Two pilgrims, having reached the required, advanced age, made their earned pilgrimage, their legs adjusting to the exertions required by the landscape. Their meeting was odd given the solitary expectation of the journey, but they shook hands after their manner. Each told his recollection of the story—of the ring more than a mile round, buried just below the surface of the earth—to the other before returning to the journey anew, modifying his trajectory by one-tenth of a degree, so as to ensure that they would never meet again.
1° “The ring was a subterranean energy generation plant supporting a utopian community. The plant used an artificial process of photosynthesis, relying only on the sun, to create an abundance of clean energy. Above ground, the photosynthetic run-off fertilized the landscape, yielding further abundance to the community. All members of the settlement—ages seven and above—were free to reaffirm or renounce their place in the group at any time. They emphasized education throughout the life of an individual and of the community as a whole. Most of their laws had a five-year expiration date, a limit that forced each generation to take responsibility for its own mode of governance. While the rest of the world went to the flame, their isle thrived.”
2° “The ring was an elaborate bunker. When it had become obvious that things had made an inevitable turn, construction began. The community chose the plain for its proximity to nothing, for its isolation. Resolute, they excavated a massive area, reusing what materials they could, to create a fortified shelter that would house them all. It was an island, a life raft of and for the future. When it was nearly completed, the group formally discussed the circumstances and manner in which the ring would be used as a permanent shelter. Everyone was aware that it had been created expressly for the purpose of salvation, but no one wanted to resort to its use until the moment of necessity. In spite of their reasoned planning, however, the group sealed itself in almost immediately after the ring’s completion on the news of a nearby natural disaster. Why wait, they asked each other, if the eventual outcome is inevitable?” One suspects that, ever since his youth, this Northerner has dreamed of walking through the main common aisle of that subterranean ruin.
They may have stood above it then, or weeks later, for all they knew, it just half a body-length below their feet, the shifted earth concealing from them what they most desired, as it ran in a sealed, perpetual loop. Meanwhile, both pilgrims—along with those who came before and would come long after them—drew what they could of their predecessors from the terrestrial relics that lay about.