CHAPTER 20: The choices of Gaia

If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi

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Athena took a deep breath. I had a sense that I was finally going to hear the truth.

“The Order spans space and time,” she said. “As you know, we comprise theologians, scientists, philosophers…But what you I haven’t explained is how the Order started.” She looked at me, then across to Tina and Daniel.

“Tina here started the Order,” she said, noddling at Tina, who blinked uncomprehendingly. “Or, to be precise, she will start it, as a mature woman.

“The earth isn’t just expanding and growing, as the media would have you believe. It’s not just a lump of rock, with us living on it.” She swallowed, looked around to check that we were all listening, then continued.

“This isn’t just some lump of rock, with a few billion sentient beings crawling around on its face, trying to figure out where God and Christ are hiding, and why they’re not answering our Sunday morning demands for better coffee.

“And the Order figured it out. Events that happened in 2030, events that are happening right here right now, with us, were what changed everything. Everything.

She sighed, her eyes flicking between us, as if reconsidering whether or not to continue. “You do know that what I tell you may change history, don’t you? Because Tina knew – she knew all this – and nobody ever found out where she learned it from.

“Maybe Tina figured it out from what I said, what I am saying, here and now. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. Nobody truly understands the laws of cause and effect in time travel. It’s layers of what has happened and what might happen all comingling and affecting each other in ways that they ought not to do normally.

:But I don’t really have a choice. I have to tell you this. Because time is changing, transforming as we speak – that much is clear – and if I say nothing I have no idea what might happen.”

I was listening intently, and Daniel and Tina were absolutely silent. There was no sound anywhere – not even a cat. Nothing. After a long pause, in which she was clearly reflecting on what she was about to say, and deciding how she might say it, Athena continued.

“The earth isn’t just shifting from a “dormant” to an “active” phase, as the geologists express it. The earth – she’s waking up.

“She’s alive, a living organism. And the devlopment of humanity to the point where we now stand isn’t just a coincidence. What we’re seeing, with Mike here and other Hosts like him, is a transformation of the biosphere itself, as it becomes sentient and self-aware.

“The Hosts are the first points of interconnectedness between the larger earth and human beings. If you want me to give you an analogy, you’re the brain stem, Mike: you’re connecting the body to it’s newly developing mind. The earth is waking up, it needs you, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

I could feel the tension building in me, energy rippling through my skin in waves of heat and power. And I laughed.

“This is insane! Why me? I’m just an ordinary guy. And what proof is there of this?” I felt close to panic, and it was sending my mind into confusion; I didn’t know whether to laugh like an idiot or cry. Maybe both. And I realised I was trembling, possibly with fear. “There’s no proof!”

“There’s vast amounts of evidence for this happening, Mike,” said Athena. “The energy that all of us can see swelling in you right now, for a start. The air is practically on fire around you – even you can see it.”

I looked down at my hands, and the thickening, jellied air about my body. That odd metallic taste in my mouth, my hair crackling with electricity.

“There’s reams of geological evidence that the earth is waking up,” said Athena. “Even the mass media doesn’t dispute it. Not even the Churches. They might query why, but the evidence that it is happening is real.”

She tried to touch my arm, and was shocked by a sharp bolt of energy coursing through the dry air between us. “Then there’s the time travel.”

“What has that got to do with it?” asked Tina curiously.

“We learned how to time-skip from you, Tina,” said Athena. Tina opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again, stunned. Athena went on: “The tools of time-travel – the technology, the know-how – was all given to us when you appeared from the future. You came back to 2065, and set up the Order, calling together some of the brightest minds of the era and gifting us with technology and intelligence well beyond that era.”

“But how did you know that she was telling the truth?” argued Daniel. “I mean, time travel is one thing, but the earth being alive, well isn’t that a completely different thing altogether?” He shook his head. “Not that I’m even sure which is the more unbelievable at this point.”

“The technology of time travel will only be available in a certain time window of our history,” said Athena. “It’s difficult to explain, without going into technical details, but the reason we can do it at all is because the earth is allowing us to.

“The Order believes that the purpose of time travel is to compress human knowledge and understanding for the next phase in the earth’s development process. She’s packing everything down, putting her files from the old machine in order, before shifting the information she needs over and switching the new machine on.”

“You’re likening us – humanity – to being a machine,” protested Tina.

“Pardon me, Tina,” said Athena. “But that’s your analogy. You first used the anaology of humanity being the earth’s new mind, it’s new computer. I just used it, because it’s a convenient one.”

