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At the End of the Earth
At the End of the Earth
A slow summer wind is picking up and teasing fine wisps of Lily Srilana’s dark hair as the sun peaks shyly over the box-lined horizon. Lily is sitting quietly on a park bench contemplating whether or not she should stay. From her appearance, one cannot tell that she is fighting through a difficult time in her life. Lily, for all appearances, seems peaceful. A placid hint of a smile plays on her delicate red lips and lights up her sapphire eyes. The most intense feature of Lily’s thin subtle frame is her eyes; her eyes are the subject of her pride.
Often as now, Lily imagines herself as a giant towering over those who always tower over her and staring deep into their eyes as if to say, “You don’t scare me anymore,” but it is only a dream. The world around her holds almost no natural beauty. It is a cruel world. Knowing this eats at her as it seems like acid on her nerves. Lily struggles to maintain an absent mind, but the arriving sun forces reality upon her. Reality in turn beckons Lily to her home city, Deliverance.
Deliverance is the capitol city of Delta Crescent, the last human inhabitable island on Earth. On this island, people often use the phrase “at the end of Earth” to justify corrupt or risky activities. Merchants market goods at impossible prices. Thieves thrive on the poor population’s misfortune. Here, the most corrupt and dangerous beings are kept in close quarters so that the height of corruption grows ever taller as an unwanted weed does in a garden. The city is so decadent that even the most prestigious offices are ones kept in Old Earth cargo crates with disheveled hand-painted signs hanging on their sides and doors kept open in welcome to any soul on the streets.
One building in particular is known as Termite Mound. Termite Mound is the tallest human-made apartment tower on Delta Crescent; the towering complex stands twenty crates high. The sole purpose of Termite Mound is to house as many New Earth residents as possible at as high a rent charge as is plausible. For that reason, Termite Mound is the most expensive apartment complex to rent in, and it is here that Lily Srilana resides.
Presently, Lily is headed to her apartment on Floor Seven of Termite Mound. Lily has been struggling to keep her apartment on Floor Seven in spite of her inability to earn sufficient money to live on each month. Once there, Lily swings open her apartment door as far as it will go. What a mess, Lily observes quietly. Clothes from two months ago lay piled up near her door making entry a difficult process. After she finally manages to pirouette and leap over all the disorder, Lily collapses on her bed and her hand hits a crumpled poster advertisement with the address for Scrin’s Labor Connections Office typed across the middle in bold print. At first, Lily just glances at the poster for the noise, but then she notices the office denoted on the poster is one for jobs and jumps up over the disorder in her room. Poster in hand, Lily runs down the stairs and out into the street. The address Lily is looking for is 2351 Mars Drive. Lily darts down Central Avenue as far as she can. After two blocks of running through shuffling crowds, Lily arrives at an intersection and turns left almost instinctively. She has been to Scrin’s Labor Connections before. The first time, a small boy behind the desk handed her an application for a free room. Lily had turned him down because at the time, the apartment was more important. Now, she decides to take the free room. Lily bursts into the office red-faced and sweaty. The small boy hands her another blank form. This time she smiles.
A few minutes later, Lily walks calmly out. Spotting a trashcan on the corner, she throws away the poster. Now, her destination is Termite Mound’s management office to cancel her rent on the Floor Seven apartment.
“I’d like to speak with Miss Forsit, please,” Lily promptly asks at the window.
“Okay, just a minute,” comes the lackadaisical reply from the dumpy elderly woman behind the desk, “Forsit!”
Swiftly, Forsit enters the room with a clipboard in her hand. She is short with pale ivory skin and brown hair pulled back into a bun.
“What? What is it?” Forsit asks her voice laced with impatience.
The clerk responds with, “This...uh…young lady wants to speak with you.”
Forsit nods affirmatively at the elder and asks, “Well?”
Lily struggles for a second, and then says, “I’m moving out. Can you cancel my rent for the apartment for me?” Forsit asks a few questions as she digs through a filing cabinet to find Lily’s rent form. Forsit finds the form and looks it over.
