Jon Michael Galindo

~ writing, programming, art ~

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19 August 2015

People of Ash

Imagine that Earth were destroyed and that the last human found himself alone, banished to a weak world of weaker people.

Does the story sound familiar? Superman is more like an ideal than a character. Many authors have tried to humanize him, but his alien side remains ultimately inhuman. This story is in a sense the reverse of his; it renders a superman relatable. Originally, I titled it the “Paper Earth”, but I have found that its people mattered far more than the planet's inherent frailty.

The story follows Arthur Kennon’s life in an alien world. He is born on Earth to a future not far removed from our present. His father is a scientist, his mother a politician. Technology has realized wonders; the futuristic equivalent of a jetpack is as thin as a shirt; genomic medicine has nearly doubled the average life span. Yet, humans are human. The apocalypse arrives not through ignorance but through violence. To save his only son, fourteen at the time, James Kennon pushes him into another dimension: a parallel Earth.

Here, the human superhuman begins. True, the planet itself differs. Pillars of hot ash and dunes of shifting, black sand cover its landscape. The days are mild, yet the air reeks. The sun never penetrates the clouds. The abundant foliage grows similarly black and papery.

However, the people make the real difference. Their average lifespan is three years. In that time they are born, they grow, marry, raise children, age, and die. Technology is pseudo-neolithic, their tools made of what might appear to us as blocks of crumbly, caked sand. Their bodies are fragile and weak: An adult male might lift at most fifteen pounds, and weigh only thirty. Their appearance is nearly human, but the skin has a grayish cast and emaciated musculature clings to thin bones. Blood loss from the smallest scratch might easily prove fatal.

Far more striking than their physical inferiority is their nature. No natural predators haunt their world, yet bloodshed abounds. These people are petty, prone to every act of violence and oppression. Innumerable factions exist, essentially warring clans, and brutal slavery pervades them all. Many practice cannibalism. The concept of justice exists only as an absurd ideal: A family may avenge murder, but no governing entity will act unless paid to do so, and then it will aid the wealthy.

There is little Arthur can do for these people, though he certainly tries. Were he to become the champion of some small clan, they would instantly beg him to eradicate their every enemy. Would you blame him terribly if he were to kill everyone? You might even call him merciful. However, I would not, and thankfully, neither would he.

This story holds immense potential. Arthur is as relatable as any human, yet he walks as a god among these feeble souls. He will outlive a hundred of their generations. He could decide the fate of their world, were he so inclined. Do you understand the superhuman's delimma?

What will he do? What would you?

© Jon Michael Galindo 2015