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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Changeling: Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Hitomi Machida carefully held out her skirt as she knelt down to tend her tomato patch. Gardening was strange. Supposedly it was this life-fulfilling happiness and rainbows act where small things grew large and tasty through loving care. Her watering can was the symbolic tool of gardeners everywhere. But the real tool of gardeners was the spade. And 90% of a gardener's work was killing plants, not caring for them. Weeds threatened her precious tomatoes if she left them alone for a single day, and so she would wander upside into the sun, beneath Norn's protective veil, and stab and slice and chop and kill the undesirables that competed with her chosen few tomato stalks, leaving nothing but a sap-stained wasteland of cratered earth and shattered corpses in her wake. It was a lot like her drills during the night. If anything precious was to live, everything else had to die. The bugs, the weeds, the fungus, the bacteria, and the monkeys. It was kill or be killed. All day long. It was rather sad.
Hitomi stabbed at the dirt listlessly in front of her, watching the weeds slowly shred apart and wondering just how many homo sapiens she'd ripped apart in the same way. Her skill was extra, unearthly hands she could extend from her body, a total of thirty meters. They were strong, too. It was easy to carry a gun in each of those hands, or a sword. The choice of weapon really depended on her mood. Sometimes she just ripped people's heads off and entrail's out with her bare hands. When she was in a dark mood. If you knew where an attack was coming from, they were good shields, too. But Autumn was also on the AT, so Hitomi just left the defense to her.
Oh, that's right. I haven't killed anyone yet. Those were drills. Oh well. Hitomi stabbed her spade into the dirt and didn't lift it again. The real killing would begin soon enough. Like I'd marry anyone but my Hoh. It would be nice to wring a newspaper editorialist's neck too. Maybe she could squeeze the blood out of his eyes, nose, and ears, and then write her own article on his corpse with his own blood for the monkeys to read. Something educational. Like, IQ is a valid test of intelligence and correlated to more successful marriages, longer lifespan and higher income levels, with a few footnotes for doubters. That would be hilarious.
"You're brooding again." Hoh Er stepped in the way of the sunlight, casting a shadow over her head.
"Hoh." Hitomi Machida said. She didn't continue. It could have meant anything. Why are you here? I'm glad to see you. I recognize your existence. Hitomi felt it was too much effort to decide which.
"The tomatoes are coming along well, aren't they?" Hoh knelt down beside her. Even though she had taken so much care not to touch the ground with anything but her feet, he just sat with a fwump, dirt covering his legs and butt.
"They're okay." Hitomi said, staring as an ant crawled towards one of her stalks. She stabbed it with a psionic finger.
"You'll get a sunburn if you stay out here too long." Hoh warned.
"I'm tan." Hitomi countered. She still hadn't turned to look at his face.
"Then, I'll get a sunburn if I stay out here too long." Hoh smiled.
"Did you win?" Hitomi asked, staring at her tomatoes.
"The second time." Hoh reported.
"Then, I'll have to win too." Hitomi said. She stood up, smoothing her white skirt to fall to a modest height down to her knees. She held out her hand to her fiance, and gave him the barest of smiles. It was more than she gave anyone else.
Hoh grabbed it cheerfully, and she pulled him back to his feet. After a few hundred years, even girls were a lot stronger than the past. Hitomi could have lifted Hoh into the air if she had wanted.
She had met Hoh at a summer solstice party. She had been sitting by a river in the evening listening to its murmurs and watching fireflies. She didn't like parties, because she didn't like people. She didn't like much of anything except nature. Nature was clean. He had stood over her shoulder then, too.
"Did you know? I'm your fiance." Hoh had told her. She had been ten years old and displayed psychic powers for the first time. He had been twelve, waiting for a suitable female psychic to emerge. Now they were eighteen and sixteen. It wouldn't be long before she gave herself to him, and started on the long, long journey of childbirth year after year. The first children were the worst, because there weren't any older siblings to help. At least Hoh would be there. But men couldn't nurse crying babes. She would be nursing crying children for decades to come. So it goes. It was her duty. She was going to kill an entire species, so she had to give birth to an entire species too. It was only fair.
"It's like then." Hitomi said, the two strolling hand in hand. Hitomi didn't want to go back underground yet. Nature was up here. Only people were downstairs.
