“The dark stumble to the light”

Lauren Sampson

All rights reserved by the author

 

He sat up gasping for breath; cold sweat poured down his face and chest.  James Guida blinked in the darkness.  “A nightmare!”

 

It has been some time now since the Great War on Earth.  Humans squandered all of Earth’s resources, and eventually, as you have probably guessed, countries were competing for the few resources that were left.  Finally, they used all of the last precious reserves in the final battle to end all battles.  Countries, continents, hemispheres even went to war.  The Earth was destroyed.

Yet…somehow…life survived.

 

The darkness faded.  Sapphire woke up in a hospital room.  Somewhere in the distance, a baby cried, but as she moved to locate its origin, a hand cupped her forehead and settled her back into the bed.  “It’s too soon.  Sleep.  Just sleep.”  And she diminished back into darkness.

 

            A few days later, she woke again, but didn’t get up immediately.  Something in her twitched, and she couldn’t figure out what it was.  Her shoulder was moving without effort.  She gingerly reached across the sheet and nearly fell out of bed when she felt her left arm.  Instead of feeling her flesh, she touched a cold metallic extension that stretched from the middle of her back to the tips of her fingers, and it replaced her old arm.

            “It’s called a bionic arm,” a masculine voice commented.  “You see, by the time you arrived with the paramedics, it was too late to save your arm.”

            She looked up to see a strong figure sitting in a chair near the corner of the room.  He was probably in his late 20’s and had that “tall, dark, and handsome” type look.  Immediately she felt somewhat eased, but this feeling in her side and back still made her nauseous.

            Her doctor continued, “It works quite the same as your old arm.  You shouldn’t even know the difference.”

“KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!”  she thought.

“You see, after placing a chip in your brain to receive the signal, we ran a series of electrodes down you body to the attachment site in your arm.  When you want to move it, the signal causes electrical impulses to cascade down your arm and cause the muscle we created to contract.  I won’t go into too much detail, but you should know a little about how the arm functions.”

Thoughts just kept running through her head.  “What was he talking about?  Her arm!  She wasn’t going to be like this forever…right?”

Slowly, he continued to tell her everything about this new contraption.  “What we’ve created is what’s called an ionic polymer metallic composite muscle.  It’s coated in a very thin layer of platinum that conducts the electrical pulses.  When you’re brain tells the arm to contract, the signal, in the form of an electrical charge, is sent across the fibers of the polymer that cause it to either shrink or expand which allows your arm to move.  Your bones were created using a CAT and MRI scan of the bone in your right arm.  Are you following me?”

Although still unable to fathom living the rest of her life with a fake arm, she nodded in agreement.

“All right, just making sure.  So, the CAT and MRI scan forms a 3D model, which we fed into a computer-controlled machine that printed out the porous layers of new bone.  Then, we created new skin…”

“You created new skin for me?” she thought.

“By culturing skin cells in the lab to create the dermal and epidermal layers of skin that we covered your new arm with.  It’s actually better than skin transplants.  Not only will you see less scaring, but it’ll heal faster.”

All Sapphire could do was stare at him wide-eyed and nod.

“The new bone isn’t too stable initially, so the outer structure is for protection from damage and support of the arm itself.  In a week, we’ll remove the metal covering and you won’t even know the difference,” he sighed.  “I know that was a lot to throw at you, but its best if you understand what we did.  Maybe that’ll set your mind at ease a little more.”

            Still, Sapphire hadn’t spoken a word.  She was dumbfounded and quite honestly had no idea what even happened that led her to the hospital.  “Accident?  What accident?” she thought.

            “Are you all right?” he inquired.

“Yes.  Could I just have a little time alone?”
            He stood up slowly, “Certainly, I’ll be back later to check on you.”

            Her eyes scanned the room.  Next to her bed, she saw a women’s satchel.  She awkwardly reached out with her left arm and attempted to grasp the bag.  As it moved to the edge of the countertop, the handbag slipped, spilling the contents onto the floor.  She clambered down to gather it all.  As she placed the contents back into the satchel, she examined the mysterious objects: a brush, small mirror, tissues…and a wallet!  She opened the wallet and read the name, Sapphire Elizabeth Guida: height 5’10”, weight 155 lbs., hair-red, eyes-blue.  The woman in the picture next to it was beautiful.  Long flowing red curls grazed her shoulder and fell over her chest.  Her smile was perfect and her eyes were the most brilliant blue.  She stood up and caught her own reflection in the hospital room window...she was the girl in that photo.  She touched her cheek, and the reflection followed.  Sapphire gasped slightly and raised her other hand.  The metal caught the light and shimmered in the reflection.  It was she.  She was Sapphire, the girl in the photo.

