“I know your face.” whispered the tiny woman as Nathan passed her workstation. He glanced at her cube, where she was manipulating objects in her field. He looked at her field and nodded.
“You do good work here.” Please, he thought, take the warning. He flicked a signal with his left hand, asking her to be silent. Then he noticed the mark on the back of her neck and he knew that she was new and hadn’t had enough time to learn all the hand signs, which were taught in secret, slowly passed from prisoner to prisoner. The tattooed mark told Nathan that the woman had only been here for a few weeks, that she had been arrested for civil disobedience and undermining the government. The mark told him that this tiny bronze woman had two children.
“There are those of us that remember, your movement has not died.” she said, taking one hand out of the field, dropping the virtual object she had been manipulating.
“I’m an overseer. We are criminals. We are nothing now.”
“They say it was you, not Elina who lead the campaign. They love you.”
Elina, the voice of the revolution. Nathan shivered hearing her name, and the memories it brought with it. “Stop.” Nathan begged.
Her voice rose, a powerful alto, ringing in the stone hall. “Isra will be free. The so-called union of planets cannot stop us. The people believe in freedom! ”
A loud, deep voice boomed up from the floor, the computer had caught their conversation “Resident 204-3318, you have been noted for unrelated work discussion and you are hereby summoned for recoding.” The floor beneath the woman became suddenly soft and she fell from her stool. Nathan stepped back from the warm flood. The woman cried out and scrabbled for a handhold, but everything she touched melted under her fingers. She called to him as she sank into the floor.
“They write your name on the city walls! They sing, they are singing! Isra! Isra!” The woman was suddenly yanked downwards, her eyes still open as the floor consumed her.
Nathans cheek was bleeding in his mouth. He forced himself to breathe and when the floor cooled and hardened he turned and left, ignoring the hand signals of the workers around him.
“Tend to your duties.” he said, surprised at how cold his voice sounded.
There was a certain quiet to this planet. The millions of years had led to a malfunction of tectonic waves on Ritus-112. Plates shifted and now allowed the sight of black igneous rock. which spanned the wide crevice at the depths of what used to be a Class 3 water mass.
A being with neither a spine nor eyes could feel as the tools melted through the rock to expose any unclassified organic material. Ritus-112 could sense past the rock, but the effort was one that he had chosen not to take. Soon enough the Illumna would have its answer.
One red stain against a sea of black would spread into the cracks and alert the hovering being. Its skin made of light shifted as its attention gathered towards the area of red. For weeks they had excavated numerous unnatural formations with only a Level 2 category of complexity. Most of the history of the planet had been lost millions of years ago, but some things remained. In the dirt, which had spent cells of radiation injected into most particles, they found the outlines of creatures that once created.
All that were aware of the Illumna knew that any being that had the power to create was something of a wonder, so they sought out any single organic cell that had not been reduced to the living status of the beings on the planet; insentient carbon. Coming upon the spot of red, Ritus-112’s form fluctuated to appear most pleased with the findings.
Already, it had begun to dissect the impure from the pure and to find logic at the speed of existence. The code had been unlocked because Ritus-112 knew it would be simple. A being made up of the models of existence was small, but still holding organic material. While the host specimen was quite dead, a containment receptacle upon its back held the base compound for the creators.
After the code had been unlocked, Ritus-112 began to energize the construction by borrowing from the light-stream. Its essence began to shimmer, then filter through the tools into the droplets of organic material. Soon there would be a rise in the heat to accelerate the replication process. A structure-built form that built amplifications which in turn built perception and awareness.
Before the being had even awoken, Ritus-112 had read its every thought, known its every memory. The receptacle would be called the mosquito, and the creator would call itselfâ€¦ human.
Sol lived with her guardians on a lake of ice. Every day she would strap on skates and push her way across a mile wide lake to her school, which was inside a giant crystal dome. All the children on her ice world were guarded by slim solemn men and women who watched each other as fiercely as they watched the children.
Today was eighth day, Shipfall, when the white ships would land from the sky and bring food, supplies and teachers with new stories and games. Many students had one or more teachers just for them, and each student learned different things. Sol was the only one who seemed to get a taste of everything. She didn’t have nearly as work as Lussurioso, the small boy with gold skin, nor did she have as much freedom as slender WanWen, who ran around the compound like a wild child.
