THE LAST CITY
Copyright © Roslyn Gilmour 2017
ISBN: 9781543922134

1

Not On Earth

          "Do you know..." Rebecca sucked back her breath as though afraid to speak her next words.  Then leaning closer to my ear, she whispered her secret.  "We are not... on Earth."

          I turned my head slowly toward her and peered into her eyes, hoping she was ok with what she had just said.  But instead, I found her studying me with the same concern.  I smiled, taking her delicate hand in both of mine, and maintained our steady stroll along the gentle shore.

          "Yes," I whispered back, while thinking of Grid.  Also from Earth, Grid had been pulled into this dimension sixty-two years before me.  And I restrained myself from repeating his revelation to me when I'd first arrived - that even though we were both from Earth, we may not be from the same Earth.

          I continued to have trouble wrapping my own thoughts around that concept, and so I chose not to burden Rebecca with this detail.  Instead, I decided to keep things as simple, and as sane as possible, for the both of us - we were from one Earth, one Rathe, one Heart, and one Threa.

          She sighed, acceptance relaxing the tensed lines around her eyes.  I sighed right along with her, and flashed a brief smile of relief behind me to Hammond, Rebecca's protector and constant companion, and to Jordan, my soulmate.  And in response, I felt Jordan reach out to me with his soul, wrapping me in his warmth.  His presence wafted across my skin in a gentle wave that rolled around my waist, my arms, my chest, my neck, and finally across my lips as though ending in a kiss.

          I moaned internally when he retreated, leaving the cool, ocean breeze to surround me once more.  I called them his soul-hugs.  Something I was yet to master.  When right beside him, I had no trouble releasing my soul to caress his, but from any distance my ability was limited to sensing him only.  Even from the slightest of distances, such as we were, I knew he was there, I could feel his presence, his love, his need for me, but I could not touch his soul with mine.  Whenever I happened to find myself alone, I would try with everything I had to seek out his presence, and then practice embracing his soul.  But each endeavor ended in nothing more than a headache.

          Attempting to return my attention back to Rebecca, I spoke before thinking.  "I've always known," I said.

          Her head snapped in my direction, and she stared at me before responding, "And you didn't tell me?"

          I froze, halting our walk.  I was not expecting that.  But I should have expected something along those lines.  I almost certainly would have reacted the same way.

          How could I explain to her though, that because of her fragile nature, we'd helped Hammond keep her in the fantasy world he'd built for her.  For centuries, he'd kept her safe in her regal apartment, under the impression that she was still on Earth.

          I didn't want her to pull away from me.  Not now that she was finally seeing her life for what it was, and more importantly, where she was.

          "I'm sorry," I said, gently squeezing her hand.  "They thought it best not to tell you.  It was a scream-worthy experience for us all."

          Nevermind the insertion process she'd gone through since arriving in this dimension.  But we didn't know how to explain that to her without unraveling the sanity she was holding onto.  She most likely remembered something had happened.  I just wasn't sure though, if giving her all of the details would make it better for her, or worse.  And so, I decided to agree with Haize, our healer from Heart, and with Hammond, that Rebecca's knowledge of the insertion was a best kept secret.  At least, for now.

          She swallowed hard.  And I knew she'd accepted my apology when she looked down at our hands and didn't try to remove hers from mine.  However, I didn't resume our walk; I was quite certain that we were just about done for the morning.  It had taken the better part of three months, of repeating information to her, and reassuring her that she was safe.  And most days, for the most part, she accepted each piece of information as we revealed it to her.  But on this morning, I couldn't decipher from her china-glass tone, where she would take the conversation.

          "But... what a strange name for this place," she continued.  "Threa."  Her light, airy voice was back, and I blew out my withheld breath - all was right with the world again.  "And Rathe, and Heart, equally strange."

          "They most likely think the same of Earth," I suggested.

          "Hmm, I suppose," she began, and paused to stare up at the sky.  "But why, if we are so much the same... but in other dimensions..." she trailed off.  Her voice, as it rose in pitch with each word, told me she hadn't quite attained complete acceptance of this concept.  She glanced back at Hammond, and I followed her gaze.  He was already looking back at her, smiling, reassuring her.  He never missed her eyes whenever they came his way.  He never missed an opportunity to calm her thoughts.  "Why aren't they all named Earth?" she asked, facing forward once more.