"Do you remember what you told me, when we first met?" Hoh had become adept at following her train of thought.
"'Okay'." Hitomi said.
"You just turned your face up from the river to look at mine, a boy you'd never seen in your life, and said 'okay.' I was so confused." Hoh remembered.
"It's our duty." Hitomi said, guiding Hoh towards the river that supplied all of their drinking and cleaning water.
"I wonder how we'd end up, without any duties." Hoh Er said.
"Alone." Hitomi said, absolutely sure of that.
"But freer. Would you be happier without any duties?" Hoh asked.
"No." Hitomi said.
"Why not? You could do anything you wanted." Hoh gestured to the sky.
"I want you." Hitomi said, still not raising or lowering her voice.
"But if we'd never met, you wouldn't have. You could have met anyone. No fighting, no litters of kids. You could have gotten a job. How about a park ranger? That's a pretty wonderful job, don't you think? Always hiking around the most secluded, beautiful places on Earth." Hoh painted.
"If not us, whom?" Hitomi asked, pulling him through the woods, her psychic hands pushing the needles and branches aside for both of them before each step.
"So the world just absolutely has to change?" Hoh asked.
"Yes." Hitomi said.
"Why?" Hoh asked, the two of them breaking out of the trees and standing in front of a wild, white, rushing river that formed a roar in their ears and a mist in their faces.
"Because like this, it's still too sad." Hitomi said. The two sat down on a rock, Hitomi's shirt and skirt slowly growing wet, exposing her figure beneath. Hoh couldn't help himself. He leaned into her and kissed her on the lips. He wanted to make love to her. The thought was crystal clear in his head. But he controlled it, fought it, and finally crushed it into a dull ache and a soft cry of despair at the bottom of his soul. Sex was for marriage. If the two concepts ever separated, sex became nothing at all. It suddenly became appropriate for every occasion with every person you ever met, male or female, sequentially or simultaneously, sadistically or masochistically, anything to produce a novel thrill. The love he wanted to make wasn't that type. Even though Hitomi wouldn't stop him if he started. Hitomi would never say no to him. Which is why he could never, ever try. He honored her too much to do such a thing.
He'd die before bringing any dishonor to this girl, the most brilliant, beautiful girl in the world. So he simply leaned back away from her lips and stared at the sky. Would he be alive two years from now? Would she die in battle? Never mind. Even if I never taste her body even once in my life, she's already given me her heart. When did she give it? Hoh suspected he knew the answer. When she was ten years old, the night they met. Unreservedly, wholly, and completely. Hitomi didn't know how to do something halfway. 'Okay' had meant yes to everything. All of it. The entire rest of their lives together. When Hitomi spoke, her words had meaning. He could have made love to her when she was ten too, and she wouldn't have said no. Or when she was twelve and he was fourteen, or when she was fourteen and he was sixteen. And every time he had looked at those trusting eyes, those clear silver eyes that she alone had and she was named after, and realized he couldn't do it. He couldn't betray that trust. It was too beautiful to use against her.
"Let's go back." Hoh whispered.
"A little longer." Hitomi suggested, resting her head on his shoulder.
"You'll be late for drills." Hoh reminded her.
"A little longer." Hitomi repeated. So they watched the river a little longer.

* * *

"Take this!" Mia Takashi shouted, doing a dragon whirl into a super fireball crusher, landing, jump-canceling, and sliding in one extra air slam to the juggle.
"K! O!" The game shouted.
"'You weren't what I expected,'" The pretty boy in black leather turned his back on his opponent in disappointment. Richard's sporty red haired swordsman cried in frustration.
"Aghhh. I had you." Richard complained.
"That's what happens when you overextend." Mia lectured. "You reap what you sow."
"One more time." Richard demanded.
"Sure. I'll take you on any time." Mia opened her mouth and bared her fangs, hitting the start button for a rematch.
"This time for sure." Richard said, leaning towards the TV.
"Not in a million years." Mia replied, leaning forward too. Their thumbs and fingers started whirling across their joystick pads in ever-more complicated feints and counters. Richard's swordsmen dashed across half the screen in a three part slicing charge, which made Mia jump off the wall to escape, hurling dragon flame to cover her escape. She liked Tetsuro as a character, because he fought with flame too. Sometimes Mia caught herself shooting dragon-headed fireballs at her enemies during drill, and had to quickly flatten it out into more basic flaming death.
