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THIRTEEN DAYS LATER…

 “Population is 20 now,” Deina clarified.
 “World or nation?” Max asked.
 “World. We’re lucky we’ve been given the task of sending everyone away,”
 “The last 14 are soldiers, right?” Kelly asked. Deina nodded. Slowly the counter decreased to 6. Cerein looked at the counter.

 “That’s us. Get ready to leave, everyone,” Max announced. All of them had gathered in the MainFrame. Six transportation pods had been set aside for them. Most of their belongings had been transported to their respective homes in the colonies. All they had with them was just a small bag containing what they had to bring on the way home. All of them were getting ready to leave when Cerein stopped them.

 “Wait. One of us has to switch off the MainFrame,” Cerein reminded. Deina turned around, “That means the one who does that will have to stay here and die,”
 



There was a deadly silence among them. They had expected each other to reach the colonies safely. However, they had overlooked the fact. One question lingered in their minds: Who was willing to give up his or her life at that moment?

Even though they could turn on the automatic system, it did not guarantee safety. One of them would still have to monitor the auto system.

 “I’ll stay,” The others turned around and saw Calven.

 “Calven, you’re willing to die?” Deina asked in amazement. Calven nodded.

 “Enter your pods now. I hope you will be happy in your new life,” Calven wished. They looked at each other, hesitating. “You have no time,” Calven urged. They shook his hand, and Lelis surprised Calven with a hug. They entered their pods with their bags and waved as Calven threw the switch that forced them to leave Earth.

 Calven looked at the pods when he realised something: There were only four pods; one of them had not gone yet. He turned around and saw Kelly behind him.

 “Why didn’t you go?”

 “I’m going soon. It’s just 24 hours before the Earth blows up anyway,” Kelly joked. They looked at each other in silence.
Finally, Kelly said, “It’s the disease, isn’t it?”

 “I don’t have much to live for if I leave anyway. I’d rather die now than to suffer later. Besides, my family couldn’t care much about me,” Calven explained.

 Kelly asked, “Anyone else besides me who knows about your condition?” Calven nodded, “Cerein, but I’ll bet she’s forgotten. You know Cerein, Kelly; she’s often forgetful. The others who know are Dr. Jessi, my family and the doctor who diagnosed me,”

He took off his spectacles and looked at them lovingly before putting them in her hands.

 “I don’t have much use for this, Kelly; take it,” Kelly was surprised when she saw Calven smile warmly. She took off hers and gave it to him, “Die with it,” He took the glasses and held them close to his chest.

 Calven caressed her cheek and whispered, “Go now,” Kelly nodded and entered her pod. As she was released further and further into space, she looked down at Earth. She saw how dull it looked, void of life. She took out Calven’s spectacles and gazed at them for a long time. Slowly, she brought her lips to the lens.

 As she landed, she saw her friends waiting for her. Deina pointed to the Earth. The five of them waited.



 Calven looked at the pod gradually vanishing from the sky. He typed a familiar command on the screen:
SHUT DOWN SYSTEM

 The screen flickered to darkness. All that was left of his surroundings was inky black. He sat in his chair in silence. He scrambled for the calendar and struggled to read the date: 30th of December, 1999. Then he pulled down a ladder from the ceiling and climbed up to the rooftop. He looked around him.

 The air felt dry and polluted; buildings were in ruin. Random bones were scattered all over the landscape; the sky was orange-gray in colour. He looked at his watch: It was not long before the world ended. He took out Kelly’s spectacles and gazed at them too. He cupped the glasses in his hands and kissed it delicately; the same time as Kelly kissed his glasses in her pod.

 Suddenly, a bright light nearly blinded him. He heard a deafening sound rush towards him. He felt the temperature rise and air pressure crush him. Although he shielded his eyes away, he was not excluded from the impact of the explosion. He felt his bones shatter; he heard the sound they made. As he fell to the ground, his eyes saw a small dot of light among blackness.
 “Kelly…”



 More than 20 billion people from their respective colonies witnessed the Impact. They were surprised that it had come one day earlier than predicted. Scientists and experts guessed that the Earth was already unstable at that time and was doomed to blow up any time at all. After all, technology brought to the premature downfall of their Mother planet; not destiny. If it was the latter, they would still be living happily.

