The Sureflux Cascade

A Science Fiction Short Story by Richard Noel

The Sureflux Cascade

by Richard Noel


Chapter 1
If someone were to ask you who you are, what would you say? Your name, perhaps your age or where you are from. Wherever you are now, you know how you got there. But what if you didn’t? What would you know? How would you know what it was that you didn’t know? I’m not asking in the expectation of an answer; because by the time anyone hears these recordings I, and all those who remain, will be long gone.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

If you are listening to this, you’ll likely be gazing upon this world and asking yourself, “What could have happened here that led to this?” That is why I have taken it upon myself to create these recordings. I need to explain how and why it happened. I need to know that if anyone comes to this world they will not make the same mistake. This thing cannot happen again. This Sureflux Cascade, as we called it, must never be repeated.

Where should I start? How should I begin? I cannot begin my tale at the beginning as I simply don’t know everything that happened. Only the bits and pieces recovered afterwards. I guess I should start from the first day that I can say I truly remember.

It’s hard for me to explain what life was like for us back then. Perhaps you could think of the last dream that you can remember. Imagine if you lived within that dream. If, even when you woke up, you existed still within that dream. Imagine if you knew nothing else but the dream and yet you were unable to sleep.

We knew our names. We had labels for things. I knew my name or at least I knew that they called me Ernest. We called our home Matralis; and she gave us everything we could dream of. Each day the warm sun shone down upon us, reflecting mesmerizingly off the lush grass that rustled in the gentle breezes. It never seemed to rain and yet the flowers grew, the trees blossomed and food was always plentiful. Whoever we thought farmed it I cannot say. But it was what we saw, what we felt and what we tasted. It was a perpetual nirvana, as if we lived in Eden itself.

We had lived like this for two years. Never knowing what came before that time nor questioning how it came to be. Perhaps Anna isn’t even my daughter. I can’t remember her birth or her life before that time. But I suspect she truly is. How else could she have awoken me that day?

Every other day for the two years that came before are somewhat of a blur. They all blend into one in that soft sponge that is what remains of my mind. Yet I will remember that day with a clarity no other memory I have could possess. It was the last day I felt the sun against my cheek. The last day that the scent of freshly cut grass filled my nostrils. The last day I saw my daughter smile and the last day I knew of that blissful ignorance in which we lived.

It was a day like any other and seemed no less of a glorious gift than the day before. We’d left our home to visit the beach that our world didn’t have, but I suppose where we were going is not all that important now. I remember the last time I saw my wife, Nikki, happy and vibrant beside me in the car. At least, I believe her to be my wife as we have lived together as long as I can remember and even though I recognise less of her than my own reflection, I feel comfort around her. I wonder now in what we sat. There were no cars on Matralis, but we saw what we wanted to see. If a car was needed, it was what we saw.

I got out to recharge the cells. As I placed what I believed to be a cable into what I believed to be a car, something stumbled towards us. My head throbbed and my eyes felt as though a bright light was shone into them. I couldn’t remember experiencing pain before and I didn’t know what this sensation was, or how to react. But even worse than that pain was that thing that stumbled towards us.

Maybe it used to be human, but no longer. It was disfigured and hunched with disproportioned limbs. Spindly insect like hairs poked through its torn clothes. And its face; its black eyes chilled me with their emptiness, its crooked yellow fangs that were so rotted they could surely not have sunk into even the softest flesh and its long nose was pointy and bent. I fell back to the floor. I couldn’t move. It snarled at me as it lunged towards the car.

I had an uncontrollable urge to attempt to stop it, but it shoved me aside and grabbed Anna from the car. I was paralysed as the little girl reached for me screaming while that thing carried her away. I could still see the sun but I could no longer feel it. The air had gone cold and the fresh scent in the air had faded into a stale dusty smell. My body felt so weak that I could barely move. But I knew I had to. I had to stop that thing from hurting her. For the first time in as long as I will remember, I cared about something.

I could barely breathe as I followed it. People were strolling by with that oblivious grin that had been spread across my face only moments before. Could they not see this thing carrying a child away? Clutching my chest, I managed to follow it into a vacant house across the street.

