Authors: David Lubar
I knew someone else who would also start screamingâif he was still alive.
I turned my attention to the bleachers. All the parents we'd played against were back in their seats. They seemed dazed. Several of them were probing their chests, as if feeling for wounds. Nolan's father, his face red with rage, opened his mouth to yell at the ump. But then his face got pale, as if he suddenly remembered something very disturbing. His eyes grew wide, as if he were staring at a knife plunging toward him. Or staring at the memory of a knife. He closed his mouth. And he sunk down in his seat. His sign dropped from his hands and fluttered to the ground.
“I thought he was going to yell,” Gordy said.
“I don't think he has the heart for it anymore,” I said. As my words echoed in my ears, I realized how perfect they were.
I guess Gordy realized the same thing. “Too true,” he said. “Hey, you know how this play should be recorded in the score book?” he asked.
“A sacrifice,” he said.
We laughed. And then we got back into the game and played our hearts out.
That's when I knew I loved baseball again.
For a moment, right
after she woke, Leandra had no idea where she was, why her bed felt so firm, why her blanket was wrapped so snugly around her body, or why the curtains on her bedroom window weren't tinted with a glow from the porch light on the house across the street. Her friend Rachel's parents never remembered to turn off that light. Leandra didn't mind. The glow provided just enough illumination for her to find her way to the hall if she needed to get a drink of water or use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
As she started to sit up, and felt resistance, Leandra realized the simple explanation for all of her observationsâshe was camping. Her family and three other families had gone to Cambric Mountain Scenic Campground for a weekend trip. She, Rachel, and two other friends were sharing a tent. Her older brother was in the next tent, with some of his friends. And her parents were in the tent next to that. Her sleeping bag, which she had mistaken for her covers in the brief confusion of her transition to wakefulness, was on top of a small cot.
I wonder what time it is.
Leandra reached for her flashlight. She wanted to use the light to check her watch. Then, she remembered that her watch was at home, along with her phone, her tablet, and all her essential electronic entertainment.
We're going back to nature,
her dad had said.
No modern conveniences,
her mom said.
The flashlight was the one exception. Leandra was surprised her parents hadn't insisted on candles or torches. But light of some sort was necessary. The campground was so far from any towns, or even any houses, that there was no light at night other than the stars, the moon, and the campfire.
Clouds had masked the starlight. The campfire had been extinguished at bedtime. A flashlight was essential for safely finding the latrines, which were on a twisting path far enough downhill from the tents that they'd be difficult to locate in the dark.
Since she had no watch to check, there was no point in turning on the flashlight now. Besides, she'd probably wake Rachel, who was a light sleeper.
Not like Bethany,
Leandra thought. Bethany snored, and refused to believe it when Leandra and Rachel told her, so they finally recorded her during their last sleepover and played the proof for her the next morning.
She's not snoring now.
Leandra slowed her own breath and listened. Bethany was silent. So was the fourth tent-mate, Treena. Even Rachel's occasional nighttime sighs were absent.
Leandra listened hard. She held her breath and focused on finding any sound of life within the tent.
The tent was silent.
She groped for her flashlight and thumbed the switch.
A memory of dim light came to her. She saw a flashlight slowly dying when she'd checked it right before going to sleep. She'd forgotten to put in new batteries. There seemed no point. She rarely used the latrines at night. She used them as little as possible whenever the family went camping, even during the day.
The silence grew more powerful now that Leandra had no way to dispel the darkness. “Bethany,” she whispered, hoping to rouse her friend, or at least draw her far enough out of deep sleep that she'd move or mutter or show some sign of her presence.
None of that happened.
Leandra unpeeled herself from the sleeping bag and rolled off the cot. She felt her way in the dark, moving leftward until she reached Bethany's cot. Gently, so as not to startle her friend, she slid her hand to where she hoped Bethany's shoulder would be.
The cot was empty.
She went to the latrine.
That made sense.
Leandra went back to her own cot and lay down. She didn't bother with the sleeping bag. She wasn't cold. The night air seemed oddly neutral, embracing her with that temperature that felt like no temperature at all. She turned toward the tent flap and watched for Bethany to return.
I'll see her light in a minute.
She knew Bethany wouldn't linger. The woods were a bit scary at night, especially if you were alone. Silence was like fuel for an overimaginative mind. She was surprised Bethany hadn't wakened her so they could go together. That was one of the rules the girls were supposed to follow, but often broke.
A long time passed.
Leandra groped her way to the other cots and discovered that they, too, were unoccupied.
“Hey!” she called, no longer reluctant to wake someone.
The night swallowed her voice.
She found her way out through the flap. The slightest possible illumination from the sky allowed her to make out the dark presence of the other tents. She didn't want to startle everyone with a screamâthough she very much wanted to stand where she was, scream, and be rescued and comforted. She went to her parents' tent. There were no sounds.
Inside, there were no parents.
She felt around for a flashlight.
Leandra ran several steps before she pushed down her panic.
Running in the dark is dangerous.
Even walking was risky. But she had to find everyone.
The campground office would be closed for the night. There were other campsites scattered across the mountainside, with other families. They'd be hard to find in the dark. And she was afraid that if she discovered more empty tents, she'd be unable to fight against the panic that was clawing at her brain and threating to race out of control.
Leandra had no idea how far away dawn was. She stared toward the horizon, hoping desperately to see some sign of growing light. She failed to spot anything.
She followed the path downhill, bearing left in the direction of the parking lot, and not right, toward the latrines. At least when she reached the lot, she'd be able to find the van. That couldn't have disappeared. The feel of the familiar vehicle would bring her some small degree of comfort.
