The ground shook, just a tremor, but it knocked large pieces of masonry from the walls. They fell to the ground, sending up small clouds of blue dust. The sound of breaking glass echoed out from somewhere inside the building. Karo and Pon held onto one another under the large, beveled archway of the building’s front entrance until they were certain a full blown earthquake wasn’t going to follow.
Karo kissed Pon. “Have I told you that I love you?”
“Yes you have,” she said, “almost from the first day we met in the camp four weeks ago.” She stepped back from him. “You stink.”
Karo sniffed his underarm and wrinkled his nose. “Sixteen days without sanitizing tends to do that to anyone.”
“Has it been that long?” Pon stepped out from under the archway and gazed up at the pockmarked, full red moon.
“I’m only guessing,” he said. He sat down on the cracked and broken steps that bisected a grass-covered hill and adjusted the strap of his sandal. He looked out at the expanse of collapsed buildings and bridges, fissures and gaps in the streets, and vehicles that lay crashed or abandoned on the skyways. The city was bathed in blood-red moonlight. He saw nowhere what he was looking for – other signs of life. “Maybe we should turn ourselves in.”
Pon kicked at a broken silver chain lying amidst a small pile of rubble. “Maybe, but I don’t want to be responsible for leading our own people to their deaths.”
“We don’t know if that’s what happens.” He stood up and pushed his thick black hair back from his forehead. “Since this planet is about to collapse, our people are going to die anyway. Running away solved nothing.”
“It gave us sixteen days alone together,” she said.
The earth rattled, barely. From far off there was the thunderous sound of a skyway collapsing. A huge plume of dust rose up from the northern end of the city.
“Did you know that this is the highest point in Makron City?” Karo said as he stared at the dust cloud turned a hazy red by the moonlight.
Pon smoothed her white tunic, turned a dingy gray from dirt and her sweat. “You’ve undergone thirteen seeings,” she said, reflectively. “That’s more than anyone else I’ve heard of.” She picked up the chain and ran it across the palm of her hand. “I’ve only done it four times. I don’t think I could face going through it again.”
Karo gazed at her affectionately. “I know.”
The vibrant yellow pointed tip of a Traxon craft broke through the cloud. The ship’s mechanical arm-like scooping device was lowered from the bottom of the ship and aimed at the direction where Karo and Pon were standing.
“They’re onto us,” Pon screamed.
Karo grabbed Pon’s arm and, running at full speed, he pulled her down the debris-covered hill. Just as they reached the bottom, the craft came to a stop above them.
A booming, metallic voice came from the ship. “Karo Ygun and Pon Loru, you are traitors to your fellow beings. Surrender now to fulfill your duty.” The scooping device emitted a beam of glowing orange light.
“Run,” Karo yelled as he shoved Pon.
She stumbled forward, and then began to run. Only once did she look back; to see Karo being raised in the air, surrounded by orange light, and taken into the belly of the ship.
‧ ‧ ‧
Alone in a room lit by glowing walls and containing only a sleep unit and a toilet, Karo paced back and forth in front of an electromagnetic field that separated the room from the hallway. Traxons passed by, their large, metal feet clomping noisily on the floor. Those that glanced at him, did so furtively. The whirring of their computerized brains assessing him filtered through the transparent material that formed their oval heads. They had two completely round, expressionless eyes as clear as ice, a mouth that was no more than a slit that never moved when they spoke, and no ears or nose. From the head down to their flexible tube-like legs, was a cylindrical body with several holes that robotic arms and claw-like hands extended out of when they were needed. They were all exactly alike and over eight feet tall.
Karo stopped pacing long enough to take several water tablets from his tunic pocket and plop them into his mouth. As he bit into them, and he drank the glassful of water they produced, his thoughts were on Pon.
Karo was shaken out of his reverie by two Traxons standing on the other side of the electromagnetic field. One was addressing him.
“Running from us and your duty to your kind was foolish,” the Traxon said.
Karo stared into its glassy eyes and sensed it appraising him. “That’s your opinion.”
The Traxon’s brain whirred. “There are only less than a hundred thousand of your kind who still remain in the safety camps, awaiting departure. It’s up to you, and others with your abilities, to save those that remain here before this planet disintegrates. Your planet’s core becomes more unstable every day.”
Karo stepped closer to the field. “How can I believe you? In the many times I’ve been through the seeings I’ve only seen the openings of the black holes – these portals you call them – that you’ve sent the rescue ships through that contain my people. I’ve never seen beyond the opening and neither has any of all those who have given their lives during the seeings. Why are you so certain life-sustaining planets exist on the other side?”
“It is a matter of scientific certainty,” the Traxon said. “In the vastness of space there are millions of galaxies and in those galaxies there are other planets that are inhabitable for your kind.” The Traxon’s head whirred, gently.
“You’ve never answered my question before. Why are you helping us?” Karo asked.
The Traxon remained motionless for a moment, and then said, “We were created by an extinct race of humanoids on a planet called Earth eons ago to seek out and serve sentient beings.”
Karo stared at a blank translucent seeing screen that hovered in the air at the end of the room. Where are you, Pon? he wondered.
‧ ‧ ‧
The white sun rose from behind the three leaning, glass towers on the edge of the city. Many of the panels of glass that formed the walls of the towers were cracked, broken or missing. Reflected light glistened from the mounds of glass shards that covered the ground. The breeze that passed through the broken panels produced a steady high-pitched hum.
Pon sat on a bench inside a public transportation shelter across from the towers and slowly chewed on a food tablet. A piece of glass had pierced the sole of her sandal that lay on the bench at her side. The spot where the glass pierced her skin, going deep into her foot, throbbed with pain.
