The Revered Doctor Abbas ascended the stairs to his laboratory, the sounds of alarm not a concern to him, nor to most others. He reached the door and entered his code before going in. He eased himself into the chair at his desk and activated several monitors, typing with his aged hands. He brought up the plans that he was working on, yet three of the screens showed outside – the mutants were trying another attack. While they were his enemy, Abbas felt sorry for them; it was pointless, they would all die. They would not live to see their children play, as he once had, or grow grey in their beards, or achieve anything of note. Eden was impregnable. Covered by a force field, surrounded by a ring of steel fortifications and trenches, the last refuge of humanity offered only death to its attackers. He wondered, briefly, if they found comfort in prayer as he did, then he set to work.
Abbas looked up at the screens as bursts of plasma rose from the ground. The flame-fountains were the outermost defences and by them alone the assault was decimated; hundreds of mutants were showered and then consumed. Those that survived came into range of the troops in the trenches, as well as the cannons and rocket launchers of the fortifications, and the slaughter increased. Some mutants returned fire, yet their technology was far inferior. The defence of Eden was solid once again, but Abbas had never doubted.
Eden had always been secure; that was how the human race had survived here while the world had been devastated and overrun by evil. It had existed, almost since the beginning of the troubles, in another form. But it had always been a stronghold, a refuge for humans, a place of preservation.
When monsters had appeared and begun their terror, many people had believed it was the Apocalypse. Hell had been unleashed, so the Middle East, the Holy Land, had been an attraction to millions as they sought salvation. Yet monsters came too, either to lay waste out of spite or seek the power so many believed to be there. Whatever the reason, the presence of numerous fiends, including very powerful ones, had led to the old enemies of the Jews and the Arabs uniting in defence of their revered cities.
The situation worsened as mutants came from the north, driven away by the humans who had created them, and around the world the products of science, mutants and machines led to its destruction. When Jerusalem, the last and most revered of the cities by the Jews, Arabs and gathered Christians, was obliterated by a powerful monster, they decided to abandon their reckless brethren and establish an impregnable fortress to save themselves and ensure the enemy could never rule the Holy Land.
By pooling resources, they began building the Tower of Babel; once an act of human arrogance, this time of humility and hope. At first it was only the Jews and Arabs, but then the Christians were accepted, not many by then, although all had suffered great losses. It was through their contact with the west that businessmen learned of this one sanctuary in the entire world and sought to be a part of it, offering everything they had. They had been accepted too. Babel was swiftly finished, better than intended, and with these industrialists came more resources as well as the best of the staff from their companies.
The Tower of Babel had stood for decades and over time a theological state had been forged, the corporate atheists too small a minority to resist. Science became loathed for its degrading effect on humanity, if only for a while. Then an argument arose that they needed it, that it was not science but man’s arrogance; as usual, that was the problem. In the end, science had been embraced again, on the condition that those who wielded it first learned that God ruled all things. Such had Abbas, first a priest, now a scientist as well.
Abbas liked to think it was this unity of religion and science that had done so well for his people, that the humility which came with worship prevented them from overreaching themselves. It had also been due to the technology brought by the rich, of course, but it had been applied correctly; the greatest invention being the force field that had arced out from Babel to close off a large section of surrounding land.
Under this dome the humans had set out, well armed and in atmosphere-suits; a century in the fortress as the world changed had left them vulnerable to it. They had constructed and revitalised, building a glass dome beneath the field and filling the space within with splendid structures and luscious plant life. Eden was born, around Babel, and now the humans lived out under the darkened sky, the land more dangerous than ever as foes were drawn to this paragon of humanity. But within they were safe.
The doors to his laboratory opened and Abbas looked around, not surprised to see Grace enter; as leader of Eden, she could go anywhere. Like him, the woman was Arabic and old. She had been a respected figure among the Elect since her youth and was esteemed as the best Governor in God’s Name. She had ruled Eden wisely for four decades now, continuously re-elected. She was politically smart, religiously devoted and equally committed to her people. Grace was from a noble family yet had had none of her own, putting her duty first. She treated every child in Eden as if it were hers and so, now, at the age of eighty-five, she was seen by most as Eden’s mother.
“How goes it, my friend?” Grace asked, standing by Abbas. Despite her age, she was physically healthy and her eyes sparkled. It wasn’t until he offered a chair that she sat.
