Return to the End
An energy enveloped the Phoenix soldiers, distorting their senses and pulling at their bodies. For a moment, they felt their feet move forward while their brains remained behind. From Fifth World, the Stonehenge and Pyramid merged into a glob of colors, smeared and warped like strings of clay. Their bodies and souls crossed against one another like ghosts passing through an arm. Coldness showered their bodies but they felt warm all over.
From the remaining Special Forces sent to Blue Star, fourteen soldiers survived, landed on Fifth World and then crossed through the portal. More than twice of their numbers had been killed in operations, accidents, Scragg attacks, ceramic warriors and animals.
As the crossing finished, their feet touched copper plating, and their ears heard the rushing of hollow sounds. It took several minutes before their minds caught up to their feet. Their eyes focused on a cloud of army greens and blacks covering sweaty, bruised and tired bodies. Copper surrounded them, smooth and cut into a bell shape. A ramp led upward into a cave underground. Above their heads, a zip cord of lights dangled and brightened the ceiling.
For just a moment, Colonel Poul Flagstaad feared that they had returned to Fifth World, but then Earth’s weight pressed onto him. He could feel it. The feeling was heavy and humid like the looming shadow of an aggressive storm. It could not be shooed away with an arm wave. The stresses of so much pain and anger pushed onto his shoulders.
He counted his Phoenix soldiers, including those that they would have considered enemy combatants two weeks ago. They were all present, except Commander Libertine, Dr. Spietz and Gunner Mech who chose to stay on Fifth World. The Colonel was still dumfounded by Gunner Mech, a combination of two people merged into one individual, and then gifted with some phantom energy. Poul pushed the thoughts from his mind, discarding the facts as if they were reminiscent of a vivid dream. He was glad to return to Earth, to see his wife, his daughter, his house; just to kiss the ground of a civilized world of duty and honor.
He looked to his son, Captain Knud Flagstaad. His eyes were still glazed from the odd trip across space. When looking in the mirror, Poul had always thought that his son’s eyes were brighter than his; Poul’s eyes were dark and brown, and his son’s retained brightness between those brown lines. His son looked about, evaluated their environment, and then led the soldiers out of the bell via the ramp. The soldiers did not consider raising their weapons as they dragged their feet behind the Captain. They could not perceive something hostile at the top of the bell, within the confines of the cave walls. It would have made no difference anyhow; they were out of ammunition.
When reaching the top, they found Native Americans surrounding them on all sides. The eleven Elders sat calmly, seeming to be subdued as if reaching the end of a prayer just before the soldiers’ arrival. The Elders were not surprised, shocked or dismayed. They expected them. For a moment, the Colonel’s fears that they had returned to Fifth World resurfaced. But then he realized that the Elders were Native Americans and not the Petasanwee from Fifth World.
One Navajo appeared to be an officer of law but the Colonel didn’t recognize the uniform. “I am George Ankti. Captain of the Navajo Tribal Police.”
“We’re in a reservation?” Private Beck asked in confusion, still not completely awaken from the crossing. After three weeks on a space station and then an alien planet, the past experiences started to feel like a dream, drifting farther away.
Trying to conceal his offense, Ankti corrected, “The Navajo Nation welcomes you back home.” He maneuvered through three soldiers and reached Fiona Marx hiding in the center. Recognizing her, he said, “Welcome home, Detective Marx. Durst is waiting for you.”
She blew the hair from her face, scraggly brown and blond strands suffering from a lack of bathing and hygiene. She would have never concerned herself with her appearance on Fifth World but then she was embarrassed after returning to Earth. “Durst is still here? How much time has passed?”
Private Beck turned to the concerned Detective Fiona Marx. “Eight years for you but we only stayed for a few days. Like a vacation for us.” The soldiers turned to the jocular Private, curious how he could have a light mood after everything they suffered.
Poul looked to his right. A rock painting was sitting beneath three zip cord lights. The stone was obviously moved from somewhere else. The picture depicted men sprouting from the ground like plants, within the confines of a rectangle. Symbols surrounded the picture; one that resembled a swastika within a sun but the symbol’s meaning was older than the Nazi’s distortion of it. Other people stood on top of the rectangle, following a jagged path towards the right.