 Scientists had realised their grave mistake and regretted playing God. From then onwards, cloning was the only technique that was not banned due to lack of certain meats at certain colonies. Radioactive waste was outlawed. People started turning to cleaner ways of generating energy.

 A week after the Impact, the Sun shrunk to no larger than a molecule. People had no idea what was the cause, not even Astronomers. When it did, colonies used artificial sunlight for everyday life.

 Luck was on their side. Although people had predicted that the a new Sun would not emerge till a century later, the abrupt existence of a massive vacuum in the year A.D 2002 created a new Sun about a fair distance from Pluto, thus making Pluto, Uranus and Neptune fit for life. However, the United Nations had other plans for the planets. They were turned into an Education centre, A government research and a Science Research Centre respectively.

 Planets and moons were divided and new countries with old names sprouted. Mainframes were maintained as soon as new countries were established and old countries redeveloped.

 Mercury, Venus and Mars were damaged during the Third Impact, which was when the Sun shrunk. They turned into asteroids and were situated the furthest. From there, 9 planets were reduced to 5.

 Thus started a new Milky Way, a new future, a new Millennium.



30TH DECEMBER, 2004, FIVE YEARS LATER…

Dear Calven,

 How are you? I hope you are comfortable in Heaven. Do you still remember me? It’s Kelly, your friend. I’m sorry if I haven’t been writing at all. It’s just that I’m really busy with my studies. If you were still alive, we’d all be 21 together.

 Today is Impact Day, where we remember the ones who were sacrificed before the Impact. That’s what we call the day you died. Unfortunately, I can’t see your name at all in the list. What a bunch of ingrates! If it wasn’t for you, there would have been a worse Impact! We still think you’re a hero. If it wasn’t for you…I’d rather not think out the consequences.

 A lot has happened ever since the Impact, especially what happened to all of us. Do you remember Ales, my friend? The one with five younger siblings? She happened to contract the same disease as yours when she was 19; don’t ask me how did the disease reach her. Doctors were wondering how she contracted the disease. She died six months later. I saw how she suffered, wasting away to skin and bones. She couldn’t even talk after two months. Now I know why you wanted to die during the Impact. It saves you a lot of suffering, doesn’t it?

 Deina left the Mainframe after she finished school. She studied Medicine in Pluto and Weapon designing.  She’s still studying medicine and she can’t wait for the day when she moves to Uranus, the Government Centre. They offered her a scholarship and an occupation in defence mapping after she finishes University and graduates. She’s expected to graduate in about another 3 years’ time.

 Cerein graduated with a Masters in Astronomy a week ago. She’s going to work on her PhD soon after she finishes her project. She’s been asked to  synchronise War Machines with 15-year olds while she waits for a job opening. Maybe this has something to do with her computing ability; I don’t know. I haven’t been hearing much from her for quite some time.

 Max is an amateur architect. He seems to like the path that he has chosen quite well. His life is simple, yet fulfilling. He’s attached to another girl and they say they’re going to be engaged soon. However, he still has a bit of paranoia in his body. You must be wondering what is he so paranoid about. I’m coming to that part soon.

 Lelis wasn’t the lucky one among us. After returning to her parents, she had to fight for attention and love with a clone. One day, she suffered a nervous breakdown and strangled the clone. She collapsed and went into a coma for four month. When she regained consciousness, she had no memory of the strangulation. That was a relief to us. She soon took up Psychology, the field she had always wanted. However, she had to stay with her parents in order to study. That was her father’s orders.

 When her 19th birthday arrived, she invited us to her house. It was a small gathering, she said she only wanted to celebrate with her closest friends. Somehow, I noticed that a bit of happiness had died away along with the coma. Try as she might to be happy, I couldn’t help but notice how sad she looked. When she went to get us some drinks, she disappeared for quite a long time.

