An entire society, armed to the teeth at all times. Every man, woman and child equipped to take on the armies of the surface world on their own, and plausibly come out on top. You might be able to squeeze off a round before your target disassociated the atoms in your body, but the AI in their staff would never allow the bullet to reach its bearer.
It remained a question mark in my mind whether even a direct nuclear strike could overcome the defensive capabilities of the staff. I supposed it would come down to exhausting the damn thing’s Vril supply with nuke after nuke, by which point you’ve have destroyed many times over the world you meant to save from these monsters.
These children, rather. At once children and monsters, though they did not see themselves that way any more than their parents did. Monsters don’t know they’re monsters, or if they do, they see nothing wrong with it.
If not for them, these warm, lush fields would’ve been idyllic. A gentle wind sent ripples through the grass. In the distance I could see unattended humans running about, frolicking or chasing small animals of some sort.
It could be paradise, if only humans were still at the top of the food chain. If only there weren’t a whole fucking city full of super powered narcissistic psychopaths behind me. I teared up. Why now, I couldn’t tell you. Delayed shock, perhaps? The full realization of what it meant that we failed to take out the black sun, and what the rest of my life would be as a consequence.
Never has failure tasted so bitter. I asked my owner how long she planned to be out here. The rest of the children stopped what they were doing and stared in shock. She hastily intervened, babbling something or other to them in her native tongue.
Probably something like “It’s fine, I let her speak whenever she likes. It’s funny how stupid she is.” She was less forgiving than I hoped, though. Aiming her forearm Vril staff at me, she narrowed her eyes, and all of a sudden I was paralyzed with pain.
I writhed helplessly in the dirt, losing control of my bowels in the process. The other humans turned to watch, fear in their eyes, but did not stop going about their mock routines. Smarter than I was, in retrospect. Wiser to the rules of this place.
To my surprise, on the way home she apologized to me. It was the first sign of warmth from her, and it contrasted so severely with everything she’d done until then that I wondered if she was up to something. She took the soiled clothing out of my carrier and used her staff to clean my body.
“I just couldn’t have you disrespecting me in front of my friends. Of course you understand.” I grit my teeth. “Of course.” I really did hope to break myself of the habit, though. The more comfortable she became taking me outside, the sooner I might get a chance to search for the buried staff.
Like a dog searching for its bone. Except that in my case, should I find it, I would no longer be the dog. Thereafter I always made a show of sticking close to my master, whose name she soon revealed was “Shkinta”.
It took a few weeks but she eventually stopped bothering to put me on any sort of lead, and let me walk alongside her rather than riding in my mobile carrier. I would occasionally see other humans scooting along in their hovering transparent carriers just behind their owners and give them a sympathetic look, which I hoped would escape Shkinta’s notice.
How many came from the surface? Or were they all born and bred down here, like Trevor? At least then it would be all they ever knew. Humans though they are, the world I came from would be as terrifying and bizarre to them as theirs is to me.
One morning, I awoke to see humans just outside of my enclosure. I shouted excitedly at them, pounding on the transparent barrier. They apparently couldn’t see or hear me. One of them tackled another, tearing off his funny costume and trying to wear it.
I heard Shkinta’s laughter, though she was on the side of the room I couldn’t see while inside of my habitat. The human figures abruptly dissolved, and I gradually figured out it had just been a recording of some sort. I recalled the solid forms displayed in the doctor’s office.
Shkinta peered into my little mock house from the corner, deriving obvious amusement from my reaction. I did not try to deprive her of it, as I might’ve even a week ago, but instead crossed my arms and pouted.
I discovered that if I just gave her the reactions she wanted, it softened her up bit by bit. It’s how I got her to let me accompany her outside without my carrier, and why she occasionally let me out of my enclosure to freely roam about inside her room.
She browsed through a number of other similar recordings, all of humans doing silly things. Some attempting to jump a gap but falling because they misjudged the distance. Others riding around on the backs of those pale golden automatons as their owner chatters excitedly.
The next recording showed a human affectionately clinging to an adult gy-ei’s arm. “Why can’t you be more like that?” Shkinta muttered, casting me a sidelong glance. I wanted to answer, but had nothing to say that wouldn’t undermine my efforts to ingratiate myself to her.
She then opened a recording one of her friends must’ve sent her. The solid, opaque projection of the boy’s immaculately sculpted face appeared three times life size. Even so, I could see nothing resembling a blemish or any other flaw.
The face spoke to her, on what topic I could not discern. But the more she watched, the more her expression shifted. By the end, she was tearing up. I’d not yet seen her cry, and the discovery that these creatures were even possible to upset came as something of a shock to me.
She closed out of the recording and flopped on her bed, a sort of curvilinear nest of velvety cushions integrated into one corner of the room. Despite everything, it was uncomfortable to watch a girl her age crying.
Eventually I started pounding on the barrier to get her attention. She ignored it for a time, but I did not relent until she got up and came over to see what the fuss was about. Eyes still red and puffy, she demanded that I be quiet.
I asked why she was upset. She scowled at me, but only for a moment. I assume because my question caused her to reflect on the contents of the recording, she again burst into tears. “He’s an arn from my class” she confessed.
I imagined I could work out most of it from there, but it was rare to have her at a disadvantage. So I continued questioning her, and as I hoped, she overshared. “His educational track diverged from mine recently. He’ll be continuing on to polydimensional wave physics next year, while I’m going on to intramolecular charge manipulation.”
Different specialties meant different classes. “You’re young” I said, “it probably seems like this stage of your life is all there is. All there ever will be. I remember how middleschool was my whole world, once upon a time. But it’s not as if you two are moving to different planets. You can still stay in touch outside of school, and once you’ve completed your education, your options for spending time together will expand considerably.”
She blinked, wiping away her tears. “In fact our education never ends. But that’s surprisingly insightful, considering.” Again I wished for the power to slap the shit out of her and escape with my life. But still, it was unmistakably a step forward.
She opened up the transparent barrier and approached me. I withdrew instinctively, unsure what she wanted. “I just want to hold you for a little bit.” Her voice wavered. I caved in and allowed it, curling up awkwardly in the lap of a creature not much larger than myself as she brushed my hair.
“Where did you come from? On the surface world, I mean. Was your province a greater or a lesser one?” I answered as best I could given the vague parameters, admitting that the United States does have the strongest military on Earth at the moment.
“Why didn’t you just say that? It’s the strongest, so it’s the greatest. Those two are the same thing.” I reflected on that notion for a bit. “I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that you would think so” I answered, “but from my point of view, it suggests that your heart is in poor shape indeed.”
Stay Tuned for Part 36!