I started from the southernmost shore of Barbados, followed the ocean floor until I sensed the edge of the Great Shield. I plunged deep into the Earth until I reached the ten mile limit, cut over, and terraported us back up. The heat and pressure were intense, but I was just tough enough to take it. I jumped us to the top of a rocky sea-side cliff where I sensed no people.
We let Hitchhiker and Shoggoth recover for a few minutes. I looked out across the land, taking in the rolling grassy hills and eventual forest. I know we were somewhere in the African part of the continent, but had long ago forgotten where the old geopolitical borders were. I only knew Kilika was still thousands of miles away, and that Xyla and Yrba’s citadel was located in the center of the supercontinent.
I blinked in the light of the Great Shield. The force field formed a miles-high dome over New Gondwana, high enough to allow clouds to still form. Heat and light from the sun were filtered through, somehow, to ensure that plants didn’t die off, but day or night, the shield glowed with a soft pink light, casting the world in an omnipresent hue. It was brighter during the day, but even at night, it created enough ambient glow to see by easily. The glow only dulled somewhat when clouds blocked the sky, and even then, the clouds themselves sometimes glowed pink.
It made it difficult to tell the time of day sometimes, and the contained weather never seemed to change. With the loss of reliable technology, it became all too easy to forget what day it was, what time of year, or what hour. People had gotten used to going by what their body’s rhythms and habits told them, but it still contributed to the oppressive feeling upon the populace.
I wasn’t planning on giving my companions the grand tour. There wasn’t much to see. Across the entire continent, civilization had been blasted back to the Stone Age. We Ten Queens and their superhuman armies toppled cities, burned towns, and destroyed nearly all means of industry. I personally had sunk cities into the ground at Xyla’s behest. It sickened me to remember such things. I wanted to say my youth had led me to be easily manipulated, but the truth is, I was too scared to defy Xyla and Yrba. Even though my power had been used to create the supercontinent, it was they who had actually enabled me to do so. And most of the other men and women working with them would have happily killed me in an instant if I’d voiced dissension, as some had done. So I helped them turn developing and developed nations into shattered wastelands.
The only places still allowed running water, gas, and electricity were the cities that the Ten Queens had chosen as the capitals of their territory. Even here, such utilities were kept running through the use of superhuman resources. The Queen, her most ass-kissing superhuman loyalists, and their most sniveling and devout human followers, enjoyed the luxuries of modern civilization, while everyone else on the continent was left to fend for themselves. The Queens didn’t truly rule, so much as just bossed around other superhumans, who in turn just bullied the humans into compliance.
The human populace was forced to live as peasants, subsistence farmers and game hunters, serving a superhuman nobility. Humans effectively had no rights, save those that their overlords allowed them at a given moment. A superhuman could take and use a human in any way they saw fit, and if anyone tried to stop them, they would be killed.
The few times humans did manage to kill a superhuman, the perpetrators would be hunted down by other supers and they and their entire families murdered. The bodies would be burned alive or hung and left to rot in high-traffic areas of the killer’s hometown. People quickly got the message, and now, almost no one dared to oppose their cruel masters.
I hadn’t been much better. That fact that I had directly killed considerably fewer people than any other Queen did little to alleviate the guilt.
The point of all the senseless destruction and random death had been simple: to make life miserable for the population, but give them the option to access one of the two Doorways still within the continent’s borders. Anyone had the opportunity to become a superhuman, if they dared to try the odds. No one, human or superhuman, was allowed to stop anyone who wanted to make the trip.
At the time, I had believed in Xyla and Yrba’s gospel that the Doorways had been divine gateways, that those of us sent back were servants to a higher power that wanted mankind to ascend. I had asked her, if she wanted everyone to enter them, why not just force the population through? I could easily just terraport people to the Doorway entrance and push them through, one at a time.
She said it had been tried before, but it had not worked. Only those who willingly entered would be found worthy. The courageous. The curious. The desperate. It was our job to make them want to go in.
