"You are dead." A black screen came up with dripping blood red letters.
"What, why?" Katja kicked the wall in frustration. The mission had been going perfectly! There wasn't any enemy anywhere in sight!
"Airborne virus infected your team three days ago. It appears your targets had taken the vaccine for it and just left it hanging in the air for your arrival." Katja's manager smiled smugly.
"Do they even have biological weapons?" Katja complained.
"Who knows? Maybe." Her opponent shrugged.
Katja Kiel shook her head, trying to regain her cool. Everyone was depending on her to see them safely through these missions. She had to be more careful. "Georgia?" Katja spoke into her headset.
"Eh? Ah? Yes?" Georgia sputtered, never having been called before. She was ten years old, but a psychic, and that meant part of the war.
"Can you Heal diseases?" Katja asked, keeping her voice much sweeter than what she had used for her coach.
"Eh? Ah, yes." Georgia replied nervously but confidently.
"Then here's what we're going to do. Georgia, from here on, you wait with Norn for when we return home. At the same time she's giving us a new identity for the outside world, you'll delve us for any biological, radiological, or chemical hazards we may have picked up and detox us." Katja ordered. This ought to mess up the game designer's plans.
"Eh? Ah, yes." Georgia accepted.
"I think 'roger' would do, Georgia." Katja smiled.
"Eh? Ah, yes." Georgia agreed. Phillip, Jurgen and Richard all started laughing.
"Cut it out." Katja ordered. Boys were so insensitive. She's only ten. Military discipline was asking a little much. "Alright, MDT. Let's try teleporting into the middle of this army base attacks blazing. Aisia, can you assure me a repulsive force stronger than a bullet or an explosion?"
"One gravity well coming up." Aisia promised cheerfully. Previous experiments had shown she could make a ring of high G around them such that anything thrown at them was instead sucked into the ground.
"I think I could blow everything away with wind." Ma offered.
"Go for it. Nothing wrong with two layers of defense." Katja agreed. She thought Ma might be volunteering to cover for his fiancee's slip. If so, he was an extremely thoughtful eleven year old. That or he just wanted something to do this time.
Katja had the team hold hands and input her coordinates. She didn't like landing on the ground anymore. The ground could have a land mine ready to explode before they had any defenses up. She teleported everyone to a position in midair.
"Jurgen." Katja called on her fiance.
"Roger." Psychic strings sprouted out of his fingers and into each of their backs, including his own. His puppet master was holding them all up, including itself. It wasn't exactly flight, but it would do.
Aisia set a trio of gravity rings orbiting around them in a dizzying pattern, ready to deflect or absorb anything that was headed their way. As they were at the center of her orbits, they felt no effect at all. They were being pulled equally in all directions with G forces far beyond the Earth's. Perhaps 100 G? 1,000 G? Enough to stop even the thrust of rocket fuel, at least. Katja had seen the missle take a right turn and then crumple into dust before hitting them, and the explosion that tried to escape the confines of the missile get sucked right back into the invisible line as well. At least she could still see the effects of the gravity. It couldn't be a singularity then. Aisia was still being careful.
"Fire at will!" Katja pointed down at the armed ants scurrying around beneath them.
Phillip watched with frustration. His momentum had to be transferred from his fist to whatever he touched. Any attack he made would just be sucked up into Aisia's gravity well. The others had better successes, however. They could act at a distance. Normally anywhere they could see.
Hoh took the west quadrant, willing anyone he saw to fall asleep on the spot. If they were asleep, they were out of the fight, and could always be killed later. Hoh's attack was an instant kill for all intents and purposes. Though back home it might make a good cure for insomnia.
The eastern quadrant was covered by Richard. He could hack into any machine and control it at a distance. So long as it had a computer, it was his. Smart bombs started exploding all on their own inside the base. Tanks turned their turrets, though unoccupied, and started blasting away on soldier barracks. A helicoptor launched itself into the sky and unloaded its payload of around one hundred deadly rockets, then rammed itself into a building.