The thing placed my daughter on the bed and glared at me. It made a piercingly vile noise that was somewhere between a screech and a gargling growl. It lifted a hand in the air. I hadn’t seen that it carried a knife before that moment. It brought the knife down upon my daughter. I tried to move to stop it but that pain in my head erupted as if needles shot through every part of my brain and my skull felt as though it had shattered. I was blinded by it, crippled and wailing in agony in a heap on the floor.

The thing came towards me and gripped me by the scruff of my shirt, yelling in my face.

Chapter 2
It was yelling at me. Not screeching or growling or snarling. It was yelling. She was yelling. As my vision began to clear her features began to morph into something recognisable. Her nose was no longer long and crooked; just a regular roman nose. Those rotted fangs became slightly yellowed human teeth and her brown eyes were sullen and looked at me with sympathy. Her dark hair was unkempt and dirty; but human. She was human.

Focus!” she was shouting. “Stay with me! Don’t go back in!”

I knew her. “Laurie?” I asked. “You’re my sister,” I whispered almost to myself.

She sniffled and her eyes began to appear wet. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me against her. “It worked,” she wept. “You’re awake, Ernie.”

My throat began to feel as though it swelled. Where my eyes had been clear a moment ago they started to moisten as, for the first time, I began to cry. I could see my hands behind her. They too had changed. They were pale and dirty. I became aware that my clothes were no longer vibrant and clean, but torn, dirty and colourless rags.

Where was I? What was happening? “Anna!” I screamed as I pushed Laurie back and lunged towards the bed. “What have you done?”

I didn’t hurt her,” Laurie protested. “I only needed you to think that I did.”

Anna was sat on the dusty, damp bed unharmed. I frantically checked where I believed she had been stabbed. She looked at me as if I were a monster. She was screaming, clawing away as if I were about to tear her limbs apart. She scrambled for the door and left.

As I made to follow her, Laurie blocked my way. “Let her go,” she said. “She’s better off staying with them for now.”

With who?” I asked. “What is going on?”

She’s better off staying in that… that daze that everyone is in,” she explained. “If you just leave someone they’ll fall straight back in. I’ve tried waking you up several times. That’s why I resorted to letting you think I’d hurt Anna. It’s the shock that wakes you up. I don’t think it knows what to do with strong feelings. Maybe that veil only works when you’re relaxed and unaware or something.”

I don’t understand,” I said, still so confused. “What’s happening? And why is it so cold?”

I don’t have a lot of answers for you, Ernie,” she said, sitting down on the bed. “But I’ll tell you what I know. We’ve all been living in some kind of dream world. Awake, but seeing whatever we wanted to keep us blissfully ignorant, not knowing who we are and not even caring that we didn’t. What’s doing it and why, I don’t know. That’s why I need you. We need to figure it out.” She sighed deeply, “and it may already be too late.”

Ignorant of what?” I asked. “And what do you mean by ‘too late’?”

Ignorant of that fact that I’m pretty sure we’re all dying,” she said. “And I think it’s too late already. But we have to try. We have figure out what did this. What I know is that a few days ago I woke up from that dreamlike state. I must have fallen, but I don’t remember doing it. I was lying at the bottom of the hill with my leg caught under some rocks. The pain made me come to. I think I would have fallen back into it, but the pain keeps me grounded.” She lifted her trouser leg to show some bandage tied around her calf, stained with dried blood. “I still see… things, but whatever keeps our minds in that state, I don’t think it can work when we’re in pain. I tried to wake you up, but without really hurting you I didn’t see a way.”

I wanted to ask questions, but my mind was so overwhelmed I couldn’t put words to them. “I saw you as a monster,” I said.

I know,” she explained. “Some people do. I think it makes you see those not in the dream world like that. It doesn’t always happen. Mostly they’ll ignore you. But if you get their attention, that’s what they see.” She was stood up, walking towards the door. “We need to go. I have to show you what I’ve found. But before we go outside, I need you to remember something. It’s not the world you know. And you’re going to want to go back in, but you have to stay with me. Whatever you see, stay focussed.”

Stay focussed,” I repeated, still overwhelmed. “I understand.”

Not yet, you don’t,” she said. I followed her out onto the street. That feeling of confusion crushed me so hard that my legs gave way beneath me. This could not be real. How could I have been living in this and not known? How could I have seen that paradise when this was the truth?

