Heaven’s Peak: A Hero or Die Book 1
The world he once knew is gone. He has been selected to fight for humanity. However, right now he simply trying to remember how to breath
Be a Hero or Die –
He could see images, moments, and times that brought him both joy and sorrow, but he couldn’t remember why.
His body felt heavy, and his mind was muddled and cloudy. The images faded, replaced by a mute darkness. It swallowed the images like a fog, claiming them for itself. It made him sad to think of them going away.
He felt alone and afraid without them, so he wanted to stop the darkness from claiming them. He tried to hold onto them, but he could not stop his memories from slipping into the void of oblivion like a dream fading in the morning light.
He gasped because that was what people did when they had almost no oxygen in their lungs and needed to breathe. It was fortunate that he could remember breathing since he was currently making great use of that memory.
Air rushed into his mouth, filled his lungs, and rushed out again. This activity seemed to be located more in the front of his head than in any other part of him, which was also fortunate since that was far from his heart. It would have been bad if that organ were subject to this rush of air.
“Good, another one wakes!” a voice chirped. “Beginning to wonder if the vital readers were making a mistake. How are you feeling?”
The boy muttered. He knew words, but that didn’t mean his mouth could form them. His lids opened and fluttered, but even when he could hold them open, he was only greeted by more darkness. Had he gone blind?
A figure stood in front of him. It was not much brighter than the rest of the room, but it was different. There was a flicker.
“Ah, eye movement!” the voice mused. “That’s better. I’m starting to get some color now.”
The figure moved closer to him, examining his body. Its shoulders slumped as if it had been holding its composure for a long time. Then it moved away and said, “Can you hear me? I have something important to tell you.”
“Y-y-yes,” he responded. His tongue was flat on the bottom of his mouth.
“English is your first language, right?” the other person questioned. “Seems so. I told him the new formula needed more testing. Don’t feel so self-conscious about all this. Your peers didn’t fare much better once they came around.”
The figure raised a hand and waved it. “Can you follow my arm?”
Everything still appeared black to him, but he could follow the outline of the person’s arm, albeit mostly with his eyes. Straining his neck only allowed him to tumble his head from side to side, and gravity did most of the work.
“That’s it,” the voice soothed. “See how you’re turning your head? Even your feet are moving! I bet your toes feel like they’re wiggling. That’s a good sign.” Whoever was speaking sounded very mature.
The boy turned his head, but the twisting didn’t get much further than a shallow wiggle of his shoulders before gravity tugged his neck, and his head dropped forward.
“It’s all right,” the voice said. “It is a start. Let’s get you acclimatized and see if we can’t help you out with some tasty medical aids.”
The boy heard a loud hissing, and his shoulders twitched in surprise. He hoped it was mechanical hissing since the only alternative he could think of was snakes. Fearing whatever could make that noise was probably wise, but the idea of being paralyzed while snakes slithered around him struck him as a much worse problem.
“We have a spike in heart rate,” the voice mused.
Dim lights glowed around him. After being in darkness for so long, they were blinding. He shut his eyes again and raised his arms to shield himself. Wait! His arms worked now.
“Ah, good! More motor functions. I was worried that I might have given you too many vitamins in one go. Trust me, we aren’t usually so careless. This is a trial of a new hibernation serum, and we haven’t worked out all the kinks.”
“Hi-hibernation serum? What’s that?” the boy asked.
“Wonderful! Actual words. You really are coming around well.” The figure clapped its hands, but they didn’t make a sound. “Tell me, how are you feeling now? Any other pains?”
Though his eyes were dry and scratchy, he could blink without pain. Was it dark? Warm? He sat up and bumped his head. He stopped and looked around. The room was small and white with steel fixtures. “I’m still heavy but no longer in pain. Where am I?”
“A pod. No need to worry. This was just to monitor you until you came around. Your normal sleeping accommodations are…well, another pod, but much more spacious.”
The lights brightened. “I should get you out now so we can test the lower half of your body. Hold on just a moment.”
