Kip Miles arrived at the 'mill' a few hours later. It wasn't actually a mill, it was an underground tunnel complex in the middle of an uninhabited forest, and apparently the headquarters of this region of the resistance. How many years had it taken to secretly build this base under the nose of the government? How long had they planning a rebellion? Or was it just a contingency plan in case the government went too far, and they had planned to stay loyal citizens as long as they possibly could? Kip Miles filed that question away for Autumn later. They hadn't said much after her stunning statement, just business related talk about how to reach the mill and what kind of reception he could expect to find there. He hadn't known what questions to even ask her anymore. Their worlds were so far apart, and she felt so alien to his experience that she may as well belong to another species. Plus, her carefree remark that it probably didn't matter what he knew anymore, because he was heading to his execution, had made further conversations seem rather pointless. Even so, he followed Autumn into the woods. She would have killed him on the spot if he had attempted to flee. He had no future as a criminal on the lamb in the real world. And despite everything, he still couldn't stop looking at this incredibly beautiful woman. He had seen so many new expressions cross her face since this morning. Her angry face. Her confused face. Her scared face. Her berserk face. Her pleasant face. Her happy face. How many more would he get to see, if he stayed by her side? He didn't know, but he wanted to know. He wanted to see every face she would ever make.
"Here we are." Autumn Brewnell gestured gracefully, lifting her arm in an underhanded position to present him to his courtroom. At the top of a raised platform was another blonde, blue eyed woman, still young looking, who captured his eyes immediately with hawk like intensity. It just had to be Autumn's mother. The lord of this manor, come to dispense justice. Which makes Autumn the duchess? Princess? Did these people hold ranks among themselves, as though already sovereign and independent? Another question to be filed away for later, if he actually survived.
"You may sit." The woman stated. "My name is Colette Brewnell, and I will be presiding. Though this case is extroardinary, I assure you an impartial hearing and decision, Mr. . ."
"Kip Miles." Kip provided helpfully.
"Mr. Kip." Colette twisted his name with a feeling of distaste that she couldn't quite banish. Was this really an impartial judge? Kip felt a rising tide of panic. Stop it. You had much more self control in the school, didn't you? This is nothing compared to that. Don't look the fool in front of these people, you need their respect if you're ever going to leave this room. Kip Miles bowed hesitantly and then sat down into a cushioned swivel chair behind a desk. Autumn sat down at another table to his left, also facing her mother the judge.
"Autumn Brewnell will serve as a witness for details I am unsure about. But mostly I need answers from you, Mr. Kip." Colette fixed her gaze on him again, and he felt a shiver run up his spine. Those blue eyes were just unnatural. Did she have psychic powers too? Could she tell if he lied? Safer to just tell the truth. I have nothing to hide, after all. In fact, shouldn't I be receiving a medal or something?
"Why did you attempt to save my daughter from an entire police force armed only with a baseball bat?" Colette Brewnell asked.
"I didn't think it out that far. I just knew I had to do something." Kip replied.
"Mr. Kip, please be aware that your life depends upon these answers. Try to be more articulate in your answers." Colette Brewnell suggested.
"I. . .thought it was better to die fighting than to just. . .let her disappear. For my sake, more than hers." Kip admitted.
"So you decided to make a political statement, out of the blue, and Autumn was just a convenient chance to do so? Are you aware that in doing so, you endangered Autumn's life, who up until that point was safe?" Colette asked.
"No. It wasn't like that. I didn't consider her safe at all. There was endless evidence to prove the state's case. I thought she would rot in jail forever." Kip replied.
"So you decided for her that she should also die resisting arrest, even though she had clearly not resisted arrest in front of you?" Colette asked.
"She was just a girl. What could she do? I didn't consider her lack of resistance to be due to a lack of will to resist. Besides, there was always a chance we could get away, working together. She didn't know she had an ally at the time." Kip felt angry that he had to defend himself. He had been a hero, and they were acting like he had conspired to murder Autumn through his actions.
"Are you aware that Autumn could have been freed in a peaceful manner at any number of places and times within due process that would have left no trace and put neither her nor us in any peril?" Colette asked Kip sharply.
