18 Aug 2012

Stryker #5, At the End of Eternity – Chapter 22

Posted by joncooper

“Amy Stryker stopped by my office again. She told me that she was going to be bringing some refugees from Earth to Tikal, and that they’d be staying in the city for a few days. I thought that Earth was only populated by tribesmen, but apparently there’s a fortress there that we overlooked, and right now it’s got some kind of internal power struggle going on. I told her she was welcome to do as she wished – after all, she and Miles were the ones who discovered Tikal in the first place! I’ll help her however I can, especially if it will help those poor tribesmen. I’m glad she was able to find a cure for them.”
–Noel Lawson
July 13, 7243


Monroe Araiza was sitting in a diner in the heart of downtown Tikal. Miles was sitting across from him. He had invited Doyle to join them as well, but he had already made plans and left to go help his wife look after Nate. On the table in front of them was a turkey – the first time Monroe had ever seen one. There were also plates of potatoes, corn, and green beans, along with a platter of freshly-baked bread.

“You know, I have to say that this is quite good,” Monroe commented. “According to our history books turkeys were once common on Earth. Sadly, they apparently died out a couple thousand years ago. I’m quite amazed at the variety of plant and animal life that has survived on Mars! I don’t believe any of these ingredients are native to this planet.”

“Oh, they’re not,” Miles agreed. “In fact, if you had been here five years ago the only food you would have found is protein paste. Amy is the one who brought all of this back. In fact, she’s the one who brought the entire planet back from the brink of death. If it wasn’t for her we would have been doomed. She gave us a second shot at having a future.”

“Amy did all of this? She must be a very busy girl! Does she have any assistants?”

“Just the Sentinel.”

“I don’t think I’ve met him,” Miles said thoughtfully. “What does he look like?”

“Well, from what I understand he can appear in many different forms. Whenever I’ve seen him, though, he’s always appeared as a tall, well-dressed gentleman, wearing an old-fashioned gray suit and hat. He’s very distinctive and easy to spot in a crowd. He doesn’t appear very often, though. He usually only shows up whenever something really big has gone wrong.”

“If that’s what he looks like then I’m positive I haven’t seen him. ‘The Sentinel’ is a rather odd name. It sounds more like a title to me. Do you know where it came from?”

“You know, now that you mention it I don’t. To be fair, Amy always calls him Steve. That must be her nickname for him. But the Sentinel isn’t a person, you know – he’s a machine. He was created in 6571 by the Artilect – another machine that doesn’t exist anymore. The Artilect built him and sent him back in time to rescue Amy and Amanda. That’s how the Stryker family got here.”

“Amy got here through time travel?” Monroe asked, astonished. “Do you mean to tell me that you people have the ability to travel backwards in time?”

“Goodness, no! Only the Artilect could do that, and he only did it once. I certainly can’t do it, and I don’t think Amy can either. If she could I’m sure she would go back in time and save her family. What happened to them was a terrible tragedy. The past year has just been horrible.”

“I don’t think I’m familiar with her story,” Monroe said, as he helped himself to another piece of bread. “Based on what little she has told me I think she may be the daughter of Richard Stryker, the governor of ancient Mars. But I don’t know much beyond that, and I don’t understand what happened to the Ranger civilization. Amy said that the stars are empty – which I find difficult to believe.”

“I’m afraid that she is right. The Rangers really are gone. It’s a long and complicated story. I’d probably have trouble believing it myself if I hadn’t been there for part of it. It all started a long time ago, when Amy’s father was still the governor of Mars.”

Over the course of the next hour Miles told Monroe the history of the Stryker family, and what had happened to Amy from the time the Sentinel first found her until the present day. The story took so long to tell that by the time he was finished they had completed their meal, left the restaurant, and made their way to the Raptor. As Miles finished his tale the two men climbed into the aging vehicle. Miles sat in the driver’s seat and put the machine in gear, and the city was soon far behind them. Monroe sat next to him and watched the green Martian countryside roll by.

“You know, that puts an entirely different light on things,” Monroe commented. “I had no idea that the Wall was protecting us from being annihilated by a horde of bots. I thought that the Rangers had gone on to achieve galactic dominance while Sol was left to rot as a backwater wasteland. I didn’t realize that we were all that was left.”

“In a way the Rangers did achieve galactic dominance,” Miles replied. “The Artilect built a civilization that spanned 93 million star systems, and today Amy controls it. Everything that she told you about herself is true. She really does have an astonishing amount of power. If she wished she could populate her planets with machines and create a machine-based civilization that would rule the galaxy until the stars burned out – loyal only to her. She could easily conquer Earth and Mars and make us all her slaves, and we would never have a prayer of overthrowing her. But instead she went out of her way to help Mars, and now she’s helping your people as well.