Another loud hiss followed by several clanking sounds. The large piece in front of him slid out before rising. His body twitched and went rigid.
He saw the glowing humanoid figure in front of him. It was long rather than tall, a gray light with white lines of light like markings in a strange pattern. It was dressed in black but glowed a cool white. Its eyes were pools of darkness and its expression was flat, but it offered an unnatural smile. It wasn’t that the smile didn’t seem genuine, but given its appearance, it couldn’t help but seem sinister.
“Welcome to the land of the living.” Its mouth did not move as it spoke. It ran a hand along its body. “In a manner of speaking, that is. I have been told my appearance is ghostly. I often think to change it, but the irony is too enjoyable.”
It pointed at him and giggled. “The faces you humans make! I wish you could appreciate it, but your screams indicate you don’t.”
“‘You humans?’ You aren’t human?” He wished he could close the pod and stop staring at this creature.
The being tapped the side of its head. “I would have thought that obvious. We don’t have you marked as one of the intelligent students for this cycle, but I didn’t think we would have to start from zero.”
This prompted a number of questions, but with everything running through his mind at risk of consuming him, he decided it was best to focus. “Then what are you?”
The figure placed its hand on its chest and bowed, the gesture flawless but not stiff. “I am an AI Simulant, called ‘Sims’ by most who have resided here for a time. I am the combination guide, mentor, caretaker, and friend of all students here at Heaven’s Peak.”
Heaven’s Peak. That name stirred something in him, and Sims took notice. “Ah, a bit of memory is coming back, is it?”
The boy felt his head. “Sort of. I seem to recognize that name. Wait, name! What is my name? Who am I?”
His hand smacked into the pod’s translucent wall as the world swam around him. In his shock, he leaned forward and stumbled out of the pod, landing on his knees as the sudden weight made his legs give out.
Sims winced. “Ouch, that looked painful. Granted, I have never felt pain myself, but I have been told it is simply awful. Keeps me from trying it.”
He made his way in front of the boy. “You’ll have to get yourself up, I’m afraid.” He placed his hand on the boy’s hand and brought it down, the hand disappearing through him. “No tangibility, you see.”
The boy attempted to stand to no avail. The most he could do was shift to the side and sit on his hip. “I can’t…I can’t remember my own name.”
“That is typical of the hibernation serum,” Sims stated, putting his gangly arms behind him and clasping his hands. “Amnesia, and a severe case at that. I wouldn’t be too worried. Details like your name will come along naturally and usually quickly unless you are one of the critical cases. But you aren’t drooling on yourself, so it is just looking like a severe case. Perfectly normal.”
“Perfectly normal? That doesn’t seem right!”
Sims cocked its head. “How would you know? You are an amnesiac.” He turned and lifted his arms in the air. “Like I said, this is normal. Which is why we have prepared explanations for you once you get out of the pod.”
Large screens appeared in the air. Sims waved his hands to move them around before picking one out and bringing it forward.
The boy sat back in amazement as Sims stepped to the side and pointed at the screen. “I used to give the explanations myself, but I found it tedious after the first twenty-seven cycles. If you have ever wondered if artificial life has patience, the answer is yes, and it is shorter than you probably fear. Please pay attention so we can keep the questions to a minimum.”
Sims reached toward the screen. It shrank considerably, allowing Sims to hold it in the palm of his hand. Before the boy could say it was now too small to see, Sims turned and hurled it at the boy, and his vision was suddenly engulfed by an image of a planet of blue and green.
He knew that planet. It was his planet.
A booming voice startled him. It wasn’t Sims’ voice. It was much deeper and spoke plainly.
This is your home, a world that has existed for billions of years. In that time, your species made great advancements. Technology, society, culture, and government progressed through leaps and bounds throughout the rise of humanity. Your kind strove for utopia, but it never had the chance to see if it could truly achieve it.
