I can’t believe a fucking arrow is going to kill me. It looked to John that it would be a true fate, though. Blood was gushing from his side. He figured he only had a matter of time. He looked about the small room: Dark, barren, metallic. Two atmospheric-pressure suits hung forgotten on the wall. He crawled across the air-lock door he had just come through, and searched the equipment pack nearby one of the suits. He found what he was looking for. Leaning back against the wall and sighing, he hit the RECORD button.
. . .
“My name is John Jackson and this is my last will and testament – oh – scratch that – this is just to give me something to do until I finally go. Well, might as well start. It all began on Jack Brenneman’s Yacht…I was getting ready for a party in my suite.”
“I was standing by the mirror, adjusting my bow-tie while my escort lady was getting dressed. I had picked out my nicest of tuxedos for this party – it was to celebrate another marketing success by me and my partner, Jack. I studied myself in the mirror: Large, black and powerful. Yeah. I was a pretty big guy, then.”
“She said something to me – I don’t remember what – but then I remember hearing the sound of glass shattering and a queer whistling sound – I looked behind myself and saw a fleeting glimpse of a small metallic tube whiz by and smash into the surprised face of my companion. Blood spurted as she clasped her face and the canister clattered to the floor, already beginning to spout its toxic tear gas. I gripped my throat and fell to my knees in horror, and then the world went black about me, becoming as a dream that I can no longer recall.”
“I woke up in some ominous white-washed room, like the kind you see on them T.V. shows. There was a small plasteel table in the middle – strangely, I wouldn’t have recognized it was there but for its shadow. I couldn’t see any light source – the room itself was just bright. A door lay on the other side – it was also as bright as hellfire. It opened and this guy walked in – he looked like he hadn’t seen sunlight in years and he wore big wiry-rimmed glasses; his hair was slicked back as if he had rubbed it with animal fat every day of his life. His ears stuck out like Dumbo the elephant, or that Dopey guy from Snow White. He was a thin guy, too – small and lanky. Probably not a hit with the ladies, either. But he sure had power over me who lay huddled in a corner, awaiting my due fate.”
“ ‘Mr. John Jackson, you have been arrested for the purchase and marketing of Mesa, a hallucinogenic narcotic,’ he said to me in a wormy little voice. ‘For this offense there is only death.’ He did go on to tell me though that I had two options. I don’t want to spend a lot of time repeating what he said – it wasn’t important. Let me sum it up for you: I had two choices. Since I was doomed to die anyways, I could give my life to science. Not like a cadaver, no, anything but that. The Experimental Division was working on two very far-reaching projects, called Asteroid and Basement. Projects A and B. I was selected for Project B. I found out that they wanted to put me in a sub at the bottom of the sea for a thousand years – and to awaken me then. Why, I don’t know how – you’d think it’s impossible but it wasn’t hyper-sleep. Apparently the hydrogen chloride stasis experiments with rats didn’t work too well for humans.”
“They wanted to take out my memory implant, and then, thirty six years before the a thousand years was up (That’s also how old I am,) a clone of me would be made, and my implant would play to it as it grew – so it would, effectively, be me, with all my memories and experience to claim as it’s own. I knew my science, though. The cloning experiments had failed.”
“The man told me: ‘No they didn’t. We proved that we could clone a dead man – but a clone of someone currently alive – both subjects died. Do you know why?’ I nodded no, I hadn’t heard about this. He continued to tell me that the scientists believed that our consciousness, our self awareness, existed on a higher plane or something – and that it was a key and our body a lock. If two locks existed at one point in time – the key would try to divide itself and thus be unable to sustain either body. It was something like that. Basically – when they shot me in the head - me essentially, would awaken a thousand years from now as if nothing had happened.”
“And so – what did you expect me to do? I accepted. They dragged me into another room, strapped me down to some chair. It was just like the other one – white and featureless – and then they activated the machine. I felt a severe pain in the back of my neck as the anesthetic was injected. Some anesthetic. Then I felt the automatic scalpel carve around the outline of the marble-like memory implant lodged into my neck. It was like a distant burning – and then I blinked. It wasn’t really blinking, though – it was more like my vision shut out. When I opened my eyes, I was in some sort of rusted auditorium. That’s all I could think of – the room seemed big. I sat up, and found the room wasn’t as big as I first thought. I lay in some sort of oval-shaped womb-like thing and I was lathered in purple jelly. It tasted pretty good – it was in my mouth, too. Looking about, rows upon rows of other wombs sat – with other people sitting up. I opened my mouth to speak when a soft, lilting female voice spoke from within my head. I could tell from the stunned looks of the others that they had heard her too.”
