22-hours22 Hours

By Shawn P. Madison

Footprints in the sand is what they were leaving as they made their way slowly toward the tumbling surf. It was a gorgeous day, a day like any other, but a very special day to be sure. The wide straw hat kept most of the sun’s direct heat from the top of his bald dark head but the warmth of the star high above felt good, it felt right.

A special day, yes, he thought and smiled, watching the backs of the twenty or so children as they ran in the sand ahead of him, toward the clear blue water. The slow and lazy waves rolled into shore and he heard several playful shrieks from his students as their toes and pant cuffs got wet.         

Joining them in the surf he looked out into the vast empty sky hovering over the Atlantic Ocean and imagined how many others stood upon opposite shores, looking toward him at that very moment.            

“Gather round, children,” Okambe said with a toothy grin. Quickly, the children came toward him and he led them a few paces up the beach to a drier place to sit.           

The tall and gleaming spires of Freetown rose in the distance, reaching impossibly high into the sky and tapering off to points so thin as to be nearly invisible from his vantage point. There were dozens of them in all, filling the spaces that were destroyed so utterly and entirely all those years ago.   

He’d been just a boy but those memories were sharp and sour, a scar upon his brain that the wealth of years had failed to obliterate. Okambe laughed…he wouldn’t have it any other way. For his memories of those events were precious to him – they represented the gateway to this new world that had been opened up for all of them. So long ago…yet so fresh in his mind.

“Ok, young ones,” the old man said. “Who can tell me what today is?”

A group of tiny hands thrust themselves high into the air. It seemed all of his students were aware of this day’s significance.

Pointing toward one, he said, “Go ahead and tell us.”

The little girl stood in the sand and used one hand to shade her eyes from the sun’s glare. “It’s the Centennial, Teacher.”

Okambe nodded and the children’s various murmuring came to a stop. For several seconds all he could hear was the ever present slapping of the waves as they came to shore and the slight breeze as it whistled through the tiny copse of trees about fifty meters away. A lone fisherman on a very small boat was busy rigging his lines about a stone’s throw from the shore but he made no noticeable sound.

“That’s right, children,” Okambe said. “One hundred years ago today. It was a very important day. Who here can tell us what the entire world is remembering today?”

Another round of raised arms met this question and this time he nodded toward a little boy on the other side of the group. The young one stood and turned to face his classmates. “We celebrate the anniversary of the end of the world.”

“That is correct, Kenneth,” Okambe said and the youngster slumped back down to the sand. “Children, this is a very special day to remember. You all have learned about the events of that day in your lessons, no doubt memorized every important historic note, but I thought I’d treat you to my own special accounting.”

The children gasped and the one closest to Okambe leaned even closer. “Teacher…you were there?”

Okambe nodded and smiled once more. “Oh, yes, Children, I was but a boy, about the same age as you all are, I would say.” The old man stood and turned to face the ocean vastness. “It was unexpected, to say the least. No one knew they were coming. No one had a clue – it all happened so fast. But once their light was spotted, once it was determined just how close a call their passing would be, the entire world raced outside to watch them come.”

“Teacher, did you see them pass?” a young girl asked and one lone tear made its way slowly down the old teacher’s cheek.

“Yes, I did,” he answered and pointed up the coastline toward the north. “The light appeared right there. One moment the sky was clear and the next a point of light appeared. It raced toward the Earth, how quick it was, racing across the sky. It was mid-day here when they passed. The sun was high ahead but that spot of light, so golden, so tiny, raced toward the Earth and….”

The children watched him with wide eyes and open mouths, amazed that this secret of their teacher’s had been kept from them for so long.

“And what then, Teacher?” another youngster asked. “Did you sleep?”

Okambe cast his gaze away from the cloudless blue sky and turned to face his students again. “Of course, Daniel,” he said. “We all slept…the entire world…”

                                    *                                  *                                 

Nine year old Daniel Mubai sat transfixed as his teacher described the details of that day, the unimaginable horrors. He was fascinated by this first-hand telling of the memories of one who had actually been there. His research into that world changing event had been vast and thorough – it was the subject of his graduate thesis, a work still in progress. His heart swelled as he listened to the events he’d only read about being described in total by Mr. Okambe.

For twenty-two hours after the passing of the Ardnai vessel the entire world had slept. Every man, woman, animal and insect had succumbed to the tremendous psychic overload of information and energy.           

The psi-drive that powered their ship, one billion Ardnai passengers strong – all thinking their way across the stars at incredible speeds – spilled a tremendous amount of residual brainwaves across our planet and that single unprecedented jolt of pure thought caused the brains of every living being on the planet to completely shut down and reboot.     