          I couldn't answer her question, and I had no clue who could with any accuracy.  Perhaps the AI that ran the planet, the Central Unit, would have an answer for her.

          "And you know," she continued, but her voice wavered as though she knew what she wanted to say, but struggled with the words as she said them.  "With... with the difference in our years, we could be related."  Once more her voice rose in pitch, until she was almost a full octave above where she'd started.

          "Anything is possible," I said, and peered behind me once more.  Her strained tone worried me.  Rebecca had been brought into this plane of existence over three hundred years before me.  Information, Hammond had only recently shared with her.  And she seemed to understand, but continued to struggle with accepting the information in a rational manner.  No wonder they kept it all from her.

          "My love," Hammond said, striding forward to join us.  "We've been outside too long.  I fear the sun may burn your delicate skin once more.  We should really head back inside.  I'm sure Lydia can come by later to finish your discussion."

          She glanced down at the exposed skin on her arm, then up at the clear, blue sky, and then out across the soft, aqua ocean.  "I suppose you are right," her voice once more, barely above its usual whispering tone.  "But our newspaper," she said to me in urgency, referring to Grid's and Hammond's efforts to put into print, every memory of Earth we could share.  The technology of Threa, the world we were pulled into, was often overwhelming, and maintaining something as simple as a newspaper helped us remember who we were.  "We must finish the Sonnets," she whispered, regarding our latest work.

          I placed her hand in Hammond's, and said, "We will," and reassured her that I would see her soon.

          "But you and I will be having a discussion now," I heard her say to him.  And as he led her away from the shore, his free arm wrapped around her shoulders, securing her within his embrace.

          I watched them disappear behind the trees and the shrubs that shielded the narrow pathway, as it wound its way up and through the town of Tira-Mi.

          A small part of me was relieved to see them leave, for I needed to focus on Jordan.  He had been unusually quiet all through breakfast.  And when Rebecca had finished reading the latest sonnet we were working on for our newspaper, all he had to say was that it was beautiful.  Which it was, but I was sure his mind had been elsewhere.

          "That was close," I said, still staring at the last place that I'd seen Hammond and Rebecca, before they disappeared along the pathway.  Jordan stepped up behind me, wrapped his arms around my waist, and pulled me close.  His warmth was again a welcome change from the cool, ocean air.

          "What brought that on?" he asked, and then brushed his palms up and down my arms.  My soul rushed to the surface of my skin, ready to break free to join with his - I never got tired of that feeling.  But I kept it within me.  And the sensation subsided when he removed his hands to step beside me.

          "I guess she started out checking up on me," I responded.  "I'm worried though.  She doesn't seem to be accepting all she's been told.  Maybe she's been given too much information all at once."

          "Sometimes there's no other way to give it," he said, then clasping one of my hands in his, he entwined our fingers, and led us away from the shore.

          We padded across the dry sand toward a pale-brown canopy made of four wooden posts.  The top of which consisted of several rectangular sails of a deeper shade of brown, similar in color to the cliff-side rock.  Their gentle flapping, the only noise beside the soft swoosh of the ocean waves.

          The canopy butted up against an alcove, that had been cut into the cliff wall.  It was deep enough and wide enough to contain a small, rectangular table and cushioned chairs.  Soft light illuminated the room, as it seeped through the smooth, rock walls and ceiling.  The floor was warm, carved from the same rock, and not a single grain of sand ever entered the room.

          A small group of people from Rathe had built the alcove, along with many others, explaining as they did, that it reminded them of home.  Some of them lined the beach, but others were higher up in the cliff face, affording a secluded and peaceful view of the ocean.

          Upon reaching the alcove, I retrieved from the table, my pen and notepad which was filled with Rebecca's ideas for our next few newspapers.  My notepad and pen could be considered primitive next to the technology that was available to me, but I liked the feel of them in my hands.

          Once I'd retreated to the entrance, Jordan waved his hand across a narrow section of the rock wall.  As he did, a small portion of the wall, barely the size of my palm, dissolved into a shimmering, silver panel.  When he retracted his hand, the panel disappeared, resuming the color and shape of the rock.

          His brief action removed all traces of our morning meal, sending them back into the machine from which they'd come, and at the same time, he sent my notepad and pen back to our home.  Only the table, the chairs, and the wooden-post canopy remained.  But even they could be dissolved away, if necessary.

