ANN - Chapter 6 - My Meeting with the Immortal
My Meeting with the Immortal
For two weeks, I continued to practice my made up version of ‘kung-fu’ with Romalla and the children of the island. Sure, it wasn’t as good as if I had actually known a real martial art. But that seemed progressively less important when I could shatter a rock with a single punch. At some point, the thought crossed my mind that the Golems might have guns. So, I also practiced throwing rocks and sea-shells until I could hit a tree hard enough to embed the projectiles into the wood. It wasn't enough to combat guns, but it was better than nothing. That's what I told myself, anyway.
One late morning, with none of the Night People awake, I decided to relax a bit as I sometimes did when my anxiety wasn’t working overtime. I took a seat with my back against the Wall. It was cloudy and the wind had picked up a bit more—blowing the plants and waves chaotically. I watched and absently scratched at the mossy concrete behind me with my index finger. The rubber tip of my finger peeled back as I did so, which was dully interesting.
I wondered if the Wall might have markings and scraped away a large chunk of it to see what was underneath. Maybe I would find some instructions or a plaque in a language I recognized. Even some alien text would tell me more about where I was. But I discovered nothing but worn concrete beneath the moss.
With a sigh, I looked up the Wall; I wondered if only way I would learn anything about it was to climb it. Even though I had no intention of braving the Wall that very moment, I stood and looked for any sort of handhold that might make climbing eventually possible. Upon placing a hand on the concrete, the rubber on all of my fingers retracted simultaneously.
Then, to my surprise, metal claws emerged from the tips of my fingers. I looked down; sure enough, the claws I had noticed dormant in my frog-toes were out and ready. It seemed … I had been built to climb.
At least, it seemed possible, though I was somewhat afraid that the old Wall would crumble under my weight. Overtaken by curiosity, I pressed my hands and a foot against the wall. With an effortless motion, I pulled myself up and found that my body was a foot off the ground. Encouraged, I went up another foot in an easy motion, then another.
However, it wasn’t long before a … particular lack of appreciation for heights hit me. I was only about ten feet up. But the moment I thought of looking down, a sickening dizziness struck. So, I slowly climbed back to the ground, staring straight at the Wall the whole time. I slowly made my way down until my foot touched the ground. From there, I let go and firmly pushed away from the concrete beast, noting that my arms and legs were shaking.
I turned away, not yet feeling up to looking at the Wall again. Still, what had happened was definitely a clue about my origins. Had I been built by the same people that had built the Wall? That had to be the case. Why else would I be equipped to do it so easily? I began to wonder how long I could keep myself from climbing over for answers.
I liked being with the Night People, but eventually I would need to know why I was here like this. I also felt like my presence on the island was not as much a benefit as they thought it was. It was a feeling that there was nothing I could do to protect them from the Golems. My only hope to do anything for them was to find the people who knew what was going on. The people who built the Wall—the people who had to be on the other side—and likely the only people who could deal with the Golems.
It was then that the wind died down. A faint and unexpected sound suddenly interrupted my thoughts, a low rumble that I hadn’t heard over the weather.
It was like ... an engine.
I looked around, trying to figure out where it was coming from. Eventually, I decided that it had to be coming from the direction of the Servants. I peered at their island and noticed something I hadn’t before. It was a figure … much larger than the small gray people that were normally there. The figure was moving—loading large items onto what looked like a boat!
I stood there, motionless, too stunned to speak. My feelings of electrical alarm ran through me, making me feel hyper-caffeinated. My body felt itchy. I hoped that the day hadn’t come—that I wasn’t seeing what I thought I was seeing.
One of the Servants approached the figure and then seemed to point at me.
No, no, no! What was I supposed to do? Hide? No, it was too late for that! I thought about waking the Night People. But what if they decided to fight it alongside me? The thing would destroy them. And what if they saw … if they saw me run away?
No, I didn't want to hurt them. Maybe it was better if I led the Golem away from the island. That was it! I would climb the Wall and divert its attention away from the Night People. It wasn't the most brave or noble plan, but it was the only way.
To a degree of surprise that cause me pause, however, the Golem did not instantly set off across the water like I thought it would. It didn’t aim any sort of weapon at me or let out a cry of war.
Was I wrong? Was this just another creature? A crazy thought occurred to me. What if this figure was like me … or knew of people like me? My indecision and confusion left me standing there as the figure lackadaisically lifted a long boat over its head from the far side of the peninsula, brought it to the water between us, climbed aboard, and set off with what sounded like a small motor.
I at least needed to see if there was any chance it knew something about me. Of course, I would stay prepared to sprint toward the Wall, in case it turned out I needed to.
As the figure approached, I realized how gargantuan in size it was—taller than me by several feet—and that it did not appear to be a human. It soon arrived, stepping out of a long, metal boat and into the shallow surf. From the water, it shut off the motor, dragged the boat partially onto shore, and then approached me.