Tetsuro's flame whip was countered by Johnny's sliding dash, and she found herself at close range again. Tetsuro always wanted to be further away, and Johnny always wanted to get closer. Their move sets made this both possible and necessary. It was like a game of tag across the screen.
Tetsuro woke up with a dragon whirl and set a flame net in case Johnny chased after him into the air. Then he started firing off phoenix wings, pinning Johnny who could no longer jump or charge forward.
Richard used half his energy to turn Johnny a flashing white, and autoguarded her phoenix wings in a high speed charge. She tried to block but Richard's mixup was too fast. Before she knew it he was behind her and she was blocking the wrong way as he started up his thousand swords loop. Mia looked at her life bar and groaned, letting go of her joystick and just waiting for Richard to execute to the end.
"K! O!" The game announced.
"That was a good warmup!" Johnny smiled cheerfully. Tetsuro bit his thumb in anguish.
"Thousand swords takes way too long." Mia Takashi complained.
"Not just anyone can connect three one frame links. Johnny isn't expected to combo that long." Richard defended himself. "Shouldn't you be marveling at the beauty of thousand swords? That was hard."
"Hard? You get it every time." Mia complained.
"What do you expect?" Richard grinned. Well, he had a point. They were at the beyond ridiculous edge of the bell curve, psychics whose minds had surpassed human limits. Game developers hadn't exactly designed their games around Richard's skill level.
"You were pretty cool today." Mia smiled at her fiance, forgetting about the game. She was the only girl affianced to a boy younger than herself, seventeen to his fifteen. She was East Asian, while he was Hispanic. She had one of the rarest eye colors in the world, a black iris surrounding her black pupil, which made her face look like the mask of death itself, while he had completely bland brown skin, brown eyes and black hair. When they were engaged, they hadn't liked each other at all. She'd complained about what a brat he was, and how dull he looked, and asked for a cool Asian boy like herself. He'd called her a boring girl who wasn't good at anything. But after their parents explained to them that engagements weren't called off, and marriages didn't end, and therefore the two had better learn to get along, or their lives would be eternal hells, they had started trying things together.
If you didn't have anything in common with a boy who was two years younger than you, you didn't like him, and you were betrothed to him, what did you do? Cry? Scream? They had decided on something simpler. Do things together until they were both having fun. There had to be something in this world they could see eye to eye on.
They had tried cooking, dancing, camping, ping-pong, go, and ice skating. Nothing worked. They never had any fun together. Which meant they never had anything fun to talk about either. The worst part of it was there was nothing wrong with Richard. He was smart, extroverted, and energetic. He was totally committed to the cause, even though he could have fit in with the outside world if he had wanted. She didn't hate a single thing about him. They just hated being together.
And so they had tried a fighting game. And they fell in love. Not with each other. With the sport. It was all about victory. In fighters, there wasn't any crap about equality and fairness. There was 'You Win!' and 'You Lose!' Superior and inferior. They had quickly climbed the online ladder rankings together. So long as everyone pretended it was just a fantasy world with no moral relevance, it escaped the notice of the thought police. Soon the two were fighting together in tag tournaments against the rest of the world. Their combo had become the terror of the internet. They realized they had as much fun fighting together as they had fighting against each other. And so they had named their tag-tournament-team Lover's Leap. They were suddenly proud of their betrothal, of their eternal bond in the real world as well as their bond in the virtual world. They were proud to be the strongest players in the world, feared and revered by all. It had taken years of effort, but they were a couple now. A couple, and still years to go before they married. Because they had to stick together, they had kept trying, and because they had kept trying, they had found a way to stick together. If they ever did get tired of fighters, there was always something else. If they could find one common interest, they could find another. Fighting games were just a proof of principle. So long as they were ready to search for it together, they would never grow apart.
