“The prisoner will stand up!”
The guard’s command echoed against the walls. Bae Hyong did not move. He sat in the corner with his head resting on his knees.
The guard unlocked the door. “The prisoner will stand up!”
Hyong did not move.
The barred door slid open. “The prisoner will stand up!”
Hyong made every effort to lift his head but it simply lolled off his knees until his chin hit his chest.
The guard pulled him up by his hair then slapped his face. “The prisoner will stand up!”
Somehow Hyong found the strength to lock his knees.
“You must run!” Genet yelled, shaking Ephrim.
“No,” said Ephrim. He guided Genet’s hands away and kissed his forehead.
“They are coming!”
“I know. I have always known they would come. It doesn’t matter.”
“But the temple! The Ring!”
Ephrim stroked Genet’s cheek and soothed him. “My part is done. We are merely waiting for God now. Whatever they do to me, they cannot hold back the inevitable.”
Genet sobbed. “I do not want to lose you!”
Ephrim embraced Genet. “You will find me again in heaven. Have faith.”
The apartment door exploded inward, followed first by smoke, then bullets.
Monica Deaver offered the moonshine to Ellie. Ellie demured.
They sat in the soft glow of red coals. The bright stars wheeled imperceptibly overhead. Monica stared up and Ellie stared at Monica. Monica’s cohort clustered in groups around other fires. Most slept but some also looked skyward.
“Going to be tougher tomorrow,” Ellie said. Monica nodded. “We’re getting close now.” Monica nodded again and Ellie asked, “Are you crazy?”
Monica looked at Ellie. She drank. “No, we’re not crazy. We just want to see it.”
“It. Whatever it is. But when the ring closes, something is going to happen.”
Lajos chased Eberardo through the tangled green. The jungle had reclaimed the land swiftly, but neither knew that. To them the Ring had always been surrounded by vines and saplings.
“Catch me!” yelled Eberardo.
“Slow down!” laughed Lajos.
Lajos was scrambling over a boulder when he heard Eberardo’s cry. Exhilaration became fear and he hurried.
Eberardo lay at the bottom of a pit, his leg twisted. He was crying. Lajos started to call out but then Eberardo’s face paled and he quieted and shook his head slowly.
Lajos felt the presence behind him but could not turn to face it.
“Sir,” Miss Ryu said hesitantly.
Hyong stirred and looked up from his console sleepily.
“The Supreme Leader–”
“–Yes,” he said. He waved and she retreated back to her desk.
The door closed. He pushed a button and said, “Supreme Leader.”
“Is there any progress, Doctor?”
Hyong’s search for the words took too long.
“I see,” said the Supreme Leader. “I am sending General Namgung to support your efforts.”
“Sir, I do not believe military–”
“Belief is irrelevant, Doctor.”
Hyong said, “Yes, sir,” through his teeth. The line went silent.
“Miss Ryu,” he said over the intercom, “you may go home.”
On the patio the midday sun blazed. Jazarah looked at her brother sternly. “Come home, Genet.”
Genet rolled his eyes and collapsed into a chair. “This again!”
“Yes! And again and again until you see sense.”
Genet waved. “No, big sister. God has my heart now.”
“Ephrim has your heart.” She snapped, the words bitter and scolding.
Angry, Genet leaped to his feet. “God brought me to Ephrim and through him, Heaven!”
Jazarah raised her hands to sooth him. “We are afraid. The Ring, it–”
“It is of God, Jazarah, and Ephrim will show us the way.”
Jazarah left, crying.
Ellie and Luiz watched the dust cloud grow in the distance.
Luiz said, “There’s a lot of them.”
“Yeah,” said Ellie. She checked the safety on her AR-15 again.
“You don’t need that,” he said.
“I hope not.”
There were a dozen vehicles or so and perhaps fifty people among them. Most stayed back a few hundred yards but a Mustang approached and parked in front of Ellie and Luiz. A woman emerged. She was dressed like a high school English teacher.
“We’re not here for trouble,” she said. “We’re going to the Ring and we could use a guide.”
“What?” the Supreme Leader had demanded to know, and Doctor Bae had no answer.
For a month he poured over the data. He knew the Ring was built by nanomachines that rained down with the extrasolar meteor. He even knew when the ring would complete. But he had no idea to what end. “What?”
He knew the Ring was charged with an extremely powerful electromagnetic field, but the circuit was not complete. He knew that when it was, the release of energy would be immeasurable. It was, to his mind, like watching a lightning bolt in very slow motion.
The pilgrims walked and worked among the stones in the ejection field. They cleared a wide field. They carried away the black stones and piled others for future construction of the shrine.
Genet sketched the scene from a rise nearby from which Ephrim observed. Occasionally a pilgrim would come to him for direction. Always before the pilgrim left they would kiss Ephrim’s hand and bless him.
Miles away the Ring loomed. Genet caught Ephrim stealing glances at it, his eyes full of awe and anticipation.
“God is coming, Genet.”
“I feel it too.”
Ephrim kissed Genet’s forehead and Genet ached.
Cracking was not the worst job. There were latrines to deal with, after all. But cracking was hard.
Ellie brought the hammer down. The black stone was a little bigger than her head and it was defiant. She hit it again. And again. Finally it cracked. Ellie dropped the hammer and looked.
The inside was geode like, full of crystals. They were harder than diamond and conducted electricity better than anything. You couldn’t eat them or fill a half track’s tank, but you could trade them for food and gas.
Ellie sat and watched the sun go down.