Mia covered the south. Her job wasn't too difficult. She swept her gaze back and forth like a lawn mower, and everywhere she concentrated a new fire sprouted up and billowed into a deadly inferno. Any ammunition or bombs caught up in her flames exploded, adding to the havoc, and anyone hiding in a vehicle would simply be baked to death or asphyxiated. People's flesh melted off their bones. If they were screaming, no one could hear it, because the gravity wells were sucking any sound from outside away.
Ma took the north. After consulting his compass, he started chanting to himself, and a series of disasters started overtaking the region. Cyclones appeared out of the air, landing all of their tails directly on top of living quarters and warehouses, while the Earth started shaking and cracking underfoot. Everything started whirling about and slamming into and through each other. Flesh and metal alike were too frail for the maelstrom.
Once Mia was satisfied that her region had no survivors, she switched to burning up Hoh's region. Everyone floated in midair, watching the situation silently unfold in awe. They had been this strong all along, if they had only known.
"Did anyone even shoot at us?" Valentine asked, having had nothing to do in the face of such overwhelming superiority.
"I don't think so." Katja replied. "But how could we notice even if they had?"
"Maybe they'll scramble some jet fighters or shoot us with a satellite laser if we stick around." Aisia suggested. "Want to see if my gravity ring holds?"
"How long can you keep it up?" Katja asked, curious.
"I didn't expect to have to make it three dimensional like this. I think we have ten more minutes." Aisia said, sad to admit she had any limits.
"Then no. We can't counterattack objects we can't see anyway. Let's just go home and have Georgia patch us up." Katja decided. The team had no objection. The screen went black as a mascot danced to 'Congratulations, you win!' Mass Destruction Team was living up to its name.
* * *
"How are supplies holding up?" Colette asked Wa Si, her most trusted assistant. Wa visited an internal website where inventory was continuously updated by another government cadre.
"It's a losing battle, though of course the kids are doing their best." Wa closed the window.
"I guess it was impossible two people to make enough to support five million." Colette sighed.
"More stealing than making." Wa corrected. "Felix is conjuring up fuel and spare parts, and Ivy's making copies, but the biggest problem is food. It takes a pound of rice a day to stay alive, which means we have to conjure up three tons of rice a day just to keep up with demand. Even though we have money, we can't buy anything because it would be traceable back to our locations."
"So we can't withstand an indefinite siege." Colette sighed.
"We could at 1/10 of our population, at least so long as Felix and Ivy hold up." Ivy said.
"That would go over well. 'Sorry, everyone, but there are too many useless eaters, so 9/10's of you are going to have to die. But don't worry, it's all for the revolution.'" Colette practiced her speech.
"If people understood the necessity, I think they would accept it." Wa answered neutrally.
"Yes, well, I'd rather not find out." Colette squashed the idea. "We just have to hope Katja knows what she's doing and we can win this war before our stockpiles run dry."
"Something a little less pressing, but I thought you might be interested." Wa brought up, tapping her tablet.
"Hmm?" Colette stopped fretting for a second.
"The DNA test has come back for Kip Miles. It appears he's one of us." Wa said.
"A traitor?" Colette asked confusedly.
"Certainly a possibility, but it doesn't match any witness accounts. He's the son of Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee, the DNA is without question a match, but they have quite a different story. They say their son was a slow, surly, and ugly misfit who got caught stealing and even assaulting another child within the community. He made friends with homo sapiens at school and one day just never came back. They were just as glad, because he never could have made it as a human being as an adult." Wa read off her document.
"Does this runaway represent a security threat?" Colette asked worriedly.
"No. This was years ago, before we retreated to our bunkers. We lived in the open and obeyed the laws while young Banerjee was alive, so there wouldn't be much he could report about us." Wa said.
"Thank God for small favors." Colette breathed.
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that." Wa joked. "However, young Banerjee and the Kip Miles we know have entirely different life stories. Kip says he's the biological child of two homo sapiens, Mr. and Mrs. Miles, and has been raised by them all his life. He had no clue about our society until arriving here with Ms. Brewnell."
"Could he be lying?" Colette asked.
"Unlikely. Look at a picture of young Banerjee." Wa turned the tablet away from herself to show Colette. The face was totally different from Kip's. It was slanted on one side, with beady, lifeless eyes. She then flipped the picture to Mr. Banerjee for reference, then a picture of Kip's face. Banerjee Jr. looked nothing like his father, but Kip was the spitting image.
