OverShadowed Earth

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: A Kettle of Vultures by John Murdock (Saturday, April 14, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Tears by John Murdock (Monday, April 16, 2007)

(posted Saturday, April 14, 2007)

Per aspera ad astra. --"Through difficulties to the stars."--Chapter 10



Five days...five days since they had come here. Sera had felt the interminable passing of every single second. She had never been so heartsick, so afraid, and so lost. She had never before been forced to put up such a front for her children.



Ratt...Ratt had been a blessing from the very beginning, when he found them shelter, to this moment, when he negotiated a "group rate" with the inhabitants of the shanty town to be healed. The people pooled their resources and lined up; Astra stood in a sheltered bit of ruin, open to the sky, yet carefully concealed from anyone who might be spying. One by one the sick and injured were brought to her, and one by one she poured her healing Kheldian energies into them, just as John had so often....



John...



By now...by now the immediate answers must have been exhausted. And she knew, she knew this had been no accident. Someone had reprogrammed the Portal to send them here. And if Portal Corps technicians had not yet unraveled the puzzle and brought them home, then something terrible had happened back there. Were the controls destroyed? The Portal itself? The whole building? She could imagine him, looking calm, staying focused, but tearing apart inside. Demanding the impossible in a way that made it impossible to refuse him.



The past five days had brought them answers as to how this world had become OverShadowed. There were, of course, diversions in the timeline. There had never been Kheldians here, neither Nictus, nor, of course, Peacebringers. There had never been Rikti. There had been Nemesis...and the Clockwork. And...oh yes...the Fifth Column. That was where it had begun, the fall of this world. The Fifth Column had magicians, and those magicians had courted the Fallen, made them promises in exchange for help, little guessing that the Fallen were infiltrating and corrupting the governments of those opposed to the Fifth Column, playing both ends against the middle. So when the troops had come pouring out of the sky, and up out of their rat holes some thirty years ago, the response had been...slanted. There had been metahuman heroes here too. They had been forcibly registered, then seduced or eliminated. The Fifth Column was allowed to establish a foothold, permitted to think they were winning, and their presence was used as a scare tactic to overthrow the governments of the rest of the world to establish a single world order, under those utterly subsumed by the Fallen. And people had cheered the new world president, Jeff Clematis, that down-home boy with the affable manner...former cowboy, former movie star, just plain folks.



Corrupted by the Fallen through and through. Oh, he did what he promised, he crushed the Fifth utterly. And then he made himself "president" for life, and turned the real running of the government over to his "advisers," his Cabal, who were, one and all, Fallen. And thus began the reign of Hell upon Earth. The army established to crush the fifth now turned its guns and bayonets on the civilians. Those who conformed were permitted to live in a kind of bleak comfort, afraid every moment of being denounced, of somehow transgressing, very like the Orwellian world of '1984.' Those who did not became like these, scavengers living on the borderlands of society.



And yet, there was still resistance. The human spirit is harder to crush than even the Fallen could guess.



Sera had not yet shown herself. She tended to JJ in the shadows of their cellar, for Ratt was afraid her appearance would frighten these people.



Astra had discovered she no longer needed to eat...nor did Aedan. Kyne and K'takei had undertaken an accelerated tutelage in the use of Kheldian energies of the Peacebringer and Warshade. Astra simply stood in the sunlight and fed off the energies of the light. And Aedan...



As ever, where there are the weak, there are wolves to prey upon them. These people had been subjected to nightly raids of bandits on a regular basis. But now the raiders never got as far as the ruins, for Aedan patrolled the perimeter, with Ratt--and when he and Ratt had defeated the raiders, Aedan plundered their life-energies. He never killed them, but he left them as weak as newborn lambs, and to the tender "mercies" of their fellows in that state.



All of which allowed them to stretch their supplies and what they traded for to the max. Sera herself didn't eat much; it was hard to. Food was tasteless, and she choked it down only with difficulty.



John...



She looked up from feeding JJ with sports drink; he would swallow if you fed him the drink slowly, but he was no closer to regaining consciousness. Neither she, nor Astra, could "feel" him; he was either deeply unconscious or his spirit had been so shocked it was literally in a fetal state. If only she had someone to help her like Mandy and Bella! But he wasn't gone yet. There was still hope. And he was a strong young man. They were all strong, her children. Astra out there, healing terrible injuries and illnesses as well as any CCCP medic--Ratt negotiating with the frightened and dispirited second and third class denizens of this place--Aedan on patrol with all the competence of his father--she was so proud of them. John would be so proud of them.



John WILL be proud of them! she told herself fiercely.



"Ma--" Ratt called to her through the gloom of the cellar. "I think they trust us now. They're gonna bring a guy through here to meet us tonight. I think he's their contact to the rebels. That good?"



At last. A tiny breakthrough. "Yes, Ratt. Wonderful. I can't imagine how we could have done this without you!"



Even from here, she could sense Ratt's blush...curious. Was she becoming more, rather than less, sensitive? "Aw Ma...anyway, try not to spook him, ok? Like, no wings."



"I promise," she said, and he slipped back outside to help stand watch over Astra as she healed and sun-basked.



Five days...five days too many.



No matter where you go
I will find you
If it takes a thousand years.