“You’ve barely made the last three rent payments on time,” Forsit observes. Lily does not speak, unsure of what the manager is implying. “However, Lily, you have been up-to-date, so yes, I will cancel your rent for you.” Forsit looks up at Lily. They both smile in relief.
Lily runs up the stairs to her former apartment. She finds a suitcase and starts maniacally leaping around her room and packing her clothes away. After a quarter of a year spent in a desperate struggle to stabilize her life, Lily is finally moving out of Termite Mound. See if you can hold me back now, Elton Jaks, Lily challenges her brother’s memory. She imagines him crouching next to her and smiling as he strokes her hair the way he used to before he died in a fight trying to protect her from a drunkenly belligerent bar toad.
Bulky suitcases in hand, Lily bumps along the hall and down the stairs. Most people now are at work, so the hallways and stairwells are primarily deserted. Even so, Lily runs into a man at the foot of the stairs who is in his early fifties and homeless. He staggers backward for a second then realizes that Lily is stumbling under her burden. The gentleman grabs her bags and tells her to lead the way.
“My name is Lily. You?” Lily tries to be hospitable.
“Logan,” the gentleman huffs as his face reddens from the effort.
“Let me carry something, please,” Lily implores Logan. Logan defiantly shakes his head and straightens his posture and signals Lily to continue walking.
“The way I was raised was to never leave a woman to do all the heavy lifting. It’s disrespectful,” Logan explains after a few moments of silence.
“You are so far the only person I have met who has treated me so humanely since my brother died. The gesture is quite disarming,” Lily shares as she looks at Logan with amazement.
Logan manages to spread his arms in a shrugging gesture and say, “My parents were constituents of the Old Earth. Society has changed a lot since then.”
Lily queries, “Your parents died in the evacuation?”
“Actually they died just before that. I had enough time to give them a proper burial instead of having to sink them in the water off the coast. What about your brother? When did he die?” Logan waits for her response.
Lily is silent for a minute then replies, “He… he died in a bar fight. He was protecting me.”
Logan nodded sympathetically and mutters, “Oh.”
After their conversation, Lily invites Logan to apply for a room at Scrin’s Labor Connections Office, and they decide to go together to apply for a job.
At the Office, Lily gets a slip of paper with her room number on it directing her to the top floor of the separate brick residence hall. Logan decides to stay behind in order to apply for his room. Lily bids Logan good-bye and leaves.
Once at her room, Lily dumps her suitcase by the small closet door at the back of her already closet-sized quarters. On the inside of the door is a booklet taped neatly to the center of the door with the label Meetings and Other Important Information. On the cover is a small color photo of a woman and a young boy. The woman has shoulder-length curly golden hair and a hawk-like face. The boy is smiling with his green eyes alight and his brown hair gently tousled. A caption typed inconspicuously under the photo reads, “In back: Melinda Scrin, owner of New World Labs Incorporated. In front: Herbie Liltor, heir to the Scrin estate.”
Lily looks closely at Herbie. I have seen this kid before, she muses thinking of where. Then she realizes that she knows his dad, Robert Liltor. Robert Liltor is a researcher at Melinda Scrin’s laboratory outside of town. Lily knows that Melinda and Robert are close from the stories Robert has told her of going out to the beaches and watching the sunset. He’s lucky, Lily thinks jealously. My life stinks. I am unemployed, living in a shelter of sorts, and alone. Robert has it made. He has a house, a rich friend, an adorable son, and an important job. In despair at her life condition, Lily plops down on her bed, crying. She lays there in the fetal position with her whole body ravaged by sobs until the sun disappears.
A knock faintly rouses her from her pit of despair. Still shaking with each breath, Lily sits up and wipes the shining slick off her face with the back of her hand. Another knock rings out.
“Hello?” Lily calls doubtfully.
“May I come in?” A strange voice calls out, “My name is Leslie Finsol. I am here to welcome you to Scrin Residences.”
