I pointed accusingly at her. “Then you’re evil.” She laughed. “Finally, a joke! But I am only evil by the self-serving standards of a human. You also define good or evil according to what works for or against your own interests. You will probably deny this but only because of the extent to which you deceive yourselves about it.”
I denied that her assessment was true. “We give over parts of nature as habitat for species less intelligent than we are!” I protested. Now sitting cross legged just on the other side of the barrier, she eased herself back a little bit before responding. “Because you want it that way. It makes you feel good. Those creatures still have no power of self-determination while humans exist, and you see nothing wrong with that arrangement.”
It seemed absurd that she should shame us for not wanting to live under the rule of gorillas, elephants or some other non-technological species, and I said as much. “Then how can you complain about being subject to my will?” she asked.
“That’s different. I’m not a gorilla or an elephant. I’m self aware. I’m intelligent.” She smiled again, in that uniquely infuriating way. “Intelligence is not a binary, but a spectrum. As is consciousness, for that matter. You are indeed more aware and intellectually capable than those species, based on what I know about them. But I am at least as far beyond you as you are beyond them. Why should you not be subject to my will?”
I explained that humans were just above the threshold of awareness required to be defined as a person, morally and legally. This time she outright scoffed at me. “Who decided where to draw that line? It was humans, wasn’t it? Oh, what a coincidence that humans make the cut, where nothing else on the surface of the Earth does! What are the odds of that? One hundred percent, I think.”
She giggled to herself, terribly tickled by the development while I fantasized about cutting her throat ear to ear. She at least could not read my mind, so far as I could tell. “That’s not fair. There’s something real, something morally important about the degree of mental development present in humans but not in other animals.”
She only giggled more. “Oh no, it’s not “fair”! Fairness is another thing you probably don’t realize you define in a deeply self-serving way. Let me guess, fairness is when you get the outcome you want, isn’t it? Under the assumption whoever you compete with is your equal, and that if you fail, it cannot simply be because you’re inferior.”
I objected that it was irrelevant to the topic. Her giggling died down, and she became suddenly serious. “It cannot be, because I’m the one who decides what the topic is from moment to moment. If you become confused about that, ask me and I’ll set you straight.”
This fucking kid. I kept reaching instinctively for a Vril staff that wasn’t there. It turned out to be a pattern, too. Whenever I took the conversation in a direction she didn’t like, she would just talk past me, saying whatever she wanted to.
Sometimes she’d just sit there quietly as I ranted, then say something which did not address any of it or even acknowledge I was the one she was talking to. Like “The frustrated mewlings of an inferior creature”. She became especially obstinate when I disputed the coherence of concepts like “superior” and “inferior”.
“The meaning of superior depends entirely on what one values” I argued. “Fish might define us as inferior because we’re poor swimmers by comparison. Birds might do the same because we cannot fly.” She asked which area humans exceed in that her own people fall short.
“You’re missing the point!” I sputtered, but she pressed the matter. “Are we not stronger than you? Are we not faster? Are we not smarter, and more beautiful?” I replied that she was beautiful only to human eyes, and then only by the currently prevailing standards of beauty.
That’s when it occurred to me. “…You want our envy, don’t you?” She stared. Flummoxed, maybe? “Why else would you remake yourselves according to a human racial ideal? You want us to look upon you and fall in love. To hate ourselves for not measuring up. We are your audience, aren’t we?”
She turned away from the barrier. I felt sure I was onto something. “What would you do without us? Who would you show off to? Who would you feel superior to, that is able to understand that feeling and experience humiliation because of it?”
She shut off the lights, climbed into bed and fell asleep. I shouted until she somehow altered the properties of the enclosure with her mind such that my voice reverberated around the interior, failing to penetrate the transparent barrier or walls. It seemed she was done with me for the time being.
I was neglected for a few days after that. The servitors continued to ensure I had all the food and water I needed, but the girl didn’t so much as look at me while going about her own daily routine. Was she busy, or contemplating what I said? Maybe some of each.
When she next turned her attention to me, it was to remove me from my habitat and place me in the pet carrier. I objected that I could walk just fine and didn’t appreciate being confined. She replied that she didn’t trust me not to run off yet, but that I’d have ample opportunity to get out and stretch my legs soon enough.
I didn’t like the sound of that. But it was a chance to go outside, insofar as the Earth’s interior can be described as “outside” of anything within it. Fresh air is fresh air, and beggars cannot be choosers.
She surprised me by showing up to a gathering of other children which looked to be her own age, all with pet carriers of their own. The gathering took place in the middle of a field just outside the gates of the city.
Here, they’d assembled crude representations of scenes from the surface world. All scaled appropriately for human use, they ran the gamut from police stations to schools, from grocery stores to hospitals.
None of them were complete, nor properly functional. Something like stagecraft, or playsets for dolls. That’s when I worked out that I and the other humans were going to be the dolls. It was pretty close to the truth.
We weren’t physically forced to walk about and inhabit the partially formed structures but rather set loose, then watched by expectant eyes. Hoping, I figured, that once placed within a recognizable facsimile of our “natural habitat” we’d mistake it for the real thing and try to resume our old lives.
None of us were that stupid. Instead it was because the others were smart enough to know their welfare depended on it that they behaved according to their owner’s expectations, regardless of how absurd it all was.
As I watched, they donned costumes corresponding to the sets, then began acting out scenes of everyday life. The one dressed as a police officer chased down and mock-arrested the one dressed as a burglar. The one dressed as a teacher lectured three who were dressed as school children.
My owner nudged me towards them. I glanced around hoping I’d spot an opportunity to escape, but there were too many of them…and they all wore shortened Vril staffs clipped to their right forearms. Even if I could disable those horrid things, I wouldn’t get far.
The design of their Vril staffs seemed designed to prevent it, anyway. The staffs I was familiar with could be knocked out of the hands of the unwary. These ones could not be unfastened from the forearm before the wearer effectively willed his or her attacker out of existence.
Perhaps that’s why the adults carry traditional staffs, being experienced and responsible enough that they cannot easily be caught off guard in that way, but they do not trust their children to be so constantly vigilant.
Even so, it seemed insane to let children possess something so powerful at all. Like those Southern and Midwestern families who give their children rifles for Christmas and go shooting as a family activity, only to wind up in the news when the all-too predictable tragedy occurs.
Stay Tuned for Part 35!