The New Universe

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The beginning

A great wasteland lay before his eyes. The sun, high, bright and hot shone down upon the white sand of the desert, blinding him and forcing his worn eyes shut as he struggled to cross the great expanse of desert. Each step was an exercise in will power as the sun beat down upon him, turning his skin red, cracking his lips.

The horizon, blurred and distant, beckoned to him like nothing else he could ever remember, and he knew that it held sanctuary, water and shade. Waves of heat distorted it, making it seem wet and enticing to his parched and aching throat with its sandpaper coating. It shimmered like flowing waterfalls that came together and filled pools of water just beyond his grasp.

His eyes, dry, itching and burning, scanned that horizon as far as they could without moving his head - for that would mean pain. Something held it in place. Something intangible that would not let his body respond to the commands his mind tried to send out. It was something that was always with him, and which would always hold him in check.

For him, this was truth and existence. Nothing more. The thought staggered him and he stopped moving. An intensity washed over him as he stood there. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck become prickly as the sweat that poured from his body became cold even in the harsh, cruel sunlight. He could sense the danger now, all around him.

Movement to his left and right became perceptible in his peripheral vision, causing his breathing to become labored and his heart to skip a beat. Clouded images that made no sense except that they were black and evil, forced his mind into a panic that sent signals to dead legs, urging them to run - but they had nothing left in them, and he had no strength with which to drive the urge on. The sunlight became blocked by clouds, coming now only in short pulses that burned his eyes with each burst of light.

His left hand shot out in front of him with unexpected suddenness, as if to stop the pulse of light that stabbed at his eyes. In horror, he watched as it burst into flames. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized that soon, the darkness would engulf him.

The pain shot through him like nothing he had ever felt before and sent him to his knees, screaming like his very soul was on fire. The darkness had touched him and his world became pain. It seared away everything that he was . . . . . .

. . . . . .and it woke him up.

one

The green dot pulsated; jumping up and down as it made its way across the screen, tracking the heartbeat of the man who lay in the hospital bed. It knew nothing of him, being only the visual interpretation of how the machine perceived his heart pumping blood throughout his body. The trips the dot made up and down the screen had grown more frequent than it had been in recent weeks, showing that he was growing stronger, a fact not lost on the orderly's and nurses’ attending to the man’s every need.

What had gone unnoticed was the thin break in the man's eyelids as he would go in and out of restless sleep, the occasional twitch of his left arm as he reached out for something that only he could see. These moments came when the world around him was the quietest. However, they did happen.

Each time the dot moved up and down again, the machine sent out a quiet "ping". His ears focused in on the sound, letting it fill the void within him as he struggled to free himself from the darkness of the dream. The ping was something his mind could reach out for, to grasp and hold onto for all its blissful consistency, for it did not belong in the dark place where he dwelled. Each time it came and went, his mind used it to grow stronger and follow it out of the darkness, causing his eyes to brake open ever so thinly.

They rolled in their sockets, scanning back and forth rapidly, searching for something or someone to help with the struggle inside him.

Ping.

It called out to him and he stopped struggling. There was nothing else he needed. The Ping had been there from the beginning. Weak at first, taking long pauses between each visit - but it had still been there.

He turned his head to the side, focusing in on the machine that tracked his heartbeat. It was the strangest sensation, as he watched the dot jump up and down, knowing and yet not knowing exactly what it represented. That was the evidence of his life. He was alive, now all he needed was the strength to dig out of the darkness. As he stared, his eyes, which had been closing involuntarily, stopped fighting him and he could relax his guard a bit.

The room was cold. It was the first sensation that he felt, making his nose feel dry and raw with each intake of breath and causing his skin to pebble and send shivers through his body. He screamed out for help, but his strength was not there, and that great and mighty roar he'd wished to make, came out as little more than a raspy gasp.

* * *

Natalie Evans was happy for the first time in a very long time.