“Okay, thank-you. Good-bye,” Lily refuses Leslie’s entrance. She just needs to be alone with her pain and misery.
“I have got something for you,” Leslie counters.
“Well, that changes everything,” Lily rolls her eyes and opens the door. Leslie enters smiling.
“Works every time,” Leslie declares triumphantly holding up a basket with pillowcases and fruit. Leslie is shorter than most people with black hair that flows down to her knees and solid brown eyes. Leslie’s appearance gives her an aura of strength that lends itself to an authoritative appearance. “How are you holding up,” Leslie inquires. She can see the dry crusted rivers of tears on Lily’s face.
“I am doing just fine given the circumstances,” Lily replies turning her face.
“Well, I have got news that’ll help you do better,” Leslie offers.
Intrigued, Lily raises an eyebrow and says, “Go on.”
Leslie looks calmly at Lily and smiles knowingly, “You need a job. I know that. I also know that there will be a meeting tomorrow morning in the commons courtyard to help match new residents with potential employment. Just get there by eight o’clock, and who knows? You might have a job by the nine o’clock opening hour.” Leslie concludes by throwing her hands up then slapping her knees in a grand gesture.
Lily watches Leslie for a second then concedes, “I do need a job. Do you have a map of the building that I can keep?”
“Check on the pillowcases. They’re there,” Leslie answers. Immediately after her business with Lily is through, Leslie exits silently and leaves Lily to her thoughts of what tomorrow holds. Finally, a light I can follow to a better life, Lily sighs in relief.
The next day, Lily heads out to the courtyard as instructed and finds a group of people already sitting at card tables drinking coffee and talking. Logan is sitting at a table alone watching as Lily approaches the table and sits. A social worker walks into the room and total silence prevails.
“Today will begin your new lives. I want all of you to remember that,” she declares. Her voice rings out with an inspirational note across all the poor desperate souls wishing for a deliverance from suffering.
Lily turns to Logan, “I can see that the road from here will be clear. What about you?”
Logan’s reply is simply, “The road is always bending. Wait for the next turn to say that this road is clear.”
The social worker continues with her address to the crowd as a practiced clown tells jokes. Lily looks around, thinking about what Logan said, and spots the same boy she saw in the picture on her door, Herbie Liltor. Herbie is walking around the tables handing out brochures to the attendees. Lily manages to make eye contact with him and beckon him over to speak. First, Herbie offers Lily a brochure, but she makes it clear that she wants a conversation more.
“Is New World Labs Incorporated hiring?” Lily asks so hopefully she seems to be begging.
“Actually, there is one opening available for an animal attendant, if you are interested in such a position at all. You would have to clean out the cages, bring food and water to the animals, groom them, and be their companion,” Herbie opens Lily’s eyes to the responsibilities she would have to undertake. Still, Lily insists on having that position, so she informs Herbie that she knows his dad from school; therefore, Lily feels she has the job. She does.
Just as Leslie promised the night before, Lily is in her new position by nine o’clock in the morning after a splendid ride on a bus out to the coastline. The bus has air conditioning on it with comfortable seats and clear windows for Lily to see outside into the fresh greenery and shining sea. Lily feels like she is in heaven on the ride to the coastline. No place has ever been more beautiful or comforting as the border between her world and the end of the world.
Lily straightens up after stepping off the bus. The sunlight out here is so bright that Lily has to squint to focus. When the glare reduces to a faint glow in her vision, Lily notices that New World Labs Incorporated is a relatively large brick facility standing in the middle of a field of dust. Sparse green vegetation dares to grow in the unfertile soil offered to it. Yet a few brave cacti and some mesquite add a coating of life to the barren land. Around the entryway is a cluster of smooth grey boulders put together in a fashion that resembles Mars. On the door is a square plate that reads, “New World Labs Incorporated: Working for the future of mankind.”