Now that it was close, I was sure that the figure was mechanical—but completely unlike me. It looked very … industrial … covered in thickly plated steel. Its armor looked much thicker than my own and much more used. Instead of having rounded limbs and joints like mine, its arms, legs, and torso were all rectangular, thick, and bulky. Though all these pieces seemed solid and perfectly functional, they had obviously been repaired and replaced countless times—leading to welding marks and countless indentations under a fresh layer of paint.
While the figure’s body was boxy and tanklike, there was an aesthetic design to be noticed in the details. Each plate of armor was lined with a shimmering silver edge; and its face was that of a man, carved into a steel mask. This sculpted image was too detailed to have been anything but a realistic imprint of a male human with very round cheeks. Underneath the mirage of eyelids, his eyes were small black orbs that glimmered like glass.
Clouds of black smoke came from the exhaust pipes that stuck out behind his shoulders. No eco-friendly sticker for him; I’m sure he was very disappointed. Although the smell of diesel did remind me of what Krogallo had said about the Golems having an odor.
“An Educator,” the figure said, though his steel mouth did not move. He spoke in a casual tone, in a language that was not of the Night People. It was … English!
I felt like had been punched by deja-vu—caused by our shared language and by the human face carved into his mask. Combined with the fact that I wasn’t sure if I should feel terrified of this being, it became too much for me to process all at once.
“It has been many eternities since your kind last graced the planet. One genocide not enough, eh?” The figure gave a hearty and cruel laugh.
Wait … did he think that I was the Golem? Maybe this was all a case of mistaken identity! The problem was that I wasn’t sure how to explain that, until today, I had been pretty sure that I was a poultry robot.
Before I could utter anything, however, a horrifying new thought occurred to me. What if I really was some kind of evil robot, minus the memories of being one?
The figure must have mistaken my stunned silence for purposefully ignoring him, so he let out a low growl and took a threatening step forward, “Too good to talk to my kind, Educator?”
I jumped back in a moment of panic. Machete blades sprang from both arms. I would have worried that my face looked terrified, but I felt and heard my solar panel bat-ears slide into their secondary place as a face-shield. For a moment, I thought to try to be intimidating—realizing only afterward how inefficient this must have been as I struggled not to stutter on my words. “I-I'm not a m-murderer or a Profess—I mean—Educator. I’m Bassello, p-protector of the Night People.”
The figure lowered his stance back to a casual posture and cocked his head. “Bassello, you say,” he said and studied me up and down. This time, he took a few small, non-threatening steps forward and looked closer.
“The Sleeping G-God,” I said, choking on the last word. I wasn’t sure that this added anything, but my panicked brain had a momentary thought that it might seem scary to this potential threat.
The figure chuckled and finally said, “Well, it seems that I have found a malfunctioning Educator unit. After all this time … how exciting! Wandering around the bat islands like a little lost sheep. You’re lucky, you know. Some of the others of my kind would have ripped you apart for components on the spot!” He let out a laugh.
I took a step back and glanced at the wall behind me out of the corner of my vision.
He lifted a giant, metal hand and said, “Don’t worry! I would never do something like that. I am a man of far more vision. You be far more useful as you are. The Triumvirate … they would never suspect...” He began mumbling to himself like I wasn’t there.
“What is the Triumvirate!” I asked, jutting the machetes out at him as much as I dared.
He took a few more steps forward and gently pushing the tip of my blade away with his fingertip. Then he studied me for another few moments and shook his head. “The Triumvirate would see any tampering. But... if I were to give you some sort of incentive. Oh, but what to give an immortal being stumbling lost on an island!”
“Stop talking like I'm not here!” I said, realizing too late that the words came out more impetuous than intimidating.
“I am acting with a hypocritic level of superiority, aren't I?” he said and shook his head. His tone had become friendly, as if he'd been an old man who'd mistaken me for a burglar and suddenly realized I was just a neighborhood kid who'd lost his ball. “Since you appear to have been out of the loop for quite a while, let me catch you up. They call me Steeelface. I am one of the last humans left over from the days when you must have been built—back when the Walls went up. The Triumvirate, on the other hand, is a partnership between the so-called New Humans, Computers, and the Educators like you. Are you with me so far?”
I stared at him blankly for a moment. “What is a New Human … and an Educator?” I lowered my machetes just a bit.
“Ouch, really out of the loop,” Steelface said, though he seemed more amused than sympathetic about this. He put a thick metal finger to his chin for a moment, and then pointed at the group of Servants now watching from their island. “The Triumvirate was formed a long time ago to banish my kind as well as the ancestors of those people out there. They used our own Walls to exile us and have kept out ever since. Not allowing us to utilize air-travel or pass beyond the Walls without being shot down.”
I nodded, kind of following so far.