“She said to me, ‘You are the Captain. Unlike you, the others have been genetically altered to find their stations acceptable. You as well as the others have a mental list of all names and their stations. I am the Systems Computer of Nautilus.’ She then proceeded to tell me the mission that I had to complete: To get everyone to their proper stations and to rise to the surface and await further orders from descendant command. Apparently, the people in the downstream future should have been waiting for us.”
“It took me a few hours, we all had gotten settled in – the sub itself was an old nuclear submarine – it even still had warheads, though neither I nor anyone else had the codes to activate them. We rose to the surface at about noon, the sun shining way overhead. We all got on deck and looked up into the cloudless sky – the heat felt good on my skin. For three days we waited, snacking off rations. No message. No contact. Hope began to diminish as we found we couldn’t connect to any satellites either. Then, something appeared over the edge of the distant horizon. Further speculation uncovered that it was some sort of barge – huge, like one of those cargo ships that you’d see off the coast loaded with tons of boxes – except this one was three times as large and three times as shabby. Old, dried out seaweed hung in clumps from its rusted, crumbling metal sides and instead of having the main captain’s building towards the bow, it was in a center. It reminded me of a sailing city. We sent up signal flares and waited for it to come save us from our thinning rations and release us from our metal tomb.”
“I knew instantly that something was off about this, but we didn’t have a choice. It got within a quarter mile of us, blotting out the sun and placing us in shadow. Small rowboats came out from hatches somewhere on the ship and paddled towards us. By this time, it was midnight and a half-moon lit the night over head, casting odd and multi-faceted reflections on the azure, seemingly endless sea. I couldn’t make out the figures at first, they seemed humanoid enough – but as they approached it became increasingly clear to all of us present that they were more reptilian than primate. Still, though, we prepared to moor with them.”
“We threw out a couple lines when they were within distance, and guess what they replied with: The twang of bowstrings. Instantaneously, five of my men were cut down by arrows. Instinctively, we all raced towards the hatch as grappling hooks soared through the cool night air and clanked and rattled along the smooth sides of the sub until they found purchase. Within minutes, they had rounded us all up. They had killed another three men by then, but the rest of us realized this wasn’t a slaughter so much as a collection. If you ever visit the Galapagos Islands, there are many animals there yet to be catalogued. Imagine happening upon one of these creatures – and they are so exotic that you just need to take one home, for the rest of the world to see just so they’ll believe you. I guess it was sort of the same for these guys, they were scared of us at first but soon found we were harmless and hungry.”
“Now let me give you the low-down on these uglies: Imagine a man crossed with a lizard and ta-da! You get these poor sobs. Their clothing consisted of sacks with holes in them for their limbs to slide through. They stink to all hell, too. Oh, by the way – those bastards never got inside my sub – using my implant I told the sub’s computer to submerge to five hundred feet – just in case you were wondering. When we got aboard the main deck of that overgrown cargo ship, we were lined up and examined by what I figured were doctors…you can’t really tell because they all wore the same sacks – apparently clothing doesn’t mean as much to the other species. The sun began to rise lazily from the farthest reaches of the horizon. Some things never change, I guess. After the inspection we were hauled down beneath the decks into a large cargo hold; crates were stacked at random everywhere and we were all left down there, the doors locked behind us. Apparently they thought we were a race of idiots. This would be their downfall.”
“As soon as those doors closed, me and my lieutenants got to thinking: These people – they manufacture steel and other metals, obviously, but they only use crossbows. We surmised they were in an age right before guns came around. So we decided to wait a day and see what happened.”
“The next morning, we were taken up to the deck, except this time, it was filled with thousands of the things, swarming and undulating like a thick sea of scales and slime. A single hallway walled by bodies awaited us from bow to stern. It was thus that we were paraded about, like animals in a circus, towards and around one side of the building, to the stern, and back around the other side. All throughout the damn lizards hurled hunks of some sort of uncooked meat at us – like peanuts. Man, it sure feels like shit on the other side. Afterwards, we were thrown back down below decks. After sitting for a few hours, we also surmised they didn’t know what to feed us. Water was in abundance – there was a fountain of sorts nearby which we used continually. It did run out from time to time though, but within minutes, it was refilled. It looked as if it was refilled manually from above decks. My guess is they didn’t know what to feed us. So we starved, and the next day, when we were paraded about again, the men picked up the hunks and hoarded them in their now-scant uniforms. Down below, we feasted on the raw meat. It didn’t taste good, but it helped.”
“And so it went on, for another ten days or so. My men and I had gotten used to it by then – but an all-meat diet was becoming unhealthy. I began to see signs of scurvy developing and decided something had to be done.”
“ ‘We’ve got to get off here and find humans,’ I told my lieutenants one night.”