“In my opinion the worst part is that she’s received very little in return. It’s a wonder that she hasn’t gone insane! She was yanked out of her own century, her sister was murdered, her entire family was murdered, and she has faced nothing but problem after problem. Frankly, I’m amazed that she hasn’t just walked away and left us to our fates. I’m sure that there are other things she could be doing with her time – after all, she has the power to create anything she can imagine. She doesn’t have to be dealing with psychopaths. But that’s not the choice she has made.”

“Do you mean she hasn’t even been tempted to walk away?” Monroe asked.

“Well, I did kind of help her along a bit,” Miles admitted. “She wasn’t too keen on helping anyone after Adrian Garza murdered her family. But she got over it. It just took her some time.”

“But why is she doing this? I don’t know a single person back on Earth who would have done what she has done. I wouldn’t even trust myself with the kind of power that she has. Do you realize that there is no power in existence that can hold her accountable, or that can tell her no?”

“That’s not how she sees it. She still sees herself as a young girl, not as a despotic queen. All she wants is to go home and be with her family. She believes that once she finishes helping Earth God will allow her to go home. She hates her life, Monroe. She doesn’t want to be here. If she could she would give it all up and go back to being a teenager on ancient Mars. There isn’t anything in this life that she cares about, and her only real friend is a machine. All she wants is for the nightmare to end. That’s what this life is to her – a nightmare.”

“At least she fears God,” Monroe commented. “From what you have told me she sees herself as being under His jurisdiction. If she ever lost that fear we would be in a great deal of trouble.”

“True, but I don’t think it will ever come to that. I really believe that Amy is approaching the end of her life. God brought her here to do some very specific things, and she is almost finished with her last task. Once the tribes are cured I believe He will take her.”

“I sincerely hope so. I will feel far more comfortable when there are no longer any administrators in the universe.”

Miles smiled. “Are you sure about that? You do realize that if the Artilect hadn’t rescued her Mars would be a corpse, the Wall would still exist, the tribes would not be cured, and Adrasta would be dead in another century. She was the only one who could save us all and that’s exactly what she has done. You have to give her credit: you would not be here now if it wasn’t for her.”

“Quite literally,” Monroe agreed. “I, for one, never expected to set foot on Mars. And perhaps you’re right – maybe I am being too harsh on her. Amy has executed her tasks faithfully and has not abused her power. It simply frightens me to know that there’s a human being out there who could, if she wished, destroy the sun with a single thought. It frightens me quite a lot.”

Miles sighed. “Amy and I argued about that once. A few years ago I asked her what she was going to do when she was finally done with everything. I was hoping that she would live here, on Mars, with her people. It just seemed so sad that her family was dead and she didn’t have anyone. I thought that maybe if she moved to Mars she could have a home, make some friends, and actually live and enjoy life. But she refused. She told me that she could never live on Mars – that wherever she lived people would never trust her, and that they’d eventually come to see her as a threat and would try to kill her. I thought she was being too cynical but I guess she was right. Despite all that she’s done for you and your planet, you still don’t trust her and you don’t want her around. You don’t really care that she’s lost everything and is just a 14-year-old orphan. You’re not interested in taking care of her. You just want her to solve your problems and go away.”

Monroe was silent for a long time. “When you put it that way it does sound terrible. I suppose we are thoughtless cretins, who demand miracles and then order the miracle-worker to go away empty-handed. But there really is no place for her here. Doesn’t her power frighten you?”

“So what does she get out of all this?” Miles asked. “She saved the human race from extinction, brought Mars back to life, and is returning sanity to millions on Earth. In order to do those things her family has paid a terribly high price. Mankind has benefited greatly from the sacrifice that the Stryker family made. But tell me – what does Amy get in return? Even your dentist expects to get paid. Is mankind really just going to give her nothing and demand that she leave immediately?”

“I don’t see why not. Isn’t that the way it has always worked? It may not seem fair, but there has never been anything fair about life. Was not Jesus Himself, the Savior of mankind, hunted down and crucified? Were not His followers, who spread the gospel to a lost and dying world, also hunted down and murdered throughout the centuries? Were not the prophets from the days before Christ similarly persecuted? When has mankind ever rewarded those who have tried to save it? For that matter, what reward have you gotten for your two millennia of service to the old underground city?”

“Not much,” Miles said cheerfully. “But I don’t regret doing it. Besides, I’m about at the end of my journey. I may outlast Amy, but probably not by much. Mars has been turned over to Noel and the planet is in capable hands. I’m content with how things have turned out. The next life is looking a little bit more appealing every day. I’m ready for a break.”

Monroe nodded and started out the window of the Raptor. Outside the sky had grown dark and the stars were coming out. The constellations on Mars were quite different from the ones on Earth, and he was glad to have a minute to take in the Martian night sky. He suspected that one of those dots might be Earth itself, but he wasn’t sure. The sight of the stars was somehow comforting. For most of his life he had grown up with a sky that completely lacked any stars at all. Now the night sky was a thing of beauty and wonder, a giant canvas with infinite possibilities. That canvas would have been hidden away forever if it was not for the actions of Amy Stryker.