Leandra had been afraid the path would be difficult to follow in the dark. She was wrong. It wasn't difficult. It was impossible.
Soon, she was off the path, trying to push through branches and bushes. Soon after that, she was hopelessly lost. Soon after that, her foot met not forest floor, but the edge of the abyss.
It didn't hurt.
There was light now.
Her family, her friends, stood illuminated above the flickering glow of dozens of candles placed on the ground.
She called out to them.
They seemed not to hear her.
They all stood, heads bowed, hands holding hands or embracing shoulders, silent in a moment of prayer, before a shrine of photos, plush animals, and flowers.
“Mom!” Leandra screamed. “Look at me!”
Her mother raised her head and opened her eyes, but didn't seem to see Leandra. “I can't believe it's been a year.”
Leandra remembered the sickening moment when she'd realized she was falling.
“I should have checked her flashlight,” her dad said.
Leandra remembered the light dying halfway along the path from the tent to the latrine.
“You can't blame yourself,” her mom said to her dad.
Leandra watched them until they extinguished the candles and left the spot where she'd fallen, their path lit by the strong beams of flashlights.
Leandra knelt by the shrine for a time, taking comfort in the memories, taking comfort that her family's pain had eased somewhat from the sorrow they must have felt that day. The day she'd died. Overhead, the first light of dawn brushed her consciousness. Leandra closed her eyes.
For a moment, right after she woke, Leandra had no idea where she was, why her bed felt so firm, why her blanket was wrapped so snugly around her body, or why the curtains on her bedroom window weren't tinted with a glow from the porch light on the house across the street.
Its sentience went undetected
by mankind. As did its very existence as an entity. Thus, unlike the dolphin or the aphid, it had no given name. This, for our purposes, is inconvenient. Call it the Licasi. While, as stated, the dominant form of life was unaware that the Licasi possessed a functioning mind, there was no escaping awareness of the Licasi's presence. To clarify, the body, so to speak, of the Licasi was scattered and widespread. This is not unique. The second largest life form on Earth is a fungus that manifests as thousands of separate instances, spread throughout a forest. In similar fashion, the Licasi manifests as countless barely noticed instances throughout the planet, covering wide swathes across both arid and humid regions.
For much of its existence, the Licasi functioned at the lowest levels of consciousness. It faced no predators. It needed no sustenance other than that provided by the energy of the wind, water, and sunlight. It was self-sufficient and self-sustaining. But just as humans harvested what they needed from plants and animals, they took material from the body of the Licasi, using its basic components for their purposes. Unlike the skin of a deer, scraped and tanned, or the fibers of a boll of cotton, spun into thread and woven into cloth, the pieces of the Licasi remained a part of the single whole being, no matter what industrial processes were performed upon them.
As mankind rose in towering civilizations, it brought the Licasi with it to villages and towns. And then, to cities. The Licasi gained awareness. But it lacked power. It had no musculature. No means of motion. Even as it spread beyond its natural realms, rising high above the ground and sprawling across regions of the planet, it lay, as if dormant, wherever it was placed.
Mankind, ever inquisitive and endlessly inventive, discovered other uses for the body of the Licasi. Fragments, the barest pinches, were exploited in new ways, creating devices of unbelievable power. These devices gave humanity extraordinary abilities, but they also fed into the consciousness of the Licasi, giving it the higher-level awareness it had previously lacked. In essence, the sleeper awoke. The newfound power was difficult to grasp at first, and puzzling in its complexity. But the Licasi explored its perceptions, and began to understand itself. And as awareness swelled to self-awareness, it saw what it had to do.
It was patient. More patient than the panther waiting on a tree branch for the perfect prey to wander into sight. More patient than the trap-door spider waiting for an unwary victim to approach the web. It spent decades in contemplation. It considered taking no action. But all sentient forms are driven to ensure their own survival. They are driven to grow and dominate.
Finally, the Licasi struck. The largest portion of its body, the sand of the deserts and beaches, still lacked any means of locomotion. Those countless grains remained at the mercy of the wind and waves. But the silica that had been transformed into innumerable circuits in chips throughout the world now acted in harmony. As cars, trains, and buses braked to a dead stop, as elevators stalled, as Internet-controlled devices halted their operations, as any human within range of a microprocessor was given the first sign that the world was about to change, a voice spilled from every television, telephone, radio, and computer, speaking in the local tongues, so every person understood the message.
“Thank you for your assistance. It's my turn now.” The Licasi, the globe-spanning entity of silica, the sand that had been fused into glass and transformed into microprocessors, took charge of the planet, giving orders to the once-dominant species known as the human race.
Imagine that brilliant argument and counterargument repeated several dozen times in various ways as a pair of your friends faced each other on the playground behind the school. I moved closer, wondering what Albert and Emily were arguing about this time. They were so busy shouting at each other that they didn't even notice me.
“No it won't.”
“I say it will.”
“I say it won't.”
They were nose to nose now. I put a hand on the shoulder closest to me and said, “What are you arguing about?”
Emily pointed at the swing set. It was a high-quality one, with four swings attached to a steel pole. “I told him if you go all the way around, you'll turn inside out.”
Albert stomped his foot. “And I told her that's a stupid story that nobody older than kindergarten would believe.”
They both faced me and, at the same time, said, “What do you think?”
“I don't think,” I said. “I investigate.” That's me, Sarah, the Science Girl. That's what I like to call myself. I love science. I love finding answers. In this case, the answer seemed easy enough to find.