"So young Banerjee isn't young Banerjee." Colette surmised.
"Correct. Rather than a traitor come back to spy on us, the simplest explanation for all of Kip's eccentricities was a simple mix-up at the hospital." Wa said.
"Kip's a changeling. The nurses handed the two kids to the wrong mothers. By God." Colette sat back, stunned at the incompetence of the outside world.
"He's a lost sheep who's finally returned to the fold, as it were. But at sixteen, it's a little too late to hand him over to his parents. Even if he's biologically human, it's useless if the brainwashing of his entire life has gotten to him." Wa said.
"So Kip right now is fighting the greatest war of all time, Nature vs. Nurture." Colette said.
"You could say he's been fighting it all his life. But his actions for the sake of your daughter are a healthy indicator of who's winning." Wa pointed out.
"Even so, even for one of our own, we can't lower our standards. Kip still has to accept what we are doing is right and fully sign on to our way of life or the death sentence stands. I feel bad for him, not being raised appropriately until it was too late. No one can change his past. But if he's a real human being, he could change his future. He could throw off the chains of his upbringing and start all over. He has an excellent tutor, after all." Colette smiled to think of her proudest accomplishment, her psychic daughter, one of just nineteen on Earth.
"May I ask why you're continuing their lessons?" Wa asked.
"When you teach someone else, often, you teach yourself. The more they challenge your arguments, the better your arguments must become. This was a chance for Autumn to truly learn to love her country and her people. To justify to herself why we're worth fighting for. If she's going to lead Atlantis, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for her to gain the necessary perspective. She needed to believe in it and love it more than anyone else." Colette explained.
Wa shook her head, amazed at the deviousness this politician used even for her own parenting. "Be that as it may, now that we know Kip is genetically human, should we test to see if he is a psychic as well?" After the first psychic power was demonstrated thirteen years ago, Ardut Singh's telepathy, all humans were tested for latent psychic powers . Thousands of people showed some signs, generally the siblings or relatives of true psychics, but often just random people in the community. All of them were being arranged to marry each other in the hopes of further improving the species' chances of reaching a new stage.
"We may as well. But don't tell him what we're doing or why. It's better that Kip thinks he's a homo sapien, so that his decision isn't tainted by anything but his own unclouded eyes. It will certainly be curious, his next probation hearing." Colette smiled.
"I think so too." Wa concurred.
Which was stronger? Nature? Nurture? Or the power of Love? Because, Autumn, even though you won't admit it, that boy is besotted with you. Rushing to your rescue armed only with a baseball bat, acting against everything he had ever been told in his life, wasn't the act of someone with an 'infatuation'. It wouldn't have been out of place in a storybook.
* * *
"You must really like oranges." Kip noted, as Autumn sat down at their table, sipping a glass of orange juice through a twisty straw.
"Of course. Doesn't everyone?" Autumn asked, setting her drink down self-consciously.
"If you aren't drinking orange juice, you're talking about orange orchards." Kip pointed out.
"If I don't drink orange juice, my throat will dry out, because it takes ten thousand words to explain the simplest concepts to you in a way you're willing to understand." Autumn shot back.
"I was thinking about my probation hearing last night, and I came up with a great speech for your leader. I want to run it by you, to get the 'human' pulse, as it were." Kip said.
"You realize if you talk to my mother again without converting you're dead? Why on Earth would you want to make a speech? Just say 'I hear and obey, my lady,' and give a courtly bow. Then you could keep your head." Autumn said.
"Just hear me out. It's a great speech." Kip swore.
"Fine, go ahead." Autumn waved her hand at him and sipped some more orange juice through the twisted tunnels of her straw and into her slightly open lips. Everything she did made Kip want to tackle her. The worst part was she wasn't even trying to attract his attention. In fact, she'd be revolted at the idea if it ever occurred to her.
