The Names of the Many
See the Earth, the girdles of fire, and the darkness where the many graves are.
See this oh great mother who grew them, watched them, loved them, and will now come to mourn them; the billions of her children, dying upon her. Helpless and reduced to just watching them run and dash and come to be only disintegrated back into the star stuff of whence they came. And all that rises from the piles of ash is their souls and they scream and scream around the world.
See the Earth, the annihilation of her creations, and the many stars above that watch and gaze.
Come to the seventh night of the new year and look to the greatest city ever known and there the Boy can be seen wondering through its torn remains. His legs dragging and dragging and sometimes they are made of glue and then of stone; the blisters on his heels pop and bleed with every step. Stopping only when the blackness is ignited with the weapons the cosmic beings have brought to this planet. He raises his hands to shield his eyes from the illumination of humanities extinction; the outlined towers either fractured or fallen to the heap where hunks of rubble and smoking cars lie.
The flash is gone and the Boy blinks and with every blink he can see the fading captured image of the tomb before him. A fuse is lit within him and what begins to rise is instinctive fear. Both of his legs lock and the Boy starts to tremble. Up at the light he looks; the each life beat of the night, and he hears the dying echo of a man, woman, or child. A sound so familiar to him now and he knows what is behind those erased songs; years of an individual with experiences of pain and love unique to each individual and all of it eradicated.
The Boy takes a step.
"Not me. Not me."
Forward he moves, toward the wreckage at the end of the road. His mind phases out the cries of death and he makes himself go despite the terror attempting to overwhelm him. And when he reaches the ruins of the fallen towers, he sets his back against the wall and slides to the ground, letting out a relieved sigh. His legs pulse with pain and his fingers have swelled around the trigger of his gun.
But it’s the heavy exhaustion pulling down his eyes that he can't fight, and more than anything he wants to rest, wants to loosen and escape this cruel reality …
The Boy is back at the night when they arrived. Standing among the thousands of people, shoulder to shoulder, and yet his attention was entirely upon the girl next to him; her grin making him smile something bigger. They hold each other's hands and join the many in counting down, their eyes on the silver sphere and its descent. And in unison the people begin to celebrate when the sphere reached its peak and so a new year was ushered. A new start for most, and a new beginning for others …
It is said nothing good is long-lived, and at that instant their end erupted from the cosmos. The routine of life was shattered and the grievances of intolerance towards one another when it came to the color of skin and the belief of mind were discarded because in the end they stood side by side, looking up all the same.
The Boy let go of what he held in his pocket, pulled her close, and pushed through the panicking people; trying to escape from this riding hell come forth.
The days passed and the people tried to flee from the massive beings that brought massive structures and they tore through the sky. Bringing along with them a Resonance; a device that produces the most awful of songs and it is unleashed upon Mankind. Targeting the core of a person, bringing them to their knees and forcing them to dig at their ears. With every blink the blood is forced from their eyes and the final desecration is leaving them to howl at the sky like the uncivilized animals they are; so inferior to the ones who have come.
The Boy can see the nonstop hours of absolute armageddon of the past six days. Zooming past it, the blurring motion never seeming to stop until he is there, reliving that moment over again.
Searching the basement of the parking garage with a flashlight in hand, whispering her name in the dark. Stopping when the beam of light reveals her on her knees, her fingers digging at her temples like jackhammers. The Boy can hear her teeth batter against each other. He rushes to her and she screeches at his presence; her inner throat dry and raw from the consistent screaming.
The Boy recoils, horrified, and then reaches for her again, saying his name to her. His love screams again and her fists flail about. Both of her eyes begin to bulge out of her sockets; the magnificent hue of flowing emerald he had fallen in love with were being replaced by cruel circles of crimson. Once more the Boy tried to soothe her and he failed with a final result. Letting out a cry as she ceased and snapped her own neck, erasing everything he thought he knew about life.
Up above the stars watched, enjoying the damage the cosmic beings inflicted. The Boy could see them, passing popcorn to one another, their eyes on him because his love has just died. In some pathetic rage the Boy said with such hate that he hoped they burned out and would end up forever forgotten but they laughed at him, saying with tears in their eyes that they could never be touched by the likes of him and his kind.
The Boy turned, finding her body gone. He went to his knees and pulled out the golden circle from his pocket and tears glistened upon his cheeks. The stars rolled their eyes and told him to get on with it and to—
An echoing sound woke him up and he pulled his gun in close. Those eyes of his opened and they danced with the fireworks of death that lit the dark. He looked up and saw legions of clouds blocking the reflection of the stars and he could see the lightning rolling within the inner puffs, forming mountains of greatness.
He heard the faraway thundering again. An incredible weight was making its way across the terrain, moaning with each step. The Boy knew what was coming and he knew it was time to move.