"I am now. I wasn't aware then." Kip glared back at his interrogator. How could anyone predict the presence of psychic powers in the world? It was just a ridiculous science fiction concept. How could they expect him to know about it?
"Why did you prefer to die fighting over letting Autumn disappear?" Colette seemed content with his response, and thus was changing tacks.
"Because I said an unforgivable thing to her as she was being dragged away." Kip said.
"Which was?" Colette asked.
"I agreed with the teacher that she was trash, and didn't object when she was called a 'filthy racist' either. Autumn couldn't. . . no, there was no way I could forgive myself if I just left things like that." Kip corrected himself.
"But according to your principles, isn't everything the teacher said true?" Colette asked blandly.
"Autumn's too beautiful to be evil." Kip Miles replied.
"Isn't that a rather incoherent philosophy, Mr. Kip?" Colette couldn't avoid smiling though. Perhaps out of amusement, but perhaps just because she was proud whenever her daughter was praised for the beauty her mother had given her.
"I plan to make it coherent, given time." Kip answered. "But I know it's true already."
"That's a fascinating method of reasoning, to be sure." Colette sat back in her chair, tapping her fingers on her podium. She closed her eyes and thought for a moment, then switched her targets to her daughter.
"Autumn, is it safe to say this man is in love with you?" Colette asked.
"An infatuation at most, Mother." Autumn replied, her lips twisting at just the idea of Kip's feelings. "He doesn't know anything about me, and he approached me with the most disgusting offer previously, which shows he has absolutely no respect for me either."
"Is that true, Mr. Kip? Did you approach my daughter with a disgusting offer previously?" Colette turned her gaze back to her primary target.
"I. . .didn't consider it so at the time. I actually thought. . .she would be flattered. . ." Kip gestured helplessly, trying to look towards Autumn for help, who tossed her head away with disdain. What was wrong with no fault sex? Everyone did it. And he had only asked her of all people. Didn't that mean something to her?
"Were you perhaps hoping to die together with my daughter because you had been turned down previously, and this was the closest approximation to your disgusting offer you could make with an unwilling partner?" Colette asked searchingly.
"The two were completely unrelated!" Kip insisted.
Colette sighed, sitting back and closing her eyes again. "Autumn, what do you make of this person? Be fair."
"He means well." Autumn admitted. "He's smarter than the rest of them. But that just makes him all the more cowardly, for refusing to disagree with society. He disgusts me for slavishly mimicking his inferiors. He particularly disgusts me for thinking he could impress me or break me to the standards of his world. I suppose something could be done with him given time, since he seems willing to change. I didn't expect him to rush to my rescue, so he's already changed from the boy I previously knew and hated."
"Now Autumn, you know how useless it is to hate homo sapiens. The feeling is squandered on them, and it doesn't help us any to hold onto it. How many times have I told you to let their provocations wash over you? Do humans respond to monkey's provocations?" Colette lectured her daughter.
"I just hated him in particular." Autumn excused herself.
"And Ms. Hunter, did you just hate her in particular too?" Colette asked with an amused smile.
"Mother, if you had seen her smug smile. . ." Autumn's eyes flashed, and her hands balled up into fists again. "It was beyond endurance, Mother."
"Beyond endurance for a willful child perhaps. And yet, we've successfully coexisted with homo sapiens for three hundred years now. All of your ancestors endured. All of us endured all around the world, except for you, who found it beyond endurance." Colette pointed out.
"None of them had to listen to Ms. Hunter." Autumn lifted her chin up defiantly at her mother, her hair swaying down her back from the slightest motions of her head.
Colette Brewnell laughed. "Perhaps, Autumn. Perhaps. In this case, it is immaterial, because of course we cannot coexist with the government anymore anyway. If we can't choose our marriage partners, that is the same as genocide, because they intend to wipe out all of our unique genes and culture, which only selective marriage has preserved until this point. Getting along at this point would be a sort of macabre joke. There can only be war from here on. Your shot across the bow is as good a starting point as any." Colette admitted.
Autumn nodded, as if to accept her Mother's surrender, looking very pleased with herself.
"It's a shame we had to reveal the presence of our secret weapons this soon, however." Colette's voice became much stricter with her daughter.
"That was Kip's doing -- " Autumn replied in an offended tone.
