West of Paradise, Galatia
“Now what?” Gideon asks weakly.
Sylvia looks up to him with red eyes that had long since run out of tears. She shrugs.
Between Gideon and Sylvia is the freshly filled grave where Meghan’s body lay. The rich smell of earth fills the air and is mingled with that of sweat. The sun bears down on Gideon and Sylvia with an impassive watchful gaze and Gideon notes that the skin on the back of his neck is beginning to burn under the direct light.
“I guess we could say a few words,” Gideon answers his own question with a feeling of dread. Everything that had happened over the past hour or so weighted down on him so heavily that he felt incapable of moving or thinking. In many ways, he felt like an engine that hadn’t had its oil changed in many years and was now seized and full of the thickest grime known to man. Grime so thick that it prevented the engine from performing its duty until it was cleared out.
“No,” Sylvia chokes as she shakes her head.
“Then what do we do?” Gideon whimpers as he lays on his side to watch the grave. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like it was his duty to watch it.
“Just sit here,” Sylvia answers with another shrug.
As Gideon lays beside the grave, he feels a tear snake its way from the corner of his eye to his temple. There, it hangs precariously for a few short moments before the constant thud of his heartbeat shakes it loose. Just like Meghan’s life, this tear’s future is immediately ended, and it becomes part of the ground.
Gideon wakes up slowly and he can’t help but feel like everything that had happened before he fell asleep was just a dream. He never understood it, but something about sobbing himself to sleep always seemed to leave him a little dazed and disconnected when he woke up. He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else, but a few of his friends had shared similar feelings on their own over the years.
Gideon wasn’t big on crying by any stretch of the imagination, he hated it. He hated it even more when people saw him do it.
But life in the Domes wasn’t easy. In the crumbling cities, accidents were all too common. Friends, families, and neighbors would leave one day and not come back. Buildings had a way of toppling, sinkholes had a propensity to open suddenly, and other pieces of infrastructure failed at inopportune times.
Long story short, Gideon was familiar with death.
Judging by what he had heard from the others about their Domes, things were very much the same in every walled city. It was clear to Gideon that the Coalition government was horribly inept at keeping things together. At the rate of decline that he was figuring, Gideon could see how any Dome could survive into the next century.
But Meghan’s death was different. It wasn’t the result of some accident. It wasn’t something that Gideon had no part in stopping. He could have stopped it. He could have been there for her.
Instead, he and Sylvia left her alone for far too long. They let her suffer with the guilt of leaving Tyson behind. They let her out of their sight and they left her to her own devices.
Instead of doing anything to prevent her death, Gideon and Sylvia fished Meghan’s body out of the river that they had buried her beside.
“Sylvia!” a voice calls from somewhere in the trees.
“Gideon!” another voice calls.
Hearing the voices, Gideon realizes that they were what had awoken him several moments before. Hearing the voices, he knew that the others had forgiven his and Sylvia’s sin of abandoning the team to come out here.
Now we just have to see if they forgive us for what happened to Meghan… Gideon thinks bleakly as his eyes fall back onto Meghan’s sad excuse for a grave. Thanks to the river, there was plenty of soft silt and gravel for them to dig through to dig the grave deep enough, but they couldn’t find a stone large enough to serve as a headstone. The impromptu piece of wood wouldn’t last, and Gideon knew it, it felt wrong to let her grave disappear after the wood rotted away.
Gideon reaches over to Sylvia, who had moved closer since he had nodded off, and he gives her a gentle shake. Doing his best to smile at her when she opened her eyes, Gideon tells her, “The others are coming for us.”
“What happened?” Rolland asks the moment that his eyes meet Gideon’s.
Frowning and shrugging, Gideon answers as honestly as he can, “I don’t know. Everything seemed to be fine and then… I don’t know.”
Gideon had his suspicions of what happened, sure, but that was a far cry short of knowing anything. Since he didn’t know Rolland or Meghan well enough, and since he didn’t know their relationship, he opted to error on the side of under sharing and saving his speculations to himself. There was no knowing how Rolland would respond to Gideon’s suspicions that Meghan might have intentionally drown herself.
“Sylvia?” Rolland prompts.
“Meghan’s dead,” Sylvia frowns, her voice cracking slightly. She looks away and finishes, “We don’t know what happened for sure, but we… we think… never mind.”
“Well, did you find what you were looking for, at least?” Rolland demands, Gideon can tell that he is getting angry.
Sylvia looks at Gideon helplessly and he offers her a sheepish shrug. He didn’t know what to say and he had a sneaking suspicion Sylvia didn’t either.
Pursing her lips, Sylvia stammers, “W—well, we found something, but we h—haven’t looked around just y—yet…”
Rolland scowls as he looks around the clearing where Gideon and Sylvia had buried Meghan. A few stiff moments pass before the features on Rolland’s face soften and he sighs. Looking between Gideon and Sylvia, he offers, “Why don’t we take a look around now, then?”
Reentering the complex that he and Sylvia had spent the night in, Gideon can’t help but shudder slightly.
This was the last place he saw Meghan alive.
Something about returning here felt wrong. It felt to him like he as desecrating some sort of grave. No, Meghan wasn’t buried in here, but it sure felt to Gideon like she may as well be.