            The doctor walked in.  “Everything all right?”

            She jumped. “Yeah, yeah, fine.  Everything’s fine.”

            “Well, you seem to be all right.  I’m going to give you discharge papers.  You’re welcome to go home, but I want to see you in a week to see how you’re doing with the new arm.  Ok?”

            “Yeah, yeah...sure.   That’s fine, I’ll be back in a week.”

            The doctor took out her IV and helped her get ready to leave.  As she was leaving the hospital, she asked, “Where did the accident happen?”

            “43rd Street,” He paused.  “Are you sure you’re alright?”

            “Positive.  I’m just a little shaken up, and a tad fuzzy on what happened and all.”

            “Well, I’d like to see you back here in a week, but if you don’t feel well, come back right away.  Understand?”

            “Yes.  I will.”

            “Ok then,” He said as he hailed her a Hovertaxi.  “See you in a week.”

            “Good-bye.”

As she got into the Hovertaxi, she read the address on the license, 73G6 Henderson Way, and she instructed the driver to take her there.  When she walked in the door to her apartment, she was amazed at what she saw.  Her front parlor was wallpapered with newspaper clippings.  In fact, as she walked through the apartment, all she saw was wall upon wall covered in newspaper articles with (change) her tables were littered with newspapers.  She began to read some of them. 

THE LIFE ABOVE THE GROUND!

THOSE WHO CAN’T FOLLOW MUST LEAVE!

DEATH TO THOSE WHO OPPOSE!

REBELS BANISHED!  IMMINENT DEATH ON RETURN!

She couldn’t decipher their meaning until she looked out her window.  Below her was a vast expanse of nothing.  Her entire building was suspended in the air miles above the Earth below.  It was then it occurred to her that the Hovertaxi never did touch the ground, and she hadn’t even noticed it because she was concentrating on what her home would be like.  She ran to the other window.  Before her were a series of buildings.  The sign above the first read, SKY’S THE LIMIT SHOPPING.  “How interesting,” she thought.  There were huge bridges that connected all of the buildings upon which people were moving from one to the other.  Saucer like vehicles were passing back and forth or parking on the lower levels of some of the buildings.  The buildings themselves were cylindrical structures with ample amounts of windows.

            The sky outside was bleak and hazy.  It almost seemed as though the sun was unable to pass through the clouds anymore, the only light outside was generated from the buildings and flying vehicles.  Sapphire sat down pondering how long had it been since the accident.  While some of the building structures looked familiar, she couldn’t seem to remember if she’d dreamt about them or if she truly remembered seeing these buildings.  So many things were running through her head that needed answers, and getting used to her arm wasn’t helping.

Sapphire shuffled through more of the newspapers.  The most recent one she found was titled, “THE CENTER OF LIFE AND THE STRUCTURE OF LIVING.”  According to the article: life was controlled by the government and traveling any distance from your house was forbidden unless the granted permission.  Travel to the Underworld (the surface of the Earth) was prohibited entirely.  Why, she wondered, would anyone be forbidden to go to the Underworld?

            Getting used to her arm was a challenge.  The arm was very awkward and often, she tended to knock things over before actually grasping them.  Not only did her height make her awkward enough, but also now, to have a mechanical structure that replaced her left arm was not easy for her to get used to living with; however she was functioning more normally than when she left the hospital.  With much effort, she finally managed to fix a decent meal and while eating, decided she had to figure out more about her past and how she got into that accident.  The rest of her night was spent searching her house for evidence of who she was and what could have possibly happened to her.

            Sleep did not come easily to her that night.  Instead of dreams, she had nightmares full of death and destruction.  Sapphire imagined herself swirling down a long tunnel towards a red light.  Just as she got to the light, a bullet cut in front of her face piercing her extended left arm.  She woke in a cold sweat and grazed her left arm with the right’s fingertips.  She had this dream every night since she returned from the hospital, and sometimes, she saw faces and images along the tunnel.

One day, while picking through boxes, she found a book on world history.  She discovered, then, that the world had gone through a massive war and the emerging powers from that war created a “perfect” world for all the remaining people on Earth.  The government controlled the lives of all those who lived there.  The new world was created miles above the Earth, higher than the tallest mountains.  The desolated decaying ground was left abandoned, save those people who opposed the Sky Government.  This new world, named Sky, was neither heavenly nor peaceful.  It was a place of suppression of personal expression and governmental control of every aspect of a person’s life.

