Solomon’s story begins on a world after man, but it is not a traditional post-apocalyptic story. It is that of a man living on a world that has left humanity behind, and continued to evolve without us, leaving relics of a world that once was, or might have been, scattered throughout, slowly reclaimed by decay and erosion. He and Isaac make up the last of humanity on Earth, the rest of the world divided by social strata into those that could afford to reach the stars and those that were left to devolve socially into something less than human, under the pressures of an environment of desperation. The others became the Titans, strong and fast and powerful in an acute sense, but devoid of intellect or love or brotherhood and doomed to eventual extinction. As prodigy newcomers, abandoned there as children after a survey accident, the binds of society exist exclusively between them; they live in a library on a mountainside outside of the ruins of New York, their world existing in a space betwixt the nightmare outdoors and the one that they created for each other.
I introduce this story from its second chapter, as the scope of its world forms the foundation of its plot, and the second chapter is the core of its description.
The Road Home
© Michael Eric Oberlin, April 29, 2014
The way home was long and treacherous, but nothing that the two weren’t accustomed to. It was nothing that they were unfamiliar with meeting and, if necessary, beating. How Solomon and Isaac came to be was an unusual story in itself.
This was Earth, though it was no longer humanity. The change was nothing recent, it was a gradual process, as the well-to-do left the planet for the glittering firmament and the poor, sick, and uneducated remained behind.
Resources burned away like a wick, and with time, even the ozone vanished. A white sun burned fiercely in a white sky, glimmers of day-stars visible in the early morning and late evening, its heat hot enough to smoulder the archaic asphalt and concrete. The stress on the local populace grew, twisting their minds in fits of desperation to a more carnal state, no longer knowers but doers, while the ones that did know, that must know, remained comfortably suspended above like gods.
To fail to understand what happened next, one would need an unusually firm faith in humanity, one that Isaac and Solomon did not share. The strong turned on the weak, the weak betrayed the strong, and only those with the most raw of strengths, those with a fire in their hearts and at long last a total lack of respect or love for their brethren, became the fittest survivors.
The problem is, one man makes not a species, and in time, there wouldn’t be any left. Well, a problem depending on one’s perspective. Solomon and Isaac just called the things “Titans”, a fitting name derived from Greek myth, the ancestors of the gods. Creatures powerful yet abandoned and forgotten, feared, and forever delegated to times passed.
How Isaac and Sol arrived was quite a different story. Both were thoroughly human, though they served as each other’s solitary reference for what that meant. Why would anyone risk getting stuck on such an extraordinarily dangerous planet? One wouldn’t, and didn’t. They were brought there as youth.
Think what you will of the kind of parent that would bring a child to such a place, under any conceivable circumstances; losing them was not intentional. They didn’t even know each other until their marooning. The pod severely underestimated the ruthlessness and sheer number of the Titans, to say the least. Memory was faint, Sol didn’t even speak at the time, but the walls were overtaken by a perversion of humanity, what was now a distant memory, and Isaac just remembered running.
They were toddlers at the time. Sol was in terrible shape. His clothing was torn and his flesh scraped, his eyes shining with a form of panic and fear that Isaac couldn’t even find a word for. Isaac wasn’t much better off. All the same, together, they managed to find shade during the day and persist through a jungle of un-men, in the ruins of the city of New York. Within about a decade, they were a shoddy stand-in for a society.
The ruins resembled hollowed out skeletons, the frames of composite materials standing where concrete and mortar had crumbled into dust, leading the numerous skyscrapers to a stature as gothic spines reaching up into a deadly sky. The tips would glow in the late evening, the latent solar heat raising their temperature to that of an ember, winds bending them into claws jutting out of the earth.
They had only ever climbed one once, in a time of absolute desperation. It was a distant memory.
The cloak of solar light was a comfort in that it defended them from the creeping denizens of the ruins, the ruined people, who knew no friends. They could not cross the light. Daytime was passively the most dangerous time to travel, but against the hunters in the shadows it was by far the safest. Sol and Isaac were a good bit smarter.
They wore suits of insulation and reflective fiber, and retractable smoked lenses that guarded their eyes. The titans wore nothing. Periodically one would lurch at them in a desperate rage, but the ultraviolet fire would drive them back or kill them quickly. The new-world composites of the railways sustained themselves longer than the iron and ash of the old world, providing an easy enough way into and out of the necropolis for those that had the skill to use them.
After the death-like silence of a three block hike through piercing sunlight and haunted shadow, the two boarded an armored rail car. They unshuttered the emergency solar panels and brought a contact down to the restored composite electrical rail, and began a three hour journey between black river and white sky. A sequence of LEDs lit up to display the origins of their power, it was not uncommon for one of the many redundancies to fail. They were all taken seriously, and corrected as quickly as they could be.
A narrow window in the middle of the day provided direct sunlight in the middle of Manhattan; it rained down from above, through the scar of the composite canyon, for roughly two hours depending on the time of year. They had to take off particularly early to reap the full benefit of the solar exposure. It was the safest time to travel through. When shadow overcame the streets again, there would be nowhere truly safe, and the jackal Titans would roam it unbounded.
It was difficult to imagine the origins of the city, though they both knew them well. The fingerprint of half-molten spires no longer suggested the industry of man so much as that of nature. The composites were perhaps the last remnant of civilization beside the two of them, the one thing that could not arguably be formed tectonically. The many subway tunnels were now halfway submerged, along with a large part of the island; tattered lines of copper and superconductor littered the roads like the broken bones of a sophisticated telecom system.
There was no question, among the two of them, as to how this happened. Not anymore, there was once. It was a cultural evolution, the stratification of man and the descent of his nemesis. A little care might have prevented all of it, but in a universe of causality Sol doubted that any of us truly had free will beyond that for which we were designed.
The programmed track brought them back to the base of a refurbished cliffside library, south of Fort Knox. The concrete structure was once quite different. They had discovered it when they were perhaps six, not too long after the fall, and took refuge within it. It had ample reading material at the time, particularly for a couple of kids with nothing else to do other than learn and survive.
The sun was at sixty degrees on the horizon, they had another twelve degrees before it began to dim to an exposing level. Sol stepped out of the rail car, Isaac right behind him, and sealed it up with a heavy padlock. They unlatched their elevator, slipped inside, and hand-cranked their way to the balcony.