There was no grass. Only damp dirt and rock with a few dead trees whose branches had long since lost their leaves. The air itself was thick with dust, dampness and death. That blue sky I had seen so recently was no longer above me. The dark clouds that covered the sky were so thick that it was almost night. Many of the houses were little more than sheds cobbled together from pieces of scrap, some were prefab builds and the few that were true structures had fallen into disrepair. There were no birds in the sky and no sounds of crickets in the fields. The whole world, as far as the eye could see, was a barren wasteland.

Chapter 3
Imagine if you stepped outside of your own body for a moment. Imagine if, just for that moment, you saw yourself as others did. And imagine if you realised at that moment that you were not who you thought you were. Now imagine that you were not only stepping outside of yourself, but outside of your own world. And for the first time in your life you saw the reality of your world and that reality was that everything you had ever known was a lie.

That is what happened to me that day. Across that barrenness that was so recently a paradise, the inhabitants strolled around frivolously just as I had until then. Unclean tattered clothes draped over their pale skin. Most of them appeared malnourished and gaunt. Some of them appeared to have lesions across their bodies. It appeared as though their skin was broken and infected. Some of them even appeared to be dead; their flesh and even bone exposed and rotted.

A short distance away I could see Anna and my wife, Lucy. Anna was rolling around in the dry dirt. It looked as though she believed she was splashing in water. Lucy stood in front of her staring. That swelling in my throat increased, my eyes filled with tears and I began to sob. I saw what I believed to be my whole life and knew that it had never happened. I felt Laurie’s hand on my shoulder as I cried. “It’s OK,” she said.

How? How can it be OK?” I yelled. I cast an arm at the figures wandering around in a dawdling daze like they were undead. “Look at them!”

It’s not,” she said. I could hear the tightness of her throat building in her voice. “It’s not OK. But I’ve been where you are. And you have to stay with me.”

I understood then what she meant. A woman plodded past me. Part of her chest was missing; milky off white rib bones showed through the torn robe she wore. I could see her teeth and cheek bones through the gaping wounds on her face and yet she wore that same oblivious smile as everyone else.

I felt a yearning to return. An inaudible voice in my head told me that this was the dream. The paradise was the real world and I must return. I didn’t want to live in this cold, harsh nightmare. It seemed as though I had only to close my eyes, wish it all away and when I opened them again it would all be like before. I could feel the warmth returning against my skin. I could almost see the sunlight again.

No!” Laurie shouted as she shook me. “This is the real world!”

How can it be?” I replied. “Look at them!” I pointed to the rotting corpse shambling past. “She’s dead. How can this be real?”

She doesn’t really look like that,” Laurie explained. “Remember when I said I still see things? Just as sometimes they see us as monsters, that’s how we see the ones that don’t have long.”

Don’t have long?”

Over there,” she nodded towards a figure slouched against the wall of a prefab house across the street. The figure appeared to been male but was badly decomposed. “I’ve seen two of them drop since I’ve been awake. Both of them looked like that woman. I think whatever it is that killed all those trees and probably whatever vegetation was here is slowly killing us. But it’s weird; once they die they look normal again. Well, normal but very ill. I’d guess we can see what’s killing them. Or the effect, maybe? I don’t know. Maybe whatever it is that makes us see things and remain in that state lets us see that they’re dying and that’s just how we see it.”

I nodded, no longer drifting back into that dreamlike state. “Do you think we all see the same thing? Am I seeing them the same way you are? If we are, and if we’ve all been seeing that dream world the same…”

We’re all linked together,” she agreed. “Some kind of mass hallucination. I’ve thought of that, too.” She looked around, worriedly. “We really should go, now. They’ll notice us soon and we really don’t want that. I think that building up there is a control centre of some sort.” Atop the hill that overlooked this shanty town was one of those buildings that looked permanent. It was the size of fairly large house with a few satellite dishes on its roof. The side that overlooked the town was made almost entirely of glass window panes.

What have we been eating?” I asked while we walked.

You’re going to have to find that out sooner or later,” she said. “But I’m not sure you want to know the answer. There’s still some machinery running. We must have set it up before we drifted off. I don’t know what we’re thinking when we do it. We must be aware of the world on some level. Everyone just collects their food from the machines.”

