A STRANGER ON THE ISLAND

Submitted into Contest #154 in response to: Write a story featuring an element of time-travel or anachronism.... view prompt

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Fiction Science Fiction Speculative

   The sun slowly sank beneath the mountains and night fell into a hazy stillness, the stars bleary and fragile and the lunar crescent parting the milky skies like the Red Sea. Just beyond one of the plantations encroaching into the dwindling forests of mahogany and lime berry, a cold flash of light illuminated a patch of woods. A peasant farmer was aroused by the sight as he plodded back from the barn to shut down for the evening. Curious, he grabbed his lantern and lit the tallowed wax before heading into the woods. It was pitch-black out, and he strained himself trudging over the bramble as the flame weaved a ribbon of black smoke through the trees. He had to keep his buoyancy, cautious not to bungle and drop the lamp into piles of tinder, thus killing one of the last vestiges of wood on the main island. Times were hard enough, and heads shook on how to meet the demands before the islands ran dry of amenities.

After a couple of minutes, he came to a small hollow tilled into a bed of dirt. It appeared to be a garden at first sight, but he wondered what it was doing out here alone and which crops it harvested. Herbs? There were none to speak of. No plantings, nothing. The grounds were depilated. Lowering his lamp, he found a series of footprints that ran across the glade into the bramble heading towards town. There seemed to be no point of origin; he was puzzled how they appeared from nowhere, as if someone had jumped from the trees and landed right where he was standing. He surmised it was some animal, but the imprints had sharp edges, indicating they were made by the pressure of footwear, and he knew of no animal wearing human raiment. The bramble where the tracks ended looked compressed, as if someone had forged a path. If anything, it was a cause for alarm, and the farmer’s first guess was a thief out to pilfer the food of others. Famine was rearing its ugly head, from the stories he heard, and the island was starting to be gripped by desperation. His heart fluttered assuming the worst case scenario, and he made a hasty retreat.

The morning rays beamed through the windows of the Lord’s chamber. Baron Jiminez, Grandee of the Kingdom of the Guam Isles, oversaw the vassal with a degree of hesitancy. The supplies were becoming progressively short, and the inhabitants were growing more restless. At this rate, the resources, even under the strictest of stewardship, were growing too scant to maintain stability, let alone a population that refused to shrink. They would have had to venture out into the endless ocean and seek new land if they wanted to survive, but the probability of developing the proper transport was too low at this point. He hoped against the odds overshadowing the plight of the islands he would not have to rule over a graveyard.

Pattering footsteps approached from the hallway. The Baron shifted his eyes. “My Lord…” He turned around to whoever addressed him. It was the noble esquire. “I’ve come with a message from a stranger…in skin-tight cloth.”

The Baron cocked his brow. “And what of it, squire?” He was in no mood to entertain the questions of anyone at the moment.

“My Lord, he said so himself he was not from around here, however, he claims to know of our issues and wishes to speak with you. He goes by the name of Mykus.”

“As the rest! If he wishes to complain that he’s short on supplies, he can join the others at the end of the line. Send him off!”

“My Lord,” the esquire said with marked trepidation, “he claims to have a proposition that might be to the benefit of the Kingdom.” He tried to hide a deep breath.

The Baron corroborated with the lords and nobles on possible solutions, but they always came up empty-handed. They were cornered and would meet certain doom without the proper resolution to act upon. Dispensing with his pride, he considered the request. At this point, he was in no authority to cast a new idea to the winds.

Sighing, he replied, “What choice do we have? Send him in but keep him well guarded in the event he conceals his woes in the form of a cudgel.”

“Certainly, my Lord.” The esquire bowed and parted, followed by the guards.

Within a few minutes, the sound of gates clacked open and squealed shut in a resounding echo. A flurry of clattering approached the throne room. The Baron awaited, his forehead collecting a film of sweat.

The guards entered. Flanked by a detachment of sentries, the stranger stood out like the color red in a monochromatic setting. He was tall in stature and pale in tone, looking slightly past his mid-thirties. The suit he wore was minimal, accurately reflecting the esquire’s description. He carried himself with ironclad aplomb, not haughty, but serious enough not betray his countenance. The Baron was disciplined to be a good judge of character, and the stranger had the decorum of a soldier, even though he screamed of an outlander. In spite of the differences, something inside told him the man was trustworthy, though he failed to pinpoint what it was beyond a reasonable guess. Nonetheless, he was no fool to dismiss all his guards.

“You and you in the back,” he pointed at the sentries in the rear guard, “you may go. The rest of you remain at your flanks.” The clattering of departing footsteps receded.

“So…Mykus?”

“Yes, My Lord,” the stranger replied with a refinement that impressed the Baron, and he quietly questioned if this was not a learned recitation. Though, the man said nothing until called upon by someone of higher authority; it was a mark of civility he was not expecting so readily.

