Heart of the World – by Finrodel – narrated by Asclepius
Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a great story from a new author Finrodel, aka Alexander Huffman, entitled
Heart of the World
Background music by Smartsound
The morning light glittered off the pendant as it hung on the lamp. Lexi had woken up before her alarm again. She didn’t want to get out of bed, so she laid there, gazing at the heart-shaped locket her mother gave her before she retired.
“It is a link to the past. It’s easy to forget where we came from,” she said. “Everything changed when the whole started hearing the voices. Before we had the implants to protect us from the maddening sounds, there was a world of color, life, and feeling!”
Lexi could still remember the look on her mother’s face when she described her childhood. It was like looking at long forgotten pain, yet she wanted to experience it again.
“It was a time when joy and sadness had meaning. Now they’re empty memories, words we tell ourselves we’re better off without.”
Lexi touched the locket. A strange sense of longing pulled at her, though she could not describe why. Perhaps just beyond that pull, something whole existed, like a real home.
Her alarm rang, the impression interrupted by the mechanical sound and following automatic rhythms of her morning routine. Her phone rang shortly after. It was her supervisor, he always called at the same time each morning.
She connected her phone device to the implant and answered. Her foreman would always ask the same three questions,
“Are you healthy?”
“Yes.” Not that he cared how Lexi really felt, but an unfit worker was a liability and slowed down the workflow.
“Will you arrive at 0730?”
“Yes.” Punctuality meant production times were kept.
“Will you report any delays or production failures for your shift?”
“Your responses have been noted. Goodbye.”
Minimum interaction, maximum efficiency. She finished her morning preparations.
As expected, the workforce commuter bus was on time to each stop. The people that rode with her were almost always the same, sitting in the same places with the same clothing and expression. The color of work uniforms was the primary difference between each person. Lexi’s uniform was white, utilitarian, and indicated her position in food services. Her hair was cut short, it was more efficient that way. Practicality had little use for style, and she could not recall the last time she saw someone with long hair.
The bus dropped Lexi off at her usual stop. She was often the only person to come down this corridor in the morning. Today, she was not alone. A man in a grey uniform was leaning against the wall, staring at a stream of water dripping from above him. He was mumbling something.
He didn’t seem to notice her as she approached, but she was able to hear what he was saying.
“302203, 900556, 30220…”, he kept repeating over and over.
The grey uniform meant he worked in transportation across the complex. He was a long way from where he should be and his behavior was far from normal.
“Hello?” Lexi said, stopping near him.
“556…The water drops, they keep repeating the numbers. What do they mean?” He said, confusion filling his voice.
Lexi cocked her head and listened, but only heard the water dropping. “I don’t hear anything.”
“It’s there! See, 2, 2, 0, 3…” he continued to the sound of each water drop.
She heard about rare cases where the interface negatively affected perceptions, but she had never seen it happen before. She looked at the implant slot on the side of his head. The slot was empty, no communication device, no data drive. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t part of her work crew, she had been trained to provide help to people if they needed medical aid. Besides, it didn’t feel right to leave him in this state.
She gently touched his shoulder and started pulling him away from the dripping water. “I think your implant may be malfunctioning. Let’s get you to Medical so they can help” she said. He didn’t struggle or speak during their walk.
The production room was quiet after the end of shift notice. The sterile silence after the constant noise of machinery and workers felt soothing to her ringing ears. She walked between the workstations for her final inspection of the night. Beneath one workstation, a single piece of paper had slipped partially under a panel and gone unnoticed. She pulled the paper out and went to discard it in the trash when she noticed the writing. On one side a series of numbers were written multiple times in three columns before the writer ran out of space.
In a moment of intense clarity, she realized that the numbers were the same ones the man in the grey uniform was mumbling when she saw him that morning. A surreal feeling tingled down her spine, a sensation she was very unfamiliar with. She held still for a long moment, waiting for the sensation to pass.
“Lexi, something wrong?” A familiar male voice spoke from behind her.
She spun around a little too abruptly to face her supervisor, the look on his face showing a wary suspicion of her behavior. He was a bland faced man in his 40’s. The only distinguishing feature was the pipe whistle he kept in his uniform pocket.
“No, boss. I just found a piece of notepaper someone must have dropped earlier,” she said, regaining some of her composure.
“What’s written on it?”
“Just some numbers, I’m not sure what for,” she said, handing the note to him.
He looked briefly at the numbers written before looking back at her. “You sure you don’t know what they’re for?”
The intensity of his gaze was surprising. Was he testing her?