She stuck her hands in her pockets and felt for the paper note that Lussurioso had slipped her. All it said was: Second floor bathroom, Shipfall. She didn’t know how Lussurioso was going to meet her, since kids weren’t allowed in the bathrooms together. Still, her curiosity got the best of her, and she wanted to know what Lussurioso had to tell her. Lussurioso thought of the best strategies in the games they played. Although he wasn’t athletic, everyone always wanted him on their team.
The guards waited outside while she went into the bathroom. She ran some warm water over her stiff hands and watched the door. She should have known better. A ceiling tile moved, and she jumped.
“Lussurioso?” she whispered.
The ceiling tile was pulled away, to reveal the golden face of Lussurioso.
“Sol. We have to talk.”
She dried her hands on her coat. “Sure. Where are your guardians?”
Lussurioso smirked. “I ditched them. They are waiting outside the bathroom in the next hall. I’ve been taking long bathroom breaks for a while now, reading books while in there, trying to build up their tolerance so they wouldn’t suspect anything when we had this meeting.”
Sol’s eyes went wide. “You’ve been planning for this?”
“For months, yes.” Lussurioso swung his legs down from the ceiling tile, on to an outcropping in the wall. He leaped, landing silently on the stone floor.
“Whoa! I didn’t know you could move like that! Why don’t you do that kind of stuff in the games?”
Lussurioso shrugged. Standing next to Sol, he only came up to her armpit. “I think you’ll find Sol, that sometimes it’s best to hide some of your abilities.”
“What do you want to talk to me about?”
“About you, and me, and why we are here. Why we don’t see our parents and why we play all these games.”
“We’re being educated.”
“Yes. We are. But I get to read more than you, and most children aren’t taught like this. Most children live with their families, they are not sent away to ice worlds.”
“Our parents want us to have the best education, and this is the best school.”
“You really believe all that? Listen to me; you have the right to know this. Sol, you are the heir to the Empire. You are the future Empress of the Known Worlds.”
Sol’s stomach twisted, like she had eaten something bad. “Are you playing a game with me Lussurioso?”
“No Sol. I’m beyond games now. It’s time that you knew, because something has happened to your mother, the Empress, and we will be moving out soon.”
“What?” Sol said, a little loudly. There was a knock on the door that made them both jump.
“Are you alright in there?” asked her female guardian.
“Yeah, just girl stuff!” called Sol. Lussurioso rolled his eyes.
Sol whispered at him furiously. “How do you know this?”
Lussurioso pulled her to the far side of the bathroom as far from the door at they could get. “I guessed when I was eight. The guards were stupid. They told me everything I needed, even when they didn’t say a thing, even when they lied. Especially when they lied. Then, this year, I hacked the system, and what I knew was confirmed.”
“If you knew all this, why didn’t you tell me earlier!”
“Because it’s dangerous to know things. Don’t worry Sol. I love you, I would never betray you, but the world out there is dangerous right now.”
Sol stepped back, stunned. “You love me?”
He took her hand. “Of course I love you Sol. They made me to love you. All the children here are your court. When you go to become Empress, they will come with you and be your advisors and your lovers and your family. Every Empress comes with a court. Most of the kids don’t know it yet, but you are our reason for being. We were all designed for our place by genetic engineers, birthed for this purpose. I was designed to be your military advisor, WanWen was made to be your lover, we are all your court.”
“You are my court?”
“Sol, next to me you are the smartest person on this world. You know this is true.”
“I knew something was going on, I just didn’t know it was this.”
Lussurioso smiled at her, a rare, genuine smile that didn’t come from beating someone in strategy or tricking an adversary. “Don’t worry Sol. You won’t face this alone. I’ll always be with you. All of us will. We will face the worlds together.”
It started at the SureSave on Fourth Avenue. Andy had been standing in line for nearly ten minutes, sweltering in the August heat that poured through the open doorway, before he dropped his basket onto the counter. Hair dye, promising 100% gray coverage. Baking-soda-infused toothpaste. A package of Freedom Day cards which should have been mailed two days ago. The clerk, a bored high-school kid whoâ€™d obviously never heard of the complexion pill, swiped his products and asked for proof of credit. Andy pressed his palm against the plastic panel, and the register shrieked.