Unfortunately, for twenty-two hours, while the billions upon billions of beings on the Earth slept off that bizarre power surge of thought, sheer disaster had been unleashed upon our planet.           

Every motor vehicle being driven at that very instant was suddenly out of control, unconscious drivers at the helm, causing hundreds of millions of accidents and no one to respond to these emergencies. Kitchen fires from stoves in homes and restaurants and hospitals in every city in every country raged out of control for most of an entire day. Once exhausted of fuel, planes fell from the sky, smashing their way into crowded cities, rural suburbs, various oceans – every single plane in the air at the moment of their passage fell to Earth and caused massive destruction. Ships ran aground, crushing piers and ports. Trains jumped tracks at great speeds and destroyed everything in their paths. Factories and manufacturing plants burned to the ground with no one to monitor the machinery inside.     

Once humans began waking up the incredible damage had already been done. It took weeks to put out the fires. Months to catalog the dead and years to bury them all. As hard as it was to believe, the devastation in the world’s oceans was even worse. Most of the seafaring creatures had simply begun sinking into the depths as they slept, falling ever deeper until the pressures of the ocean were too much for their bodies to withstand. The oxygen breathing cetaceans were hit even harder…not many of those survived.

Over four billion human beings died either the day of the event or in the weeks and months immediately thereafter. Disease ran rampant through the remaining population. Most hospitals had burned to the ground, taking many medical professionals with them. Entire apartment buildings had been consumed by fire – it only took one working stove or lit fireplace to destroy an entire complex of structures. Fires left untended for the better part of a day, no matter how small, had devastating affects. The fires across the globe that had already been in progress at the time of the passing continued to rage uncontrollably for twenty-two additional hours.      

Humanity barely pulled out of that dark time in our history, Daniel knew. But pull out they did. For the one thing that every surviving human being inherited from the Ardnai when they passed so close to the Earth with their psi-drive was a heightened level of intelligence. That massive wave of residual thought, that concussion blast of cerebral power, forced itself down into every nook and cranny of every living brain and awakened parts that had remained dormant for years. Our brains were sponges for the contents of these thoughts – billions of passengers, scientists, construction workers, teachers – all thinking their way through the cosmos. All using their vast stores of knowledge to power their ship across our galaxy.

Humans woke up to a new universe of possibilities ahead of them. Most of the knowledge of the Ardnai was useless to us, having no cultural or practical basis in our lives here on Earth. But their mastery of the sciences, mathematics and physics, greatly increased our ability to rebuild and to rebuild quickly.

Within two decades we had devised better ways to clean up the mess created by the Enlightenment Apocalypse and to dispose of the detritus in an environmentally safe way. Within four decades we had rebuilt all of the major cities across the planet and our population was beginning to grow once again.

As humanity soon discovered, the children of the survivors also inherited greater brain capacity, greater intelligence and greater control of our more base animal instincts. In short – the human race had evolved, however forcibly, in the course of just twenty-two hours. It had been April 1st, 2017. We went to sleep the near savages that we had truly been that day and woke up to realize just how pitifully close we had still been to our prehistoric ancestors before the passing.

And we owed it all, the unimaginable goodness that resulted and the indescribable badness of the event itself, to the Ardnai and their psi-drive. Alien beings, unlike us in so many ways yet explorers and adventurers just like we were, who set out to cross the vastness of space and make a new start for their species. Their vessel, the size of a large comet, had been traveling at speeds we never thought possible. By the time it showed up within our limited ability to detect incoming interstellar objects it was too late – within an hour it appeared in the sky and swooped past us in a blink.

There had been no time to prepare, no time to panic. The government was too busy trying to figure out if the thing, whatever it was, would hit us and cause global catastrophe to even think about alerting the population. The world news networks never had the chance to report on it. Anyone who saw that pinpoint of light in the sky as it soared toward us didn’t have any idea what it might be other than a daylight star. By the time the public realized that the pinpoint of light was growing larger it was only minutes away from passing us.

It had been a close thing, too. Very close. About the distance between the Earth and the Moon – a hair’s breadth in cosmic terms. Any closer and we now knew that our atmosphere could have been ripped away from the planet. If the moon had been in the way, the ensuing explosion would have most likely obliterated the earth and every living being on it. But it was just far enough away to kill only two-thirds of our species and leave the remaining third bruised and battered in the streets.

All of this Daniel knew from his vast studies on the subject. All of this he knew from the texts and the vids and the extensive research he had performed for his thesis. All of this he knew…or thought he knew.