He looked at her for a few long moments. “I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
She nodded and left the production room, trying not to break into a run, or even a swift walk.
Lexi awoke early again. The sunlight cracked through her window, glinting off the heart pendant and into her eyes. That same strange fascination with the locket absorbed all her attention as she stared into the reflected light. Her thoughts again drifted from her memories of her mother to the strange events of the night before.
The thoughts and feelings filled her mind completely as she felt pulled into that light. Without thinking, she let herself flow into a dreamlike trance. All around her were pathways of light flowing along channels that curved, split, and angled away from some massive central point.
She looked into that nexus of branching pathways, her vision adjusting to its brightness. She realized then she was seeing a massive tree, its branches reaching upward and outward, carrying the light into distances beyond.
A small vine of light grew from the ground beside her until it touched her outstretched hand. The warmth of it filled her body with a sensation like she belonged there. She gazed into that thread of light that now gently curved and grew up her arm and saw something in its brightness.
Numbers. A message.
30.2203°N -90.0556°W Return home
She recognized the numbers as coordinates. The message is simple enough. She must go wherever the coordinates indicated, and soon.
Her phone rang, ripping her from the vision and making her jump. It was her supervisor, on time as usual. She couldn’t work today, she had to find what this all meant.
“Hello,” she said tentatively.
“Are you healthy?” The voice asked in his usual dry tone. She knew she would have to lie, but this was important and she needed to do this.
“No,” she answered, but felt her voice sounded weak and unsure.
There was a pause before he answered. “You’re not the only one.”
“I’m sorry?” She asked, not sure what he meant.
“It’s the numbers, right?”
She breathed in sharply. Another lie to keep him from reporting her to medical seemed prudent, but she dismissed the idea. He had never caused her any grief when she had issues or problems, even if they were her own fault. She owed him the truth, especially since he knew something was going on.
“I can hear them in the tones of your voice. What does it mean?” He asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I think I can find out.”
“Okay, please let me know? If you find it?”
“I will, I promise,” she said. She hadn’t felt the need to make a promise before, it felt right.
She grabbed her locket, placing the chain around her neck. It was time to go.
The trees rose up all around her, their branches reaching overhead like a tunnel of emerald green. The coordinates lead here, down a long forgotten road and past buildings nature had claimed decades before.
She would have found it beautiful if it weren’t for the buzzing noise in her ears. The further she walked, the worse it became.
Her head began to pound in rhythm to her footsteps and she slowed to a shuffle.
An eternity of head splitting noise later, she collapsed to the ground. Why was she here? What was she meant to do? The thoughts disappeared into the drowning static of her current existence.
“Help, please”, she whispered, a plea she knew would not be heard, but she didn’t know what else to do. She felt as if the noise and pain would kill her.
“I can’t do it. I can’t.”
Tears flowed freely, both from the despair she felt and the pain in her head. She was about to give into the pain in hopes of dying, when the light hit her face. Her covered her eyes as a new wave of pain washed over her. Through the cacophony of her senses, she began to hear something else. A faint whisper reaching out to her, touching her mind.
She opened her eyes again and saw her pendant laying in front of her, the light once again reflecting from its surface. In the tiny lances of light, she could see the numbers and message once again.
“30.2203°N -90.0556°W Return home,” she whispered and repeated each time she saw the light carry it across her vision.
Like a mantra, she spoke the message again and again. She crawled toward the source of the light. The plants and brush thicker with each movement, tangling her hands and legs. Within moments, she became impossibly entangled in the vines. The more she struggled, the faster it caught her. The light disappeared, and she felt fear.
“No! I can’t breathe!” she gasped, but struggled in vain.
As soon as her vision went black, the world exploded out in front of her. The tree from her vision was before her, reaching into the earth and sky. She saw its roots and branches touch everything in the world. It was not just a tree, it was a nexus of all living things in the world. She looked all around her and saw the world as it was, and with her now a part of it. She was home.
She could see the rest of humanity collected in massive cities. They were suffocating behind the walls of their implanted minds, unable to hear the call to come home. A longing sadness filled her as she saw what humanity had become.
She awoke wrapped in a soft cocoon of vines which fell away as she arose. She pulled at a dense vine that was lodged into her implant. The vine came free, the sensation causing a momentary shudder.
She could hear a voice whispering in the breeze and rustle of the leaves. Nature found a way to integrate with technology. The world’s voice bypassed her implant and gave her the ability to hear it again. She thought of everyone who still wasn’t connected like she was, and the sadness welled up again.
“How do I help them?” she asked the world-voice. It answered.
She knew what she had to do. It was time to bring everyone home.