Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, 2040 A.D.
Allister Adams hoped the worst had come and gone.
Flashes of blue light spread through the passing thunderclouds. The sky rumbled, angry, as the last of its evening thunderstorm threatened the quiet town.
Allister, a boy midway through his seventh trip around the sun, sat on the grooved floor of his dad’s car, an Ukimoto Hover Model X. His arms were wrapped around his legs. His chin was pushed against his thighs. He was sulking, mostly because he was being told to stay out of sight.
His dad had always said nothing was the same after the West Coast earthquake. But now, something else was coming, something more powerful, if that was even possible.
The conversation about the car rules neared its end with his dad kneeling in the passenger doorway, wearing an uncharacteristic scowl. His beard was overgrown. His long, wavy hair was tied on his head like frayed rope in a loose knot. Allister watched him from the corner of his eyes, waiting for his smile to reappear.
“No matter what you hear outside, don’t you go gettin’ up in that seat,” warned his dad.
Allister frowned, upset by the seriousness in his tone.
“But pops…what if the — storm comes back…and…and…you need help?” he asked, glancing up.
His dad flipped the straps on Allister’s overalls and scrunched at his afro. “Storms aren’t made to hurt us, that’s just mother nature tellin’ us how she feels.” He finally smiled, though it wasn’t very big. He stood after he finished, then stared out at something Allister couldn’t see as he slapped the car roof twice. “Stay low, okay? It’s dangerous out here, Allister.”
His dad lowered the door and left him alone in the power plant’s parking lot, the place he spent most nights when both his parents were called to their separate out of the house duties.
Allister’s smooth, steady breaths came with ease, even in the confined space. But curiosity kept pulling his eyes to the windshield, hoping to catch a glimpse of a lightning strike in the forest or wind twirling objects into the air.
He held up his toy unicorn and nodded as he repeated, “stay low,” to himself, once again comforted by his own imagination. With a quiet whoosh from his lips, he lifted the unicorn up, letting it take off toward a pretend sky.
Gusts of wind howled through the air. Light too bright to be lightning blasted through the windshield. An engine somewhere above screamed, louder than any thunder he’d ever heard.
Allister froze the unicorn mid-flight, just as the car rocked back and forth, clanking like loose pipes as it moved.
Despite his dad’s warnings, he climbed onto the seat for a better view and plastered his hands against the dashboard to look out over the grass.
A squiggly line of blue light soared up from the facility’s open ceiling toward a break in the clouds. The strange light quivered and flashed and fizzled and brightened, struggling to stay connected to a glowing oval that was falling, as if from space.
Allister blinked in disbelief, his heart thumping, his mouth hanging open. He could only hope that his dad had planned to shoot the beam into the sky and stop that speeding object — but even if he did, the object wasn’t quieting, wasn’t dimming, wasn’t slowing.
Every time the tiny oval flashed, the blue light from the plant faded.
Another ear-splitting boom echoed overhead. Light spread across the atmosphere, expanding from the tiny oval in a ring of blue. The sound reached him seconds after the light did, loud enough to crack the windshield and shake the car violently.
He screamed, tried to cover his head and his ears at the same time.
Something was wrong.
The brave sounding voice in his head told him to jump out, to try to help. But it was too late. The other voice, fear, had taken hold of him, kept him paralyzed above the dashboard where he wasn’t supposed to be. It told him that if he did anything, he’d do it wrong and get in more trouble.
Allister decided not to disobey his dad any more than he already had. He waited for the car’s movement to stop, then let the urge to duck down in the seat pass him over. He looked up again.
As quickly as the blue light had appeared, it zoomed back down and disappeared into the plant. The blaring noises in the air only got louder and the light overhead only got brighter. All of it happening as the clouds swelled higher.
He didn’t understand what was happening. It was a storm like he’d never seen or imagined. And as much as he wanted to understand, he just wanted his dad to get out of the building. The object didn’t have too much longer before it — his eyes followed its trajectory down —
Crashed into the plant.
