Diane Doplin was no stranger to danger. One didn’t survive as a reporter in Metal City without developing a sense for it and a penchant for chasing it. An anonymous lead had informed her that rumors were spreading among the swamp folk in the Scrap Marsh that an old temple had emerged from the muck, she’d grabbed her boots and raincoat and rushed out without many questions. She’d almost given up, her boots filled with mud as she waded through the swamp, until she had found the ‘temple’.
Now the entrance to the temple had a trail of muddy boot prints in its pristine corridors, but that was not Diane’s problem. The lights had come on automatically as she entered. That had caused the reporter to jump a bit, but as her nerves settled, it started to dawn on her what she had stumbled upon. What the locals had deemed a sanctuary of the gods was nothing of the sort. Monitors were set up against the wall, along with several computers that all were slowly powering on. It seemed this station had its own internal power source.
“I must be the first person in a hundred, no, a thousand years, to step into this place!” She said, as she stepped further into the terminal. “What sort of people used a place like this? Brave soldiers monitoring the movement of monsters? Scientists seeking answers?”
Diane leaned over the terminal’s control pad. They were letters, that she could tell, but what did that mean? She started to press one key after the other, seeing what response the computer gave.
“Welcome, user,” A digital voice spoke as she provided input. “Are you looking for a specific directory? Please select from the available paths.”
Diane laced her fingers together as the screen was quickly populated with a list of names. The reporter sharply deduced that she had stumbled on a data silo of sorts. One name caught her eye, a familiar name.
“Oh, Jada, dear,” Diane said, with an eager smile. “It might just be time to feature you in an expose. Let’s see what you’re hiding in your past…”
Jada Jemison read the headlines of the newspaper as she sat in the back of the yellow taxi, windows tinted blue. The cabby had given her a strange feeling, with his yellow teeth, beady eyes and wild red hair, but a cab was a cab and she needed to get to work. The heavyset man made conversation with her as they traveled, his jokes bad and a little tasteless, but Jada did her best to be polite.
She tried to listen to the music as he scanned through the different radio stations. The cabby couldn’t seem to settle on any one thing. Jada’s ears had perked up when she heard some heavy metal playing through the speakers, bobbing her head a little to the beat. The taxi driver had switched off that real fast thought. “Don’t know how people can stand this noise. Mark my words, no one will be listening to this ‘music’ one hundred years from now!” The cabby had said. Jada had started to tune him out not long after.
“…And that’s when I told him, ‘Buddy, you want to walk, I’ll drop you off right here.’ Opened the door for him and all. Just didn’t tell him that there was a pothole as big as a crater. He stepped right in it and splash!”
What a clown, Jada thought, though she just gave the cabby a small smile.
“Here’s your stop, doll. That’ll be forty-three, seventy-five.”
Jada pulled out her card and handed it over to the cabby, before stepping outside the compound. They were building fast, expanding the aerospace research facility out and so there were a number of construction crews working within the chain fence. Jada walked towards the compound’s main building, passing by one of those crews pouring out cement for what she knew would be the foundation of the launch pad.
“Mornin’, Jada,” One of the construction workers, a man named Sly, greeted her as she walked near. She had talked with him a few times and found him to be rather pleasant. He dressed in simple suspenders most of the time, wearing a baseball cap. His smile was framed by his well-groomed yellow beard and mustache.
“Good morning, Sly. How are you doing today?”
“Things are alright. We’ve got a lot of work lined up. Looks like you science folks need a lot of construction real fast.”
“Yes! We’ve secured several key grants, but it requires an increase in our capacities. We still have a lot of work to do.”
“Before the end of the world, yeah?”
Jada took a step back, stuttering. How could Sly know that? The findings were supposed to be confidential! The exploratory teams into the Depths had all been debriefed, but the information about what they found, the slumbering monsters, had been classified to the highest levels. “I, that is, I mean…”
“We ain’t blind, Jada,” Sly said, leaning on his truck. “Everyone’s drillin’ deeper for gas, right? And you all found something deep down there. Something worse than the fighting that’s going on.”
“How do you know this?” Jada took a deep breath as she tried to steady her nerves. She didn’t want to give too much away, though even asking that question was dangerous.
Jada fidgeted uncomfortably. Lyudmila Kovaleva was an icon at the facility, but she had a tendency to draw authority’s ire, particularly by speaking too loudly about matters they wanted to keep secret. Jada respected her a lot, though on the matters of what was found in the Depths… Sometimes it was better not to know!
“So it’s true then?”
“I’m afraid I can’t talk about it, Sly,” Jada said.
“The other guys, they say we’re building all this stuff so we can start to leave the planet. That you scientists are going to take us to space.”
“Is that what you think?” She questioned carefully.
“Nah,” Sly said slowly. He gave a shrug of his shoulders. “But I think that’s where you’re going. Like a time capsule. To get away from this craziness before we destroy ourselves.”
“It’s…” Jada tried to think of what to say. He was far too close to the truth for her to keep her polite, cheerful façade. “Things are getting worse here, Sly. Miss Kovaleva warned us about this, the point of no return. Project Ark is designed to be a contingency if… other… methods fail.
“So that’s it then.”
The way he said it with resignation made Jada hang her head. It wasn’t fair, but she knew that. She had volunteered for this mission not out of any selfish desire, but because it represented what was perhaps the final hope for humanity. Miss Kovaleva had made it clear with her expeditions that there was no way to stop the Apocalypse. Not anymore.
“The Hiberah think they can stop it,” Sly said, his voice betraying the faint glimmer of hope he held in that thought.
“Maybe,” Jada’s reluctance was clear. “But even then, the projections…I shouldn’t be saying any of this. Sly, you shouldn’t know any of this!”
“Alright. I wasn’t going to tell anyone anyway. Though I think most of us know. But can I ask you one thing, Jada?”
“What is it?”
“Make sure we’re not forgotten. When you’re up there, looking down on us stuck on this planet, just remember us. Don’t let our memories get lost.”
“…” Jada didn’t say anything right away. What could she say? The request, the responsibility, bore down on her shoulders. “You got it, Sly. You won’t be forgotten.”
Diane sat back in her seat. Almost all of Jada’s logs were along a similar theme, detailing the people she had met and worked with during those twilight days before she traveled to the sky. One name kept coming up though: Lyudmila Kovaleva.
This mysterious figure loomed over Jada’s notes but Diane couldn’t help but notice she never appeared directly.
There were several articles and pictures that had remained of Kovaleva. There were some that even showed her in a straight jacket, looking wild as she yelled at the camera. Others showed her leading protests.
As the reporter scanned through the other logs, there was a ping from the computer’s speakers. Diane found herself locked out, her input denied. As she struggled with the input keys, an upload was started by another.
The username displayed as Kovaleva.
“Hello. I see you have found me at last. Allow me to assist.”
To be continued…