            Sapphire sighed.  Something still wasn’t adding up.  She thought for a moment, and then remembered reading an article about a group of humans who traveled to the Underworld.  They refused to accept the guidelines set forth by the new government in power and thus were exiled to Earth.

            She sprung to her feet and began viciously tearing through the newspaper articles that consumed her walls.  Finally, June 13, 2275:

GROUP REJECTS GOVERNMENT REGULATION OF READING MATERIAL!

BANISHED TO THE UNDERWORLD!

            She took the article and put it in her bag on the way to her Hoverbot.  It was time to leave.

            Sapphire looked towards that market she saw the first day home.  Now, she was on her way to the Underworld to find more information about the people in the article.

 

            It took hours to get to the ground.  When she stepped out of the Hoverbot, her feet sunk into inches of dirt and filth.  As she looked around, the thick dust, which engulfed her, limited her vision; however, she could still see huge dilapidated buildings surrounding her.  As she explored the ruins, several unfamiliar people approached her, and as they came closer, she saw how much taller she was than they were.  Somewhat eased by this, though still frightened, she asked if they knew anything about the group of travelers in the article she extracted from her satchel.  When they saw the article, everyone became excited and bid her to follow then.

She followed for miles as they went through the tangled paths and tunnels created on Earth by the Land people.  While following, they went through a tunnel too short for her to stand tall in, and she felt a cold chill run up her back as they went through.  It was the same tunnel she dreamt about, and as the tunnel opened up to the outside, she stood to face a clearing full of faces from her nightmare.  She looked around and settled her eyes on a huge cast iron door at the end of the clearing.  Above the entrance was a red light emitting an eerie glow over the doorway and out onto the clearing.  Her breathing became rapid and shallow as one of the women she had followed moved towards her.

            “Follow us this way,” she said in a soft tone.  Cautiously, Sapphire followed the woman though the door into a palace like structure that was similar to ancient ruins she had seen in the pictures of the history book.  In the back of the room, a man stood up.  He approached her.

            “You shouldn’t be here,” he said as he rubbed his stubbly chin.  As he took a step forward, his huge figure loomed over her and cast a shadow over her face.  Feeling small suddenly, her eyes widened as she gazed finally at a familiar face.  She knew this man from somewhere.

            “Did you hear me?  You shouldn’t…”

            “Be here…I know…It’s just…”

            She reached into her bag and pulled out the article.  Attached to the article was a photo of the rebellion leader.  She looked at the photo, then at the man.  “I’m looking for you, and I can’t exactly explain why because I don’t even know.  Look, I know this sounds weird, but I woke up one morning in a hospital and all the doctor could tell me was that I was in an accident.  Problem is, I don’t remember anything.  In my apartment, I have articles of you and your followers all over my walls, strewn across my floor and filling all my wastebaskets.  There has got to be some connection between you and me!”

            He inhaled deeply, “Ok, assuming you are telling the truth, you may stay here provided you don’t cause any trouble.”

            “But, can’t you help me.  I have to find out who…”

            His face grew stern, “Silence child!  You may stay; that is enough.  I will answer your questions another day.”

            She thanked him quietly, and she returned to her Hoverbot.

            James sighed.  He knew who she was.  The real question pressing his mind was whether she should know the truth.  For years, her mother kept the truth from her to protect her from the Sky Government, and now it seemed inevitable that unless he told her soon, she’d get herself into trouble, and judging by the looks of her left arm, she’d already succeeded in doing just that.  “What would my brother have done?”  he asked himself.

 

            From then on, she traveled back and forth to the Sky and Underworld avoiding detection by the authorities.  She still went to the hospital to have her arm looked at by the doctor to ensure it was healing properly, and to have the metal cover removed.  The doctor was right, even she could not tell the difference between her old and new arm.  On one visit to her apartment, she discovered that it had been broken into and many of her possessions destroyed.  Cautiously, she gathered any unharmed pictures and clothing she could find.

            Everyone in the Underworld tried to help Sapphire as best they could to find out more about her past.  While searching through her pictures, she found pictures of herself and others whom she didn’t recognize.  Sapphire took all the pictures to James.  He flipped through each one quickly until he came to one with Sapphire as a baby being held by an older man.  On the back, the details read, “Sapphire and dad.  Dec. 2271,” and under the picture, her father wrote a caption: “Find yourself and your purpose and follow them.  The truth will set you free.  It is there that you will find happiness.”  His face turned chalk white.

            “What is it?  What!”

            “This man, your father here…he was the leader of our rebellion group until…”

            “Until what?  Please tell me.”