The Boy stood and again he heard another noise. This one was of crunching weight against pebbles and rocks close to his right. He aimed his gun and the filthy air of ash held in his lungs and he waited and tightened his finger around the trigger the closer the steps neared.
A tall figure emerged from beyond the rubble and looked straight at him. They stared at each other with the ambiance of the extermination of an entire species raging around them and the Boy lowered his gun.
The Man motioned to the Boy's weapon. "Have you ever shot a drone with that?"
"No," the Boy said. "I've never had the chance."
"It wouldn't matter if you did. They're near impervious to all of our weaponry."
"I don't care. I feel better if I have it."
The Man nodded in agreement, tapping at the barrel of his rifle slung around his chest.
The Boy narrowed his eyes. "Why are you even asking? Are some following you?"
"No drones are around here." The Man stepped towards him with his arms out, showcasing all the decimation around them. "Nothing here except all of this … and you."
Up close the Boy could see the details of the worn uniform the Man wore. Once a member of a military now gone. Patches of cloth and red-soaked bandages replaced the stripes of rank. From somewhere in his pack came the defeated static blare of a radio.
"How can I be sure of what you say?" the Boy asked. "They specifically go after military and you're one of them."
"They go after everyone. Not just military. And you might as well take my word and believe what I say instead of feeling like a fool right as they put out the Resonance."
The Boy nodded. "I can hear one Walker. Doesn't mean there is plenty of time to get far from it."
"The sound of them moving … it's something I just don't really notice anymore. I can't recall the last time I wasn't hearing one." The Man went and sat against the wall. "And maybe you could run out of this one's range, but not all of them. I've ranged every sector of this city and have seen only Walkers. No drones. They're going to put out the Resonance out for miles on and wipe out what is left of us."
"Just because you're military doesn't mean you know these things for sure."
The Man cast his eyes down at the diced camouflage he wore. "There is no military anymore. There isn't anything anymore. Besides, I saw them with my own eyes. So what does it matter if I'm military or not?"
The Boy did not withdraw his sternness. "Regardless, a city this size? They would have to bring in all of their—"
"They did bring in all of their Walkers. For the past two days I have watched them fly their Walkers in from around the world. Prepping them up for their last act."
"I've been here the entire week."
"Well, if you had your eyes open you wouldn't be doubting me right now. Or were you just hiding the whole time? Leaving everyone else to die around you so you could run?"
The Boy swallowed. "If I'm alive, there are others. We can find them and leave."
The Man smiled and shook his head. "That is how you have survived so long, isn't it? And that is how you have evaded me. Never helping anyone and always running and hiding … this is what they have reduced us to."
"You don't know who I am, what I am," the Boy said. "I have lost just as much as everyone else."
"Yes, but you're alive, and they're not."
"Do you think I want to be alive?" The Boy raised his voice and the Man brought up his hands, wanting him to stay quiet.
"Just understand this," the Man whispered. "We're the last. There is nothing we can do. There is no more leaving and hiding. There is no more running. This is it."
The Boy could tell from the dismal existence in the Man's eyes that he spoke the truth but he didn't want to be that way, it couldn't be that way, so he went on with his insistence. "You don't know these things. You don't.
"What are you hoping to accomplish by outliving even your own will to live?"
"Because … because maybe there is a way to stop them and … and bring back …"
"Do you know who I am?"
The Boy looked up. "Does it matter who you are?"
"Since the beginning," the Man started. "Since the beginning of this I have witnessed every aspect of our species’ downfall. I have seen the pinnacle of humanity’s combined civilizations crumble and fall to just two men in less than a week. I have seen entire cities obliterated in hours. I have presided over the losses of countries, continents, and then hemispheres. The greatest loss in human history lies on my shoulders. The fact that I'm responsible for allowing our extinction come to fruition … of not being good enough … this is what will kill me. Not the Resonance."
The Boy moved towards the Man, now observing him as if he were a rare specimen of some kind. "Wait … you're the—"
"Like you said, it doesn't matter anymore," the Man said. "There is nothing left. These things … wherever they came from … I don't know."
The ground rumbled with the tension of every overloading step of the approaching Walker. Tickling sensations ran up the Boy's feet and legs and the metal grating against metal pinched at his ears; a Walker is nothing less than a grazing tower among the skies.
"What happened … to all of your …," the Boy asked, hesitant.
"This great city was to be our fabled last stand. But we didn't do anything to them. By thousands we were wiped out and well … we're just the last. The very last of our species."
The Boy looked down at the Man, the one who was supposed to ensure the existence of Mankind, and fell to his knees. He looked up at the sky and saw the clouds still lingered. He wanted them to be gone with their cover and he wanted to see the cold beauty of the stars he took for granted one last time. And with his vectors of hope now thinning, the true realization of what was to come took him over and he began to mourn. The lines of tears cleaned his face as they came down.
"Why do you cry?"
