She looked confused, though I couldn’t imagine what I’d said that was in the least bit strange. I pressed her to speak her mind. “It’s just…you’re so different. You look just like them, and yet you’re… It’s hard to wrap my head around it. The enemy would find your idea laughable. The very notion of cultivating weakness and defects, rather than eradicating them.”
I objected to her characterization of it as “cultivating weakness”, though it wasn’t strictly untrue. Just an ugly way to put it. “Is that not the end result, though?” she queried. “If you intervene to save the lives of the congenitally helpless, will their numbers not increase until their collective burden crushes you?”
It shocked me to hear such talk from her, and I said so. “What of your ethos?” I demanded. “The scars which you do not heal? Was all of that for show?” She slowly raised one hand, and ran her fingers across a scar on her temple.
“No. We are just so few, not much thought is given to our future. I know of some who have had children, but others refuse, probably expecting that we will be found and exterminated soon.” The gravity of it briefly threw me off balance, but I wasn’t to be so easily distracted.
“Did you care for your disabled? Before the war, I mean. If not for the occupation and everything which followed, would you live any differently from them?” She quietly cogitated before answering.
“It is true, what you suspect. We were very much like them once. Not as brutal, but just as exclusionary. Yet I can say in truth that if there is a future for us on the other side of the coming conflict…if by some providence of the All-Good, we should prevail…I can promise you, we would not continue on as before.”
I studied her features as she spoke, but found them as impenetrable as ever. Next up, she had me practice disabling her own Vril staff. It was of course unable to harm me, being constrained to just the regenerative function.
“Though this is easier than moving objects because it requires only an instant of willful focus, it is altogether more crucial for your survival. This is because Vril staffs react at the speed of thought. If you do not first disable the enemy’s staff, even if you destroy him, he’ll have already communicated his desire to his own staff that it should destroy you as well.”
I’d have to get the drop on whoever I meant to attack, then. Disable their staff before they know I’m there, then they’d be at my mercy. At her instruction I first immolated a wide swathe of grass. She then set her own staff to slowly regenerate it, so that I could practice interrupting it.
“Does it hurt? If they were to vaporize me. Or is it so quick that I wouldn’t feel anything?” The feebleness in my voice betrayed my fear. She looked at my staff. Then off into the distance, as if searching for something.
“Of course, nobody knows. It can only happen to you once, and you can hardly tell anyone what it was like afterward. I hope it is as you say. That it’s so quick, there is no time to feel anything, even fear. That’s how my father…”
To my surprise, she trailed off here, and I spotted the glint of a tear in her eye. I apologized for stumbling into sensitive territory. “Of course you didn’t know. How could I assume that you did? It’s just…there was nothing left. When you vaporize with the Vril staff, there is nothing to bury.”
Come to think of it, graveyards were something else I hadn’t seen among the ruins. I offered to hug her. She said this and that about the urgency of my training, almost obnoxiously dutiful. But I persisted until she gave in, knelt down and embraced me.
It did more than anything before it to humanize them to me. Just being enveloped in the warmth or her arms wrapped around me, listening to the beating of her oversized heart. Sharing a moment of raw feeling with a creature far less different from us, all things considered, than I’d uncharitably imagined at certain points.
When I looked up at her face, her eyes were closed. I asked why. “Oh, it’s nothing. Well, no, not nothing, I just…” She glanced at me, then away. “It’s hard to look at you. Close up, I mean. A little bit painful if I’m honest.” I took offense, asking if humans are really so ugly to them.
“No! Not in the least. It’s just that you…you look so much like them. The ones who did all this.” She nodded to the ruins. “You look for all the world like a smaller version of them. I’m sorry, I know that’s not fair. It’s a reflexive feeling of fear and anger that you don’t deserve, and which has nothing to do with you as a person.”
What a curious notion, that something larger and stronger than I am could feel even a shred of fear upon looking at me. Being tall but slender, I’ve never felt like I could plausibly intimidate anybody. I’ve always been the one to feel that way, usually in the presence of men I don’t know on the train after dark, or some similar situation.
It made some sense, at least, of why she’d been so uneasy around me all this time. I wanted her not to be, but could imagine nothing I might say that would dissolve the association. To think, that even such brilliant minds could be afflicted with that sort of ingrained bias.