“Oh.”

“Guys, I heard something,” I said, breaking the discussion suddenly. The old ice cream factory was supposed to be empty, the street deserted. “I heard someone – or something. Out back.”

Athena stood up quickly, her forefinger pressed against her lips, warning us to be silent. Nothing. The concrete floor seemed to echo against us.

“Maybe it was rats…” Daniel began. Then all hell broke loose.

Two men with assault rifles came crashing through the front doors of the factory, and within seconds had placed themselves so that escape was impossible. Then we heard the smashing of glass from behind us, and another guy, all dressed in black and holding a rifle, bashed in the rear glass window with the butt of his weapon and made his way inside.

Two more men, dressed as private soldiers in black and grey fatigues, followed the first two who had positioned themselves by the doors, and two more followed suit after them. The guy at the back entrance had support as well – another soldier had joined him.

Our entrance and backup escape route blocked, the goons by the main doors moved aside into sentry position. The Bishop waltzed in casually, kicking aside a few fragments of glass with the toe of his boots, and gazed around the factory He took one of the assault rifles from one of the men, flicked off the safety, and played with it, aiming it easily at various things in the room: the old conveyor belt, the old checkout where a cash registers still stood, a window. He then lowered the weapon, and looked at us distastefully.

“You’ve led us on a bit of a wild goose chase,” he said. “But it’s over. The rest of you can go with my friends here. No doubt we’ll ask you a few questions and, if you’re compliant, you may be allowed to return to your ordinary lives again in due course.” He motioned to one of the soldiers, who marched over and stood next to him, waiting for further orders. “But Mr Hocking can come with me. We have certain…issues…we’d like to discuss with you.”

I’d never seen a smile that was truly evil until that point in my life. His teeth were like fangs, his skin waxen, and his eyes were two ice chips, brittle and hard.

My skin began to pulse with heat, and the air crackled with energy, thickening around me and buoying me as I rose to my feet. I was terrified, but knowing what had happened to others like me, it was clear what the Bishop’s intent was.

“I’m not coming with you,” I said quietly. “If you want to kill me, you’re going to have to do it here, in front of your soldiers and in front of my friends.”

“Soldiers, about face!” he commanded, without a blink. They all turned around, to face away from me. And he sneered, “They never saw anything. They weren’t witnesses.”

“You can’t do this, John!” said Athena. She stayed seated. “Murder in cold blood – is that what the Church has come to? First Martie, and now Mike here? Think of what you’re doing.”

The room was beginning to spin, and in the distance I heard the tolling of bells. My sight became foggy, and I could hear whispering – indistinct at first, then gradually the words became clearer and clearer: “Don’t tell anybody…don’t tell anybody…”

It was the voice of Ryecroft, drifting down through the ages, to speed me to my death. We were the same, him and me – except he had had a choice and I didn’t.

“John, stop this!” I could hear Athena’s voice dimly through the mist in my mind. That taste in my mouth – metal, and bitter lemon, mixed – drying my tongue and making me sweat. I raised my arms invuluntarily, uncontrollably, directed by a force that seemed to stir from the depths of my brain and soul, beyond anything I recognised even as me, myself.

Energy exploded outwards from my hands, my fingertips, in bolts that ripped through the air, smashing into the bodies of the soldiers and knocking them to the ground. Wave after wave of power tearing through the air, coursing across airspace and shredding the bodies of the Bishop’s men, melting their guns with absolute heat into puddles of useless molten metal that pooled and sank, superheated, into the concrete floor. Their bodies dissolved under the heat.

Shock waves rolled around the room, in flows of blinding light, then they focused on the Bishop and in less than a second he simply disintegrated into a pile of dust at my feet. My brain was screaming, my mind was open, my eyes blind, and I collapsed to the floor, whacking my head against the concrete.

Daniel rushed to my side. “Are you okay? Mike? Mike?

I sat up, shaking my head dizzily and blinking. “I’m…I’ll be okay. Why aren’t you guys dead?”

“It’s your power,” said Athena, her voice filled with awe. “It controls you, but it looks like you also control it in return. I might have been wrong before about this, thinking you would have killed Daniel back at the house. It looks like you can select your victims.”

“I didn’t choose to kill anyone!” I said angrily, still shaking and in shock.

“I’m not saying you did,” said Athena quickly. “But this is a matter of self-preservation. You are the last Host. All the others have been murdered. The Bishop was going to kill you. You had no choice in the matter. The earth – Gaia – had no choice in the matter. It was under threat.”

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