"How could you not?" The Boy lashed out. "I've … everyone has lost everything. We're finished."
The Man was not so sure with the statement. "In a way. But I don't think we lost. I think we won. I think we have been saved from a fate more horrific than this."
"You said yourself—"
"You see these things. How they trample over our greatest feats like we do with ants and their tallest mounds. So invulnerable they are, capable of extraordinary things. Much too easy it is for them to thwart thousands of years of evolution … hundreds of years of studies and advancements too just see our grandest accomplishments be flicked away like a petty fly."
The Man smiled. "You know what we would have to become to destroy something like them? What anything would? We wouldn't be humans anymore, we would be something awful."
"We would be alive."
"Would we?" The Man let the question hang in the air for a moment. "It isn't for the faint of heart to wipe out an entire species. And … and I just know we are not the first and we won't be the last to suffer this fate … do we really want to live in a galaxy where beings like this roam and bring death to anything that is not them? If we ever got to the point where we could reach the stars like they do, something so simple to them, is that what we would become? Destroyers of life?"
"It isn't fair...it isn't," the Boy said.
"No, it isn't." The Man nodded. "We are able to love and able to enjoy life. And they are the ones who have to destroy, who have to murder. It isn't fair at all."
The Boy began to contemplate this but was interrupted when a deeper shade of darkness seemed to swallow him. He felt himself levitate above the ground for a few seconds and looked up.
They watched the Walker stride over the buildings. Its legs crafted of a hard substance unknown and the design of it something foreign; no similarities could be found in anything human-related. Ranging from works of fiction to failed propositions of scientific projects; this craft was something of a true perfection and cast a shadow greater than any eclipse.
"Not much longer now," the Boy said.
The Boy scooted over next to the Man and they stared up together at their ender.
"We are not the first. We are not the last." The Man repeated.
"Why do you think they do this?"
"I don't know," the Man said.
The Boy watched the Walker maneuver with ease over obstructions and positioned itself in front of them. Miles of metal shaped in thin rays jutted out from its legs and shot down into the ground, anchoring itself in preparation for launching the Resonance.
"What do we do now?"
"There is an old saying," the Man said. "And it's that you die twice. The first is when you take in your last breath and the second is when your name is said a last time."
"I've heard that before."
"Good," the Man said. "Because what we do now is remember everyone before we die. Remember them and their names and they will be here with us when we go. And just maybe they will see our names are said for us after we pass away."
The Boy stared at him and wiped at his eyes with his fingers.
"Go on," the Man motioned. "What was your mother's name?"
"And your father?"
"Now keep going," the Man said. "And I'll say names with you. Say the names of your family and friends. Of teachers and enemies and comic book characters you imagined yourself as when you were little. Anything. For names are what we remember, what we think of when an ideal is presented to us, and that is how we go out. With the names of the many."
So they spoke together. Both of them plucking from their memories the names of friends and loved ones; old and new. Speaking of distant relatives they never met and infamous criminals who were well known. Moving onto recognized actors and never struck gold musicians. The friendly bartenders encountered on bad nights and the odd neighbor who always was seen standing next door on their front porch.
Into the very depths of ancient mythologies they went where some figures were argued to be fiction but they named the heroes and villains nonetheless. Pulling out the records of the first men, of the first names, and the Man and the Boy said all the names they knew. And as the Walker straightened up on its legs and reached up past the clouds in the sky, it parted them apart and the Boy could see the stars one last time.
Streaks of green and yellow lights lit up on the Walker and the air was thinning and being injected with a frightening tension. The colors glimmered upon the tears of the Boy's eyes but his focus was on the stars, choosing instead to bathe in their light.
"Christina," the Boy whispered. "Christina."
The Man put a hand on the Boy's shoulder. "That name is special to you, isn't it?"
"I had a ring … on the night of New Year's Eve." The Boy looked over at him, scared. "Will it hurt?"
"The sound will be horrific, but with these many Walkers?" The Man shook his head. "We will be hushed like a candle in the dark and that will be that."
"What … what is your name? Everyone only knew you by title."
The Man gave him a great grin and pulled him into an embrace. "Our names are not for each other to know." A pause, his last breath. "But they will be said again. I promise you that."
The air then burst with a harrowing hell and it rippled with the highest pitch ever felt in the universe and the Boy and Man winced and they were gone. The Boy's hand unclasped and out rolled a ring and it settled on the ground. Their last breaths came out from their dead bodies and so it was the last breath of mankind was felt on the world that had raised them.
The stars watched and smiled when another intake of air was felt on Earth. Sweeping winds of speaking syllables here and there, heard from over the oceans and to the islands, from the highest peaks of the hundreds of mountains. The names of the Man and Boy were heard at every corner of the Earth, said one last time by the names they remembered.
They were, we were, then returned back to the cosmos; back to the star stuff whence we came.