"A Kip who was forced into action because of your rash words, daughter." Colette cut Autumn off.
"I didn't ask for his help." Autumn replied venomously.
"And yet he gave it to you." Colette pointed out.
"How could I predict he would act like a human being and not just another homo sapien?" Autumn asked in wounded protest.
"How indeed? It is a fair question." Colette studied Kip Miles again like a particularly rare insect pinned to a wooden plaque.
"There is a mystery about you, Kip Miles. You look average, and you think averagely, but you do not act like an average person, and your capacity is not an average person's, mentally or physically. There is something awry in this picture. It would all make sense if you were a special agent selected to infiltrate us. Your 'help' could then make perfect sense as an assigned task given to a double agent hoping to learn everything about us before you report to your superiors. But I almost feel like that is too sophisticated and complex a plot for homo sapiens. The evidence also fits a completely different picture, simply someone who fell through the cracks and despite himself ended up not being average, who can recognize superiority when he sees it and is instinctively attracted to it, no matter what his education has taught him. In that case, with a bit of effort on both of our parts, ours to educate you, and yours to be educated, who knows? Maybe you could become our companion. So here is my sentence." Colette Brewnell sat up in her chair and tapped her gavel with her hammer.
"Kip Miles, you are hereby sentenced to probation. The penalty for breaking your probation is death. The terms of your probation are simple: You will obey all humans. You will not communicate with homo sapiens without our knowledge. You will not try to leave this area without permission. You will educate yourself in the way of human beings starting today, and strive sincerely to make progress in your education. If at any time you find yourself unable to fit into human society, you may petition for immediate execution instead. If you cannot accept these terms, we can execute you right here and now as you prefer. Mr. Kip?" Colette asked with an eyebrow raised.
"I accept your probation." Kip quickly replied, bowing in his seat.
"Autumn Brewnell, as punishment for your insubordinate and reckless revealing of military secrets, you are hereby assigned to educate Kip Miles into a first class human being." Colette struck her gavel with her hammer again.
"But Mother!" Autumn halfway stood up in protest.
Colette simply stared at her daughter. Autumn quailed, and then sat back down.
"Yes Mother." Autumn bowed her head.
"It seems he should strive especially hard to become human for your sake, Autumn." Colette smiled.
"Don't say that like it's a comfort." Autumn whined.
"If it were a comfort, it wouldn't be much of a punishment, now would it?" Colette laughed at her daughter, then stood up. "That is all. Autumn, show Mr. Kip around and get him his own room. You are free for the rest of the day, but you will personally tutor him from breakfast to lunch, and lunch to dinner, for the foreseeable future. When he is ready to become a citizen, bring him before us, and we will have another trial. At that time, Mr. Kip, perhaps your probation will end." Colette said this with a false compassion for his plight, then left the room.
Autumn turned her head to look at him and ground her teeth in frustration. "Come along then." She gestured, standing up. "I want to eat dinner and take a bath. I don't have all day for you."
Kip sighed and nodded meekly. "Do you hate me that much?" Kip asked despite himself.
"I said I hated you. I don't know what to think of you anymore." Autumn gazed back at Kip levelly, her voice crystal clear with each syllable. "Perhaps Mother is right and you could become a human being with time. But who in their right mind would want to spend half of every day around a homo sapien, meanwhile? No one here could enjoy your company. Don't ask the impossible."
"The way you talk, shouldn't there be an unbridgeable divide between humans and homo sapiens? How can I just switch from one to the other?" Kip asked irritatedly.
"How indeed? It shouldn’t be possible. But no matter, there are exceptions to every rule. Some freak accident was bound to occur eventually, where homo sapiens spontaneously emit a human or two, here and there, with capabilities on par with our own. We ourselves are just a cultured line of homo sapien genes, after all, so chance could eventually fall upon the same results, with a wide enough sample, now and then.” Autumn admitted. The two walked out of the courtroom as she consulted her phone for instructions to an empty room.
“Why do you get to be ‘humans?’ You’re the ones who insist you’re different. Couldn’t you have found your own name?” Kip was all the more confrontational with Autumn since he had been so unable to answer back to her mother earlier.