“Pops!” he screamed, hitting the dashboard. “Pops, get out of there!”
To Allister, this was already worse than the West Coast earthquake. He felt the tears rising through him, ready to break through his eyes if his dad didn’t emerge that moment.
And at that moment, his dad burst from a side door, running at a full sprint.
“Yes!” Allister pumped a fist into the air. “Come on Pops, you can make it! You can…make…it.”
He’d stopped cheering because his dad’s mouth was opening and closing like he was shouting, and he kept looking up every few strides between dodging and ducking falling debris.
Then, he looked straight ahead and pointed at Allister, eyes widened. What he was yelling became very clear.
Get down! Get down! Get down!
Allister had never seen his dad this way. Furious. Screaming. Likely running too fast to properly catch his breath. His skin was covered in the same blue as the light, like his arms and face had been painted.
Though Allister had been caught in his disobedience, he still he didn’t move, afraid if he got down, his dad wouldn’t make it to the car.
“Allister!” his dad shouted, now close enough to be heard. He opened the door and jumped in the driver’s seat, gasping for air. “Didn’t I tell you—” he pulled Allister down into the seat “— to stay down!”
“I’m sorry Pops, I just heard the—”
His voice was shaking as he interrupted. “I asked you to do one thing, one thing!”
He activated the engines, then shifted the gears. The car lifted off the ground and leaned when his dad whipped it around. Allister leaned too, his shoulder forced to press against the door. His dad jammed his finger onto the acceleration button. The rear boosters blasted behind them, fiery and loud like a trash incinerator, rocketing the car forward.
Their vehicle alternated between a series of nauseating movements: swerving side to side, leaning hard through winding turns, and bursts of speed when the road opened up.
His dad was hunched over in the driver’s seat, quiet, brooding, periodically hitting the wheel.
Allister watched him, somewhat antsy. He knew the man driving looked like his dad, had his dad’s signature twang. But he also knew that it couldn’t be him, not without the offer of reassuring words or a warm smile to show everything would be okay.
Maybe everything wouldn’t be okay this time, he thought to himself.
Was that ring of light the more powerful thing his dad had mentioned or was it the oval object?
Allister’s heart beat so hard, he thought it might break free from his scrawny chest. He clutched himself with both hands and checked the rearview camera. And what he saw was much worse than anything he could’ve expected: that same glowing oval plunged toward the ground, getting closer with every lost second — and coming down with it was fire the color of the sea. This strange oval was all but engulfed in those turbulent blue flames, yet he realized that it was somehow the source, now lighting the sky with an atmosphere as radiant as mid-day when it was meant to be midnight.
The odd-colored fire flashed bright around the vessel, and hit the ground, setting the surrounding forest ablaze.
Allister jerked his head away from the window and squeezed his eyes shut just long enough to catch his breath.
His dad had always told him to be brave. And Allister thought to be brave, he should bottle his fear. But something was different this time. The fear was unlike anything he’d ever felt, the intensity of it pressing against the sides of the imaginary bottle that usually caged it, threatening to burst free. He wondered — between stuffing away his sobs and rapid-fire questions and the sickness swimming in him — if this new strain of fear multiplied in his dad with the same quickness.
He opened one eye to see.
His dad was covered in sweat. His clothes were covered in soot. His sleeve was nothing but scraps of burned fabric. He was frowning deep and wiping his eyes, but seemed to have calmed to the dad he recognized. Placing a firm pat on Allister’s legs, he exhaled, though he didn’t offer the smile Allister had been hoping for.
“I should’ve listened to your mother,” he said. “Kept my potentials—”
He ended his sentence ended abruptly.
Allister stared down at his dad’s hand, which was double the size of his, looking for the reassurance he was meant to feel. But all he found was the urge to suck in more tears, because he knew his fear had broken free, infecting his dad too.