Where she sat was where she and Karo had sat shortly after their escape from what the Traxons called The Learning Center, the place where the seeings were conducted.
She tore a strip of cloth from the hem of her tunic and wrapped it around her foot and then put on her sandal and laced the straps around her calf muscle. When she stood, the pain shot through her foot and up her lower leg. The cut was the first injury of any kind she had experienced in her entire life, and the sensation of pain both frightened and fascinated her. It was much the same feelings that undergoing a seeing had evoked. She hobbled across the street and made her way around the towers.
Standing on the edge of a flat plain she could see the safety camp that stretched out on the horizon.
If I got out, I can get in, she thought. Karo, I should never have let you be taken without me.
Then the ground shook violently, knocking her to the ground. Behind her, the glass towers collapsed, sending up a cloud of glass fragments that twinkled in the sunlight.
‧ ‧ ‧
Karo saw a dark yellow, gaseous planet surrounded by six rings. Beyond that an immense field of meteors cluttered the darkness of space. Comets streaked across the heavens. Then he saw it: a gargantuan portal; a funnel-like opening in space surrounded by swirling cosmic dust and fragments of moons and planets, with a core even blacker than space itself.
Then he gasped and opened his eyes. His heart beat wildly. His ears ached from the ringing deep inside them. His entire body convulsed, and then he lay still in the cool, red, gelatinous fluid that surrounded him.
The Traxon standing at the side of the table said, “You did very well Karo Ygun.”
“That felt further out than any of the others,” he struggled to say as he tried to steady his breathing.
“Would you like to see it again on the seeing screen just as you saw during your seeing?” the Traxon said. “We were able to capture your vision with great clarity.”
“But I still didn’t see what lay beyond the portal,” Karo said. “You could be sending my people to their deaths.”
The Traxon froze in place as if assessing how to answer Karo’s question. Its head whirred loudly. A few moments later when it regained function, it said, “The alternative is definite death if you remain here. Now, we must get you out of the sensory conduit bath before any of the fluid works its way into your system.”
Two arms extended out from the Traxon and reached under Karo and lifted him to his feet. “While you were entering your seeing the planet experienced another major shift. The planet’s end is coming soon. Because of the size of the portal you just revealed to us we will be able to evacuate most of your kind now that we have a destination for them. But our calculations show this portal is unstable and will remain open only a short time. ”
“What about the rest of my people?” Karo asked.
“The last ship is ready. We just need to find another portal,” the Traxon said. “We must rush to find another among your kind with the ability to see.”
“Why not me?” Karo said.
“Our readings of your body’s response to this seeing indicates you will not survive another one. If you die during a seeing then we see nothing.”
Karo stepped into a tube and remained still as a white vapor cleansed his body of the gel. When he stepped out, the Traxon handed him his tunic.
“The one you escaped with, Pon Loru, may be the only hope for finding another portal in time to save the remainder of your,” the Traxon said.
‧ ‧ ‧
The electromagnetic field that enclosed the thousands of hangar-sized, Quonset hut-type structures in the safety camp had one break just large enough that allowed Karo and Pon to escape. It was through this break that Pon re-entered the camp. She stopped just inside the field and removed the cloth from her foot in order to run faster if the need arose. The cloth was stained with a large spot of dried blood.
The red light from the moon cast long shadows on the pathways between the huts. Pon stealthily made her way through the paths, keeping close to the huts. Most of the huts were empty. Traxons stood guard outside those that were inhabited. She made it to the row of huts nearest the learning center when two Traxon ships lifted off from their launch pads. The white ships were bathed in red moonlight. Pon watched as they lifted into the sky, and shot off into space.
Pon spun around when a hand grasped her shoulder.
“Karo!” she squealed with delight. She threw her arms around him.
“I’m so glad to see you again,” he said softly into her ear. He then stepped back, looked into her eyes, and said, “Pon, the Traxons need you to help get the rest of our people to the next portal.”
Mouth agape, she stared at him for a moment, and then said, “I thought you didn’t trust them?”
“I still don’t. Their motives have never been clear. However, this planet will explode soon. The Traxons are our only means of escape and hope for life if you can locate another portal. I offered to do it, but the Traxon said I would certainly die during the seeing.”
Pon gazed into his eyes. “Will you stay with me during the seeing?”
He took her in his arms and passionately kissed her.
‧ ‧ ‧
Pon removed her sandals and tunic and let the Traxon lift her into the gel.
The Traxon handed the seeing tablet to Karo, who then placed it on Pon’s tongue. He kissed her as she swallowed it.
Pon closed her eyes. The first sensation she felt was a searing pain around the cut in her foot. Then just as her heart stopped beating, her mind filled with images of space.
She saw two small blue planets near one another, both covered in ice. Then there was a massive field of asteroids. Beyond that the swirling opening of a portal and its dark core.
Another part of her brain followed the path of the chemicals in the gel that coursed through her body until they melded with the chemicals in the seeing tablet.
Suddenly she was inside the portal, flying through it at an incredible speed. She burst out of the complete darkness into pure white light.
Then she awoke with a gasp.
The seeing screen flickered and then the images began to appear again from the start of Pon’s seeing. Large pieces of masonry fell from the walls to the ground, sending up small clouds of blue dust. Karo and Pon held onto one another under the large, beveled archway of the building’s front entrance.
“What does that mean?” Karo shouted. “It’s showing the last several days all over again.”
The Traxon stared at the screen, frozen in place, its head screeching.
Groggily, Pon reached out and grasped Karo’s hand. “What’s happened?”
He gripped her hand tightly. “You saw what’s on the other end of the portal.”