The Second Explorers

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Something slithers over my foot and disappears into the jungle’s cover. An explosion of colour flutters over me as a strange beast shrieks somewhere in the distance.

The jungle has its own life: dark and steamy, wet and clammy. It clings to me like a haunting, primal image that I will remember for years to come in the warm, dry and safe comfort of my home. My home that is far, far away.

If I survive the jungle.

Every now and then the sunshine cuts through the canopy above me. The flashes of light temporarily blind me, but then the wet, jungle darkness rushes quickly back. Its humidity covers me as its noise washes all over me. Strange sounds hiss and scatter and hum around me as a chorus of animalistic howls begin somewhere out there in the jungle. Insects are constantly buzzing around me louder than rush hour traffic. Suddenly other howls strike up all around me, like a primal chorus erupting from deep inside the dense foliage.

And then the howls disappear as quickly and mysteriously as they erupted. An explosion of colour flies overhead, as a strange bird darts between trees and vines before disappearing from my view.

My hands are wet. I am covered in sweat and mud, and even the steel blade in my hand seems almost too hot to hold. It is almost too heavy to carry, but it is too important to drop.

And my aching arm goes up.

And my aching arm goes down.

The vines and twisted vegetation fall—inch by inch—under the blade, allowing my slow advance through the jungle. I briefly wonder if the first explorers had gone this way? Had ancient man faced this jungle with the same mixture of disgust and fear as wells up in me? How had he kept on moving forward in the face of this?

And my aching right foot moves forward.

Then my aching left foot.

Foot by foot.

Inch by inch.

And so I move forward.

Something slithers over my foot and disappears into the jungle’s cover. A hiss follows its disappearing form. An eruption of feathers and movement flutters over me as a strange beast shrieks somewhere in the distance. The insect choir lifts a temporary harmony as its buzzing intensifies.

My breath is sticky and I lick my lips. I take a last small sip of the last of my clean water. This land is still spoilt and its ground water still tainted by the original fallout. So I cannot drink any of its waters nor eat of its fruits. At least I have been able to save my rations this far due to the sacrifices of my companions along the way.

My aching arm goes up. Steel flashes in sudden sunlight as my aching arm goes down. The vines fall temporarily away and I push forward, inch by inch.

Step by aching step.

All my technology has failed me. My transport crashed and broken, my power sources are all gone, my med-packs used up and my mask blocked by filth and cast aside. I savour a grim smile, as the first explorers had no more to use than what I carry now.

If they could get here, then so can I.

The rain comes at night. It always does. Not a trickle, but a flood of beating angry water attacking the land and its miserable inhabitants. I take shelter under a large strange leaf of some unidentified plant and try to find warmth in thoughts of home.

Home?

Home seems so far away as to be nothing more than a dream. Thoughts of its seem alien in my mind, as a dry, warm and safe oasis at the edge of reality and far from the sticky, dangerous jungle.

At least the jungle’s life also seem to take shelter from the rain. The strange howls and hisses around me have disappeared. The insects have all disappeared or been drowned? I do not know. There exists only the beating, pounding roar of the rain on endless miles of jungle foliage.

I try to ignore the last thought, but it is no use. I cannot sleep.

Eventually, the rain stops and then there is just darkness. A deathly darkness before the dawn’s moist red eye rears its head through the jungle heights. A welcome light in a fatally wild land still steeped in man’s past folly.

Step by aching step.

Foot by aching foot.

Aching arm up and aching arm down. Inch by inch, I keep moving forward.

Suddenly, I am no longer in the jungle! I have burst out into a clearing of sorts!

The mud behind me has given way to the strange black rock that ancient man used to build his walkways from. It is cracked and warped where it runs, but its direction leads my eyes to the structures dotted along its path.

The old people’s dwellings lie here. Forgotten. Abandoned by mankind, but still unclaimed by all but few jungle vines and errant foliage. It is empty and dark, but I can almost imagine ancient man moving up and down these roads in their ancient land machines running on hydrocarbons and basic power sources. Children running laughing along with these streets as men and women went through their day to day rituals.

Like in a dream I wander down that cracked forgotten road.

I pass by rusted signs and poles written in the ancient tongues. Some of the land machine’s rusting carcasses lie scattered along the way. I pass a strange domed building on my left where I believe ancient man worshiped his primitive god, represented by a cross with a stretched bottom vertical.

And then I am in the centre of the skeleton of that city: a tall frame of rusting iron spirals upwards. Ancient man ruled from here. He ruled from these great architectures of control as his world connected across ancient machine-based networks.

And so I climb up it’s crumbling, ancient form.

Endless worn stairs later, I am standing on the top of the architectural skeleton and gazing down at the remains of the city below me. My breath is taken away and, finally, the steel blade in my hand clatters to the ground.

But I barely notice it. The insects are forgotten and the jungle is out of my mind. Even the sweat, mud and filth covering me does not matter.

The sight before me is so amazing, so unique and so vast. I do not have any words for it. Our world that lives in concrete tunnels below the earth has forgotten the right words used to describe something so vast! The crumbling remains of the city spread out beyond my very field of vision. It so huge and endless that even the jungle seems to fear its size.

I do not think we realize how large ancient mankind really was. None of the old tales have truly captured quite how vast his control and dominance of this world was. The size of the remains of just this single city implies how many thousand–no!–millions of ancient people must have lived here.

And suddenly it dawns on me exactly how devastating the nuclear bombs and resulting fallout must truly have been to completely destroy New York and end its ancient civilisation.

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