“ ‘Don’t you get it – there isn’t any. That’s why they don’t know what we are,’ one lieutenant replied sullenly. ‘We’re a lost cause.’”
“ ‘And we’ve got no women,’ another added. At this, I did realize that unless there were other humans left…we were screwed.”
“So then I told them, ‘Well, we’re dying. We won’t be the last humans – hell no! We’ve got so many resources and advantages – for one, they think we’re idiots – and two, they left all their supplies down here. So…let’s take a look.’ And so it was, we began to pop open the crates using strips of metal left around. We soon found that these creatures were transporting many things – but one of monumental and perhaps misunderstood importance. Gun powder. It was black, smooth, sifted right through your fingers – and they didn’t know of its true power. We discussed at length why they didn’t and simply figured they weren’t “there” yet. After all, we’d discovered plutonium before making the bomb, hadn’t we? We also found sheets of metal as well as some sort of dry cloth – and wicks, the kind you’d use for candles. They didn’t have any of candles – they were reptiles, and thus, they did not need fire. Thinking about it now, that’s probably why they never discovered how gun powder explodes – they simply hadn’t stumbled upon it yet.”
“And so it was decided: Every night, after our daily humiliations, we’d eat and work on our escape. And then, on the fiftieth day, with scurvy racking us pretty hard, we went out on that deck for the final time. Half way through the procession, having known beforehand where the guards would be, we got ready. Then I gave the signal, and we all formed up into a tight, two-man-deep circle. The outer layer each pulled out a long metal tube, and dropped in a small bag with a wick on the end and then a steel ball about the size of a marble. At the other end of the tube, the man behind lit the wick with a match, and we all took aim, all around us as the lizards began to get frantic, not liking the sight of fire. The guards began to move in but before they could, multiple explosions rocked the deck. Immediately, guards and lizard “citizens” alike fell to the ground, bloodied and disillusioned. Pandemonium took over, the crowd splitting rapidly and uncontrollably, each heading towards their respective ends of the boat. The inner layer took the tube and reloaded it as the outer layer withdrew a second tube, and fired again. It was beautiful – like a symphony – the product of many a rehearsal.”
“The circle split in two and soon we had annihilated all the guards and locked all the “citizens” in storage, after, of course, removing all the crates. We then raided the middle building and wiped out the officers, thus gaining control of the boat. It was then that we figured out that still, no vegetables could be found on the boat. So we had a choice: Stay here and die, or try to find land. We didn’t know how to work the boat, so we spent a day figuring that out – I didn’t think getting back in the sub was a good idea, after all, and we got the barge moving slowly in one direction. We did this for a few days – but we quickly found that there was no more food on the ship. Where the food had been coming from, we had no idea. So we went down into storage and killed one of the adult citizens – yes I still have compassion – and then we cooked it. It was alright, though it felt weird eating another sentient creature. Oh hell, look, my battery is running low so I better hurry this up…”
“Anyways, we went ten days like this until another barge came into view. We tried to remain analogous to them, mimicking them, but soon they came close – and out came those damned grappling hooks. We never had a chance, forty of us – some others had died during the attack – so we huddled inside the main building. It didn’t take long for them to take the deck, and come from underneath – that was where the main battle took place – in the cargo hold. We had to put a bunch of boxes of gunpowder down there near the entrances to the main building’s basement, and blow them during the exchange. It was at this point the barge began to take on water. The lizards slowly evacuated, taking the “hostages” with them, and we were left to die. I myself suffered an arrow wound – that’s what’s killing me now. Meanwhile, we sat at the top of the main building – much like the passengers of the titanic, watching it slowly sinking into the deep. It was at this point that I learned most of my followers didn’t know how to swim. Fat luck, I guess.”
“There really is no way to tell this – I don’t want to go into detail. Basically, I don’t know if they are alive or not. I stayed till the last second – just like in the movie, before the ship went under – and then, remembering, I called up the sub, climbed up the side. I tried to look for others to help on but it was dark and so I went into the hatch, and came down here, to the airlock. The sub is busy submerging right now, back down to the depths – so that none of those things can ever find it. My battery is nearly dead now, so fair well. I only hope that it is a human who hears this – and nothing else.”
. . .
Finished with his testament against life, John let out a sigh of relief. His part in this comedy of an existence was now over. All his followers were dead – that’ll look good on the resume, he thought. He tried to stand up but instead fell on his side. Jackson coughed up blood – it tasted irony and bland in his mouth. This was it, he realized. This was the end. Blackness began to cloud his vision – and in his final, deluded thoughts he cursed himself for not taking the bullet instead.
Death is never merciful, but unlike life, it’s a lot quicker.