“I don’t think we can ever repay her,” Monroe commented. “Not in any meaningful way. It’s simply not possible for us to give her the things that she actually wants. Offering her payment in gold or silver would be ridiculous – she could make an entire planet out of solid gold if she wanted. I suppose all we can do is be grateful, and trust that God will reward her for what she has done.”

“But you don’t trust her,” Miles replied.

“I used to trust her, when I thought she was an agent of the Rangers. I even defended her against Doyle. I only became nervous when I realized that her power was, for all practical purposes, unlimited and unchecked. I admire the way that she has used that power but the danger is still quite extreme.”

“Is it?” Miles asked. “Suppose that Amy had died long ago and the network was now controlled by the Rangers, who numbered in the quadrillions. Suppose that they had been the ones who brought down the Wall and paid a visit to Earth. Would it really make you feel better if, instead of dealing with a single person who cared deeply about Sol, you instead were forced to deal with a giant, faceless bureaucracy – one that was so large that, to them, this entire star system was not even big enough to be a rounding error?”

Monroe paled. “That would be horrifying!”

Miles nodded. “If history had turned out just a tiny bit differently – if, say, the Diano Corporation had fled the bots and established colonies in the network, instead of retreating when the swarms attacked – then that is exactly what you would be facing today. Instead of dealing with Amy you would be confronted with a bureaucracy so large that it spanned entire star clusters, and with enough red tape to choke the Sun. It could completely obliterate our entire planets without even knowing it had done anything at all.

“You see, if you were actually faced with the Rangers then any thought of opposition would be completely hopeless. Your opponent would be so massive, so enormous, and so widespread that it would be like a wounded ant trying to fight a dinosaur. But in this case that massive power isn’t invested in the Rangers; it’s invested in one little girl. And to you that girl looks small, and frail, and helpless, and weak, and doesn’t have any friends. The reality is that you can’t control her any more than you could have controlled the Rangers, but since she’s just one person you feel like you ought to be able to. So people start thinking of ways to get rid of her, to push her away, and – in the case of Adrian Garza – to kill her. She’s a small enough target to make people think that maybe, just maybe, they can get away with it. Sure, she hasn’t done anything evil. Sure, she’s a force for good. Sure, she’s saved millions of lives. But she is stronger than we are and she might get in our way one day, so we’ve just got to kill her. That’s what people are really thinking, and it bothers me tremendously.”

“So you think it’s pure jealousy?” Miles asked.

“Partly that, and partly a general hatred of people who are strong. No one can stand up and say ‘I hate Amy because she’s done this and this and this.’ She hasn’t done anything bad at all, but yet they hate her anyway. It’s completely ludicrous to hate people because of something that they might do one day. It is asinine. It would be like walking into your neighbor’s kitchen and confiscating all of his knives because, one day, he might snap and use them to kill you. If you tried that you would get arrested and hauled off. No judge in the world would support you.”

“But Amy is a deeply dangerous person,” Monroe protested. “I would far rather see power invested in a civilization than in a single, unaccountable teenager. How can you not see the danger that she poses?”

“Frankly, I see a far greater danger. Mankind has stolen everything of value from this girl, leaving her empty and friendless, and it now wishes to execute her for a crime that everyone agrees she has not yet committed. Mankind owes her a great debt, and instead of paying it – or even attempting to pay it – they just want her dead. How can you not see that mankind is the real danger? They’re the ones that are insistent on hunting down and killing people who have done no harm! Amy has far more reason to be suspicions of mankind than mankind has to be suspicious of Amy. If I had to trust one of them I can tell you right now it wouldn’t be mankind.”

“I see your point,” Monroe said. “I’m just not sure that I agree.”

Miles sighed. “I suppose that’s why there are so few heroes – mankind simply can’t stand them. Who would bother to sacrifice so much when their only reward is getting shot in the back by a sniper? Maybe one day God will write on Mankind’s tombstone ‘These fools killed everyone I sent to help them.’ That sums us up pretty well.”

He shook his head. “Anyway, enough of that. I’ve got a lot of history books; you’re welcome to take any of them that you’d like. I don’t really know much about the history of Earth, but there’s probably a lot about Mars that you don’t know.”

“I would be honored,” Monroe replied. “I greatly appreciate it.”

The Raptor rumbled up to the side of a cliff. Miles reached up and pushed a button on the console in front of him. The cliff vanished, revealing a hangar hidden within.

“Come on in and make yourself at home! Amy will watch over Adrasta while you’re gone. It’s in good hands.”

“Thank you,” Monroe replied.

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