“I am almost done,” he told her. They spoke the common language, once called English, leaving Arabic for holy occasions. “All I need is one more test and then it is ready.” He looked at her. Even sitting down she looked poised, her grey hair trailing smoothly behind her back, her hands clasped in the lap of her blue dress. She was a woman of purpose, always. “You intend to make your move?”
“I feel I must,” stated Grace.
“Many will oppose you,” warned Abbas. He gestured to the screens, displaying the defeated mutant attack. “We are safe, we know this as surely as we know God exists, and your plan will jeopardise that.”
“Perhaps, however, as with God, there is much we don’t know. If all is ready, if all will work, then my argument is on stronger ground. For that I rely on you.”
“I will not fail.” Abbas bowed his head to her, out of personal respect, not due to her office.
Grace looked at the screens. “They attack us out of hate and jealousy, that we know. Yet what other motives do they have? What else hates us? What lies beyond them? These questions must be answered, and if I have to, I will force compliance. But first I will ask for it.”
Grace sat in her chair as the Elect gathered in the Tabernacle, the marble hall where debates and decisions took place. Those elected to this place were a true representation of the people: men and women, Arab, Jew and Christian. The latter were the minority, yet all religions, while continuing their own ways, were valued equally; they were all People of the Book.
There was a division, though. The Elect were made up of Tolerants, Conservatives and Fundamentalists. They sat in these sections as they settled on the benches, rows of them on the seven steps that arced before Grace’s chair. Their numbers were equal, that was a law, and the space among the Conservatives where she had once sat still remained. But she knew she would have to convince even her own with her idea. She had allies; she had prepared for the debate, but her proposal was known and some were set on its defeat.
“Let us begin,” Grace proclaimed, everyone ready, and now they knelt. They prayed for wisdom and guidance, calling on God by different names, using various languages, and yet were united in faith and worship. Once done, they sat again and focus was replaced on the Governor, although she wasn’t the only object before them. Next to her chair, slightly behind, was an empty throne, a reminder to all leaders that they were second-in-command only. “Never have we needed help from above as today, for I propose that we reach out into the world and see what has become of it.”
Most of the Elect reeled, gasping, exchanging stunned looks, although several were unmoved. Grace knew why.
“What is now being handed out to you by the Levites is my plan, every detail of it. You can examine it as we go through it. Summed up, my wish is to send one of us from Eden, a soldier carefully selected, to travel as far as possible and report to us as discoveries are made. Armed and equipped to the best of our ability, this soldier will be our pillar of cloud and fire, paving a way for us and revealing what lies ahead.”
“So you wish for us to leave Eden as well?” someone asked.
“It is a possibility for the future, depending on what is found. You see, that is my fear. While we have dwelt securely here for almost two and a half centuries, the world has moved on and we have no idea of what has occurred. Ignorance is a sin, many have claimed. It is a weakness too. For all we know, the human race is enslaved, or perhaps it is reclaiming the world. We obviously know of mutants; they surround us, and monsters, some still reside nearby and we were all raised on tales of their terrorism. We know machines turned on their creators when made in arrogance. But what inhabits the world now? We must know.”
“To what end?” a Fundamentalist spoke. They were her main opposition in this argument. “We are the human race and us alone. If any remain anywhere else, they are no longer kindred to us; the fact we cannot survive outside our dome proves that to us. Within Eden we will outlast all other races. What they are is of no importance to us.”
“I cannot allow that to go unchallenged,” a Tolerant now declared. “God has blessed us with Eden’s creation and we cannot abuse that by deserting humanity. We have the technology and the faith to save the world; even those misguided mutants can be helped, for what are they but altered humans? From here we can restore the world to better than what it was, except how can we without knowing what awaits us?”
“I believe we should leave the everlasting debate of humanity to another time,” announced Grace, unable to agree with either view; as a Conservative, she believed there were humans outside of Eden, but mutants too. “While I am convinced that we should extend our reach, I also feel that act should be delayed. My point here is that we know nothing of the world beyond our sensors; there could be a horde of monsters heading for us or the machines could be close to world conquest. We are safe here, but for how long? Is there superior technology for us to beware? Are we deluded in our sanctuary or are we righteous?”
“If there are dangers out there, then the last act we should make is to tell the world where we are,” a Conservative pointed out.
“There are suggestions that knowledge of Eden extends far,” someone else countered. “Despite horrific losses each time they attack, the mutants about us grow in number, not decrease.”
“The soldier could prove or disprove that suggestion,” added another.