The kid stared. Andy stared. The customers stared. The manager stared, then asked Andy to step aside. Andy did. The police arrived seven minutes later.
â€œWhereâ€™s your proof?â€ they asked him, and he offered his palm to their handheld reader. The reader shrieked. Andy was brought to the station. â€œI have plenty of credit!â€ Andy argued, but the officer merely lifted an eyebrow. He recited his work history to deaf ears.
The problem wasnâ€™t a lack of credit, as Andy had expected, but an excess of credit.
Herman Sylle was his name, and he was wanted for falsification of funds. Nine million dollars, to be exact. â€œIâ€™m not Herman Sylle,â€ Andy argued, but as the police pointed out, the records couldnâ€™t lie. His handprint matched up. His DNA matched up. The police database was completely secure, and there was no chance that anyone could have tampered with it.
â€œIf people canâ€™t tamper with the database, how do people falsify funds?â€ Andy asked. It was the wrong question, and it wasnâ€™t deserving of an answer. He was assigned a case number and put in prison to await his trial.
â€œDo you have anyone who can verify your identity?â€ his attorney asked him, but Andy was a freelance web designer, working from home for clients all over the world. It was rare for him to meet a client face to face, and when contacted, none of the clients could recall details about his appearance. Heâ€™d never married, and heâ€™d been the only child of a couple that went into retirement-stasis at the age of 60. The law forbid the subpoena of retired citizens. â€œConvenient,â€ his attorney said. He tried to log into his records to find the contact information of the few friends he kept, but his proof was locked out of the account. When the police tried, they found the files empty.
When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me stories of the time before the dome, when she ran wild outside. She told me about how she had been always hungry and tired, because she couldn’t find food. And that there were lots of dangers, like fast moving spheres that could knock someone dead, and men that roamed around, looking for women to hurt.
She told me that one of those wandering men had done something terrible to her, and she became so sad that she decided to die. She walked until she found a river, and she threw herself into the freezing water. She passed out from the cold and the water, and when she woke up, she was inside the dome, and the pink singing gas was there, and it gave her food and comfortable blankets and then I came along and she said she was happy. My mother doesn’t remember much of her own parents. She just said that outside the dome she was hungry, and things were terrible.
I believed her, and I wanted to stay in the dome, but even if I didn’t I didn’t see any way to get out.
One day there was a special treat, real fruit right there in the dome. Mamma said we should eat it before it went rotten. After Mamma and I ate it all, we got dizzy and fell asleep, right on top of each other, both of us still holding those sweet fruits.
When I woke up, I was in a different dome and my Mamma wasn’t there. I was so scared that I hid under blankets for two days. I searched under every surface, in every bucket and blanket, but Mamma was gone, or rather, since I was in a different place, I was gone. Maybe Mamma was still in the old dome.
The singing gas that came was purple. When it came, food appeared, but I didn’t like to let it touch me like the pink gas used to. It smelled funny and I missed my Mamma. The purple gas was there every day at first, and then every few days, till eventually it would be a long time before it came around, and I would be really hungry.
I slept most of the time. I didn’t have much to do back then.
Then, one day, a woman showed up on the other side of my dome. Her hands had calluses on them, and her face was burnt red from the sun. She looked hard and scary and looking at her made me want to jump on her, or have her jump on me.
She called out to me, and I came. I didn’t know as many words as I do now. My Mamma taught me some, but I was taken from her early, you got to understand, so I didn’t know what I know now.
She called to me and she had a device that made a part of my dome just disappear, the wall just vanished. She told me to come past the dome wall, but I was scared.
I told her there were men out there, bad men who might hurt me and make me with a baby and with a baby and no food, what was I going to do?
That’s when she told me that I was a man, and I couldn’t be with child.
You are laughing now, but it was only me and my Mamma for so long. I knew we were different from each other, but I didn’t know how other people might be different from each other. My Mamma hated men so much for what they did to her, but she loved me. I couldn’t imagine that I was like anyone that would hurt my Mamma.
The hard woman explained it all to me, about the invasion and the people being taken away to live in domes and about how this was our planet and we were going to take it back. She told me how we needed to give up comfort if we were going to get what belongs to us. I believe that now, I really do, but back then, I went with her because she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She still is.