“We are the only true humans remaining. Why should we have to change our names? Part of being human is retaining the wish to progress, to have a spark of divinity, to be half angel as well as half beast. The rest of mankind turned their back on that part of humanity, and thereby forsook their humanity. We just stayed the same, we stayed human. We are part of a tradition of progress, of evolution. Our eyes, like the humans of the past, are fixed on the stars. We are the proper descendants of the human tradition, the proper inheritors of their will. It was you who lost your status as humans and regressed to mere homo sapiens. It was you who lost sight of everything important and became fixated on this dead end Earth. Don’t blame us for leaving you behind.” Autumn replied.
“I see.” Kip surrendered. He wanted to get along with Autumn, but she just kept insulting him with every choice of words and the very tone of her voice. She had been bullied in class, but now he saw that she was hardly a suffering victim. If she had had the opportunity, she would have been ten times as scathing in return. She harbored more ill will towards her classmates than they harbored towards her, even though she was outnumbered thirty to one. The class had no idea, or they would have bullied her much more than they did. Of course, that just would have meant getting their necks snapped, so maybe it was a good thing they hadn’t known. Kip smiled ruefully at the thought.
“Here’s your room.” Autumn opened the door for him and gave a graceful sweeping gesture. It had a bed, a desk, a chair and a bookshelf.
“The facilities are down the hall.” Autumn pointed at a door with a sign. “Dinner is served at the cafeteria. I suppose you could come eat dinner with my family.” Autumn invited Kip grudgingly.
“How big is your family?” Kip asked curiously.
“I have ten brothers and five sisters. Three fourths of them are older than me.” Autumn said.
Kip’s eyes widened as far as they would go. “All of the same mother? That young woman we just met?”
“Of course. We aren’t barbarians who just have sex with anyone.” Autumn sneered in disgust. “And Mother isn’t all that young. She’s forty five years old.”
“Forty Five?” Kip choked.
“We selected for health and longevity.” Autumn explained with a bored expression, as though talking to a very dull learner.
“But even so. . .why so many children?” Kip asked, flustered.
“Children are our weapons. Children are our lifeline. We needed enough children to resist the vast majority of mankind, when the day came, no matter how small a minority of practitioners our way of life became. Demographics is just another part of our resistance.” Autumn explained.
“But don’t you feel bad for the environment?” Kip asked. The school had always insisted on low birth rates so that they could coexist with the environment, which had just as much an equal worth as humans and just as great a right to exist as humans.
“Once we kill off the homo sapiens, there will be more than enough room.” Autumn responded blithely.
“Kill off?” Kip’s voice was shocked again.
“Of course. What did you think would happen? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a genocide for a genocide. Homo Sapiens have just declared their intention to wipe us out of existence via forced intermixing. How would you like us to respond?” Autumn looked at Kip quizzically.
“You could fight without going so far.” Kip offered.
“What would be the point?” Autumn asked, her eyebrows raised in genuine curiosity. Kip didn’t have a reply. He decided not to join her for dinner.
* * *
“How was breakfast?” Autumn Brewnell sat down on a couch opposite his, with a table full of books stacked between them.
“It was food.” Kip shrugged. He had never particularly cared what he ate, so long as it kept him full.
“Are you done sulking?” Autumn asked pleasantly.
“I suppose.” Kip sighed. Can I really become human, now that I know what that signifies? It means helping kill off all the rest of mankind. These people are crazy. But I said Autumn was too beautiful to be evil, didn’t I? Were those words so halfhearted? In which case, surely somewhere within this education, I’ll learn why she’s right to think this way. That’s what I said, that I intended to make my thinking coherent, to fit within the concept of Autumn being a good person. So I just have to keep learning until I do think that way. Was dying really a better choice? Especially when I can always choose to die later?
“Good, then start asking questions. We have a lot of ground to cover and I intend to fulfill my role as your tutor responsibly. Mother expects a genuine effort on both of our parts, or she’s going to revisit the terms of our probation.” Autumn said.
“Okay.” Kip ventured a glance at Autumn’s face, still marveling at how bright it glowed from reflected ambient light. “How does your family support sixteen children?” Kip asked the first of the questions he had prepared last night in bed.
“Welfare.” Autumn replied.
“I. . .why do I keep feeling surprised every time you answer a question?” Kip sighed, shaking his head.