“As you can see on my plan, the soldier will lack nothing and be able to tackle any task,” Grace said, but her look fell a little. “As you can also see, whoever volunteers for this mission will need to be altered to leave Eden, so even if he or she learns enough and survives everything to be able to return, which is unlikely, they won’t be able to live here.” This made everyone sombre: to serve Eden someone had to leave it forever.
“What if no one will volunteer?” one of her opponents had to ask.
“No one can be made to,” Grace admitted, “but that is a problem to be faced only if it arises. Nothing is lost by asking.” That, none could contest. “The Revered Doctor Abbas has worked hard to produce the necessary gear for the soldier, including a ten year battery that is going through its last test now.”
“Ten years? A personal power source cannot last so long.”
“If the test succeeds, it will. We have not needed to create anything so self-sufficient before so we have not pushed our limits.” Grace looked up and about them. “Eden is the perfect home; the generators have never failed us, the dome has not even been scratched. While I thank God every day for this security, we are highly dependent on it. We need to know if we have gone so far as to become complacent.”
“But this also argues against your proposal,” a Conservative now spoke up. “To save the world we need every advantage we have. By sending someone out so well equipped, we could reveal our secrets to our enemies.”
“This plan only endangers Eden,” a Fundamentalist agreed, which made the Conservative regret his words somewhat.
“For all we know, it already is endangered,” Grace told them and saw the uncertainty affect most. In Eden they could be sure of many things: faith, safety, happiness. Yet the world was unpredictable and that meant they either wanted to hide from it or solve it. The Fundamentalists and Tolerants each seemed united in their different choices, mainly for political reasons, and so Grace looked to her own group to decide this issue.
“The soldier we send out will not carry a banner of Eden nor shout the mission to the world. The aim is for us to learn. True, it cannot be kept a secret – suspicion will be aroused, questions will be asked, revealing the truth to some will benefit us – but the risks stand alongside the potential for when we unveil what lies beyond our sight. There could be allies out there as well as foes, and if foes, in order to defeat them, we must know them. We could be capable of saving the world while we sit here or we could be merely awaiting destruction. I believe we must know.” From many looks she now received, Grace felt more sure. “Now, let us go through the details and then vote.”
Captain Mordecai came through a chamber and into Eden, his home. It always felt good to walk the cobbled streets after the violence of a mutant assault. Though they were an advanced people, the city had been built to be pleasing to the senses, and so he passed by houses of smooth stone and coloured glass windows, along with blooming gardens and tranquil ponds. Technology was always present as well, evidenced by the machines that helped maintain their lives, yet the immense city remained a place to be cherished. The outside world and its harsh evolution was kept at bay in more ways than one.
The only places where this wasn’t so were the perimeter defences that surrounded Eden and the Tower of Babel at its centre. He had just come from the barracks, where he lived as a soldier; there he walked through rounded corridors of steel and could don full armour to fight the enemy. Now he headed to the Tower, a gleaming spire of black alloy that still bore the scars of long ago. It was in the Tower where scientists laboured and tested, and where Eden’s leaders met to govern the community.
The mutant attack hadn’t been a serious one, yet he had been busy since, checking on his unit, reporting to his superiors, talking to his fellow officers entrenched elsewhere. It had been just after the unit’s prayer of thanks that he had been called to the meeting with Grace. Since then he had showered and changed, leaving his combat-suit in his quarters, now in his uniform robes.
He walked with an even stride, arms by his sides; he tried not to march when he was among the people but he was too well drilled. He took in lessons better than most, always had. Not that he was ashamed of being a soldier, nor could he hide it. His robes of green and white and silver told all that he was an officer who lived to defend them. Many nodded their heads to him in recognition as they passed. It made his heart glad to see such admiration in their eyes.
Mordecai exchanged salutes with a fellow officer, then bowed his head to a priest as they passed each other. As usual, the priest wore robes of the most mundane colours; they were men and women of dignity and wisdom, not fashion or display. Of course, no one wore anything that was unseemly anyway, and only certain ranks could have colours such as gold or silver. Blue, brown, green, yellow, black – these were to be seen all around him, giving a sense of wholesome splendour. Never would someone dare to offend by wearing something as gaudy as red, pink or purple.
As Mordecai came to the Tower, a cherub approached. The hovering, gleaming robot headed down the street, pausing to scan a chatting couple, then an elderly man snoring on a bench, before it reached the officer. The cherub was about the size of a head, a cross between a sphere and a diamond, and Mordecai tingled as its sensor-ray ran down him, ensuring he was truly human. It was equipped to act if he wasn’t. The cherubim patrolled Eden and Babel constantly; every citizen could expect to be scanned at least three times a day. It was a mere inconvenience to ensure security and purity.