 We were about to see if anything was wrong in the kitchen when we heard a bloodcurdling scream. We ran to the kitchen but there was no one around. The scream kept repeating itself, as if for us to find the source. Lelis’s house is very big; it took us almost forever to find the sound. Still, it never faded. Finally, we found a door leading downstairs. The stairs spiralled down to infinity as we cautiously walked down, aware of any dangers lurking.

 The shouting got clearer and clearer as we approached a patch of light when we reached firm ground. We walked in and saw another flight of stairs leading down. However, this flight was shorter and someone was down there below us. What was tormenting her, we had no idea until we looked at the four walls confining the five of us. We saw hundreds of bodies in capsules. To the untrained eye, one might dismiss them as bodies, but it wasn’t just any body.

They were clones of Lelis. We were stunned at the quantity of the clones in the room. The room was quite large, needless to say. There was about a hundred, maybe more.  We were confused, we didn’t know what to do first: Help calm Lelis down or get help. We were saved the trouble of deciding: Lelis decided it for us.

 She staggered over to a control panel not far from us. She banged hard on the buttons and threw a switch. Obviously, they were far from harmless. The room emitted a faint high-pitched sound and the clones in their respective capsules started to melt. Slowly but surely, they were melting away into organic soup. Soon, the soup filled up to waist-level. Lelis’s waist level, that is. She continued screaming, but this time, she screamed words. Words that could not be deciphered by any of us.

 By that time, Cerein ran  upstairs, shouting, “I’ll find her parents!” Deina followed suit, but I didn’t. It was as if I had stumbled right into a movie scene. Unfortunately, this was for real. I wanted to help, but it was as if I had been nailed to the ground. I just stood there, watching Lelis turn insane every single second.

 Max took the decision to run down and calm her down. I wanted to warn him, but no voice came from my throat. I saw him shout: I saw her looking at him. I heard her shrieking, “YOU WANT TO MAKE ME INSANE! YOU WANT ME TO BE DEVOID OF MY PARENTS’ LOVE! HAVEN’T YOU MADE ME SUFFER ENOUGH?!”

 I saw how she had regained her memory of the strangulation. It just took her by surprise. She had never wanted it back, she had never expected it to come back. Suddenly, she grabbed Max and pushed him into the soup. Lelis’s physical power had always been weaker than Max; this was the first time she could push him. She held him in there for a long period of time. She was abruptly pushed away by Max who emerged out of there. For a while, I thought he had already died.

 The nightmare was not over yet. As far as Lelis was concerned, she saw Max as her clone, the one she had hated so much. Whether she was delirious, hallucinating or plain demented, I had no idea. Although Max was strong enough to control her, Lelis was stronger. She had been overcome by fury and slammed him into various things. Lelis’s shouting was overlapped by Max’s screams of help.

 Before I knew it, tears slid down my cheeks. As much as I wanted to go down there and help him, there was something in her that intimidated me and preventing me from descending. I was anxious at Cerein’s and Deina’s return. This was the time when I needed them to be there with Lelis’s parents rushing down to calm their daughter down. Somehow, that did not happen. All that happened was Lelis shrieking and Max was starting to bleed. He just couldn’t recover and slap her unconscious. She was doing that instead. I feared that she would kill him.

 I became as stiff as stone, immobile, unable to speak, or shield my eyes away from the gruesome scene. The screams rang in my ears and stayed in my brain. She continued to hit him continuously, slamming him onto the control panel, the walls, anything that was hard or would strike him; even attempting to drown him in the soup. He would rise and hold her back, but that was not for long. She would react swiftly and push him away.

 There was no sound from Max after that, just Lelis yelling and slowly killing him. Finally, she stopped. I heaved a sigh of relief until I found what she was staring intently at: A sharp blade at one end of a table. I tried to scream, but it wasn’t till seconds later when voice came out from me.