What food?” I asked. “There’s no fruit, no vegetables and I don’t hear any animals.”

All the plant life is dead,” she explained. “And I haven’t seen any animals. Maybe they all died of starvation, if there were any. But there are some fungi left and those machines process it into something we can eat. It’s pretty fowl, though. When you taste it, you’ll want to go back into that world again. And I wouldn’t blame you.”

The hill we climbed seemed endless. We continued on in silence mostly because I was too short on breath to speak. Laurie had begun to limp as we climbed. After what seemed like an age, we reached the side entrance of the building. There was a reception desk made of what looked like metal girders. It was just as dank and dusty as everything else I had seen that day.

Chapter 4
The Council of Matralis Nova,” I read from the inscription above the desk. The building was deserted. Laurie led me through the corridor past a few offices and a fairly large meeting room with a polished wooden table. At the end was an entrance to the room with the large glass windows that looked down upon the small town. In the distance were a few other such towns amongst the rock,  dirt and dead trees.

There were various consoles and screens lined around the edge of the room. She took a small satchel from one of the desks and sat down in a swivel chair beside it. “Before we go any further,” she said. “I have to change this dressing.” She grimaced as she unwrapped the bandage around her calf, revealing a deep wound. “There’s a hospital down there,” she said. “Most of the supplies are gone, but I managed to at least find some first aid packs.”

For a moment, I saw small creatures crawling around the wound and burrowing into her. I blinked and they were gone. She poured some liquid over the wound. “If I don’t keep this clean it’ll get infected and I could die before we can figure this out.”

Do you have anything for the pain?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I can’t,” she explained. “One of us has to stay lucid and this pain is the only thing keeping me grounded.” She wrapped a clean bandage around the leg and hung her head in her hands for a moment after sealing it tightly. She took a deep breath before standing up again. “There’s still some power in this console, but I haven’t been able to get much working. I need the passcodes and somehow I know you have them.”

The passcodes for what?” I asked as she turned one of the consoles on.

Enter it,” she said.

I looked at the keyboard and wondered what she expected from me. When the prompt showed on screen, I realised she was right. “Gamma X-Ray three three seven,” I said out of instinct.

Access granted,” said a mechanical voice. “Loading user profile Doctor Ernest Montgomery.”

I knew it,” Laurie smiled in excitement. “I knew you were important. Nothing was working here, but as soon as I got here I knew how to re-wire it all and get it back on. I think that’s what I did here. But I was certain you did something bigger.”

I did,” I agreed. I bowed my head as I realised the truth. “I did it,” I said. “This is my fault.”

Did what?”

I don’t know yet.” I scrolled through the list of files displayed on the screen. Most of them were too corrupted to open. “Sureflux File Four,” I read, opening the file.

An image of myself appeared on the screen, wearing a white lab coat and looking far brighter and healthier. I stood in the meeting room we’d passed down the hall speaking to a group of well-dressed men and women. “Now, law states we cannot use nuclear energy on Matralis Nova,” my image said. “But rather than relying on solar energy, I have another answer. With Sureflux we can sustain the entire colony indefinitely…” The file cut out.

There were some technical diagrams I recognised but didn’t understand. I found another video file. This time I wore a hard hat and appeared to be talking into a hand-held device. Various people were working on the structure around me. I looked so excited. “Work on the reactor is proceeding faster than I’d hoped. While the old fusion reactors are still in orbit, just as we agreed, we recycled the turbines and most of what remained of the photon engines. Hundreds of years ago, they created fission energy and hoped it would lead to clean energy for all. Finally, we’ve succeeded in turning their dream into a reality.” I pointed the camera at some of the large machinery. “The modified particle accelerator is how we’re going to open the fissure…” The file cut out again.

I looked out of the window again and gazed down at all those I’d doomed moving around like ants. “Something went wrong,” I said, pointlessly.

Whatever happened,” she said, “it wasn’t just your decision. What is Sureflux? What did it do? Do you know what went wrong? Or could have?”

I shook my head. “I don’t really know,” I said. “I don’t know how it worked.” I scrolled further down.