"Okay. Well, I think you should change your war aim, just a little. I don't like the idea of homo sapiens being made to serve human interests, or being killed, just because they lost a war. Lots of wars have been fought across history, but completely eradicating or enslaving the other side is practically unknown. It's just too brutal. So I came up with a counterproposal. Suppose after you win this war, you divide the world in two. Humans can have the northern hemisphere, and homo sapiens can have the southern hemisphere. Anyone would agree that this gives humans the most and best land. If you can a war outnumbered 1,000 to 1, homo sapiens will never be a threat to you in the future, once humans outnumber homo sapiens, because they have the best land. You'll have to work for your own food and lodging, but that shouldn't be a problem when you're all so smart, right? And you'll have to raise your own families, but it's better for kids to live with their biological parents anyway, right? Eventually you plan to go it alone, without homo sapiens, so why not just start at the beginning? The most important thing is liberation. If your war can win you that, as well as land to expand into and the power those resources would give you in the future, then all essential war aims have been granted." Kip said.
"This plan benefits humans, too. If you lived alongside homo sapiens, they could potentially rebel against you, and massacre your people unprepared and spread out, before any psychic forces could be gathered to enact reprisals. They pose a much greater threat to you as your slaves than as people on the other side of the world. Though if you violently kill them all, this problem wouldn't happen either, it's still less effective than fighting for just the Northern Hemisphere. You said you weren't sure you could win this war, right? Well, if your war aim is the eradication or enslavement of homo sapiens, homo sapiens have to fight with all they've got to stop you. But if it leaves them the chance to go living their normal lives, they'll surrender more readily. So it increases your chances of winning the war in the first place. What's not to like about this plan? You have a higher chance of victory, which will secure everything you want, you have a more secure peace after the war, and homo sapiens don't suffer overly much. Surely losing half the world is punishment enough for one bad law?" Kip asked hopefully.
Autumn shook her head. "You're missing the point. We can't stand homo sapiens. Their very existence is a stain on this world, like cockroaches. One of our war aims is to eliminate the cockroaches, simply so we don't have to see them anymore."
"I thought about that." Kip quickly replied. "And I think you're missing something really important. Human beings need to see homo sapiens. Actually, you need living homo sapiens somewhere nearby. Because so much of being human is precisely not being a homo sapien. You define yourselves as 'not like those monkeys,' but without their example, how could you educate your kids? How could you show them how bad wrong choices were? If they just read about it in a textbook, they'll eventually think it's all nonsense and it wouldn't be the same if they did it. They'd stop heeding all of your warnings, because they'd all be theoretical, and none of them would have any empirical evidence anymore. But if you tell your kids, "If you aren't like us, you'll end up like them," and then just point over the fence to the southern hemisphere, wouldn't that be so much more instructive? Hating, despising, homo sapiens is what has held your people together for three hundred years. Don't you think that's amazing? Has any group stuck to the same laws and the same system for so long, so committedly? You’re united by your common foe, and by the lessons you’ve drawn from them. You’re united by watching every generation the distance growing between your people and theirs, and knowing your plan is working. In the absence of a common enemy, your own group will splinter apart. You’ll start creating new factions, new disputes, internal quarrels about one policy or another. But so long as there are homo sapiens, there’s a solution. People who can’t fit into your culture could all share the same penalty, exile to the Southern Hemisphere. But just imagine if you owned the whole world? Then if your group broke up, the splinter rebels wouldn’t just be absorbed into a sea of mediocrity and disappear. They’d be able to set up an effective resistance, and perhaps defeat you. Allow an outlet for your outcasts. Let them go live ordinary lives with ordinary people, and you’re defusing a time bomb. But back them into a corner, say this is the entire world’s law and there’s no changing it, and I guarantee you’ll be fighting a civil war fifty years from now, this time psychics against psychics.”
“If what you say is true, the people we ‘exile’ could eventually become the leaders of the Southern Hemisphere and be an even greater threat, combining their strength with the masses of homo sapiens.” Autumn said.
“They could, but homo sapiens are trained to hate and despise arrogant eggheads, people with light skin, and all the rest. Is it really likely they’d accept a leader from mankind? Isn’t it more likely they’d put their skulls up on racks?” Kip asked.
“What if we spare homo sapiens, and they realize their mistake, and immediately start breeding for intelligence and weaponized psychic powers of their own/” Autumn asked. “In a few centuries we could be fighting them again, this time with no advantages.”