 Max could only avoid Lelis’s madness as she picked up the blade. Max couldn’t run: His movements were slowed down by the soup.

 Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity to me, Cerein and Deina rushed in with Lelis’s parents and two other men. I racked my brains to identify those two men. The men rushed down and got hold of Lelis. She refused to put down the blade until those men had to force her to. When she did, they dragged her up to us. Her mother looked at her gravely, her father refused to look at her. I managed to see Lelis’s madness close-up. Her hair was messy and her eyes portrayed anger. Her screams were loud and clear. She screamed one thing, “YOU HATE ME! ALL OF YOU! I TRIED SO HARD AND I FAILED! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME THAT YOU HAVE TO MAKE CLONES? WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH ME???!”

 She repeated the last phrase over and over until I didn’t hear her voice anymore. I did the next logical thing I could do, run down and look at Max’s condition. When I saw him, I could’ve fainted in fright. His nose was bleeding, his breathing was short and fast, blood trickled down from his hair to his eyes. Other parts of him were bleeding as well, most of it his head.

 He was rushed to the hospital while Lelis was taken away to the mental institution. Max passed out  all the way there. He didn’t get up for a few days. At first his condition was critical; the doctors thought he may not even have a chance to live. It wasn’t until the next day that he recovered. Although he had to stay in the hospital for some time, he could still recollect all the pain he suffered and how Lelis attacked him so brutally.

 Although Lelis was locked up, she had to be isolated and her meals sent through a slot. Each person she sees reminds her of a clone. They realised how dangerous she was when she assaulted an inmate and an employee. She has never got visitors; they never allowed us to see her. They said she was dangerous and unapproachable. No doubt about it, she is permanently insane.

 Her father was charged with technology abuse and ‘the heartless mental anguish that your only daughter suffered’. For that, he was sentenced 30 years in prison. Seems that a friend of his passed the secret of cloning to her father, thus experimenting. Her mother was found guilty of assisting him in his ‘twisted experiments’ and was sentenced half of her father’s sentence.

 Somehow, I don’t think they didn’t want her to find the passage. If they didn’t, then why was it so accessible to her? Wouldn’t they have put a safer way of concealing the clones? Then again, why would they want to make so many clones of her? In case the first clone died or was destroyed? I still think that they wanted to make her insane. Why? We’ll never know. They never asked them nor did they tell us. Putting all this aside, we still don’t know who brought the incident to the Court of Law. That will always be a mystery.

 Back to Max. When he was discharged, he was fine until he had recurring nightmares about Lelis and the whole thing. He then started shouting at odd times and having fits. Sometimes he would jump out from his chair in the library and babble incessantly. Eventually, he too had to be put in the institute. At first he was terrifying to the three of us. He cried and repeatedly told us how he kept on hearing Lelis wailing and shrieking. Seems like she does it every night. Although he was a fair distance from her, that did not prevent him from hearing her voice ringing all over the place.

 Luckily he made progress in recovering and was discharged two months later, but then again came another problem: The gun incident. Remember that one, Calven? You almost shot him dead. Deina couldn’t help but notice most of the insanity that happens around us always has to involve him. We’re lucky we haven’t broke down yet. When we do, Max will be in the institute all his life. He had to stay there another month because of the gun incident.

 When he was discharged, there was a scar left in him. Now, every little sound, every little odd sight scares him. He is paranoid. He’s found a girl. She’s half German and we’ve met her before. Her name’s Rineka and she’s the opposite of Max. While he’s high-strung, she’s calm and nothing ever fazes her. She’s almost oblivious to things and has patience to calm Max down when he panics. No surprise, she’s a mental therapist. That was what Lelis wanted to be. Unfortunately Lelis is never going to have that. Cerein once told me that she wanted change. Lelis has finally found change, just not the change she wanted.
 