Finally, I came to a file that opened. Sureflux Cascade File Seven. I wore the same lab coat. This time there were puffy bags under my eyes. “The reactor is still too hot to enter. We still have no idea what happened. But we do know now why the plants are beginning to die.” The image changed to what looked like a time lapse of a small tree that began with bright green leaves that slowly drooped until they blackened and fell. The image zoomed in closely to show some small dots that swarmed over the leaves. I could tell they were far too small for the human eye to see. Those tiny balls were dark brown and covered in tiny bristles. They touched the leaves and their colour lightened as they sunk in. The file ended before my old self could explain.

That’s it, I think,” I said.

That’s what?” asked Laurie.

That’s all that’s still retrievable. The files should still be there. But the drives have degraded as if this all happened many years ago. These drives should last centuries, but this can’t have been that long ago.”

Maybe those things damaged the drives as well,” she said. “It looked like they were feeding off the plants. Maybe they feed off energy or something.”

Maybe,” I said, gazing out of the window again. I found the structure I had been looking for in the distance. “That’s the one,” I said. “That’s the reactor. We have to go there. The video said it was too hot to entre then. Hopefully it’s cooled down and we maybe there’s something we can do there. I think it’s the only hope we have.”

Chapter 5
Who must I have been? Whatever Sureflux was, how could I have developed something so advanced and not seen this repercussion? How could someone have been so technically minded yet so short sighted as to allow this destruction? How many had died already because of my folly? I didn’t even know for certain that it was my mistake that caused the cascade, but did that matter? It seemed as though this entire endeavour was my own personal project. Therefore, if a technician had misread something or crossed a wire in that complex circuitry, even if there was no way I could have known this was the outcome, the blame should still rest squarely on my shoulders.

If I could accept the blame for the mistakes made by those in my charge, could I then project it onto those above me who agreed to this reactor? I did not believe this so. What I had seen had shown me that I had convinced them that this technology would work. And I surely would have convinced them that I had foreseen all possible outcomes. Yet, somehow, I had missed something that had led to the demise of the entire colony and perhaps the whole globe. I was, in a literal sense, the destroyer of worlds.

That yearning to return to the waking dream world began to return, if only to escape the sinking feeling of guilt swelling inside of me. But there was a stronger yearning that began to consume me. By chance, Laurie had been awakened from that realm. And because of her, I had been given what seemed to be a single chance to fix things. She knew what I had done and yet she looked upon me not with anger now but with hope. As the one who had created this, I was the one best suited to at least on some level undo this thing that had left our world a wasteland.

How far do you think it goes?” she asked as we descended the hill. “The wasteland,” she explained before I could ask. “Do you think it covers the whole world? If we can shut this down, do you think if we travel far enough we will find a place we can live?”

I don’t know,” I said. “Whatever those particles were, if that’s even the right word, it would be a surprise if they could cover a whole planet. But it seems that afterwards we stayed and attempted, unsuccessfully, to fix it. I would think that if we could have, we would have left.”

Perhaps we couldn’t,” she said. “The file said we took our ships apart when we built this place and some of these buildings look like they were built from those parts. I don’t see any vehicles around, so perhaps we couldn’t go anywhere.”

We can hope,” I said. “For now, I’m more concerned with whether we can shut this off.”

We entered the small town below. Still the people wondered around like mindless zombies. But then, something strange happened. We expected to be ignored, but instead they all stopped in their tracks. Every one of them turned to face us, staring for a moment.

This cannot be good,” Laurie said.

One of them pointed at us. As if he had silently said something, they all began moving in our direction. Some of them picked up the scattered tools that lay around. “We need to get out of here, now!” shouted Laurie.

We ran for the nearest dwelling and sealed the door shut. “They saw us,” I pointed out. “You said they wouldn’t see us unless we got their attention.”

They haven’t before,” she insisted. “I’ve been lucid for days and nothing like this has happened!”

It must know,” I said. “I’ve been thinking that whatever is causing the hallucinations is some sort of chemical in the air or radiation of some kind. I think it’s those particles. But I think they’re controlled by something. That’s why everyone is seeing the same thing. That’s why they see someone as a monster when that person wakes up and is no longer under its control. And now it knows we are coming for it. It’s afraid.”