“To do that, they’d have to essentially become you, in which case you will have genocided homo sapiens, no matter who wins.” Kip said
“Huh.” Autumn sipped orange juice through her straw, her brows furrowed. She couldn’t find any more flaws, even though she was sure they were there. It was impertinent to assume he could give advice to real human beings, much less Mother, who had run their community ably for over a decade. But she found herself agreeing with his reasoning. What if we were united solely because of the ‘other?’ What if there couldn’t be an ‘us’ without a ‘them?’ What if homo sapiens were like a vaccine, a vaccine against our own tendency towards degradation and dissolution? They looked like an invading infection, an evil dangerous force, but they were too weak to actually harm mankind, while being just strong enough to encourage maximum healthy output from humanity. Vaccines were composed of evil things, diseases that had killed millions of people in the past. But their effects were far from evil. Their effect was one of the greatest goods ever invented -- a cure to said disease.
Were homo sapiens the cure to every human disease? Homo Sapiens drink, but we don’t. Homo Sapiens fornicate, but we don’t. Homo Sapiens slander, but we don’t. Homo Sapiens dress shabbily, but we don't. Homo Sapiens overeat, but we don't. Homo Sapiens are stupid, but we aren’t. Homo Sapiens are atomized individuals, but we aren't. Homo Sapiens are superstitious, but we aren't. Homo Sapiens are materialistic, but we aren't.
Homo Sapiens are beasts, but we’re angels.
Didn’t eyes perceive light better the darker the cave?
Where would we be without them pushing us together?
Where would we be without their giving us the determination to not be them?
Were humans ready to go it alone?
Weren't the last three hundred years a legacy of heroic proportions?
Why fix what wasn’t broken?
“You’ve convinced me, Kip.” Autumn said. Kip sounded slightly higher than a snail in her opinion. “But are you willing to bet your life on it? To be a human, you have to obey us, which means obeying my mother. If you insist on your own plan, and we don’t adopt it, then where will you be? On the wrong side of the fence.”
“I like humans. I really do. But I can’t endorse genocide.” Kip said.
“Even if it means dying as the patron saint of monkeys?” Autumn asked.
“I’m just another monkey, after all. I may as well die for them.” Kip answered flippantly. He couldn’t be bullied out of each and every belief he ever had. Otherwise he’d just be a slave. His life had been forfeit a month ago, when he’d pulled that crazy stunt. Autumn was safe now, so what did it matter?
“Oh, one more thing, before I die. I’m sorry, Autumn. You’re not trash, no matter what Ms. Hunter says. I didn’t mean it. I think you’re . . . Aphrodite, Athena, and Artemis all put together. That’s what I really believed. Then and now. I haven’t had the chance to say that before, and I had to, even if you . . . don’t like hearing me praise you. Which I understand. You have that right. But I had to say it anyway.” Kip took a deep breath. There. Autumn was safe, he’d apologized to her, and now he could die, just like before. Only this time done in by her side. Because in the end he just didn’t fit in anywhere.
“Are you sure you don’t want lessons on anything else? The environment? Patent laws? Health care?” Autumn asked, a touch of concern creeping into her voice.
“It doesn’t matter. I accept humanity will create a good nation, somehow or other, if you win. You’re too virtuous to do otherwise. Even if everything you believe is wrong, you’ll just bull your way through it with strength of character. When Norn said sleeping six to a bed wasn’t a problem, and really quite comforting, I realized you people could do anything. Any society you make will work out. Maybe not for the best. But it will work. Between five million good people, nothing bad can happen, right?” Kip smiled up at Autumn.
“Right.” Autumn smiled, nodding. “Between five million good people, nothing bad can happen, no matter what we believe. That’s why Atlantis will be wonderful. I’ll make it wonderful, Kip, even if you aren’t there to see it. I promise.” Autumn Brewnell squeezed his arm sympathetically, and then she looked around the library embarrassedly, wondering if anyone had seen her pet a monkey.
“I’ll tell mother you’re ready for your hearing. I should go. . .talk to Katja about the war.” Autumn stood up.
“It was nice knowing you.” Kip Miles stood up too, the feel of her hand on his arm engraved into his memory.
“You too, Kip. Goodbye.” Autumn gave a little curtsy, and then walked away. Yet again, he knew he would never see Autumn Brewnell again.