What about me? I’m just living a normal life. I was offered a scholarship in music and arts and that’s where I went. Besides, I had no idea what to be at that time. I’m going to finish my course soon. When I do, I’m going to be a sound engineer. I’ve been interested in that job for some time. You meet people and record songs for them. That’s sounds fun. I haven’t found anyone special in my life yet. I doubt that I will.
I hope you receive this letter as soon as possible.

Love,
Kelly


 Kelly sealed the envelope and walked towards the door, where she saw Deina, Cerein and Max waiting for her.
 “No Rineka?” Kelly teased. Max blushed, “Oh, come on! You expect her to be my seeing-eye dog?”
 “The way you cling on to her, why not?” Cerein teased. Deina called, “Hurry, or we’ll miss the bus!” They ran towards Deina and raced to the bus stop.



 They reached the peak late afternoon. They were tired, but satisfied. The looked at their surroundings in silence. They were looking out at a vast jungle, the blue sky above covering them. The place was spotless, except for a few branches here and there. Mist shrouded the neighbouring mountains. It was cool, the sun was partly hidden by clouds.

 The quartet stood in silence. It had been a long time since they experienced a similar scenery. Cerein breathed, “It’s beautiful,”
 “My grandparents told me how they used to see this every day of the year when they were children,” Deina continued.
 “We’re lucky, we can see this too. And maybe this will stay for the generations to come,” Max said.

 “They’ve become smarter, they planned towns and cities better. This will always be here as long as everyone continues regretting their ancestors’ mistakes. Let’s hope they regret it for the rest of our waking days,” Deina said. Kelly looked around, searching for something. She side-tracked a little and called to the others, “I’ve found it!”

 They walked to her location and saw a small tombstone, made of stone and small fragments of crystals. On the larger stone, something was engraved there. It was not English, but it was not their native language either. They observed the stone carefully.

 “It’s ‘Calven’ in Saturnic. I wrote that five years ago when the new millennium began,” Kelly explained. Deina eyed Kelly,
“Then where did you get the crystal fragments from?” Kelly stuck her tongue out at Deina. Deina understood the meaning and scolded her, “You took my crystal altar and smashed it? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t smash it! Some bits and pieces dropped out when I tried to help you pack it! Naturally, I took them because I knew what to do with them,” Kelly explained. Cerein and Max laughed as they saw Deina jokingly strangling Kelly.

 Cerein took out a small bottle containing oil. She poured the contents on some embers and stood back. Kelly struck a match and lit the oil, making a small flame in the confines of the stones. The four of them stood back and looked at the fire, raging at first, then shrinking. When it shrunk, Kelly took out the envelope she had been carrying and inserted it among the tiny flames. She watched as the envelope curled up and turned black. Deina spoke, “I have to change my opinions on a Chosen One,”

 “Why?” Max asked.

 Deina replied, ”I used to think that a chosen one was chosen solely by their inner strengths. Now, there’s a lot more to that. Look at us, There were seven of us, including Ales. Now there’s only four of us remaining. They had inner strengths, just that they did not survive the challenges that they faced. We did,”

 Cerein looked at the flames and replied, “True, Deina. To be a Chosen One by God, we have to be strong, not only our outer selves, but our inner selves too. However, God saw many people with strengths both and decided to add one more condition,” Kelly looked at Cerein and asked, “What?”

 Max who had been standing silently decided to answer Kelly’s question. He responded, “The ability to survive,”



 As Cerein, Deina and Max walked away and back to the bus stop, Kelly turned back one more time and looked around her. She saw the new Sun setting behind the green mountains, the fog already dispersed a long time ago. Then, she looked up at the sky, with the stars slowly revealing themselves and their twinkling beauty.

 She brought her eyes downwards and saw the small tombstone that she had made. Its embers slowly being brought away by the wind, she whispered, “Goodbye, Calven,” and walked away.
 

 
Aw, what a bittersweet ending!
So, what do you think? Do write to us and tell us what you liked about Apocalypse!
DJ Lesser (jndoris@tm.net.my)
Jewelle
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