Glancing at a slip the social worker handed to her, Lily discovers that she will not be seeing the inside of this beautiful building. Around the left side of the main building, the slip directs Lily to a house full of cages and strange sounds. Right inside the door on a table, an instructions list lays waiting for her to pick it up and read it. The list claims that none of the animals kept in the cages are ordinary. One such animal is a chimpanzee with artificially increased intellect. Another animal is a snake with an artificially enhanced strike range. The list continues on to a mouse that has feathers on its head. I wonder how the creatures were given these handicaps, Lily muses as she tries to fathom the method in use. Remembering Robert Liltor, the researcher, Lily decides to try to find him.
Walking back out of the house, a laborer almost runs into Lily. She asks him for directions to Researcher Liltor, and he directs her to the back of the main building. At the second window, the laborer instructs Lily to knock three times quickly and once more to attract Researcher Liltor to the back door. Lily does as the laborer directed her to do. As promised, Researcher Liltor comes out of the back door.
“How may I help you?” Researcher Liltor asks politely. He looks between the laborer and Lily. The laborer leaves without a word.
Lily stands quietly for a minute trying to phrase her question logically. “I noticed that the animals are all special. No one creature in the cages is as that creature would be found in nature. Could you possibly help me to understand just what it is that I am helping New World Labs Incorporated do?” Lily stands straighter as she waits for Researcher Liltor’s response.
Researcher Liltor clears his throat, looks at the ground, and replies, “The method is relatively simple. Using a common DNA virus as a vector, the research team developed a treatment that allows targeted alteration of genetic code in a subject. As the virus “infects” the subject, the subject’s own cells begin to produce identical DNA to that which infected it.”
“What is the purpose of this research?” Lily follows up, not yet satisfied with Researcher Liltor’s answer.
“Do you ever wonder why the name of the city you live in is Deliverance? Perhaps you have never noticed that you live in a wasteland, or that a lot of places seem to be interested in Mars. There is Mars Drive for example. The intention of this research is to develop a strong genetic adaptation for the next generation of human beings to be born with for life on Mars. Our world is no more. The human empire is at this moment reduced to a pile of rocks in the middle of a toxic ocean. Every chance we as humans have of leaving our grave and setting roots in a new world, a new Earth, rides on the success or failure of this research,” Researcher Liltor explains passionately to a shocked Lily.
Lily processes what Researcher Liltor just spewed at her. A questionable possibility presents itself to her. Lily asks, “Will the research be completed before I die? And if it is, will I have to stay behind on Earth?”
Researcher Liltor puts his hands up in a gesture for Lily to slow down before he replies, “The research may very well be completed before you die, but if you are afraid of not being able to evacuate to Mars, do not worry. A special dome is currently under construction by remote crews so that oxygen can be regulated and extracted from inorganic compounds in the rocks. Upon completion, the dome is certifiably inhabitable.” Lily thanks Researcher Liltor with a newfound sense of connection to her own destiny.
In the cage house at night, Lily is making her rounds with the special DNA virus treatment and feeding each animal its respective pill. When Lily arrives at the last cage, she looks at the list to identify which pill to give the animal out of her tray and sees Logan as the animal’s name. Logan Derei. Lily gives him his pill as instructed, but a sense of dread culminates within her as she realizes that Logan is being experimented on. He is huddled, sobbing in the corner of the cage. Lily wonders what happened to him since that morning, but decides against asking him. As she is turning away, Logan yells out to her to stop.
“When I told you this morning to wait for the next bend in the road to say that you have a clear path, I did not know when the next bend would come. The bend is now. You need to choose between deliverance from hell and hell itself. The answer seems obvious, but don’t be fooled. You know what hell is and how much it costs. You do not know what deliverance is or what it costs and that is everything when you are making this choice.” Logan stares into Lily’s eyes. His eyes are deep wells dearly acquainted with hell. Hers are cool sapphire pools flooding with the knowledge of deliverance. A tear streams silently down Lily’s face, and she turns away. Hell does not need her.