Mia and Richard loved each other, just like every other couple among the psychics, but they had fought for their love the hardest, and so their love was the best. Mia wouldn't trade places with anyone. She didn't want anyone but Richard anymore. Even if she would have to wait two years longer than everyone else to start her romantic life. Except poor Autumn. She didn't have any boy at all. Mia reminded herself sympathetically. I complain about waiting two years, but Autumn will have to wait at least five, and that's if there's some sort of late bloomer eleven year old only now displaying his power. For all Mia knew, Autumn might have to wait 10 years, or 20, for another male psychic to appear. Mia's duty wasn't the hardest at all. How decent of Colette to sacrifice her own daughter to the game of musical chairs, just to prove she wasn't abusing her power. Rather than nepotism, or even random chance, Colette had simply withdrawn Autumn from the contest and let everyone else be happy. As a mother, that must have hurt terribly. But as a ruler, it had won the entire dissident community's trust. Now everyone liked Colette and Autumn. They had taken one for the team.
"It was nothing. Thousand blades is way harder." Richard put his arms behind his head smugly.
"Oh? If it was so easy, how come I was able to kill Hoh's district before you?" Mia arched an eyebrow.
"I just let you kill that district. You looked like you were having fun." Richard said.
"Cheeky brat." Mia said. "I praise you, but you undercut me."
"Aisia scares me." Richard said.
"Where did that come from?" Mia asked, surprised.
"I was wondering how to praise you, like, 'you're the star of MDT', but then I realized you were nothing compared to Aisia, and then I realized none of us were anything compared to Aisia, and then I realized that all of us together were nothing compared to Aisia." Richard said.
"That's how the latka curve works." Mia said. "The #1 psychic isn't going to be slightly better than the #2. She's going to be out of this world stronger. At least twice as good as anyone else. Likewise, #2 won't just be slightly better than #3. They'll be twice as good again. Likewise, the 6-10 group won't even be in the ballpark of the 1-5 group. It is frightening, but it's the same phenomena that shows up in every high-skilled competition. Golf, tennis, physics or painting, the latka curve is always with us. It makes sense it would apply to psychics too."
"I'd rather have been #1." Richard complained.
"Not me." Mia said, knitting her fingers together and holding her sock-covered knee to stay upright. "Can you imagine the amount of pressure being the best puts on you? Everyone else can fail, but you can't. You have to pull off a miracle every time. If you want something done, you have to do it, because no one else can. You're responsible for everything and wherever you aren't, catastrophes gather like a storm. Aisia Verininkov can be #1. I just want a normal life."
"Normal?" Richard laughed.
"In a year, the only time I'll use pyrokinesis is to light the stove." Mia smiled. "It will be an extremely normal life."
"I think MDT is ready." Richard said. "Though Phillip might have to be assigned another duty. That base attack is flawless. Homo sapiens simply don't have a counter to what we did to them."
"I think so too. The only question is whether Colette thinks so." Mia said.
"Is it normal for girls to want to kill?" Richard thought aloud.
"No. I hear we were bred to be more aggressive. Our ancestors were sick of mealy-mouthed cowards preaching non-violence, as though giving in had succeeded wonderfully so far, instead of practically dooming the world. The biggest love and peace preachers were women. No matter how obvious it was that only force could ever win us our freedom or our survival, women kept talking about bunnies and kittens and the poor poor children. So our ancestors just hit a reset switch. They found the women who would fight and only their kids became the next generation. After all the filters we put people through, the willingness to fight was just one more. Did you know? All whites and Asians are descended from a single tribe, probably less than 1,000 strong, that came out of Africa 40,000 years ago. That wasn't the tightest bottleneck though. Once humanity was reduced to just a couple hundred people in the whole world. This was in Africa, before anyone had left the motherland. It shouldn't have been possible for us to recover from that blow. But we did anyway, and peopled the whole world from just those two hundred. It doesn't matter how low the initial population goes. It just matters if that group will stay the course. Generation after generation, if you keep having kids, and you keep believing in yourselves, and you keep fighting, you can accomplish anything. So three hundred years ago, we decided to breed a warrior race, with both the capability and the will to throw off the yoke of nondiscrimination. In the end we had to filter down to 5,000 people. Everyone is descended from those 5,000, except a few groups who joined later in, seeing what we were doing and agreeing with it as they saw the world grind to a muddy halt. It's been twelve generations. And those 5,000 have become 5,000,000, and all 5,000,000 with genes far superior to anything the 5,000 ever had. Our quality and our quantity have multiplied 1,000 fold. All because they had a dream, they didn't give up, and they didn't compromise it for something else. Where there's a will, there's a way."