My first few attempts to vaporize test objects didn’t go as well as they could’ve. Drena clarified after the fact that the amount of light and heat released by the abrupt dissolution of atomic bonds can be painful at close range, as if I didn’t just learn the hard way.
It turned out that on top of vaporizing the target, one must also create a field around it which contains the heat and filters the light, existing only for the fraction of a second it’s necessary. The combined effect is a sort of muffled “whoomf”, a dull flash which fills out a spherical shape, then a foul odor.
No smoke, which surprised me until I dwelled on what it meant to fully vaporize something…or someone, for that matter. I briefly panicked, worried that simply thinking about it could trigger the staff, but the threshold of intentionality necessary for such an action is high indeed.
I then wondered if there might also be embedded protections against suicidal commands, though I elected not to test it. “You learn quickly” Drena opined, leaving me to wonder whether she’d omitted “…for a human”. Perhaps just projecting my own feelings of inadequacy onto her, though.
“Are there any on the surface who still believe as the enemy does?” The question must’ve been percolating in her hindbrain since we discussed disability, as it now seemed to come out of the blue. Perhaps she felt I’d been heaping judgement on her and the others, wanting now to turn the microscope back on me.
“I suppose. I’d like to say their numbers steeply fell after the conclusion of the second world war, but that’s wishful thinking. They’ve just gone into hiding, though they’re not even very good at it. Doesn’t take much to make them show their hand, as it’s always boiling just under the surface.
The overall trend for developed nations is towards total inclusion. To accommodate the widest variety of people, including every type of disability, cost be damned. Some still say this is “cultivating defects” as you put it, that we will one day be crushed beneath the ever-growing burden.
They dare not say it too loud, though. They already made their move, and lost. Now I think that whole subset of society hopes instead to “opt out”. They no longer want to participate in a society they believe is on a doomed trajectory.
But nobody can be allowed to opt out. Equality is unattainable unless everybody compromises on everything, even the content of our own genomes. We have to embrace the process, let it change us until the superficial differences such people fight to preserve are destroyed forever. Blended out of existence.
Do you see how even a small population existing outside of this process, remaining unchanged by it, would subvert the whole thing? A persistent, living example of what we used to be. Preventing new generations from growing up in a world where no visibly distinct subgroups of humanity exist.
The contrast between a population of strong, healthy, able bodied humans which dedicates its resources towards conventional notions of technological and military excellence and one which instead focuses on attaining high diversity, supporting a large subpopulation or even majority of disabled citizens would be impossible to ignore.
It would appear, to someone with a certain narrow definition of excellence, as if we’d intentionally made ourselves weaker in all respects. Less socially cohesive, less able to organize, less intelligent, less physically capable, bringing absolutely everybody down to the level of the sickest and least proficient citizen.
Worse still if that separatist group should grow in numbers, building up its military, then attacking inclusive nations. Without an equivalent healthcare and educational burden, they would have more resources by far to put towards defeating us.
By comparison, the free and inclusive nations of the world would be lethargic, weighed down by the substantial percentage of their populations which are wholly dependent and contribute nothing.
This strategic imbalance is worsened still further if genetic engineering is forbidden in inclusive nations, but widely practiced by the separatists. I don’t have to tell you how rapidly genetic engineering can turn the tables.
The Chinese government has been moving in that direction in recent years. The current geopolitical situation is such that they aren’t a credible threat to the United States, but that could change should they raise up a generation of genetically enhanced scientists, engineers and tacticians.
Japan, meanwhile, has been stubbornly maintaining hereditary distinctiveness by refusing to allow immigrants to become a significant percentage of its population. Though America has always defined itself as a sort of experimental melting pot, and many European countries have followed suit in recent decades, Japan just indifferently rides it out. As if it’s a fad that will one day blow over.
Russia has also retreated from the ideal of inclusion in recent years, perhaps associating it with Communism, another form of “grand equalization” which required total participation. Given the outcome of that project in Russia, their reflexive aversion to anything remotely connected to it is understandable, if short sighted and cruel.
Those elements certainly still exist. No modern human organization takes it to the same extreme as the sculpted nordic monstrosities which destroyed your home, but that general mode of thinking also did not originate with them. World war two was only its eruption and fullest expression, it had been gestating in our hearts for centuries prior to that.”
Stay Tuned for Part 21!