          As we made our slow way back toward the town, he seemed lost in thought for several moments, and stared at the sand beneath his feet, before resuming our conversation.

          "I don't think Hammond should have been so protective of her," he murmured.

          "Why not?"  I had to ask, although I shouldn't have needed to.  When I'd first arrived, the colonists weren't exactly forthcoming with information, with me either, and that had ended in near disaster.  "I heard when she'd first arrived, she almost lost her mind," I told him.

          "Hammond said she came close.  But she almost did again once she'd learned the truth," he said.  "It would have been better if she'd had complete understanding from the beginning.  Sometimes we need to completely fall apart, before we can see the life before us, and accept our own reality."

          I couldn't help but smile at his words, as I thought about my own recent dissolution.  Coming back to him had given every moment of my life beforehand, meaning, a sense of purpose.

          He stopped any further forward movement, to pause at the path's entrance toward the town, and then looked at me as though ready to say more.  Confusion and concern worked the muscles in his jaw, as if he needed to speak, but was stopping himself from doing so.

          But the moment passed, and he grumbled deep in his chest as he glanced back up at Tira-Mi.

          If I didn't know any better, I would have guessed that he was having an internal argument with himself.  This wasn't the first time I'd observed him doing this.  But something today, felt different.  It seemed there was something he wanted to say, perhaps needed to say, but whatever it was, he was stopping himself from saying it.

          "Jordan," I began.  I didn't want to push him, but I couldn't let him continue to struggle with whatever was going through him.  "I've had the feeling all morning that you want to say something.  Whatever it is, I can handle it.  You know I can."

          He turned me to face him, embracing me, holding me close.  And I treasured the feeling of him, his warmth and his strength beneath my hands, as they came to rest, impressed upon his chest.  The cool, ocean air whipped around us, kicking up sand as it went.  But I didn't care.  For he warmed my soul, and as long as his arms were around me, the beach could have swallowed us whole.

          However, my moment of bliss was short-lived as he inched away to see my face.  "Mason has been trying to communicate with me," he said.

          "What about?"  I mumbled, wanting to complain about the minute distance that was now between us.  But my brain caught up with what he'd said, and I realized instead, I should have asked when, for I couldn't remember seeing any communications from Mason.

          "I've been trying to ignore him.  I don't want to hear what he has to say.  I don't trust him."  But he sighed, and then added, "Haize thinks I should, though."

          "Trust him, or listen to him?"

          He chuckled, and placed both of his hands upon my face.  He then planted a small kiss upon my lips, before whispering, "My love.  My ever-fixed mark.  No matter what the future holds, we will always be you and me."

          I couldn't help the smile that formed upon my face.  It had started within my chest and spread throughout me, as though it had a life of its own.  During breakfast, I was certain he hadn't been listening to Rebecca read Shakespeare.

          And I quietly quoted back to him, "Even to the edge of doom."  It seemed fitting, after all we had suffered and survived.

          He smiled, then added reassuring words of his own, "And through to the other side."  His arms moved around me, and held me tight once more.  "Promise me, you'll always remember this, us, no matter what."

          I couldn't respond.  The happy feeling within me faltered.  And I wanted to ask, what could possibly happen that would cause me to forget how I felt about him, about us.  The answer to that question however, was already inside me, as I remembered the Guardian and its wards, who until recently, controlled Threa.  We'd already survived the edge of doom.  Thankfully though, the Guardian and its wards were no longer a concern.

          I snuggled into Jordan's warmth, attempting to shoo away all thoughts, all memories.  I wanted to feel only him in that moment.  But the memories of the recent events in the Colony refused to leave, and another memory stirred.  Something someone had said.  Something my brain had tried to latch onto again and again over the past few weeks.  But the memory as usual, refused to do more than skirt the edges of my mind.  And so, I pushed it aside.  It couldn’t be important.  And I focused once more, upon Jordan.

          "Soo," he said, releasing me, and capturing my gaze with his.  I wanted to complain, to snuggle back within his warmth, but the ardent smile he gave me, stopped any words from forming.  He entwined his fingers with mine, and we resumed our walk along the path to Tira-Mi.  "I hope you're ready," he continued.  "We're already late."

          The calming tone of his voice soothed my insides to the point where I'd barely acknowledged his words.

          And then I remembered.

          Lena.

          "Yeah," I groaned.

∞∞∞

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