            “The government got tired of him.  They said they warned him to disappear enough times, then…murdered him.”

            Her jaw dropped open.  All she could do was to shake her head in disbelief.

            “I guess I should tell you the what happened then.”

            “Please.”

            “Since the great war, the government has imposed incredibly strict laws on the Sky people.  It’s been hard to find work outside of what you’re assigned to do, or to express individuality in any way, shape, or form without consequences.  The government owns you.  Well before you were born, your father began a group of “rebels,” so-to-speak, who called themselves the Land people and sought to change the government.  However, every time we petition for reform they responded with threatening letters.”  An inquisitive look grew on her face; some of the things she had read were beginning to make more sense to her.

He continued, “That still didn’t stop your father.  It’s in your name you know.  Your last name, Guida, means leader in Italian.  He was a leader all right.  The government told him that if he wanted perfection unlike theirs, he could live in the Underworld.  No, not he could: he must or suffer penalty of death.  Defying the government is treason, and they would have no more of it.”

Thoughts were racing through her head.  “They can’t do that!  Who gave them the Godly power to…” but her train of thought derailed as James continued.

“Your father was lucky enough to survive.  All the people here followed him.  Your mother, however, didn’t want to leave.  She constantly tried to stop your father, and when he left, their relationship died.  She kept you, refusing to let you live in this awful place, and he was so involved with his uprising that he didn’t care about you or your mother anymore.

He sighed, and then continued.  “We were fine here, your father and everyone, but that wasn’t enough.  He wanted more.  Always, he wanted more.  Your father continued to travel to the Sky and search for more followers, and still pestered the government continually.  Finally, he was arrested with a trial pending, but he escaped.  Your father returned here and went into hiding, but it wasn’t enough.  They found him.  They found him, and as promised…under penalty of death…SHOT him at point blank range in front of all of us.  All they said was ‘Good riddance.’  And left his bloody mangled body for us as a warning of disobedience.”

            At this point, Sapphire was crying and struggled to pay attention.

            “Really, don’t cry.  Your father was an incredible man who died for an incredible cause.  In his honor, I took his place as leader of the rebellion.  As his brother, I was the “heir” to the position.” 

At this point, Sapphire stopped crying.  She looked up in awe (change word).  “Did you know all this time?”  she inquired.

“Yes, but I didn’t want to say anything until the time was right.”

“Until the time was right?  What are you talking about?  My father died, and you’re…” she sniffled and bent her head.  As she looked up with desperation in her eyes, she whispered, “This still doesn’t help explain what happened to me.”

            “I think it does,” he said as he moved to comfort her.  “You said when you got here, that you have articles of me all over your home, correct?”

            “Yes.”

            “Well, somewhere, you must have heard about us, and perhaps your father.  When he was killed, his death was completely covered up by the government, and in turn the media, since the government owns them.  No sky person knew the truth of the whole thing.  It was left a mystery to anyone who even cared about us down here.  The best thing I can think of is that the government found out about your little research project and are trying to terminate it.”

            “What!  Why?”

            “Because of who your father was.  They knew all this time that you were his daughter, but because of your mother’s passive stance on the whole thing and your ignorance of the situation, the government never did physically act on quieting your mother.  However, they’ve kept a close watch on you for all these years, and of late, it seems you’ve grown to know too much about your father.”

            “Why would that bother them?”

            “I’m not sure about that…but something tells me, returning to the Sky anymore could eventually be a problem for you.”

            She stood up.  “I’m not going to hide forever.  Obviously, they tried to kill me once and it failed.  Now that I know the risks that I face, they won’t get me again.”

            “Please calm down a little.”  He placed a large hand over her shoulder and sat her down.

            She inhaled deeply “Sorry.”

            “It’s all right.  You must understand the risks you face.  Even your few trips to the Sky to have your arm examined and to gather your belongings have put you in huge danger.  The government knows everything, and I’m sure they know that you aren’t dead yet.

            “But I still don’t understand why they would care.”

            “Before you were in the “accident,” which the government staged, you knew too much about the rebellion, and were causing a commotion among the Sky people.”

            Feeling frustrated, she said,  “I figured that the government tried to kill me, but I still can’t believe all this.”

            “I know.  It’s a lot of information to throw at you a in one sitting.  Why don’t you go to bed and we’ll talk about this more in the morning?”  He stood up and hugged her.

            As her face sank into his chest as she whispered, “Goodnight.  Sleep well.”

            “Goodnight.”

