Although confined to an aerial bunker, it offered an ever present view of the world outside. Seasons had long since disappeared, replaced instead by an endless cornucopia of states. Each state brought with it a different colour to the sky. No longer confined to vibrant blues or dreary grey skies, the world now offered an always changing spectrum. There might have been a time when this display might have even been considered beautiful to behold. Instead this change meant a constant state of alert.
We quickly learned that being in this state brings about exhaustion. While the human brain was never designed to concentrate at this level in perpetuity, it does have an incredible way of adapting. Turns out all you need to keep things moving along are the fleeting moments inbetween. From an early age we are all taught to turn on and off, like a switch.
The exact nature of the attack was never the same. It just happened and it was always relentless. The onslaught reached a critical level. Luciana switched. Instinct kicked in, her movements were fluid, almost rehearsed. Her deftness however would astonish even the most veteran of skyminders.
This particular attack looked devastating in scale. Reaction was led by instinct, if you waited too long the game was over and the skyminder was the sacrifice. In this heightened state, Luciana was in a form of trance. Her body being stressed to near breaking, yet for the casual observer it seemed effortless. She managed to fend them all. Then almost instantly she switched off again.
In the suspended state your mind wanders, meanders. While your physical body goes numb and hard. Everything lingers. Your breathing slows down and is barely perceptible. Your eyes glaze a milky white. Your skin hardens and goes cold. Your heart is barely felt. Your subconscious however is in complete overdrive.
It was established early on, that while the body can be put in a successful suspended animation, the subconscious required a different kind of solution. Trying to pause this activity meant breaking something that could not be fixed. Our answer to this was the puzzling.
The human subconscious needs to be fed challenges. It is what keeps the brain from imploding in on itself. The puzzling was created to offer just the right level of engagement. A near infinite maze of challenges to explore and discover. The levels of complexity continuously inflate as more time is spent wandering the conjured worlds.
Luciana’s subconscious switched back without missing a beat. Here she was running at the speed of thought. Here she was not under attack. Here there was nothing to bind her. Here she was not in constant danger. Here she was not a crucial link in the world’s defence. Here she was allowed to smile.
The puzzling was a direct contrast to the realities of being a skyminder. This mental construct also served as a training ground, to help you anticipate how a chaser moves, thinks and reacts. Luciana was bounding through a city made of infinitely routes across seemingly infinite levels. The journey was interrupted abruptly, knocking Luciana to the ground.
In the puzzling you were the hunter. Nothing was meant to land an attack. Yet here she found herself lying on the floor, the wind completely knocked out of her. Confused, she turned over onto her back and looked straight up. Staring down at her were a pair of elderly eyes.
The eyes belonged to an older lady who was looking down with focused intention. She wore a sharp two piece navy blue skirt and jacket. The only tell that she was military was a sharp silver pin in the shape of web under her left shoulder. ‘Sorry about the abruptness, we have much to get through.’ Luciana slowly managed to get to her feet, before she could say anything they were both inside a large empty circular tent, empty bleacher seating extending to the top. A single round table and two chairs occupied the centre of the stage.
On the table a decanter and two large wine glasses. Luciana took her seat at the table. ‘15 years old’, began the Admiral ‘is the average life expectancy of a skyminder. Do you know why?’ Luciana did not attempt a guess. ‘Because we have failed to understand the significance of the subconscious.’
‘You just had your fourteenth birthday is that not right?’ asked the old lady. ‘I did…Admiral’ replied Luciana. ‘Well then, I guess you are clear to join me for a drink.’ The Admiral paused, let a small smile escape her and proceeded to pour a rich golden liquid into the two glasses. ‘It’s time you understood your role in this world soldier.’
‘The decision to put the fate of humanity in the hands of our children was forced upon us. As humanity’s numbers began to dwindle we increasingly had to rely on ever younger skyminders. We have been fighting the invaders across generations with no clear way out. Until now.’
The Admiral continued, ‘Your memory might be young, Lieutenant Luciana, but your actions mask the fact that you are the most prolific skyminder we have ever had. Humanity is tired Luciana. Over the decades we have tried to break free of the endless cycle.’ She paused and looked intently at Luciana.
Luciana peered at the glasses of golden liquid then back at the Admiral. ‘Humanity has run out of time. At the burn rate of soldiers we are not only loosing the war, we will be extinct before your 15th birthday. We have tried to avoid this move for as long as we can, but the plan is for everyone to travel deeper, beyond the puzzling and into the spectrum. Whether you are able to return from this journey will ultimately depend on you.’
‘In this darkest corner of your mind, remember that you are not alone. Your dependence has been untethered. A million souls. All of what is left of humanity is with you in these final moments.’ The Admiral passed Luciana a golden glass filled to the top. Even though she didn’t understand the how, she was a soldier and a good soldier always follows orders. Whatever she faced on the other side, she was ready. Luciana took the glass and drank fully.
Luciana stood on the edge of forever. At once she ceased to exist in both the real and subconscious human worlds. The Spectrum is a hard concept for humans to conceive of such a place, much like infinity. It did not resemble the physical. Here linear thought was not possible and your very existence was a very different experience. You became your thoughts, wrapped in your ideas. Endlessly. This was one level deeper. A subset of your sub-conscious and at once the very origin of the attacks.
We were deep in humanity’s longest, and maybe last, winter. We decided to sacrifice everything we had. My name is Luciana and this is my account of humanity’s last stand.
The attacks were nothing more than physical manifestations of our own subconscious. All this time we had been in battle with ourselves. Or at least part of ourselves. To discover the thing that hunts you is also a part of you created an existential crisis. We doubted everything that humanity stood for. Why were we trying to kill ourselves? More importantly for our continued existence, how could we make it stop?
Generation after generation was lost as our pursuit of finding a way to stopping our deepest selves continued. Our numbers kept going down and nothing seemed to be was working. Our move was motivated by, and borne of, desperation. We knew that entry into the Spectrum was mostly a single way trip. We could never work out why some people managed to come back and other didn’t.
What we also noticed was that after someone did manage to return from the Spectrum, this came with an extended period of tranquility. By sending everyone into the Spectrum at once the hope was that this would overwhelm the system and allow many to return.
At first the plan looked to be working. For a brief moment in time, humanity had the better of it deepest darkest impulses, our most vile desires, our struggle with the worst we had to offer was being conquered. Our joy was short lived and in what seemed like an instant, we were overwhelmed.
Humanity had reached its zenith and had succeeded in destroying itself. We couldn’t talk, plead or engineer ourselves out of the situation. In these moments our imagination and creativity did not count for much. As the most destructive species on the planet it was hardly a surprise that our final act would be unto ourselves.
I was able to switch back from both the spectrum and puzzling subs and into the real world. I was greeted with complete silence. Inside the alert module was not exploding around me, the communications were not responding. Outside the silence was even more disconcerting. Rather than the regular barrage of attacks, I was greeted with a soft glow from the horizon. For the first time in centuries a human being could see the sun rising.
As I stared outside I wondered how many others had made the switch back. Was I alone in the world? The communicator remained silent for what seemed like forever. I tried to add to the silence. I tried again and again. Then after trying for what seemed like an eternity, ever so faintly, apprehensively even, I heard two beautiful words, ‘Hello. World?’
Originally published daily, throughout November 2020.