Ankti nodded before raising his volume to speak to Colonel Flagstaad in the back of the soldier line. “I am sure your governments are waiting for you. Durst should be explaining your arrival to one of your Presidents.”
Colonel Flagstaad’s heart felt burdened, like a weight was pressed into it. All of the stresses returned to his body as if they were waiting for him on Earth. He focused on a lantern teetering on a nail clubbed into a rotten timber. The light passed shadows across the rock walls. He looked to the ceiling. The cave stretched upward into a small opening at the very top. A sailing ship rested to his left. On a normal day, he would have found the existence of an outdated vessel trapped underground as being unusual but the last three weeks taught him different. The vessel reminded him of the Wakende Draeck, the sailing ship grounded on the shore where Fiona Marx had lived for many years, stranded on a beach outside of the Caretaker’s Pyramid. Nothing seemed strange anymore.
“We’re home.” Fiona Marx exhaled sharply at her own comment. The spoken words were like a towel wiping away the surprise and confusion from the soldier’s faces. Their shoulders rolled downwards, and their knees unbuckled. “Returned to the beginning of my journey.” She looked at her feet and whispered, “It feels wrong.”
Ankti nodded carefully, seeing the fatigue and confusion in everyone’s eyes. He addressed Detective Marx, “You are the first to return. We have not been able to reactivate the portal since your departure with Mech.” He saw Lieutenant Arielle Duperey’s head raise at the name. Her expression drew impatient as soon as their eyes locked, and she combed fingers through her short hair as if to warn Ankti from confronting her. Officer Ankti retreated from her glance. “Did he not return with you?”
The soldiers looked to each other, mystified; they were still trying to remember the last few days. All of them were feeling much the same, a heavy burden of stress from Earth and the lingering memories drifting away like an untied boat drifting into the sea.
Captain Flagstaad spoke up, “Um, Mech is staying behind.” He half snickered before he explained, “He waits for the human race on the other side. If you can get past the warriors.”
“The first few groups of your people were killed by those ceramic warriors!” Fiona reminded the Native Americans. She knew that Mech had warned the Navajo from sending people across and wondered what they were thinking when they sent those people to be killed.
“We understand,” an Elder recognized the warning while gathering to his feet uneasily. He was a gnarled old man, whose gray hairs clung to his back like Velcro. “I am Peta Ptaysanwee. The Mech warned us from returning so we waited. The portal now stands available for my people.” The old man wobbled on his legs as he approached. “The Fifth World awaits us.” As in afterthought, he pulled a cane from behind him.
“That’s ridiculous!” Colonel Flagstaad blurted. The abruptness of his voice startled the other soldiers. The Native Navajo remained still and calm. “If you wish to go, then do so,” he growled. “We need to return to our duties.” He looked across the soldiers’ faces. “We need to bury our dead.”
“A great many dead must be buried,” stated the Elder. Peta Ptaysanwee held a strong grip around the head of his cane that was shaped into a smooth and flat stone. His thumb rubbed across its head as if drawing magic from it.
Something about the Elder reminded the Colonel of the Petasanwee. Both Native Americans had a similar spirituality and serenity. They spoke truths that would riddle the frazzled mind. “What are you talking about?”
Ankti and the old man exchanged looks. Then Ankti announced, “A war had begun. If you wish to return to duties, the war awaits you. I am sure whatever powers forced your people out there will finish them here.”
“I beg your pardon…?” the Colonel sneered.
The old man wobbled closer. “The Blue Star streaked the night’s sky. The crash into China’s Sambus airbase was the spark that set off the gasoline. The world is at war. Thousands have already died. Billions will never make it.” The Colonel crossed his arms in defiance. The old man nodded. “Is the portal open on both sides now?”
No one knew the answer. Everyone looked back and forth, searching for someone to answer. Gunner would have known the answer. Oddly, the person who would have been able to answer the question had been transformed into Gunner Mech, a merging of Edward Dugan and the Mech. They did not completely understand it, they accepted it but never understood any of it because they didn’t want to believe. Their comrade and the mysterious cyborg had changed into something different, a wizard that conjured magic from his living copper body.
