He should not be here.
Paul Benedict struggled to continue running on a smooth grass field as sleek outbound trains zipped beside him and transport ships thundered above. In neat lines, millions of people walked away from the burning structural fragments that descended from a nearby Tree, a five-kilometer-high conical archology. The fragments broke through a layer of clouds and thumped against its hyper-white sloped façade. Bright red explosions highlighted the clouds from the other side.
He reminded himself, more as a distraction, that he needed to collect data from the aliens destroying his planet. It was a noble, selfless act, so he kept running. In the distance, the Tree fragment whistled and crashed into the ground and shook the earth under his feet. He stopped, petrified as a dust cloud rose.
What was he doing? He shouldn’t be here. No, he needed to be here. For his family. For everyone. The data could save lives. What if he died in the process?
His Visuals, a neural-optical interface that projected images in three dimensions directly to his visual cortex, flooded his view with data on translucent virtual panels. The transit system warned him to step away from the rail and walk on a designated pathway. The hazards recognition program highlighted the velocity and trajectory of falling objects and warned him to evacuate the area. His family watched his view and showered him with messages telling him to be careful. His medical interface ordered him to relax and breathe.
“Breathe.” He had forgotten to breathe!
He took a deep breath and exhaled. As he stepped forward, his Cellular Infinity, the genetic mutation bio-nanotechnology and controller of his Utopian existence, prompted the largest warning in his Visuals. “Danger – Consistent atypical utopian behavior. Unable to stabilize chemical and hormonal levels.”
He stopped. If he retreated, he would keep his privilege of immortality and a perfect life with his family, if the aliens didn’t kill them. If he continued forward, he would face mortality but could potentially protect his family against the aliens, if the aliens didn’t kill him. He brought up the icons of his wife, Amaryllis, and his daughters, Statice and Lily, before him.
Through a conscience communication interface called Audials, he Audialed to his family, “I received the final warning.” Chills ran through his body. He shuddered at every explosion and rumble in the distance. He needed their words to motivate him.
Amaryllis’s face appeared and replaced her icon. She Audialed, “You can do this. We’re watching your surroundings for real dangers. Just follow the path. They’re attempting to negotiate with one of the scouts right now. This is our best chance at getting any viable data and interaction with our leaders.” Her calm composure contradicted her high heart rate.
Statice, the older, leaned forward. “You have sixty seconds after the final warning before the drones abduct you.”
As always, he expected straightforward advice from Statice.
Lily’s eyes gleamed as she stepped in front of Statice. “We have faith in you Dad.”
As always, he expected emotional encouragement from Lily. It was exactly what he needed.
He nodded. “I will.”
He moved the images aside to his peripheral view. Amaryllis prescribed a path through Visuals, and he sprinted towards the base of the attacked Tree.
After sprinting for three kilometers, he reached a dusty area of rubble and craters. Blood mixed with dirt painted deformed pieces of metal. The air burned his nostrils. For the first time in his life, he coughed and heaved, spitting saliva and stomach fluid. Also for the first time in his life, he sweated. White dust clumped on his forehead. He tilted his head back to scan for falling debris. A layer of clouds flowed around the Tree with several openings that revealed the damaged upper levels and several airborne Crimson scouts.
This was insane!
Amaryllis Audialed, “You’re clear from above. They stopped cutting into the upper levels. You have to keep going, honey.”
He continued into the building lobby, where thousands of people evacuated in organized lines. People carried on with casual conversations unrelated to the attack, while others laughed and shared food. Not a single hint of fear or a sense of urgency.
Several strangers took notice as they gazed at him. With care, he weaved his way around the crowds and entered an empty elevator returning upward. Through Visuals commands, he directed the elevator to rise to the four-hundredth floor, the location of a Crimson scout. He leaned against the doors, away from the window, and the elevator rushed him upward.
As he approached the upper levels, several moments of vibration slowed the elevator down, causing its alarm to go off. He screamed at every ring, anticipating the elevator would fall at any moment. With a slow shuffle, he looked out the window towards the Tree’s glowing blue central energy core and found debris falling from above.
He jumped back. The elevator stopped and opened its doors. Turbulent wind and black smoke rushed into the elevator. He covered his ears as a louder repeating alarm pierced his eardrums. Again, he coughed his lungs out.