"Duty is the power of miracles, because it doesn't give up until the miracle happens." Richard smiled.
"Like us." Mia smiled, stretching out her hand to squeeze his.
"How many kids do you need to have to increase 1,000 fold in 12 generations?" Richard marveled, squeezing her hand back appreciatively.
"Generation 1: 5,000 has 10 kids per 2 adults, so Generation 2: 25,000 has 10 kids per 2 adults, so Generation 3: 125,000 has 10 kids per 2 adults, so Generation 4: 625,000 has 10 kids per 2 adults, so Generation 5: 3,125,000 has 10 kids per 2 adults, so Generation 6: has 15 million and some kids." Mia did in her head.
"And that's just in six generations." Richard whistled. "It actually sounds pretty easy to make 5,000,000 in twelve."
"That's what people don't get. Geometric equations are powerful. If you decide on something, and stick to it, the results become exponentially more impressive. It took us three hundred years to reach our population. But if you look at it another way, 5,000 people were able, eventually, to conquer the world and remake it in their image." Mia said.
"If we win." Richard pointed out.
"Oh? Who was it that just said MDT couldn't lose? I seem to have forgotten." Mia teased.
"Okay, so when we win." Richard laughed.
"When we win, those 5,000 will be proven right. There's no point gaining broad appeal or caring about the present. A tiny minority determined to win the future through principled determination, a fanatical few, can accomplish infinitely more. So the most important thing on Earth is deciding what principles are worth upholding, joining a group that's willing to uphold them, and then upholding them. You don't instantly need billions of supporters, or your own country, or vast tracts of land, or to win a war, or oodles of money, or some world changing event that flip's everyone's opinions on a dime. You just need will and time. The two together can accomplish anything. The world government cut us off from having any more time. So we did have to win a war. But until the world government did pass that lottery law, we didn't have to fight. We were winning just fine without lifting a finger." Mia bragged.
"I guess this is our triumph of the will." Richard smiled at the thought.

* * *

"Mother, I wanted to talk to you." Autumn Brewnell walked nervously into her mother's bedchamber. Her father was there too, covering his eyes from the hallway light.
"Is it about Kip?" Colette guessed, rubbing her eyes annoyedly. I guess guards didn't consider your own daughter a threat to your life. But they certainly were a threat to your sleep.
"Take it outside." Fried ordered, and both mother and daughter tiptoed out of the room.
"It is about Kip." Autumn turned on her Mother, striving for height.
"Too late. We already came to a decision." Colette said. "Now, can I go back to bed?" Colette yawned.
"Then reconsider!" Autumn demanded. "Think about it, Mother. After the Greeks defeated Persia, what did they do? They split up and started fighting each other, all the way into oblivion! What did the Romans do after defeating Carthage? Nothing but civil wars until the fall of the Republic! If we remove homo sapiens, we'll have nothing keeping us together. Our unity is our strength. A defanged homo sapiens that absorbs our exiles every generation is an eternal counterbalance. It's an eternal Carthage that will keep our Rome together."
"I can't just go back on my judgment because my daughter visits me in the night." Colette said.
"Even if you can't agree, it was a brilliant idea. It was well intentioned. Don't kill him." Autumn ordered.
"You don't sound like you're begging." Colette smiled at her daughter.
Autumn blushed, and then she stiffly lowered herself to her knees. "Please don't kill him, Mother."
Colette clapped Autumn on the shoulder. "Silly girl. He passed his probation. And I thought it was a brilliant idea. The council agreed to it immediately. We'll have some trouble breeding enough children for the foreseeable future, but I guess we're used to large families. It's no more strain than we've been under all along."
"Then. . ." Autumn blushed crimson.
"I was just curious how much you liked the boy." Colette smiled. "Oh, by the way, Kip's a changeling. He's the biological son of Mr. Benarjee, a purebred human. He was only raised by homo sapiens. A case of mistaken baby cradle identity. Oh, and he tested positive for psychic powers, so he's also your fiance. Congratulations!"
Autumn fainted.

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