But hearing the tale of that day from the lips of his teacher, from Mr. Okambe, was like a dream come true. Here was a survivor. There weren’t many left. Sure we humans now lived over a hundred years routinely due to great advances in medical technology and nutrition. But to find someone he knew, someone who he had spent this entire year with, alive and speaking of that day first-hand…Daniel felt very blessed. Very blessed indeed…

                                    *                                  *                                  *

“Yes, children, the days and years immediately following the passing were full of strife and struggle,” Okambe said. “Things did not get better for quite some time. It took decades to rebuild and even longer for things to get back to whatever one would consider to have been normal at the time.”

“Have you ever been to any of the more ravaged areas of the Earth, Teacher?” a young girl asked and he nodded his head.

“Yes, my lady, yes I have,” Okambe said. “Many parts of North America and Europe were completely destroyed, as you know. The former United States was hit particularly hard by the events of that day. Most of the former great countries fell from grace due to the passing. It is the one reason why our great cultural centers and the largest concentration of leadership now reside here in Africa, children. While it took years to simply clean up the more heavily populated areas of the Earth, cities like New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris, it was much easier to start immediately rebuilding on our continent in areas that still had great open spaces and, unfortunately, not too many people left alive.”

“Freetown was one of the first areas to be rebuilt, right Teacher?” a young boy asked and Okambe nodded.

“Yes, my son, Freetown was decimated by fire and by all the other calamities to befall our planet that day but to a much lesser degree than most of the population centers of the Earth. It was an easy thing to clean up the damage, knock down the existing structures and build the towering spires you see in the distance. Yes, children, Freetown was one of the first metropolitan areas to spring up after the passing. And, because of that, this area of our continent holds a special place in the history of all that has passed since the passing. It is one of the reasons why the major celebrations of this day will be held right here in our fair city.”

“Teacher,” Daniel Mubai said and stood in the sand. “Does anyone know when the Ardnai will be passing by this way again? If ever?”

Okambe knew that Daniel already knew the answers to those two questions, as did every single person on the planet as well, but the boy was enjoying his retelling of recent history too much to let it end.

“Daniel, I’m sure that you, too, have the implanted memory of the Ardnai as their great ship passed the Earth,” Okambe said and Daniel nodded. “Well then, you know as well as I that they apologized sincerely for the destruction they unwittingly unleashed upon our planet. For as they soared past they, too, became aware of us down here on Earth and the nearly six billion brains that were inadvertently shut down that day.”

“Yes, Teacher.”

“So then you also know that we are certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they will pass by us again one day – whether coming from the opposite direction to head back home or in an additional ship being sent to re-supply their colony. We even know where they went to and what they planned to do once they got there. We know how far away their home planet is and how far away the colony they were wishing to start is. We are now building ships that may allow us to someday, if we develop sufficient brain power to successfully operate a psi-drive of our own, visit those places. We know that they are adventurers and that they are not conquerors so we have no worry of being invaded. We know that they are a peace-loving people and we know all of their past and violent history before they evolved into the race they are now. We are lucky for all of that, children, because we have also been given the very valuable knowledge of several other species out there inhabiting the stars that are not quite so civilized. And although we anxiously await for the arrival someday of the Ardnai with great joy and anticipation we also know that, for our own protection and for the survival of our race, it is an unexpected visit by one of these other species that we must also prepare for.”          

“Yes, teacher,” Daniel Mubai said and sat back down in the sand.

“But for right now, this day,” Okambe said. “We are not to concern ourselves with such thoughts of future strife. For today, we celebrate the centennial of the passing, the hundred years since the Enlightenment Apocalypse, and we look toward the stars and our friends, the Ardnai, to bring future enlightenment upon our species again during their next passing through our little corner of the universe.”

Shawn P. Madison, creator of the Guarder/U.E.N. Universe, currently lives in the beautiful Garden State of New Jersey with his wife and a veritable cornucopia of kids. Although he has written in many different genres, he tends to write mostly science fiction and horror. He has published more than seventy short stories in thirty different magazines and anthologies, both electronic and print. His first novel, GUARDER LORE, was released by NovelBooks, Inc. in March of 2002, the follow-up novel, THE GUARDER FACTOR, was released by NovelBooks, Inc. in November of 2003 and his collection of short Horror Fiction, THE ROAD TO DARKNESS, was released by Double Dragon Publishing ( www.double-dragon-ebooks.com ) in April of 2003. Shawn can be reached via e-mail at: asm89@aol.com