Her family had struggled for the past two years as she finished school and became a Registered Nurse, and the strain had shown on the faces of her husband and children, who had to cope with the fact that mom wasn't able to fix dinner every night and had to miss several baseball and soccer games. They had been very supportive, though, and without them Natalie knew she would never have been able to complete school and get this job at Saint Odello Memorial.

Which made it that much harder to have to spend so much time here and away from them. But still, they were working towards a goal together as a family. Her husband, a real estate broker, was trying to go out on his own, while her boys just worried about whether or not they got onto the baseball team this year, and together they were all trying to get into a new housing development on the west side. It looked to be "the" place to live, and the overtime here at the hospital could only help that cause.

She rounded a corner carrying her nightly tray of pills and medicine, on her way to administer to her "prisoners", when she nearly got sideswiped by an over eager orderly who stopped dead even as she jumped out of the way. The orderly blushed as she grinned at him in her sinister yet playful way of reproachment, then quickly made his way past to complete whatever job he had going.

He shook his head as he thought about her moving as fast as she did. It always amazed people at how fast Natalie could move, given her size and shape. She stood at only five foot four inches, and weighed upwards of one hundred ninety (no one dared ask her true weight) pounds, having never lost the weight from her first child, and then turning around and having another eleven months later. But she could still move faster then anyone ever gave her credit for.

She stopped for a moment at the nursing station, before moving from one room to another, administering medicine where appropriate, and smiles everywhere for the sheer joy of it. These people are her responsibility, both body and spirit - something she takes very much to heart when she sees them lying in such states.

Her floor consisted of the seriously ill, those who could not do the smallest things for themselves due to heart attacks, strokes, coma's and overall life impacting accident's. For these people, Natalie knew the importance of a well-placed smile in addition to the daily pill or shot, could make the difference in the end. Most of them had a devastated sense of self-worth and little to no hope left within, and so, she did the only thing she could and began to build those feelings back up for them.

There were mixed reactions in each room as she entered and did what came naturally to her. Some genuinely appreciated and tried to respond in fashion, while others simply lay there, unmoving and uninterested. But Natalie moved on with the knowledge that they would come around. They all came around eventually.

The last room in her nightly routine held the most mystery for her. A young man, roughly twenty three years old, had been found in the middle of the desert wearing absolutely nothing. He had minor burns on his skin and the ground where he'd been found was scorched and smoldering, all leading the authorities to believe that he'd been struck by lightening when the massive storm pummeling the desert whipped through a week ago. Unfortunately, that was all they knew. He had yet to regain consciousness in the past week he'd been at the hospital. Frankly, Natalie was beginning to worry about him.

She pushed her way into the room with her left hand while her right balanced the tray with the ease of a pro. Movement inside brought her to an abrupt halt and she noticed the head of her mysterious patient turn slowly towards her, eyes half open and mouth parted as if to speak. Natalie jumped back with a gasp of excitement, losing control of the tray, which struck the linoleum with a clatter.

Her only thought was to tell a doctor, or anyone who would listen, that the patient was awake and aware as she bolted from the room shouting, "He's awake! He's awake!”

* * *

He watched her leave the room, the semblance of a smirk gracing his lips as she fled in what looked to be a panic. There was so much more to be aware of now, so much going on around him. The cold of the room came to mind as he reached to scratch his nose - which alerted him to a burning sensation in his arm caused by the needle stuck there. As he scratched at his nose, he found the oxygen plug taped there and followed it with his finger as the tube went around his head and down the side of the bed only to disappear into the shadows.

His eyes scanned the room, as his mind became sharper and clearer. It was dark and gloomy, a reflection of the dark skies outside, and rain beating against the window. Maybe that's what's making it so cold in here, he thought, taking a deep breath and catching just the faintest scent of something electrical, probably the equipment piled next to his bed.

He could hear the rain slowly beating against the window, and the thunder crackling off in the distance. It made him cringe and sink beneath his blankets, although he had no idea why. The darkness and gloom bothered him too, and the more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. The occasional flash of lightning only worsened his mood.

“How do you turn the lights on?” he asked no one in particular, more to hear his own voice rather than get a response. It was little surprise to find it lacked any strength, sounding more like a croak as his dried vocal chords tried to respond to his will.