“Foeht Zeorgen?” his dad whispered aloud. He shook his head and added, “If 2052 ends with Z, the experiment should’ve worked…”
His dad mumbled the two strange words again as he strangled the wheel, one-handed. Then, he lowered his head and swallowed twice in a row.
Allister put his hand on his dad’s hand and squeezed. “Are we gonna make it home?” he asked.
“Just keep your head down and pray a little bit,” his dad said, a little too harshly. But his face was apologetic as took back his hand and stared ahead — at the stretch of civilization left.
Allister didn’t want to pray, he wanted to be back home, snuggling with his unicorn and playing word games. He wanted the oval that blew up the clouds to go away and take the blue fire with it.
The car was silent, though everything around them was erupting in chaos. Destruction seemed inevitable, the flames, limitless, as if they would never stop spreading. Even the storm cellar beneath their house didn’t seem sturdy enough to protect them, nowhere did.
He covered his mouth, shocked. “Is Mommy okay?” he asked through his fingers.
“I’ve built a special place to keep us safe,” his dad said, nodding fast. “Your mom’s on her way to meet us. I promise, we’ll all be together soon.”
To Allister, it sounded like they were almost there.
His dad opened his mouth to say more, and instead was forced to jerk the car to the side. Something heavy and burning landed hard where the car had been, then scraped the pavement before bouncing ahead of them, and exploding.
Allister contained the intense urge to cry out, though his lip quivered as he asked slowly, “Did the Evolutionaries make the blue fire come, the ones Mommy hates?”
“Ah, my little EV…come here.”
Frightened, he inched closer and leaned over. His dad hugged him. He hugged back.
“Not all Evolutionaries are scary, some are even tryin’ to save the world.” His dad’s voice cracked and broke as he kept speaking, “I thought we could contain it…I thought I understood the —” He stopped mid-sentence, his face falling and tears falling with it. Trembling, he said, “I did. I made the blue fire come. And I think you can too.”
“Pops?” Allister asked, looking up. “What do you mean?”
“We’re —” His dad gasped and glanced down, then frantically looked back through the window like he’d seen a monster in the rear camera. He shouted a curse word — one of the really bad ones — and tried pushing Allister back into his seat while maneuvering the car. But Allister wouldn’t let go. The fear in him curled his fingers around his dad’s shirt, tightened his arms around his dad’s waist.
The rabid inferno attacked them from all sides.
Allister didn’t know how it had caught up to them, until he realized why his dad had lost the deep brown color in his face and kept pushing the accelerator button with desperation.
Something sped at them from behind.
Moving too fast.
Getting too close.
It could only be the oval vessel shooting forward like a launched firecracker and shrieking with the high-pitched whistle of one. The sound lowered into a deafening rumble as it caught up, and the car sputtered and sank lower, unable to stay airborne.
Allister tried to sit up then, too, but before he could peel away the other arm, his heartbeat disappeared into the harsh vibration of the vehicle shuddering around them.
The oval ripped their Ukimoto straight down the middle.
A white flare blasted his skin with searing heat. Reverberating booms drowned out his involuntary screams. And within seconds, the car exploded in opposite directions.
With him still strapped inside the seat, his half of the car spun out like a top and landed on hard asphalt with enough impact to bounce, flip over itself, and land again. The car skidded to a stop.
Allister screamed out in agony.
It didn’t matter that his overalls were torn from the waist to the leg. Or that his green turtleneck was blown to scraps and one shoe had gone missing and his unicorn burned toward a dusty grave at his feet.
Because the arm he’d kept wrapped around his dad was missing.
A soft wind whipped at his burns and gashes and the exposed, bleeding socket, stinging him deeper with every gust. Body shuddering, he rocked back and forth, quiet for a moment. His throat was raw from screaming, his mouth dried.
The night became nothing more than whispers of a wildfire, the surroundings refusing to take shape as smoky darkness danced across his eyes.