“I don’t know. Why do you, Kip?” Autumn asked. “You act like a startled deer every time I open my mouth.” Kip was still situated around slug in her vocabulary.
“I thought you people were proud. So why are you all on welfare?” Kip complained.
“Welfare is just another form of resistance.” Autumn replied. “Why work for homo sapiens? That would be working against our own interests. It’s better to have you people working for us. That way, we can concentrate on what matters: Increasing our numbers and improving ourselves. It’s worked rather well so far.”
“Why doesn’t the government notice? Why don’t they do something about it?” Kip complained.
“It’s your own stated principle that everyone is interchangeable. They can’t admit that people who live on welfare are worse than people who work for a living, so how can they limit their payments to us? The government must support every living human being equally, so naturally we just took advantage of that and stopped working long ago.” Autumn said.
“But even if you can do it, is it moral to take advantage of others like that?” Kip asked.
“What are you saying? If homo sapiens didn’t forcibly include us within their country’s laws, we would have become an independent nation long ago. Since we can’t live as we please under our own laws, how is it immoral to wage economic warfare against enemies who bind us to them? Do you think it’s fair to force all of us to attend your brainwashing schools that try to teach us how evil we are every day?” Autumn asked.
“No, but that doesn’t mean you can hurt others in turn.” Kip said.
“Why not?” Autumn asked, again confused.
“Because hurting people is wrong.” Kip said, feeling like he was talking to an alien instead of a beautiful girl across the table.
“This is an elected government, is it not?” Autumn asked politely.
“Yes.” Kip agreed.
“And therefore the will of the government is the will of the people?” Autumn asked again.
“Yes.” Kip agreed.
“So every single person who voted for the laws to be this way has voted to harm us dissidents for the last three hundred years? Has supported the government with taxes and police and soldiers to enforce this government’s laws against us?” Autumn asked.
“Yes, but. . .” Kip retreated.
“But what, Kip? Why should we care about any of them? They have been teaching how evil we are in school, demonizing our present and our past. They have forced us to stay inside their own country’s borders against our will. They have attached blue ovals to our clothes, forced us to say mantras against our own beliefs, thrown us in jail for hate speech and treason, fined us, hounded us, and hunted us for hundreds of years. The people at large have voted for all of this approvingly and supported these actions 100%. Why shouldn’t we hurt your people in turn? This is the same argument as last night. The government has announced a plan to genocide us. All of your voters, all of your people, approve of this measure and voted for the people who installed it. Why shouldn’t we kill all of your people in turn now?” Autumn asked.
“But they don’t know any better.” Kip said helplessly. “It was how they were raised.”
“What kind of excuse is that?” Autumn asked. “People have free will. You are responsible for your beliefs, no matter who taught you them. If what you are raised to believe doesn’t make sense, you have the power to reject it, and find alternate routes to the truth. They could read books. They could have listened to us when we argued against these laws. Why don’t they know any better?”
“You’re like the prophets from the Old Testament. You go out and give all the people warning of God’s judgment, and if they don’t listen, then they’ve been duly warned and ignorance isn’t an excuse.” Kip realized aloud.
“Precisely. The truth has been available to the people of this country for hundreds of years. It was their choice to actively avoid it, like some sort of rattlesnake, and live in a fantasy world. This fantasy world just so happens to include abusing and oppressing anyone who does believe the truth and wants to live for its sake. To say there are any innocent homo sapiens on Earth is absurd.” Autumn concluded, pleased that he was learning.
“What about children, then? You intend to kill off all mankind, even the ones who haven’t had a chance to review the evidence.” Kip accused.
“What about them? When did they ever take pity on our children? They’re actively forcing us to not have any children with our genes or culture anymore. Is that merciful to our unborn?” Autumn asked.
“Why must you always compare yourselves to them? Can’t you decide on your own morality?” Kip asked, frustrated.
“Our own morality includes reciprocity, so of course we compare ourselves to them.” Autumn said, her voice still calm, though her eyes were starting to narrow at his constant challenges.
“Then, why does it include reciprocity? Didn’t Jesus say to turn the other cheek?” Kip asked.