His body hurt from head to toe now. It was as if he'd awoke to find out that someone had beaten every inch of his body with a stick, then, when they were done, had started over from the top just to be sure he'd stay hurting for a good long while. He flexed his arm out in front of his face, feeling the stiffness within and the restriction of movement that the IV caused. He could almost hear the muscles constrict with each movement, making him wonder if they might snap if stressed.

The thought was an eerie one, and he wanted it gone from his mind as quickly as he could. Unfortunately, it was replaced by the image from the dream, and so he looked at his hand again. It was unburned, but the sensation was still there, as if it had burned once.

But that was only a nightmare, he told himself. A nightmare.

* * *

“And you just left him there?!”

“I am so sorry, Doctor Burke! I was so excited, and a little scared too, and it all just caught up with me - you know, the mystery and all,” Natalie rambled as she scurried behind Doctor Kathryn Burke as the taller woman nearly ran down the hallway.

“You were scared?” Kathy asked, rounding a corner with dangerous speed. “Think about how he must feel!”

“Oh,” Natalie said, puffing and chagrined. “Right. Sorry,” she said quietly.

Kathy opened the door and skidded to a stop as she saw a mess at her feet. She turned to Natalie who blushed and smiled sheepishly.

“I, uh, dropped my tray?”

“Clean it up,” Kathy ordered in her “you're pushing my limit” voice.

“Yes, Doctor,” Natalie responded all business as she turned and fled in search of a broom and dustpan.

* * *

He watched her as she entered the room and moved towards him. She had an air of intensity around her as she walked, but he found his gaze drifting to her eyes. Drawn and blurry, she looked tired beyond her years and there was no doubt in his mind that she worked herself too hard and cared too much about the people around her. He didn’t really understand this observation or why it came to him. It just did. And, it just sort of fit her.

The concern in her eyes as she examined him, however, comforted him. She touched his forehead with one hand while the other stabbed at the machinery beside his bed with obvious purpose. He knew that it was genuine and pure concern. He knew that she was a Doctor, and that she would not hurt him. Her purpose was to help him, and her tired eyes told him that she would do all that she could.

Her caress was warm and tender, something else reflected in her eyes with their deep blue pools so inviting and wholesome. They reminded him of something. What? It was there for just a moment, barely out of reach. A definite image of . . .. something. A touch or a whisper at the edge of his mind. It disappeared inside a cloud of sand within his mind, leaving only those blue eyes staring down at him with concern.

She stood above him, and he judged her to be nearly six feet tall. Her long, auburn hair was kept neatly pinned up and back away from her face, which was oval in shape, with only a few wisps ranging free and undone. Her blue eyes, he could now see, were bloodshot - probably from over work and lack of sleep, but perfectly set against her small nose and full lips.

He decided that she was a very attractive woman as she reached over him for something above and to the left. He caught an odd scent but couldn’t place it.

“How are you feeling?” she asked him after handing him a cup of water. He swished the cool liquid around in his mouth, chasing away the cotton and clearing his voice from its prison.

“Cold,” he responded quietly.

“Aside from cold,” she asked him with that warm smile again, “how are you feeling?”

“Stiff,” he said after a moment’s reflection.

“Well, that’s to be expected. Do you know where you are?”

“Medical facility?” he answered, looking around the drab gray room. This was received with a chuckle from Doctor Burke.

“Pretty formal. We call it a hospital. Can you be a little less specific? Say, what city you’re in?”

“City,” he said flatly. Suddenly, he noticed a considerable lack of information inside his aching head. Which also brought to mind the fact that there was an ache in his head. “I don’t know.”

“Okay. To be honest, that was a toughie. How about something a little easier? Like, say, your name?”

He opened his mouth as if to speak, but found that he had nothing to say. He searched through his mind, trying to find it, knowing that the answer had to be there somewhere. However, he found only the wasteland of his dreams.

Looking up into her eyes, he found that she knew, or at least understood, that he would not be able to answer the question.