What could possibly be doing that?” she asked. “It’s a power station. I thought something went wrong and released something into the air.”

As did I,” I said. “But how else do you explain this?”

I can’t,” she agreed as the crowd outside began to bang against the door. They were at the windows. Someone was smashing a shovel against the glass. “That’s not going to hold for long.” 

If we woke up, then the control can’t be absolute,” I said. “Maybe it’s just suggestion. What if all it could do was let them see us as monsters?”

What are you thinking?”

I’m thinking that what you looked like scared the hell out of me,” I said. “I’m thinking of giving them a monster.” The glass smashed. “There’s only one way to know if this is going to work and we don’t have another option.” I unlocked the door. Immediately they began to crowd in. I stood back, raised my arms wide in the air and roared as loudly as I could. I turned to Laurie. “Do it!”

The crowd began to scramble back in fear. So we roared angrily at them, sometimes waving our hands in the air, sometimes beating our fists against our chests. The mob kept away from us while we backed towards the edge of the town. Our pace began to pick up. As we reached what they perceived to be a safe distance, they started picking up rocks and throwing them at us. We ran, but thankfully they did not pursue us.

There was still quite a distance to the reactor and we were tired. It was almost as if the air on Matralis were too thin and our limbs were too heavy. We were so weak and cold we could barely run for more than a few paces at a time.

Chapter 6

We have to stop,” I gasped, hunched over the sharp pain that was building in my diaphragm. “At least for a few minutes.” The town was far enough behind us now that we could perch upon some rocks without fear. After a few moments to catch our breaths, I noticed Laurie had recovered far quicker that I. “How far gone was I?” I asked. “Whilst I was still like them. The way some of them appear ill, some have lesions over them and some look decomposed. Do you see it too?”

I do,” she said. “You were… not as far gone as some. But you appeared to me to have some sort of fungus growing across your face and arms. I’ve seen some stay in that stage since I awoke.”

But you don’t see it now?”

Some of the time,” she said. “But not often.”

I gazed towards the town and remembered the feeling of contentment that came with the absolute unawareness of the waking dream. It took constant willpower to resist the suggestion to return and no longer remain aware of what the world truly was. And I was so tired.

For a moment, I saw the town of clean suburban homes with their immaculate gardens that were all I had known until that day. There were birds flying above me. I didn’t feel cold. But I knew it was wrong. I rubbed my eyes and forced my mind back into the moment. If I did not remain lucid, everyone would soon be gone. They would all be just like those left lying in the dirt to rot. “We mustn’t stay long. I can’t stay awake forever,” I said. “And I fear that if sleep I will wake up like one of them.” Noticing that I struggled to my feet, she took my arm and helped me up.

We approached the reactor. It was the largest structure I had yet seen. Like many of the larger constructions, its walls appeared as though they were made of panels from whatever ships we had used to get here.

Where did we come from? I hadn’t wondered before then. Whatever this place was, it was our home. But we were not from here. We had journeyed here from some distant world on what was clearly a one-way trip. Why did we leave? Was our home dying like this place? Had we destroyed one world and moved on to another hoping not to repeat those mistakes? If so, we had failed in that mission because of my error.

Upon the roof of the structure I could see people. These were not the dazed inhabitants we had witnessed and been part of. They stood naked but for a few rags that barely covered them, their skin seemed to be pale and painted in mud. They drew arrows from primitive bows and rained them down upon us. I darted for cover behind an outcrop of rocks. “Laurie!” I shouted. “Get down!”

They’re not real,” she said calmly as an arrow passed harmlessly through her. “It’s just trying to scare us. Don’t let it distract you.” She glanced down at her feet and walked on.

My arms were itching. Deep weeping welts were forming along my forearms. There were ants crawling across my feet. I felt a hand slap across my face. “Snap out of it!” Laurie shouted at me. No longer was there anyone perched on the roof of the building. No longer were welts covering my arms and nothing crawled over my feet.

I turned the handle of the first door we came to. A pair of large spindly insect legs extended from the opening to touch my hand. I jumped back with a yell and let the door swing open. There was nothing there.

Laurie was starting to look tired, like me. As we entered the building I felt the life drain from me, as though I had not slept in days. I could barely see as my eyes willed themselves to close and I almost fell asleep where I stood. Laurie forced me on. “Where do we need to go?” she demanded.

