The Search (Ozymandias’ Atoms – Chapter 1)

50,000 AD

A low orange sun hung over the horizon, burning the earth with its fierce blaze. It wasn’t much of an earth. Sand dunes stretched as far as the eye could see, their curved ridges shifting in the wind like giant yellow serpents. It was a bleak, bare landscape save for the occasional giant cacti that dotted the desert – twisted like the remains of some monster that had tried to claw its way out of the earth and had been scorched in the process.

The last human cities had fallen years ago. With a drought persisting throughout the earth for years, great swathes of forests had shriveled up and died. Given that humans had been trying to hack them to death all these years, it did not shake the foundations of humanity very much. But nobody could pretend that the famine wasn’t real. Not even the rich in their palaces. As the famine spread across the world, it brought disease along with it which triggered a mass extinction never seen before. Everything that the human civilization stood for was dead.

Yet, a few had survived. Living in the ruins of cities – now called the ‘Trashlands’, humans had survived in miserable small pockets, leading a precarious existence. As the decades rolled by, they lost much of their culture and knowledge; their powers of speech and language had shrunk considerably. Yet stories of mighty cities lit by a million suns were not forgotten. They were still spoken of in whispers, in the dark corners of a now silent world.

A group of nomads struggled past the sand in a single file. The air around them shimmered like water and it made the vegetation look like corpses in the most grotesque stages of mortal agony. It was a pitiful congregation. Their eyes, barely visible from underneath the coarse white cloth that covered their entire bodies, looked feral and desperate. Several women (although it was difficult to tell them apart from the men since they were completely covered) had children clasped to their bodies. The young had the dazed dumb look of extreme exhaustion. There were no old ones to be seen – they had all been left behind.

Their leader, a tall, thin man, was scanning the desert desperately, searching for a signal. He had been the one to convince this group to leave the Trashlands. They hadn’t been hard to persuade, dreadful creatures that now lurked in the shadows of the Trashlands with a preference for human flesh had seen to that. Unbeknownst they were walking over what had been the Amazon rainforest a very long time ago – before it had shriveled up and died during the sixth extinction. Nothing could be discerned of it now of course, unless one examined the sand they were walking on. It was the dust from the bones of millions.

How much further, Grima?”, a man near the leader croaked. There was a horrible keening wail from behind the ranks. The Grima did not turn back at the sound. He seemed to be totally absorbed in searching the horizon for something. “We must wait till Ogg brings the message”, he said. The horrible wailing from behind was getting louder. The Grima was finally forced to turn when a wretched looking female, broke ranks and tumbled into the ground near them. Barely human, she dug her hands frantically into the sand. “Vaella!”, she cried. “Water!” A series of guttural sounds emanated from her throat, as she kept on digging, searching for some imaginary source of water. At last, exhausted she sank into the ground, a thin trickle of spit coursing from her mouth. The Grima turned his eyes back to the horizon. “Stragglers will be left behind to die, understand! Now move, if you want to live!”, he barked at the cowering assembly. They shuffled forward in a miserable line. Someone bent and closed the corpse’ eyes.

In the distance, a black dot had appeared in the sky. It was approaching them fast now, becoming bigger and bigger until-

A giant cockroach had landed in their midst.

Roughly the size of a boulder, it was thrusting its feelers towards the Grima. As guzzlers of trash and filth, no creature had benefited from the sixth extinction as much as the cockroaches. The Grima bent down and appeared to be calming it, muttering soothing words in his harsh voice. He pointed towards the corpse behind them at some distance and nodded. Ogg’s feelers trembled in excitement. He didn’t need telling twice. He bounded towards the corpse and began eating it noisily.

Ogg was one of those creatures with a liking for human flesh too, but thankfully only dead ones. With live humans the giant cockroaches still adopted a servile manner. Almost as if they were guilty of robbing the humans of their rightful place from the top of the food chain. That said, they weren’t above enjoying flesh of live children from time to time.

The leader turned to face his people.

Ogg has found a shelter,” he said, his dark eyes flashing maniacally. “Not far from here. Deliverance is not far away. We must maintain our courage.”

His words seemed to put new heart into his people. They squared their shoulders, eyes glinting with the cornered animal’s desperate strength.

Ogg the cockroach took off into the sky, staying just within sight of the party.

With Ogg’s outline visible in the distance, the humans moved on, infused by a new fire. Several of them were even smiling now, their chapped lips exposing rotten gums. Some were even chattering. It was as if the death and suffering they had witnessed a few moments ago had never happened.

Something large was coming into view. Several large somethings.

Ogg had alighted.

The humans saw a strange sight before them.

Out of the ground rose several huge black spikes like the tentacles of a giant squid, dwarfing everything else in the vicinity. They were made of a material so black, that it was a relief just to stare at them, in this blinding white landscape where it hurt to just look at anything. The humans could feel the heat radiating from the spikes. There were about twenty of these spikes scattered about the area. Perhaps it was the incongruity of the spikes in the bleak landscape, but they radiated an ancient, almost alien power.

Ogg was pointing his feelers towards the central spike, a monstrous thing almost hundred metres long.

The humans shuffled forward cautiously, awe and fear in every face.

The Grima turned towards the people.

“It is time to find a new home.”

Tania Gupta

Writer, dreamer and observer. Can be found… drowning her sorrows in a cup of coffee.

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