Captain Flagstaad looked back at the portal. Its copper sheen became dull as if light dimmed behind the walls. “I don’t think anyone here really knows, old man. But Gunner Mech suggested that it was time for this exodus. I would think that the answer would be ‘yes’; but we did not know how to operate it in the first place.”
“Very well.” The old man nodded his head and walked up the steep pathway towards the cave’s opening.
A few seconds passed before Ankti gestured for the Phoenix to follow him through the opening. “You can leave. Go back to your… nation states.”
The soldiers herded up the slope, their feet sliding and scraping against the rocky path. Colonel Flagstaad couldn’t help to reach out and touch the sailing ship’s hull. A smirk bent over his lips when feeling the raw wood tickling his fingers. Removing his hand, the weariness of the last month was starting to beat down on his body. The mission was over, and he could return to his wife. It was a victory for him but he dreaded the response from his Superiors. He was sure that they would see it as a failure but he didn’t care. It was a stupid mission in the first place, he concluded.
As they reached the top, they discovered a plain of green grass with large swaths of land eaten away by buffalo. Douglas was confused by the richness of the soil and vegetation. The state of Nature was not what he expected for Arizona from what he had read.
“Buffalo. More buffalo.” Private Beck looked to his fellow soldiers for a response. “I think they are following us.”
“American buffalo,” corrected Douglas.
Lieutenant Ehud Shamir managed a light chuckle in response. He had lost two comrades during the mission. All he had left was his friendship with Private Beck. He knew Yosef Barak’s family and was not sure how to explain the loss. He figured that the American and Israeli governments would devise some lies to cover-up the truth. After concealing so many lies during countless missions, the lies were starting to taste like sand. He so desperately wanted to tell the truth to their loved ones, give them some peace; some reassurances of their sacrifice. Their lives had not been lost in vain like a work accident or made-up car bombs that never happened.
Private Douglas was shaking his head. “This land is far more lush than I expected. If we are in Arizona…?”
“You are,” Captain George Ankti confirmed. “The Navajo Nation. This has been going on for the last eight years. Animals come. Life flourished. Plants and creatures that were thought to be extinct or even mythical have been slowly returning to Earth.”
Private Douglas watched the Navajo Captain, and then his eyes drifted towards the Elders sitting in a circle and speaking to their spirits. Douglas felt drawn to that place. He wasn’t sure why that was the case but he needed to stay. His military discipline dictated that he had to return to base and be debriefed. But there was something familiar about the land, almost beckoning like a Siren’s call. He just hoped the calling didn’t lead to something dangerous.
Douglas looked to his comrade, Private Miguel Gomez. He was crying. But his tears were not sad for their lost comrades: Gonzales, Hermes and Ferro. The five Miguels were like an inseparable machine; they were sent on missions together, even when it was simple duties like driving or guarding. They never separated. It was a shared joke among the five of them. Douglas wondered if the loss of their comrades had caught up to Gomez, or something else was driving those tears… The tears separated from his eyes like water crystals, slowly drawing down his face in perfect droplets.
The roar of engines distracted him. In the same direction of the sound, a billow of dust clouds approached from the south.
The Colonel noticed the wave of vehicles crossing the plateau. “Are you going somewhere?” He knew what the answer was but he still thought it was ridiculous. Why would anyone wish to evacuate to another planet? Life would be difficult. They would have to fight against creatures that they barely understood. But he saw no reason or motivation to scare them from trying. If they wanted to chase after a fantastic dream, it was none of his concern. It was only a matter of days before the governments reacted to the information.
Ankti nodded towards the vehicles. “It is time to leave. The Dine are invited. Everyone who wishes for a new start.” He turned to the Colonel. “All are welcome, except those who wish to continue hatreds and wars. The war does not belong there.”
The Colonel’s muscles tensed. “It is only a matter of time.” He inwardly admonished himself for speaking that phrase. He didn’t want to start a conflict with the Native Americans.
But Ankti didn’t take the bait. He didn’t accept his opinion but was mildly amused at his lack of belief. “When the first bus empties, you may take the vehicle to the nearest town. We will point you into the right way.”
“And the bus?” Captain Flagstaad asked.
Captain Ankti shrugged while barely turning his head in response, “Do what you will with it.”
copyright 2013, 2014
by Jax E. Garson
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