His heartbeat slowed, almost to a stop, as the cold sank beneath his skin, gripping his bones with the chill of death.
“My arm,” he whispered, his voice filled with fatigue. He placed his shaky hand just under the gaping wound. “Pops, my arm is gone.”
His dad didn’t answer.
Allister closed his eyes, unsure if they’d ever open again.
A minute had passed before his violent shaking eased to shivers and the aching in his shoulder to a dull pressure. The blood dried as a familiar tingling weaved its way through his mutilated flesh.
He guessed it was happening again.
Wailing with more uncertainty than pain, he lifted his head up and rested it on the seat. His eyes fluttered open. In his peripheral, muscles stretched from his shoulder and reattached to the bone growing from the socket. Skin climbed over new tissues toward what would become an elbow.
He’d seen something like it before, watched as his body recovered from small injuries, cuts during afternoon play, tiny bruises from wrestling around the living room, and the occasional sickness — rapid healing, his mom called it — but nothing like that. The car crash should have killed him.
Allister gagged, and against the agony of nerves pinching at his skin, he unclipped the seatbelt. As he stumbled onto the street, he wondered where his dad was, wanting to believe he’d been as lucky. Yet, he couldn’t keep focus on anything except his half of an arm, which continued to grow until the bones of his wrist and fingers began to interlace, putting themselves back together as if they were puzzle pieces, come alive.
He waited in silence for the muscle to appear, then the tendons and ligaments, and last, the skin. But the final stages of his healing seemed to drag on forever, and the sharp pain returned. Now, waiting for it soften to a semblance of relief, he could hear his home town burning in the distance. He was almost positive that no one could heal in that town but him.
Yet, there were booster rockets creeping over pavement, folks shouting. Had some people survived? His ears perked up, his eyes too. The harsh beams of vehicle headlights rounded a corner and temporarily blinded him. He covered his eyes with his good hand as he took a step back.
The vehicle stopped advancing on him.
“Turn ‘em down team,” someone commanded.
The headlights dimmed.
His sight began to clear — first to the dense, wide trucks hovering above the pavement, then to the soldiers. They seemed untouched by the blue fire, each of them holding either a charging energy weapon or an automatic gun.
Allister held his breath.
“Don’t shoot,” he heard his dad say. His words didn’t carry far, and he sounded strained and out of breath. “That’s my son, please don’t shoot him.”
He gasped at the sound of his dad’s voice, tumbling sideways in shock as he twisted around to see where he was. He managed to catch himself, one handed, against the car.
“Everything’s going to be alright, long as little Allister cooperates,” said one of the soldiers in a voice rough as ground pavement.
Allister squinted. “Pops, are you there? Where’s mommy?”
“Everyone’s here,” the same soldier sneered. “Safe and sound as long as you come with us.” The soldier pulled his fussing, kicking mom out of the armored vehicle and forced her to stand up straight. He took her by the neck with one hand, then held a smoking gun to her head with the other.
Allister took a step and wobbled on an unsteady ankle, devastated to see his mom’s soft curls on the other end of a deadly weapon.
“Hey, sir,” he said, trying his hardest to sound brave. To his own shame, he was already crying, the words spilling out with a fresh round of tears. “I’ll come with you. Just don’t hurt them, please.”
He took another lopsided step.
“That’s right, Allister, honey, come to mommy,” his mom pleaded. She spoke without steadiness, and she was paralyzed, no longer struggling against the soldier’s grip.
He recognized that stiffness.
She must’ve known something, seen something he couldn’t see in the now intensely dark edges of the main road. “We’re going to do what these nice soldiers say so they’ll help your Daddy,” she said, her voice weakening mid-sentence. She tried turning to the soldier, her arm extended toward the charred field beside them. “Is that him, at the edge there? Won’t one of you help him? Please…he’s bleeding out. Nicolas, I’m begging you. I’ll do anything.”