Steelface continued, “That alone makes my companions and I the enemies of the Triumvirate. To salt the wound, however, the Triumvirate returned many years later and took most of humans born of those exiled. The results were … carnage. Mass depression on a world entirely unknown to them, suicides, lack of desire to breed, and then extinction—to be exact. This limited the gene pool for those humans we managed to hide away.” He pointed again at the Servants.
I thought about this a moment. “If … you are one of the things that rules over those people, that means that you’re one of the Golems. I heard about how you treat the other things that live here. The bats and the seal things—they’re terrified of you!”
“Bats? I have never taken the time of day for any bats,” Steelface replied, looking down at the sand in pensive silence for a moment. Then his head shot up and he shook it irritably. “Jade and her damn zoo. Look, Bassello, I am not the only Immortal left roaming this world. Furthermore, we do not all see eye to eye on matters. But I can assure you that we are not all the villains you might imagine. Those people out there, they are not our slaves.”
“Then … why do you make them work for you?” I asked, not quite believing him.
Steelface gave a tired sigh … like it was something he didn’t want to talk about. A sore spot. “You might as well ask why people in your era kept work dogs. They live in symbiosis with my kind. On their end, they grow crops that we can convert to biofuel, which my kind need in order to stay alive. They also search for minerals and oil.
“They can’t keep themselves alive without us though. You have no idea what the lack of genetic diversity did to their minds. They can take care of themselves a little but … medicine, water purification, self-defense? They would die out in a decade if we did not interfere. The Triumvirate ruined them, Bassello.”
“But …” I said, not sure if I could believe what I was being told. Was I really going to believe a Golem over my friends, the Night People?
Steelface let me think for a moment and then said, “I don’t expect you to believe me on the spot, nor to pledge yourself against the Triumvirate. What I’m offering is to let you find out for yourself—and to help what remains of humanity down here.”
“How?” I asked.
“Climb over the Wall and get up to the Sky City on the other side,” Steelface said. “As an Educator, they won’t shoot you down like they would one of us. That will get you your answers. As for the problems here … get me a blueprint for a stealth spacecraft that will get me off this God-forsaken world I’ve been imprisoned on. Even if I’m tricking you, you’ll at least have one less ‘Golem’ for you and your bat friends to worry about. And, if you want, you can convince them to do something about the horror they’ve brought to the people here.”
“I …” I said, not really sure what to say to all this. But then a thought occurred to me. “Will you make sure that person you called Jade leaves the bats alone, if I help you? And … bring back the ones they took?”
Steelface shook his head and said, “Unfortunately, I do not own the bats that have been taken. And Jade would sooner kill me than let me take one of her precious pets. Not to mention what Goldface would do to me if he found out that I was working with an Educator. All for just the slim chance that you might actually pull this off … no, your price is too high.”
I stared at him, not sure what to say.
Again, Steelface sighed. “I understand you liking them … and maybe you got it in your head that it would be wrong for us to influence their existence. But there is no avoiding it. For that matter, there’s no point in delaying the next steps in their cultural progression or allowing them to go through it unguided.”
What … what was Steelface saying? The figurative hairs on the back of my metallic-pipe neck stood on end as he continued.
He continued, “Whether we interfere or not, the bats will eventually grow beyond utopian tribalism. It could be a shortage or maybe abundance that changes them. But, eventually, some bats will figure out that all it takes is a claw to the jugular, and they can have more than what they have.”
I shook my head dumbly and muttered, “No.” An energy began to boil inside of me … making me feel like everything was slow.
Steelface continued, “What you could do … no, what we should do … is to guide them and mold them. Especially if you couldn’t find the blueprint I need, the bats could become powerful allies against the other Immortals here. Maybe even against the Triumvirate themselves.”
I felt the unthinking red pressure and electric buzz return … but it filled my body and mind on a new level. Before I knew what was happening, I grabbed both of his arms and looked him dead in the eyes. I heard myself speak. “I said no!”
Quicker than I thought should have been possible for his size, Steelface broke my grip and drew an oversized handgun.
Flashbacks—images from my nightmares became a torrent in my mind.
In a cold, slow voice, Steelface said, “I have been trapped, at the bottom of the pecking order on this planet for too long. If you won’t go to the Sky City, you are coming with me. Unless you want me to kill every last bat on this damn island.”
Before another word could be said, a green blur struck the Golem's steel mask. His head lurched backward at a violent angle, and his gun fired into the sky. It was Romalla! She landed in the sand and hissed—baring her teeth like I hadn’t seen before.
Steelface looked at her and took aim.
My body moved before I could even think. I put myself between Steelface and Romalla. I grabbed the handgun and twisted with all my strength. I heard a metallic tearing. Only after it happened did I realize that I was severing Steelfaces’s silver-plated, index finger using the round trigger-guard of the gun. The finger tore completely off.
With the weapon in my hand, I panicked and threw the gun as far into the ocean as I could.
Steelface let out a bellowing, mechanical scream of pain and rage.
It was too late that I realized … I should have kept the gun.
ANN - Chapter 9 - Our Terrifying Descent
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