Waking Gods – Sylvain Neuvel

d if it is controlled in the same manner as she is, there could be pilots aboard. If pilots there are, are they Russian, Japanese, or Chinese? Or are they from somewhere else entirely? We can only speculate at this juncture. There might be no one at all in this giant structure. In the four hours it has been standing here, it has not moved an inch. The Earth Defense Corps (EDC) has yet to issue an official statement. Dr. Rose Franklin, head of the scientific division, was reached in Geneva, where she was to give a speech later this morning. She would not speculate as to the origin of this second robot but has assured us that it is not part of the UN planetary defence. If true, this would suggest that either a second alien robot has been discovered on Earth and kept from us or that this one does not come from our planet. In New York, the EDC has scheduled a press conference for three o’clock London time. The Earth Defense Corps, which was founded nine years ago by the United Nations following the American discovery of the Themis robot, is tasked with extracting new technologies from the alien artifact for the benefit of mankind and to protect this planet against extraterrestrial threats. Only time will tell if we are facing such a threat today. No word yet from His Majesty’s Government, but sources say the Prime Minister will address the nation within the hour. The British people will not have to wait to hear from the other side of the aisle. The official opposition was quick to issue a statement earlier today, immediately calling for the Prime Minister to offer some reassurances.

Opposition leader Amanda Webb took to the air about an hour ago, saying: “There is an alien device with potentially devastating power standing in the middle of London and all the Prime Minister has seen fit to do is to restrict access to one city park. Can he tell the thirteen million people who live in the Greater London Area that they are safe? If he can, he owes the British people an explanation, and if he can’t, I for one would like to know why we aren’t talking about evacuation.” The former Foreign Secretary went on to suggest that Central London be evacuated first, something that, by her calculation, could be accomplished in an orderly manner in less than forty-eight hours. Londoners, for their part, appear in no hurry to go anywhere. Perhaps as surprising as the robot’s appearance is the utter nonchalance the population has displayed since. The towering figure is visible from most of London, and while one might expect civic unrest, or a massive exodus from the city, Londoners, for the most part, have gone about their business; many have even made their way towards Regent’s Park to see this new titan up close. The police have closed off the area south of Prince Albert and north of A501 between A41 and Albany Street, but some have managed to escape their attention and found their way into the park. The police even had to evacuate a family that was preparing for a picnic, a mere few steps from the giant metallic feet of the intruder. It’s hard to blame Londoners for seeing a creature similar to Themis as a friendly figure. They have been told that a race of aliens left her on Earth for our protection.

Her metal face and backwards legs are on the telly almost every day and have made the front page of every red top for nearly a decade. There are Themis tee shirts for sale on every corner, and young Londoners have grown up playing with Themis action figures. Themis is a star. Her visit to another one of London’s Royal Parks a year ago felt more like a rock concert than first contact with something from an alien world. This is a defining moment in the short history of the EDC. The fruit of a very fragile coalition, the organization has been called a public-relations stunt by its detractors. Many have argued that a single robot, no matter how powerful, could not defend a planet against an invader. By adding a second robot to its arsenal, or forging a formal alliance with another race, the EDC would come a long way in silencing its critics. FILE NO. 1399 PERSONAL JOURNAL ENTRY—DR.

ROSE FRANKLIN, HEAD OF SCIENCE DIVISION, EARTH DEFENSE CORPS I had a cat. For some reason, no one remembers my having a cat. I’ve been picturing her curled into a ball on the kitchen floor, slowly starving to death while waiting for me to come home. I keep forgetting that Rose Franklin came home that night, that she—the other me—never left. I’m glad my cat didn’t starve, but part of me wishes she’d waited for me by the door. I miss her. My apartment feels incredibly empty without her small presence. Maybe she died. She wasn’t that old, though. Maybe I got rid of her when my job became too demanding.

Maybe she didn’t recognize the person who came home that night pretending to be me and ran away. I wish. She’d probably be afraid of me if she were still around. If there’s a “real” Rose Franklin, chances are I’m not it. Thirteen years ago, I got into a traffic accident on my way to work. Strangers pulled me out of my car and I woke up on the side of the road, in Ireland, four years later. I hadn’t aged a day. How is that possible? Did I travel to the future? Was I…frozen, cryogenized for four years? I’ll probably never know. I can live with that. What I’m having a hard time dealing with is that I wasn’t really gone for those four years.