As it spoke, images constantly appeared on the screen. He could only catch a few at a time, but they were filled with devastation, and the monstrous beasts stuck with him. They were familiar.
Two-hundred and fifty-two years ago, an event devastated your planet. An infection that rotted the very ground many people called their home and soon began infesting your people as well.
The screen flashed bright, vibrant colors, then darkened to gray. It showed lush jungles, trees with leaves the size of a man, growing high into the sky and casting deep shadows on the forest floor. They crept over fallen tree trunks and slunk through high grass. The jungles were full of motion since animals were eating and mating and hunting.
The video changed to show trees turning gray and shedding their leaves as winter storms battered them. Their branches died and fell to the forest floor. The sky was white and gray, choked with pollution and endless smoke. Trees withered, embers rained down onto the land, and everything became ash on the earth.
People walked through this world. Some were sick with a disease that caused holes in their bodies that were filled with crawling insects and squirming black worms. Some changed into something else entirely. They mutated, becoming monstrous beasts with wings that carried them on updrafts, fins that propelled them through dark waters, or spiked skin.
The screen went dark, then flashed to a new scene, showing an enormous plant-like creature reaching up above the clouds to touch heaven itself.
He watched in horror as humans transformed into beings that could no longer be called human. Their skin turned black and extra limbs sprouted from their backs, or they transformed into serpents with a multitude of red eyes.
Others dissolved into puddles of black goo, and then a massive worm would form, with a single large oculus at the tip of its head. Others produced shells and grew five extra feet. Horns burst from their heads like blackened crowns.
They were joined by wolves and deer that transformed into terrifying versions of their former selves. The long snouts and thin mouths of the deer developed double rows of hooked teeth, and the skin pulled back on their skulls, leaving only long, twitching tendrils. The wolves’ fur grew upward into sharp spikes, and their legs bent in strange angles. All attacked and mutilated any nearby humans or animals to sate their newfound terrifying hunger.
Flocks of birds twisted into humanoid shapes with hawks’ beaks and faces that looked like pixies’. Centipedes, snakes, and cockroaches grew stingers for fangs, multitudes of eyes, and leathery wings, and there were beasts from nightmares.
For over a century, your kind fought the infected, but though your weapons and technologies allowed you to combat these horrors, they could not tame or cure them. You were forced to withdraw to the lands where the blight had yet to reach and build sanctuaries to hide yourselves, waiting for a time when you could reclaim your world.
The monsters were ravenous. They soon devoured any resources that remained in their lands and set their sights on these sanctuaries and the feast that lay within. Though your walls and weapons defended you from many attacks, they brought with them the same infection that turned them into monsters. It was not uncommon for you to win a battle only to be brought down by many of those seeking sanctuary as they became the very monsters from which they ran.
A video of a destroyed city covered in monsters shifted to an image of a gold pyramid with a halo of blue light around the top.
That is when the Engineer arrived, bringing with him his scientific vessel and the hope of salvation. This station was named Heaven’s Peak by humanity when it brought on board those who still had the will to fight and turned them into the hope for Earth’s future—the Guardians.
The monsters were pushed back by humans with amazing weapons and technology, facing beasts three times their size and matching or surpassing their strength, among other fantastic feats. Even with his mind still rattled, the boy knew this was far beyond what he could accomplish, what anyone could accomplish.
Seeing these Guardians in action made a warm glow spread in his body. He felt elated. Something about them inspired him, all the dread of seeing those monsters being pushed away in their presence.
Those with the potential to be Guardians are brought to Heaven’s Peak. It is here that those who can guide Earth back to its bright future are trained and prepared for their harrowing work. Not all succeed, but their sacrifice is an inspiration for their peers.
This was less like a history feature or documentary and more like an action movie.
Wait, what was that last part? His vision went dark, and the images disappeared. He was back in the room with Sims.
They breezed right past that last part. We will find out what it means to potentially be sacrificed for “the greater good” on September 20th when Heaven’s Peak: Be a Hero or Die Book 1 is released.