I hadn’t fully understood it at the time, but she was the boss, and I wasn’t about to defy her. So I did my part. I punished the humans who displeased me. I preached to crowds in my Queendom of how their suffering was necessary to purify their wicked mortality, which could only be cleansed by the Doorway.
Knowing what I did now, it was clear it was all a set up to essentially force people into the arms of the Masters. Maybe there was something about being forced versus going in willingly that made the Masters prefer the latter. Maybe, if a person went in with a sense of purpose, some sort of desire, that feeling was what the Masters could better twist to their own ends. Take a person who already had aspirations of glory or discovery or revenge, and tweak those motivations into a drive for conquest.
Those who were forced into the Doorways, meanwhile, those who wanted only safety and responded only with fear to the unknown, perhaps that particular mental state was much more difficult to harness. Maybe those forced in broke the programming much more easily.
Thinking of it that way, it would certainly explain why so many more women returned than men. The innate male drive for conflict and victory would be much more useful to the Masters than the innate female drive for nurture and security. I’m sure some people, men and women alike, would be offended by such a theory, but it made sense to me. God knows I’d only gone in because I thought it was better to take a gamble at empowerment than a guaranteed fate of starving to death in a gutter. When I came back out, I’d gone along with Xyla and Yrba because I wanted the protection of the most powerful gang of supers I could find. I just hadn’t realized how bad it was going to get.
Why didn’t those who suffered try to stop the Queens? Many had tried, but no matter how powerful they were, no superhuman had been able to topple the oppressive system. Xyla and Yrba called all the shots, and had the deadliest of the Queens ready to kill for them. If you went into the Doorways hoping to come out an avenging hero, you got destroyed before you could even get started, leaving only those with the ambition to aid in the system alive to enforce it.
Moreover, the two head tyrants never left their fortress, a floating citadel forged by superhuman power in the center of the continent, right above the mountain range formed by the joining of the two landmasses. The massive structure was protected by a smaller, yet no less impervious, version of the continental force field. No one but the Queens had access to them, while the two could unleash waves of their own clones to the outside world to enforce their power of rule.
As I described all this to my teammates, they wondered if maybe this system was conceived of because perhaps previous attempts had failed. The whole New Gondwana concept had been rather too well planned. In hindsight, while me joining them and helping them out to form the supercontinent had most likely just been serendipity for them, they had already seemed to have everything worked out ahead of time.
It was possible that Xyla and Yrba had not forgotten their time with the Masters, unlike the rest of us. That maybe all of this was part of a programmed mission. Hitchhiker, upon reflection, wondered if maybe Ghostwalker had been another agent of theirs. The leader of the Fantasmas de Medianoches had claimed to want to save society from the cartels, but his efforts had been so destructive, he had caused more direct damage than the cartels ever had, prompting people to risk the Doorways in California and the Yucatan.
Echo’s Stilettos had sometimes been sent overseas to interfere with the expansion efforts of Russia, China, and the newly formed Arabian Empire. The three countries had been gradually spreading their power by forcing compromising deals on neighboring nations. Tensions had been rising until Europe, India, Japan, and Australia had become worried enough to prepare for what seemed an inevitable Third World War. Had the Extinction Wave never occurred, the world could have ended up in the midst of a nuclear holocaust, where the only guarantee of survival would be risking the attempt at superhumanity.
Even the Shadow Queen, the world’s first real super villain, could have been an early first attempt by the Masters to begin the world of chaos that would bring humanity to them. It was all speculation, of course. But sometimes even conspiracy theories can make a little too much sense.
Whether we had hit the nail on the head or were completely off base didn’t matter. New Gondwana was the last remaining place that still had active Doorways, and they were still sending thousands, if not millions, through every year. God only knew how many more worlds were going to suffer and die because humanity fell for this insidious trap.
We really only had one shot at this. I knew Kilika, more than almost any other Queen, had Xyla and Yrba’s trust. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Eater of Souls was in on the whole thing. After her, Ojau was our best bet for a back-up. We would use them to gain access to the citadel, and take it apart from the inside.
It wouldn’t make up for everything I’d help them do. But maybe, just maybe, it would begin the process of setting things right.