The soldier squeezed her neck, pressed the weapon deeper into her temple.
She flinched in pain.
“Shut up,” he said.
His mom refused to stay quiet. “Patrick…say something…please.”
“You promise to keep us safe, together?” Allister asked the soldier.
“Pinky promise,” the soldier replied.
“Son, don’t you move,” his dad said. “Don’t you—move.”
The soldier dragged the gun from his mom’s head to a spot near the road.
“You don’t want to do this, Nic,” his dad said. “We’ll still find a way to save her. Neight promised.”
“Well, now he’s dead!” the soldier shouted, pulling back on the trigger.
“Wait!” Allister yelled.
The soldier stopped, loosened his finger, and turned to him. His mom’s mouth fell open. The other soldiers stepped back and started talking over a radio about the return of the blue light that had scorched the sky.
It was true, the fiery blue glow had returned, right next to him.
Initially, he didn’t feel anything at all. He watched it spread over a pavement slick with fluids and littered with car parts, tensed as it covered the row of soldiers and their trucks.
Then, on his left side, the side where the light had appeared, he felt burning. It wasn’t fire, like he thought, but the vibrant, blue light crackling around what had become a limb. It stretched, then squeezed, solidified, then compressed, taking the stringy shape of what had returned. A seven year old’s human arm.
The feeling of a million tiny needles pricked him under fresh, bright blue skin.
That’s when he realized the light wasn’t next to him.
It was part of him.
His mom shook her head, the terror in her eyes as unbearable as the sight of his dad lying bloody, barely moving on the side of the road. The tightness in his chest brought tears to his eyes, and he fought to keep them in, not wanting to upset anyone any further.
“Pops…” he said, his leg lifted to take a step that direction. He stopped when he saw his mom’s lips tighten, put his leg back down when she gave him the stern look that meant “no”. It seemed his bravery wouldn’t help anyone, only his surrender.
His dad surrendered before he could.
“Please…the spaceship,” he said. “The Z-energy, it’s there…you have everything you need to save her — leave…my wife…and my son alone.”
The soldier threw his mom back into the vehicle, knelt down to the street, and pressed the gun to his dad’s head.
“I’d be happy to.”
Allister knew he had to save his mom and his dad, and something inside his fast beating heart told him he could. That deep voice of bravery returned. With it came the strange words his dad had recited in the car, chanting inside his mind, louder with each repetition.
Foeht Zeorgen, Foeht Zeorgen, Foeht Zeorgen.
Allister looked down at his new arm, mesmerized by the light beaming from it. Unable to think of anything else, he whispered, “Foeht Zeorgen.”
The soldier must’ve heard because he faced Allister again.
“Pleased to see we’ve got ourselves another Evolutionary,” the soldier said to his dad, then sneered to the other soldiers, “Get. Him.”
The dozen or so of them rushed at him, weapons aimed.
I can do what the fire did to the sky, he thought as they got closer.
He didn’t step back, he didn’t step forward, just waited with both fists clenched for the soldiers to surround him, the sorrow and frustration and anger building in him like a volcanic eruption.
Allister threw his hands up and yelled out, “Foeht Zeorgen!”
The light inside him grew. Beyond the arm. Beyond his body. Beyond comprehension.
His eyes rolled back into his head.
A wave of raw energy burst from his body and surged forward, each moment its own flurry of overwhelming, burning anguish. From somewhere in the chaos, he could hear his mother’s screams, soldiers’ yelling, and a gunshot.
Everything went quiet.
The light faded as it retreated into him.
He relished in the same calm that chases a stream, breathed air free of tension, listened to the thirsty licks of nearby flame.
His mother stared at him through the car’s now shattered window, weeping between screaming and hitting the seats. And though the town of Cumberland Falls was still charred from the inferno, he felt relief. The burning in his arm was gone. But when Allister searched for his dad, he was gone too.