I—someone like me, anyway—was here. Rose Franklin went to work the next day. She did a whole bunch of things during those years. Somehow, she ended up studying the giant metal hand I had fallen onto as a child. She became convinced that there were more giant body parts lying around and devised a method for unearthing them. She pieced together a giant alien robot called Themis. Then she died. It was a busy four years. I don’t remember any of it, of course. I wasn’t there.

Whoever did all those things died. I know for a fact it wasn’t me me. Rose Franklin was twenty-eight when she was put in charge of the research team studying the hand. She died at thirty. A year later, they found me. I was twenty-seven. Themis ended up with the United Nations. They created a planetary defense branch, called the EDC, with the robot as its main asset. I wasn’t there for that either. One of me had died.

The other hadn’t been found yet. They put me in charge of the EDC research team about a month after I reappeared. The other Rose must have made quite an impression because I was probably the least qualified person for the job. I had never even seen Themis. As far as I was concerned, the last time I had seen any part of her was on my eleventh birthday. They didn’t seem to care. Neither did I. I really wanted the job. I’ve been at it for nine years. Nine years.

One would think that would be enough time to get over what happened to me. It’s not. I had four years of catching up to do, and that kept my mind busy for a while. But as I settled into some sort of routine, got more comfortable with my new job, my new life, I became more and more obsessed with who and what I am. I realize that if I did travel through time, I probably don’t have the knowledge to fully understand it, but there shouldn’t have been two of us. Move an object from point A to point B, logic dictates you won’t find it at point A anymore. Am I a clone? A copy? I can live without knowing what happened to me, but I have to know if I’m…me. That’s an awful thing to doubt. I know I don’t belong here, now. I’m…out of sync.

It’s a familiar feeling, now that I think about it. Every so often—maybe two or three times a year—I would get this anxiety rush. I’d usually be really tired, maybe had too much coffee, and I’d start feeling…I never knew how to describe it. Every second that goes by feels like nails on a chalkboard. It usually lasts a minute or two but it feels like you’re just a tiny bit—half a second or so—out of sync with the universe. I was never able to really explain it, so I don’t know if I’m the only one who ever felt this. I suppose not, but that’s how I feel every minute of every day now, only that half second is getting longer and longer. I have no real friends, no real relationships. The ones I have are based on experiences I didn’t share, and the ones I lost have been damaged by events I didn’t live through. My mother still calls me every other night.

She doesn’t understand that we hadn’t spoken in over a year when I came back. How could she? She’s calling that other person, the one who isn’t still dealing with her father’s loss, the one who everyone liked. The one who died. I haven’t talked to any of my old friends from school, from home. They were at my funeral. That’s such a perfect ending to a relationship, I wouldn’t want to spoil that. Kara and Vincent are the closest thing I have to friends now, but even after nine years, I’m somewhat…ashamed of our friendship. I’m an impostor. Their affection for me is based on a lie. They’ve told me what we supposedly went through together and we all pretend that we would have shared the same experiences had the circumstances been different.

We keep pretending I’m that other person, and they like me for it. I don’t know what I am, but I know I’m not…her. I’m trying to be. Desperately trying. I know that if I could just be her, everything would be all right. But I don’t know her. I have gone over every page of her notes a thousand times, and I still can’t see the world as she did. I see glimpses of myself in some of her journal entries, but those fleeting moments aren’t enough to bring us any closer. She was clever, though; I’m not certain I could do what she did if we were looking for giant body parts today. She must have found some research I don’t know about, probably something that was published while I was “away.

” Maybe I’m an imperfect copy. Maybe she was just smarter. She certainly was more optimistic. She believed—was utterly convinced—that Themis was left here as a gift for us to find in due time, a coming-of-age present left to an adolescent race by a benevolent father figure. Yet they buried all the pieces in the far corners of the Earth, in the most remote of places, even under the ice. I can see why I might get excited by a treasure hunt, but I can’t find a good reason for the added hurdles. My gut tells me these things were hidden…well, just that. Hidden, as in not to be found. More than anything, I can’t imagine why anyone, however advanced, would leave behind a robot that, in all likelihood, we wouldn’t be able to use. Anyone with the technology to build one of these things, and to travel light-years to bring it here, would have had the power to adapt the controls to our anatomy.