“Well, we don’t have the time for all of us to check out every room,” Maverick points out as he makes a big deal of looking around the massive room that they are in.
“What’s the rush?” Sylvia asks, “This is the only thing of interest that we’ve come across since getting out here.”
Maverick turns to Sylvia and answers, “The twins say that Rolland wants to take us back to his village sooner rather than later, we’re just slowing things down.”
“The twins?” Sylvia cocks her head.
“Warren and Astrid,” Maverick clarifies.
“Ah,” Sylvia nods slowly, “And where are they?”
“They’re waiting outside, probably,” Maverick shrugs, “They’re hard to keep track of. They came with me here to get you guys.”
Pursing his lips, Gideon offers, “What if we split up to look around? That way we could cover more ground.”
“And risk losing more people? I don’t think so.” Maverick frowns and Gideon can’t help but notice his slight scowl.
“It should be perfectly safe,” Gideon shrugs, “Sylvia and I slept here last night and nothing happened—nothing besides…”
“What he’s trying to say is that there isn’t anything here that can kill us,” Sylvia clarifies when Gideon trails off.
Nodding at Sylvia, Gideon can’t help but be thankful for her presence. If it wasn’t for her, he wasn’t sure how he would deal with Meghan’s apparent suicide.
A suicide he is certain he had a part in.
If I had just been more accepting of her, if I had just taken clues from her recent brashness and impulsiveness… Gideon shakes his head and cuts the train of thought short. He didn’t have time right now to dwell on what could or should have been right now. He didn’t have time for regrets like this. Not now. That sort of thinking likely had a place, just not right now.
Nodding slowly, Maverick gives in, “Alright, let’s split up, but don’t wander too far… I don’t like this place.”
After a good half hour of so of searching the compound, the hairs on the back of Gideon’s neck stand on end and he suddenly stands a little straighter. Spinning around, he looks at the nearest hole in the wall that led to one of the courtyards that the complex had.
Gideon suddenly realizes that he had been here before.
No, not physically, but he had been here in a vision, quite a few years ago.
The details on the particular vision are blurry, but Gideon can’t shake off the familiarity to this place.
Walking over to the hole in the wall, Gideon peers outside and he freezes. This was the exact thing that he had remembered seeing in the vision. Swallowing, he allows his eyes to drop, as he remembered them doing in the dream.
That’s when he sees it.
At the center of the courtyard Gideon now notices a large computer console that he had overlooked when he looked around the area his first time. He feels foolish for missing it but assures himself that the surrounding foliage was enough to obscure his view and that he wasn’t just careless.
Swallowing, Gideon knows what he had to do, he needed to access that computer. Even though it had been exposed to the elements for an unknown number of years and even though it had no reason to have power, Gideon knew it worked. He knew it because he knew as much in his vision.
Gideon stares at the computer for a few short beats before he shakes his head. There was no way that he would try and convince the others of what he knew, explaining it would be impossible. Up until recently, Gideon hadn’t even realized just how powerful his visions could be.
At that realization, Gideon spins around and makes his way out of the door to the room he had been in, and he quickly retraces his steps until he is back in the courtyard. Speed walking over to the computer, he brushes off the thick grime, all the moss, and picks out a few of the plants that had tried growing in the machine.
And then, as if he was doing it from memory, Gideon reaches over to one of the buttons on the computer, presses on it, and is immediately rewarded with the loud hum from the computer’s fan and other systems firing back up after ages of remaining idle.
Some way some how the computer still worked.
“Guys!” Gideon calls out loudly, hoping that the others were still in earshot, “Guys, come here quick!”
Despite desiring that the others could watch him work on the computer in an effort to prove that he indeed saw this all in a vision, Gideon can’t help but press on. Tapping a few more buttons that he can’t even read, he is suddenly awarded with a screen that pops up from the computer’s body and flashes to life.
And Gideon instinctively taps the first icon that his eyes lock onto.
A video populates the screen and begins playing on its own accord.
The video starts out with gentle and yet also majestic music and the picture on screen is of a landscape as a camera slowly pans around, showing everything off. It takes Gideon a few moments before he realizes that the landscape he is seeing is from Galatia. What’s more, the landscape is of the area around the compound that he is in right now.
The scene suddenly changes and there is now a man in the center of the screen. The man, Gideon realizes, is standing in the courtyard that Gideon is in right now.
“What is it—” Sylvia starts when she bursts into the courtyard. She stops herself when her eyes lock onto the computer.
The man on the screen clears his throat after a few moments and he starts speaking, “Much has changed since the walls rose around humanity’s final strongholds. Since the fall of the nations. Much has changed since we were excluded from the Clemency Program.”
“Who is that?” Sylvia whispers when the man pauses.
Gideon shrugs, “I think I know, deep down… I just can’t remember.”
The man continues his speech, “We have decided that it is in our best interest that we, the last vestiges of humanity on Galatia, seek shelter within our great, walled cities. It is from there that, one day, we will take back our homes. Take back our cities. Take back our planet. Without the direct help of those we once called our allies, this will be a struggle—it will be a burden—placed squarely on our shoulders.”
“Hey, I’ve heard that speech before,” Astrid says from somewhere behind Gideon.
Spinning around, Gideon shudders and he quickly asks, “What? How? Where could you have heard it?”