It wasn’t long before Mordecai had ascended the Tower and left the elevator to arrive at Grace’s office. Several Levites were at work in the reception area, hard at work he noticed, but one still came to welcome him. Even though Mordecai was not the biggest of men, he felt imposing against the slender other, whose hands had clearly never been honed in training, nor his shoulders been rounded with muscle from exercise. The captain waited patiently as he was declared, he couldn’t help but wonder how dull life must be for these people, and then he strode into the office.
Within, the woman waited and Mordecai sat before her desk, pleased to meet her; like so many he viewed her with the highest regard. She had led Eden his entire life. He had heard she had recently won yet another debate, such an historic one that whispers of it were already whirling around the city and the activity outside indicated to him that it was all true. Even so, Mordecai was amazed as she now revealed to him what that decision was. He reeled further as she explained his part in it.
“Yes, it is quite a request I make of you,” Grace acknowledged, only her gaze never left him, “but I must. I have here a list of candidates for this mission. You are the best of them all, you are also the last. I had intended to meet everyone and then choose out of those who agreed, except not one has, none will leave Eden. Before, you were my preference. Now you are my only option. I offer this role to you, Captain, yet I beg you to accept it.”
“What of others not on your list?” Mordecai wondered, unable to say much else at present.
“They are not on my list for good reasons,” stated Grace. “You are an excellent officer and fighter, and while there are others out there better than you in those respects, they lack in other vital areas. You are intelligent, but you are also clever – you think on your feet and you are open-minded. If you were one of the Elect you would be a Tolerant, not someone who saw all as enemies. Your skills are superb, your loyalty undoubted, your faith like iron. You are one of few who can handle a journey into the world.”
“A journey I can never return from?” Mordecai had to ensure.
Grace was grim but still looked at him. “There is a remote chance, perhaps. If you can survive all the world has and then penetrate the armies of mutants around us, the surgery may be reversible in the future. Presently it is not. You will be fashioned to live outside Eden, not in it.
“Yet you will serve it equally well, better I say. I will not spout rhetoric at you, tell you that this is God’s will or for Eden’s good. Others can argue the same for you not to leave. But my opinion is that we need you to go. I feel we can no longer hide from the world. In fact, I fear we have done for too long. We are ready to re-enter it and I feel you are the best we can offer as our first appearance. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – you are the choice for this role; only now, if you do not go, it will not happen. I won’t send the wrong person. Better not to do this than do it badly.”
“I can see the risks if this goes wrong,” admitted Mordecai, “however I feel you are correct. Eden needs to test the Earth it sits on, just as Noah did after the Flood.” Even so, he didn’t look about to volunteer.
“I know what I ask and I, for one, would not leave. Eden means too much to me,” Grace said, somewhat comforting, but her voice became a mix of imploring and proclaiming once more. “However, someone must go. Not merely to learn, but I want someone to seek out human allies. Yes, I have not revealed that to the Elect, but I know I can trust you. I seek to move Eden to, one day in my lifetime, expand and fight for our world. For that we will need help. I want you to discover what roams this planet, how life is lived in this time period, and as you do that, find us allies.”
There was a period of silence as Mordecai mused the plan over. As a tactician, he agreed with it; as a Tolerant-sympathiser, he supported it; as a soldier, he would carry it out dutifully. Yet, as himself, the idea of leaving Eden forever wasn’t simply terrifying, it was abhorrent. This was his home, a glorious place, safe and serene. He was at the prime of his life, recently turned thirty-one, with his career on course. Also, while he had no family of his own, surely a reason for being selected for this mission, his parents and brothers were close to him; the old rabbi would be proud if he left for this, yet devastated too.
“When would I leave, should I agree?” he asked.
“Within a week. We would move everything along swiftly; much is already in waiting. All we need is the soldier. We need you.”
“You truly believe Eden needs this? I value your opinion above all others.”
“I am convinced. I have been for a decade. Nothing has changed my mind and I, like any true believer, test my convictions so they become stronger when they are proven.”
“And if they are disproved?”
“Then I know better and can react, but that hasn’t happened.” Grace watched him as Mordecai pondered, then smiled. “Go and take time to think, we are not in that much of a hurry. Either you agree or it doesn’t happen. So go and think. I will be patient.”
TO BE CONTINUED…..