extending immensity like ants drawing menhirs across the moon’s surface. Human machinery lies abandoned everywhere like Neolithic axes dropped by flint miners who did not show up for work one morning.
I jump onto a rising sandstone block reddening slightly as the Griyan workers appear to quiz my actions vacantly. I overcome this anthropomorphic delusion as they raise the block by power of their swirling tails. High in the sky the wind blows fiercely and I hold tightly onto the stone as if my life depended upon it.
Below I behold a tremendous view of the azure sea with white foam crashing onto the sands. I see INTERAG and the city. And further Olea’s resting place near my camp.
The Griyans halt three quarters of the way up. They slowly lower the block into an irregularly shaped hole clearly designed for a snug fit. I leap off without comment and the creatures continue their work.
Squeezing down into one of the honeycombs I light a candle and proceed cautiously into the darkness. Occasionally a Griyan looms up into the flickering light to scare me in the dim shadows of the passageway. Momentarily observing me with bland white eyes, it slowly moves past, feelers waving and twitching in the darkness.
I chance upon a huge grotto within the depths. A strange dull bacterial glow illuminates all in mauve photoluminescence. Enormous sandstone stalagmites lean lopsided like fallen birches towards the cave’s vast ceiling. Perhaps storms rage in these depths. A sandstone stalagmite has collapsed and Griyans trickle over it like ants slowly repairing the massive damage; work that may have being proceeding for centuries.
Lost and hungry within the darkness I see a small ray of light ahead. A beam slowly approaches winding its way round the pillars. As the photons pass I touch them curiously. I feel no ill effects and resolve to follow this Ariadne’s web spun for her Theseus.
Following the light I fall upon a Griyan throng jostling along the beam down a narrow tunnel dripping with liquid. Their determined empty faces remind me of salmon swimming upstream to spawn. I stand in line and feel kinship. Although they are not friends, I prefer being ignored than abused and thank them for their indifference. Their vacant expressions seem livelier, and I perceive a barely audible clicking sound rising to a modest crescendo. I laugh aloud and pat one of the creatures on the back with a hearty thump that reverberates down the passageway.
And then all falls away and I do not understand, floating perhaps and strange headed. The Griyan’s wings shed away onto the floor and they merge into sandstone like hard bracket fungus. I feel myself melt into liquid and seep into Ziggarat’s sandstone.
Within the rock I form a water droplet and seep down to emerge slowly from a subterranean cave roof. The liquid membrane expands over time and gravity causes me to drop swiftly turning within an illicit glance to splash into the immense stone stillness.
I became diffuse floating within the oceanic membrane amongst the smallest of things. I witnessed Griya’s sunlight and storms and see strange ships thunder through the sky and I fancy people are searching for me. Metallic hulks emblazoned with unfamiliar tricolours and crumbling red paint washed aside me and I heard the animated sound of electronic human voices.
Cast ashore like a seaweed strand. Unattractive women and men who never kill sunbathe while their children play in the sand. In the warm waters a promising youngster sifts alien life through a net experimenting with the unknown.
A child raises a spade into the Griyan filled sky squealing delight with as the Ziggarat vibrates in many colours. I notice the artificial constellation has gone as others notice my strange and frightening appearance. An official approaches and addresses me in unknown speech, and then others surround and support me as I collapse.
The journey back to Earth was lengthy. Once the initial excitement faded I was bored. A team accompanied my journey and recorded my daily routine in a documentary about my experience and rescue. I was constantly asked about the colonies fate and how I managed to survive. I was assured off camera that I would become very wealthy from the rights to my story. The scientific team were youngsters who misunderstood important points, and failed to appreciate the Ziggarat’s significance but I liked their enthusiasm, they were the official chroniclers of this minor episode and the truth is always silent.
Prisoners of war had taken two hundred years to transform the Earth to the state it was in 2500 BC.
Huge forests covered continents and wilderness had returned to every corner. The cities and human waste had been removed for recycling on the moon before being shipped to the industrial colonies for better use.
Occasionally space craft would approach. Astronauts would eject thousands of urns containing ashes of those who desired to return home from the cargo bay doors.
I landed amongst Britain’s forests and rivers. Only a few thousand now lived in this old land. I told the authorities that I could never live on a space station and that considering the money I made the media, a funded research position on earth did not seem unreasonable remuneration and they agreed.
I waved goodbye to the drop ship as it arose silently into the night. No more walking in the Ziggarat’s shadow and I am glad of that.
It was easy to live in Britain’s forests. There is no winter and abundant food available with a little training. One day I encountered a woman weaving willow by a riverside. Our eyes shone with the same brightness and we spent many happy hours in each others company.
I tired of loneliness and built a hazel shelter nearby. While I hunted, she cooked and gathered berries and roots. We would often sit by the firelight and marvelled how offices and motorways had once occupied this simple woodland floor.
I rest from work to place my arm around my wife’s waist. I feel her soft flesh and smile. Our dog barks on the soil floor, outside the chickens strut and our child runs confidently amongst the tall grass and birch.