BY DR. AGONSON
The dying sun hung on the horizon, trapped in the perpetual twilight of this wasting planet. Over many lifetimes it would eventually set, and these lands would be cast into a millennium long night. The perpetual shadows of our battlements never move—at least as the human eye is concerned—and as I make my way to my watch, I step through the light and shadows, light and shadows, like day and night passing over me every second.
It is said we came from Earth. Our homes still have timers set which dim or brighten our lamps to match the cycles of that alien world our fathers came from. Day and night.
Bryan stares out at the wispy wastes trapped between light and darkness, trapped between the life we force into the soil and the death we always reap. We salute, and he leaves for his home, traipsing the shadows and light, the days and nights, I just passed. It is not long before an alarm is taken up. I see the gathering dust on the horizon, the wildmen.
I watch the little dots of farmers all flee toward our walls. Everyone is safe, the report comes in. On habit I check my gun, barely looking as my hands move the mechanisms, feeling that everything is in its proper place. I should pay more attention, but I don’t want to look away from the cloud.
Lifting the scope to my eye, I spy the marauders: Three banners are raised high, three different banners. I call it in. I’d not seen this before, the wildmen working together. They come in slowly, on foot, dressed in their tattered rags. Soon they will raze the fields. Some will die, I think, feeling the but of my rifle against my shoulder. Soon, I will fertilize the land with death.
The three tribes make their way through the desert dust, marching in orderly lines. All the better for targeting. I watch them come ever closer in a solemn march. Where were their yells and screams? their mad, frenzied assault? The united tribes march like an army.
So close, almost within range—my finger eagerly tightens, not yet firing—but they stop. The army of the three tribes begin shuffling, moving around, but never drawing nearer. As they move, I watch through my scope: men are forced to the front.
The clothes they wear are my clothes, the clothes of one of the cities. I call it in. The tribes are marching again, their hostages a shield of meat between them and death. They march into range. The radio buzzes in my ear. I say nothing; I only begin to fire. I’m the first, but the others follow me. Bryan is already back, recalled to his duty in this crisis. He’s beside me, shooting the hostages. We shoot the hostages, and then begin killing the wildmen.
No time passes in the eternal twilight of the city, only a pretense, an old fable of time, of days and years, remains to us. We perpetually fall, imperceptibly fall, into a night eternal. Our children will not see the night, nor their children, but the day will end. The day will end, but the city will remain. They will, those who will be born in that night, who will be born to those born in the night, who will be born in the hopeless night, scream with terror when the twilight returns, and the sun rises again, but for us, it will always be twilight.
The three tribes retreat into the sun while we fall into the night. Their blood mixes into the soil, enriching it with death. The red earth painted gold in the soft light of the fading sun, remains, silent as the grave.