They would have had a mechanic aboard, someone who could fix the robot, or at least MacGyver their way out of small problems. All it would really take is their version of a screwdriver to turn the knee braces around so we could use them. They couldn’t have expected us to mutilate ourselves in order to pilot this thing. I’m a scientist, and I have no proof for any of this, but neither did the other Rose when she assumed the opposite. Without evidence, even Occam’s razor should never have led me in that direction. The irony is that they built this entire program based on my findings. If I had told them how scared I am of what will come, they never would have given me the freedom to do what I’m doing now. The lab is the only place I find comfort in and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for Themis, to be in her company every day. I feel drawn to her.

She isn’t of this world either. She doesn’t belong here any more than I do. We’re both out of place and out of time, and the more I learn about her, the closer I feel to understanding what really happened to me. I know everyone is worried about me. My mother told me she would pray for me. You don’t do that for someone who’s doing great. I didn’t want to upset her, so I said thank you. My faith has never been really strong, but even if it were, I know there’s no God coming to help me. There’s no redemption for what I’ve done. I should be dead.

I died. I was brought back by what I assume is advanced technology, but you might as well call it witchcraft. Not too long ago, the Church would have burned someone like me. I may believe in God, but I’m at war with Him. I’m a scientist, I try to answer questions, one at a time, so there’s a little less room for Him as the answer. I plant my flag, and inch by inch, I take away His kingdom. It’s odd, but none of this has ever occurred to me before. I never even saw a real contradiction between science and religion. I see it now, I see it clear as day. I’ve crossed that line we’re not supposed to cross.

I died. And I’m still here. I cheated death. I took away God’s power. I killed God and I feel empty inside. FILE NO. 1408 INTERVIEW WITH BRIGADIER GENERAL EUGENE GOVENDER, COMMANDER, EARTH DEFENSE CORPS Location: Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, NY —You should hurry, Eugene. —How long have we known each other? —Fourteen years this September. —Fourteen years. And in all that time, have I ever, once, given you permission to call me Eugene? —“General” seems…inappropriate after what we have been through.

—It does, doesn’t it? Imagine how it feels to have absolutely nothing to call you. —Not that I do not enjoy hearing you ramble endlessly about my anonymity, but you are addressing the United Nations General Assembly in less than one hour. I know how much you loathe speeches, so if you require my help, now would be a good time. —Then why don’t you give the address? You’re the one who got me into this mess in the first place. —Let me hear your opening. —Where’s that damn piece of paper? Oh, here it is. Have you seen my— —They are on the nightstand. —Thank you. It goes like this: “I know many of you are afraid. I know you want answers.

” —I meant what is the beginning of your speech? —That is the beginning of my damn speech. —Eugene, you are not talking to cadets at the academy. This is the UN General Assembly. There is protocol. You normally begin by naming everyone. Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. —Fine. I’ll start with that, then I’ll say “I know many of you are afraid.

I know you want answers.” —No, you have to say something profound first, something inspiring. —Something inspiring? There’s a giant goddamn robot in the middle of London. What people want is for me to get rid of it. There’s nothing profound about that. —Then say something completely unrelated but profound. The last address I heard in person was from a US President. He said something like: “We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” —Very well then. Mr.

President, Mr. Secretary General, members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. Those of you who know me know I am a man of few words. Those who know me well also know how much I loathe speeches. So with your permission, I will steal my opening remarks from a former president of the United States. He said: “We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” —That is— —I was joking. I have a quote from another fellow who had a better way with words, I can just move it up. After that, you’ll have to settle for some words of my own. His name is Thomas Henry Huxley.

He was a scientist in the early days of modern biology. He said: “The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.” Almost a decade ago, when Themis was revealed to the world, we realized that ocean was a lot bigger than we thought, and what transpired this morning in London has made our islet of certainty feel so small that we may wonder if we even have enough room to stand on. Now can I say it? —I know many of you are afraid.


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