“Jesus was a fool.” Autumn replied. “Reciprocity is natural and rational. Everyone should be treated in the same way they deign to treat others. If respectfully and fairly, then respectfully and fairly. If oppressively and cruelly, then oppressively and cruelly. It’s such common sense it’s ingrained in human genetics. It’s also the best strategy in the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s therefore pleasing to the soul and has high utility as a method of decision making. I guess you could say the children of homo sapiens are innocent, but it really doesn’t matter in the end. Their parents sealed their fate by starting a war with us, and parents are responsible for their children -- we aren’t. If homo sapiens wanted their children to survive, they shouldn’t have attempted to genocide humanity. Now pandora’s box is open, and they are responsible for everything that comes of it. In the end, they were just homo sapien children anyway. Nothing will be lost with their passing. Like I said, it just means there will be more room for the rest of us -- real humans.”
“But that means you were just looking for an excuse to kill off the rest of us!” Kip complained bitterly.
“No, we were prepared to coexist. So long as we had the ability to continue, we were willing to uphold this farce. For one thing, it isn’t certain we’re strong enough to win this war. We would have preferred to put it off to a much later date. For another, if we hadn’t been pressured so much, we could’ve instead managed to escape off this planet, and freely and peacefully settle somewhere else. It’s homo sapiens who have forced us into a kill or be killed crisis. I suggest you direct your anger towards them, and that horrid lottery law. We certainly had no hand in passing it. We voted against these policies all along. We aren’t the ones cheering about it, or its necessary results.” Autumn said.
“Couldn’t you just surrender? What’s the big deal if your kids don’t look like you anymore?” Kip wheedled.
Autumn sat back like she’d just been slapped. She bit her lip to stop the anger from overwhelming her. “Who knows? I wonder. Why should we care if everything we love is destroyed forever? What should it matter to us to see the entire world plunge into darkness and despair? Why should we want our children to be happy or successful when we could just throw them to the wolves? You’re right, Kip. What was I thinking? I guess I’ll go turn myself in now.”
“It’s not that bad, you’re exaggerating . .” Kip looked sideways, trying to avoid her face.
“This world? Not that bad? You’re just too stupid to know how bad it is. You’re too stupid to know how good it should be. You don’t know anything. Why did you try to save me? I detest you.” Autumn slammed her open palm on the table, her voice rising to a shout.
“Says the baby killer!” Kip stood up across from her. “You’re like everyone said, like all the classes warned. You’re just a bunch of genocidal Nazis!”
“Do you think you’re saying anything new? Do you think you’re making some sort of brilliant deduction, Kip?” Autumn taunted him, yelling at him from across the table, striving with every inch of her body to stand taller than him. But it didn’t work. Autumn was tall, but Kip was taller.
“How many times do you think we’ve been called Nazis? Racists? Discriminators? And yet who was it who, in the end, tried to genocide a peaceful civilian minority? Who was it? Was it us, or was it you? Who was it, Kip? Who tried to murder my babies before they were ever born, to forcibly prevent their existence by mixing up their genes like scrambled eggs with retarded rejects?” Autumn challenged.
“You’re just repeating yourself! Two wrongs don’t make a right!” Kip yelled.
“Self defense is right.” Autumn replied.
“Only until your own life is out of peril, any force beyond that is just a new form of aggression!” Kip shot back.
“And who says our lives will ever be out of peril so long as they live? Why should we have to refight the same war over and over, every time with the risk that they’ll genocide us, while they never have to fear any risk of us genociding them? How many tries until they win, Kip? How many wars would it take if they’re allowed to kill all of us but we can only fight back each instance until they sue for peace, because ‘two wrongs don‘t make a right’? Why should we risk ourselves for homo sapien scum? Do you think your lives are worth anything compared to ours? Do you think a million, or ten million homo sapiens is worth one human’s life? Don’t get cocky! You aren’t worth the dirt on our shoes. You aren’t worth my little finger!” Autumn Brewnell’s mouth twisted with contempt at just the idea of a comparison.
“Says the welfare recipient!” Kip shouted. “I’m taking a walk.”
“Enjoy!” Autumn shouted back. Pretty much everyone within a hundred yards of the room was listening in and laughing. No matter how much they hated each other, there wasn’t any escape for either of them.