He grunted. “Very well. Now, tell me…you look like an honorable man. Though from what I can see, you would have a difficult time adjusting to our customs, given your sartorial choices alone.” So far, there was no sign of snark or demurral. The stranger said nothing. “Unless you hail from a secret cove buried in the northern farmsteads, it would be safe to presume you came afar. Can you care to elaborate?”

“My Lord, I will be more than satisfied to honor your question, however, I am aware that your kingdom is in dire straits, the worst of it coming to pass in a mere decade.”

Why did he not answer me? What is he hiding? He began to bare his teeth. “I am blissfully aware of that. Have you not the recommendations to avert our standing dilemma, I shall have no choice but to recognize this as an effrontery to a public figure and haul you off to the dungeons!”

The stranger kept his peace. “I concur. I noticed a few of your harvesters up north had some degree of emaciation. It is becoming increasingly difficult to feed themselves after they’ve handed over their bounties. Much of the forestry has been stripped, and the time needed for seeds and saplings to mature would be overrun by the onset of famine.”

“And I take it you come from another place that can be of service to us, which is why I’m befuddled as to why you continue to evade my questions on where you come from.” Something about the stranger was keeping his patience that under normal circumstances would have long tempered him. From his manner of speaking alone, this man conveyed a wisdom and intent that was nothing short of genuine. The Baron was torn and began to pace amid his nervousness.

“Yes, My Lord, but not here. The land beyond the great ocean is, against all fortune, strapped with a sickness no man could escape. Any place you seek abroad would be certain death.”

The Baron furrowed his brow and whipped around, facing Mykus. He snapped, “So, I take it you found a way to travel the world! Yet, we don’t have the raw materials to erect a ship big enough to handle the great oceans. Now, you’re telling me that such a feat would be moot anyway! What in God’s almighty name is this sickness you speak of? Pox? Fever?”

“My Lord, I humbly apologize for the unfavorable omen,” he bowed his upper body in keeping deference to protocol, “but I'm afraid it's far worse. It's an airborne poison afflicting both the flesh and the mind. You cannot see it, smell it or taste it, and you are not equipped to detect it. Its natural course is gradual and hard to affiliate with other manifestations until it’s too late. With time, one grows weak as the immunities fail, increasing susceptibility to common maladies. The body develops cancerous disorders that metastasize without any hope of reversal. The cells within us mutate into forces the body cannot contain, and eventually, give out under the immense physiological stress.”

“And what, if I may ask, was the cause of this widespread poison?”

The stranger answered succinctly. “A great war, My Lord. Five centuries ago. The weapons used unleashed unimaginable troves of energy across every continent in minutes, leaving the survivors in the aftermath at the mercy of such poison. This was coupled with a prolonged winter due to the power these weapons yielded, compromising any means of survivability.”

“Then I take it, we are all that’s left?”

“Unfortunately, My Lord.”

“My God! My God! My God!” The Baron’s nerves began to unfurl and breach his stately decorum. He had to compose himself or face the scruples of his own nobles. “And unless we find a way to regenerate our resources, we will invariably perish?”

“It would be within your means to farrow the islands, but it would need external sources to ensure its regeneration. Given the blight across the world at this current time, it would be infeasible.”

“Then of which place would you recommend us to go?”

“I can show you, My Lord, but under the precondition that you must be willing to listen and accept the unconventional method by which the islands are to be vacated. The Earth, at this time, is inhospitable. There is another place I have in mind, however, and I reiterate, My Lord, that you must cooperate. We are here to regenerate not only your resources, but you as well. There’s no one else gracing the world besides the inhabitants overseen by your kingdom.”

The Baron hastily turned away, aghast at the developments. He was still uncertain on what he was being told and who this stranger was. He felt himself going mad, that he was no longer in control of his emotions, that the very world he took for granted was now a rotten husk of itself, and it was all attributable to this infernal augur, the cursed, cursed fool!

“None of us left? We have records of great fires, which explains our isolation, but time has a way of omitting the past and leaving to us the mantle of volition. As it stands, even our greatest efforts to maintain equilibrium with our land has been cast to the flames, assuring us of our ineluctable demise. Yet, you avail yourself of our goodwill, selling us false hopes to be later dashed to bits on the rocky shores. Now you’ve tested my patience and you’ll be certain to join the graves of so many others. Guards! Guards! Seize him at once!”

Both guards cocked their halibuts at Mykus as their ancillaries burst through the entrance crushing any hope of escape.

“My Lord,” pleaded Mykus, “you are making a grave mistake!”

“It is no mistake. You’ve crossed the line with your tactics as a peddler of venom!”

“I wish you no harm, and I seek to perpetuate your longevity, however, if it is required of me, then I am left with no alternative but to use force.”

“Try it.” To the guards, “Make sure he’s dead by sunrise. The sight of this man sickens me!”

The guards lunged with shackles in hand. Inches from arrest, there was a sudden jolt that stumbled them backwards and onto the floor. Flumoxed, they stared back at the stranger who remained standing as he was but was now aglow with some divine sheath laced with filaments of lightning that flashed around him.