His lips parted slightly, as if to speak, but no sound escaped. Dr. Burke nodded and walked around to the other side of the bed, pulling the stethoscope from around her neck and putting the plugs in her ears. She spread his robe to gain access to his chest, and placed the other end of the stethoscope gently against his skin.

He sat up as the cold of the instrument shot through him.

“I know it’s cold,” she snickered. Then, gently pulling him forward, she placed it against his back. “Deep breath,” she said.

“I don’t know my name,” he said quietly.

“That’s okay. It’ll come back to you. We’ve been calling you “John”, and we still can until you remember you’re real name.”

“How long will that be?”

“It’s my turn to say “I don’t know”,” Kathryn said with a smile. “That could depend on a lot of different things. Do you remember what happened to you?” she asked.

“Did it happen in the desert?” he asked, grasping at the memory of the dream.

“Well, that’s where you were found, but do remember any specific’s?”

“No,” he answered, avoiding her gaze. Somehow, he didn’t think the dream was anything more, and did not want to share it with anyone just yet.

“All the evidence we have so far, leads us to believe that you were struck by lightning.”

“Lightning?!” he asked. “I didn’t think you could get struck by lightning and live.”

“You’d be surprised how well people survive. In some cases, however, there is a loss of memory - like you are experiencing. Sometimes that’s combined with a loss of motor control. There are other symptoms that you are showing as well; increased pulse rate, pale complexion, minor burns over a large portion of skin consistent with where your clothing stopped.”

“My clothing? Where is it? Maybe there’s something . . .”

Doctor Burke cut the sentence off with a raised hand. “Your clothing was completely destroyed along with any identification you may have had. I’m sorry,” she added as she saw the dejected look on his face.

“It’s okay, I guess. Like you said, it will all come back to me eventually.”

“That’s right,” she said, letting the ‘I hope’ go unsaid. She had decided that it was too soon to tell him that this loss of memory could be more serious.

“I tell you what,” she said after a moment. “Let’s fill in some of those gaps for you, hmmm?” she asked with a smile.

“I’d like that,” he answered, matching her smile with one of his own.

“Well, you are in a hospital bed at Saint Odello Memorial, which is located in the town of Golden Nevada. You’ve been here roughly two weeks, going in and out of consciousness. We haven’t been able to identify you by your description nor by your fingerprints and no one has reported you missing. You are the talk of the hospital and all the nurses just know you’re either gay or have a wife somewhere. Any questions?”

“Does it ever stop raining?” he asked, gesturing towards the window.

“That’s the other big mystery in town, hell, the whole state for that matter. Freak storm came out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago. It’s really been pounding the western states. The rain will break for about an hour, and then kick up again for a day or so.”

Kathy moved to the window, and looked out at the trees just under her. They swayed under the pressure of the wind coming from the North, which also slammed sheets of rain against the hospital. The streets were flooded again, and the cars traveling slowly past looked more like boats.

“Almost evil,” she said turning around. John had fallen asleep again.

* * *

The city gleamed under the light of the hot sun. It’s towers, tall and gothic, stretched high to embrace the clear blue sky above. Each tower intertwined with another, forming a network of stone, metal and glass that spread as far as the eye could see.

It filled the horizon, a majestic Metropolis surrounded by desert.

It started as a hazy glow of light and color that grew and formed at the edge of sight. The Metropolis stood tall and proud before it, even as the glow touched the outermost edge of it’s boundary and embraced it with a violent passion. Miles away, the sound and wind could be felt as the solid wave of crackling, deafening energy struck the city and washed it away. Stone, metal and glass no longer held shape as the wave enveloped all.

No debris was left in its wake. Everything was simply gone. Swallowed whole like a castle of sand washed away as the ocean strikes the beach.

Then it grew closer, becoming larger as if the destruction of the great city had fed some hunger, making it stronger and helping it grow. The sound, like the roar of a waterfall magnified thousands of times, did as much damage as the wave itself, shattering rocks on the ground, shooting sand into the air.

John stood in the path of the wave, unable to move as it bared down on top of him.

Then it stopped.

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