            As she left, James sat staring at the picture of his beloved leader, mentor, and older brother.  He knew there was no way of keeping her here if she was anything like his brother…or himself.  He feared that her next trip to the Sky would be her last.  He fell into an uneasy sleep that night.  For hours, he tossed and turned until finally he fell into a deep sleep.  Suddenly, he sat up gasping for breath; cold sweat poured down his face and chest.  James blinked in the darkness.

“A nightmare!  Oh God!  Sapphire!”

He ran into her bedroom and shook her awake.

“What?”

“I have had an awful nightmare.  You were in it, as was I.  We were here, behind these very walls in battle with the Sky patrol.  There you were next to me, holding a gun firing back at them.  Suddenly, you weren’t there.  I looked down and you were on the ground clutching your right side.  I dropped to your side, but the damage was too grave!”

“James!  You’re over exaggerating this WAY too much.  It was only a dream.  Please, go back to bed and get some sleep.  You’ll feel fine in the morning.”

He went back to bed, but sleep was the last thing on his mind.  He spent the rest of the night lying in bed half awake and half in a stupor.  This was too real.

 

The next morning Sapphire was up before him and leaving as he woke.  He ran to the door and seized her arm.  “Please.  Don’t do this!  Don’t go to the Sky today.”

“James don’t worry.  It’ll be fine.  I will only be a short while, and I promise to return.”

“Is there nothing I could say that would change your mind?”

She stared deep into his blue eyes.  “No.”  She pulled her arm from his grasp.

“Very well then.  I’ll wait for you to return, but please, be safe and careful,” he said as he slipped into his bedroom mentally and physically exhausted.

She left swiftly.  James washed and dressed himself for the day, but found he couldn’t do anything but worry about where she was and whether or not she had been caught or injured or…or…or…worse.  Finally, around dinnertime, Sapphire returned to the house with cookies for James and a smile on her face.

“Before you say anything…I didn’t see any Sky patrol.  I didn’t get in trouble.  I didn’t talk to anyone.  All I did was go to the hospital to have my arm looked at.”  She wiggled her fingers.  “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“Yes, however, I think your going to the Sky today was still too much.”

“But James, I wasn’t seen by anyone but my doctor and…”

“THAT’S ENOUGH, SAPPHIRE!  THAT’S ENOUGH TO GET YOU CAUGHT!  DON’T YOU SEE?  THEY WANT YOU DEAD!”  He stumbled backwards and fell into a chair.  “I don’t know why,” He whispered,  “I don’t know why they want you dead, but I assure you they won’t miss twice.”

She sat down on the ground next to him and put her head on his leg.  “I’m sorry.”

“Just promise me that you’ll stay here with me from now on.”

“I promise.”

 

She helped prepare dinner that night, and they ate in silence, as usual, but today, something was different.  There was a cold air filling the room and she wasn’t the only one who felt it.  James continually stood up and went to the door and opened it.  Every time, there wasn’t a soul there.  Suddenly, a blast was heard outside and a piece of the wall crumbled.  Another sounded, followed by another.  Everyone in the room scattered.  A voice was heard outside.  “YOUR TIME IS OVER HERE!  SURRENDER, OR DIE!”  After that, a rainfall of bullets hit the wall of the ruins causing them to crumble around everyone.

“TO BATTLE!”  James commanded.  At that, everyone ran to different places within the ruin armed with guns.  James grabbed Sapphire and ran for cover behind a rock wall.  They both reached for guns and began firing at the Skys.  Bullets whistled past them, and they saw some of the rebels fall from their perches.  A blast rang right near James and Sapphire and they threw themselves on the ground.  James looked at Sapphire and while slightly cut up, she was fine.

“KEEP SHOOTING!”  Sapphire screamed at James, and she got back up and took a shot.  James joined her and they worked their way through the officers gunning one by one down.

James turned to the right to shoot an officer and heard a loud gasp and moan from Sapphire.  He turned in time to see the bullet pass through her back as she fell backwards onto the pavement.  She clutched her right side.  He saw red fluid escape through her fingers, and ripped her hand from her side only to see an open bullet wound where it passed from her lowest rib through her back.

            She looked at him with tears welling in her eyes.  “Oh James.  It’s not that bad.”

            “Sapphire!” he sniffed with tears welling in his eyes.

“I found what I was looking for, Uncle James.  It was right here all along.  Just promise me you’ll do as my father did and be strong.  He was a leader, Uncle James.  As are you.  It’s in our name remember, and in our blood.  I love you.”

            And she inhaled her last breath.

 

© 2003 by the author

All rights reserved