“What is this deviltry you conjure!” The Baron shouted.

“To you, it may be passed as a form of magic, however, I am in no position to squander your time. I’ve already witnessed rising tension among the inhabitants under your jurisdiction. With time and desperation, even your standing army will be no match for the numbers seeking to overthrow you, especially when the shadows of their own extinction loom. Of course, the vacuum in power would set them against one another, vying for the last morsel of fruit from the last crop until no man is left standing.

“If, however, we act now, and you’re able to collect your wits and accept my invitation, you'll no longer share the same fate as those from the last war! The biggest expenditure on your part would be to rebuild, and we are willing to provide assistance in the reestablishment of your kingdom.”

The Baron stood alone with bated breath, facing his guards lumbering back up, then turned to Mykus. It took him a minute or so to regain his composure. In a feeble sense of curiosity, he reached out his forefinger to the field of energy enveloping the stranger and was struck by a shock. He jerked his hand back and massaged it. What is he?

“Alright! I’ll keep my reservations and see to your offer, but you better be right! None of us can match your faculties, but God wields a mighty sword!”

“And so, He must. If it is His decision to condemn me, I must be willing to accept it, My Lord. I am not without sympathies to your woes and would cast a heavy heart if you were to fall. And in light of such circumstances, I ask for your trust.

“Now, without tarry, please come with me. I have something important to show you.”

With expediency, the Baron summoned a contingency of the palace guard and followed the stranger past the fields and into a patch of forest where a glade of levelled ground lay. Mykus lifted his hand to silence those behind him. A crowd of villagers gathered from the nearby cottages, curious at the large presence of royalty. This was no longer a private affair, and Mykus had no time to spare under the conditions. Bathed in the warmth of the late morning sun, he stood in a Vitruvian pose facing the opposite direction. A blue-white starburst flashed before him, followed by a vortex of foam and light magically whorling into view. The nebulous edges thinned as the portal expanded, framing a hazy image within that resolved into a vast landscape wider and more spacious than the villagers thought possible. Used to the geographical limitations of their islands, they saw bounties of forests and mountains sidling a lush valley capable of harboring an agricultural yield tenfold…a hundred-fold! They stood there in shock. 

He stated, “Denizens of Guam, I hereby offer you this land with which to propagate your kind. As you can see, this doorway is too small and the land too narrow to accommodate the traffic needed for your transfer. Therefore, I have summoned a much larger door to be opened by the seashore that will take you and whichever supplies you need to your destination.

“I understand you have many questions, and they will be answered in the course of your emigration. This will be a gradual process, taking several months while you get settled, ensuring yourselves the providence to escape the impending famine.”

The crowd continued to stare in a flurry of confused murmurs. There would be difficulties in adaptation, psychological and social, but no progress is made without greasy hands while tightening a few nuts and bolts. The Baron, however, had a visible change of heart. Though he still found the mysterious stranger an elusive figure, he resumed his command and ordered the villagers to keep their calm and to make preparations. A new beginning was about to be forged, the threat of depletion no more.

In the year 5587AD, the sub-Saharan countryside was host to the rebirth of humanity. The villagers were settled and hard at work in recreating their original habitat. Receiving the news uploaded to his processing unit, Mykus made his way into the circular chamber, his mission successful. With the same decorum he first approached the Baron, he stepped towards a translucent sphere that floated in the center aglitter with fivery iridescence.

A deep voice emerged from the sphere, “Mykus, when the islanders have enough history behind them in the coming decades, we're quite positive you'll be a prominent figure in the annals of their literature!”

“They may simply relegate this watershed moment as some mythological tale in their distant future, but their rate of literacy may prove otherwise.”

“Agreed. We can never forget there was a time when they disappeared from the face of the Earth. We still have those records to fall back on for contrast. But it was nothing a little time travel couldn't find around its confounding paradox! And provided their limited understanding from the years spent in isolation, I doubt they would even notice the lapse of three millennia.”

“One day, they'll get the hint when they explore their old abode and puzzle over why everything is in an advanced state of decay and reclaimed by the forests. Rude awakening aside, it was a seamless transition. I don’t think it would've been wise had we dispatched them at any intervening point without clashing with our past incarnations and changing history.”

“Clashing with our machine culture? It probably wouldn't have ended well for them if our programming was as feral as humans. However, take note, history never works that way. The real result would have ended with a time crash killing all of us in femtoseconds; the jaws of space-time are no joke!

"Regardless, their isolation played to our advantage. We simply reached back into a vector where mankind would have been alone in their course of extinction without impacting any timeline around them, and harmlessly plucked them from their fate and brought them to the present. Voila! Time dilation averted! And not to mention a few thousand extra years to weather out the radiation.”

“An anthropological and temporal victory, indeed,” concluded Mykus. “Humanity can restart afresh, and I, for one, can do with a fine tune-up. Now for my systems check!”

July 14, 2022 21:54

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