I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t think. I don’t know what… why did we come here?” My mind had become so filled with fog that I could hardly remember who I was speaking to.

Just follow me,” she said. Blood was beginning to show through her bandage.

Your leg,” I said, almost dreamily. “Your leg is hurt.”

I pulled it open running earlier,” she said. “That’s why I’m still awake.” She dragged me by the arm. “Just keep moving.”

At the end of the hall was a large blast door. “It has to be in there,” I said. I was beginning to think again. I knew where we were. “The power’s down.” We released the locks and pulled the heavy door open. Some kind of decontamination chamber and another blast door before we reached our goal.

The reactor itself was inside. A set of three particle accelerators the size of small buildings pointed into a tank beneath turbines that stretched high up into the building. It seemed the tank should have been empty – perhaps where the fissures that I had spoken of in the video files would open. But now, there was something there. A vast array of plant like tendrils clung to the turbines and stretched around the entire chamber.

What is that?” exclaimed Laurie.

We brought it here,” I said, remembering. In that moment my mind became perfectly clear. “I know what Sureflux is. Those accelerators open a fissure that draws ambient heat energy from an array of multiple universes into this one. But that thing came through. Those particles that killed all the plant life weren’t just particles. They were spores. Plant spores. We sealed the whole chamber, but it looks like that didn’t help. Those spores continued to spread across the whole world. We called it the cascade, because we didn’t know what it was when life across the planet started to die, spreading out from this point.”

What happens if we kill it?” she asked.

It’s reacting to us,” I said. “It knew we were coming and it’s been trying to stop us. We all see the same things – I’m guessing that all those spores are linked somehow. They sucked the life out of all the plant life on this world and that’s what it’s doing to us now. The same things must make us hallucinate.”

Then we kill it,” she said. “How? Fire?”

No,” I said. “The video said the reactor was too hot to enter. What if all that came through was a seed, and all that heat just fed it. Burning it might just make it stronger. You see those canisters pointed at it? That’s coolant. Spray it.”

Why didn’t we do that before?”

We surely tried,” I said. “But we couldn’t get in here and I’m guessing all the circuity is damaged.”

If the plant like creature truly was aware of us, it did not show it now. It made no sound and it showed no movement. It showed no indication of any consciousness or intelligence. I wonder now if it ever did possess any, or if the things we saw were all in our own heads and a mere side effect of the spores that drained the life from us. A prison of our own creation. Perhaps the visions as we had made our way towards it were only our expectations.

We turned the handles and released the coolant sprays into the roots within the tank. The air turned so cold that frost quickly formed around the room. We could hear it screaming. It made no sound, but in our heads, it screamed. The pain was beyond even what I had felt when Laurie woke me up. My thoughts on the nature of the creature began to change and I felt pity for a thing that had only followed its nature. Perhaps it really could feel pain or perhaps we only imagined it. The tendrils began to droop and darken into a brownish hue. It died.

Without those spores keeping them within the dream world and sucking their energy to feed itself, the colony began to wake up. A few hundred survivors awoke that day. Less confused than I when I had become lucid, they remembered who they were. Even those who were all but dead recovered after a few days of rest. We couldn’t have been more successful.

Now we have awakened from our perpetual dream. We have awoken to an arid desert. We have awoken to a dead world. In time life may return to this world. But in our lifetimes, this world cannot sustain us. Those machines that produced algae bars for us cannot last much longer. Whatever energy remained to keep them running, it is all but gone. We have awoken to the knowledge that we have destroyed our world.

Soon afterwards, we chose to destroy the reactor and all traces of the research. I make these recordings and tell this story now knowing that these files will not be degraded by the strange energy those spores released as they fed upon us and slowly killed us.

I still don’t remember everything and I never will. Bits and pieces. Between us, though, we remembered the truth. Thousands of us left Earth to a new world we called Matralis Nova. The New Mother. Another hope for humanity. Were we right to awaken them from that dream? We know the truth now, but cannot change it. We cannot leave as we have no means and our food will last us a few months at most. We have awoken everyone to the truth – and that truth is that we will all die cold and hungry.

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