Beings of Light - Chapter 2

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By PaulPower
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“So what’s it like, then, being a guard?” asked Mark conversationally.  They were casually patrolling the complex, Alex pointing out some of its major features.  Mark couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t seem particularly well defended.  There was little in the way of fences and stuff.  Then he remembered that of course the Holosims had something far more terrifying at their disposal than mere fences.  Our disposal, a part of his brain corrected.

Catching up on the past test years hadn’t been that difficult.  Alex had missed the birth of Sarah, Mark’s youngest sister, but that was the only notable event (or at least the only one Mark was prepared to tell of) on Mark’s side of things.  Alex had kept himself busy enough building a garden in an attempt to add a bit of colour to what he considered to be the slightly sterile Holonet tower.

“Not that great.  My first love’s always been electronics – I was originally selected to be Enlightened because I was good with that sort of thing – but they thought I was so good at guard duty that I never got moved, and I rose fairly quickly through the ranks to sergeant.  I’m not sure why they think I’m so good at it – I’ve never actually energised anyone in my time as a guard.  I think I’ve energised a few corpses – after all, they only take up space and the disease factor is enough of a liability already.

“I’ve never been one for energising live humans, really – you can get just as much energy out of rocks, after all, and it’s far less angst-inducing.  And yeah, enough humans die of accidents, disease and so on anyway.  I think a lot of Holosims who are ‘humanitarians’ – err, so to speak – just savour the sheer power over humanity it gives them.  Like those mythical creatures, what’re they called – oh, yeah, vampires.  They didn’t have to drink the blood of humans: any old creature would do.  But they craved the power over human life and death that drinking human blood gave them.  There was some interesting literature on the subject from the very early twenty-first century – I’ll have to look it up on Holonet for you some time.

“Anyway, I’m digressing.  I’ve never actually energised anyone on guard duty.  But I seem to have a knack for the other things you need… that reminds me, we’re down here for a reason.”

Alex scanned the sky for a few seconds, then pointed up at something floating high above them.  It was larger than a bird, and after a few seconds Mark’s enhanced vision recognised it as a Holosim, keeping guard.

“Levitation,” observed Alex, “quite a useful skill.  Lookouts like James up there get an excellent view of the entire complex.  It’s also quite easy – after all, your light bee’s hovering already, it’s not difficult to make it hover a little bit higher.”

As if to prove his point, Alex had risen slowly and gracefully off the ground while he’d been saying the last sentence. “It’s relatively easy compared to energisation and telepathy,” he said to Mark as he rose, “Just think up.”

Up, thought Mark, then noticed he was off the ground as well.  He sped up to catch up with Alex, and they both stopped when they were a good hundred metres off the ground.

“Very good,” said Alex knowledgeably. “Believe it or not, it takes some people several tries to do that, but you’ve cracked it first time.  Well done.  But now we’re up in the air, let’s try a bit of actual flying.”

Mark quickly mastered the art of manoeuvring his Holosim form through the air.  The sheer freedom of movement began to make him doubt his motives.  How could anyone bear a grudge against creatures so graceful and beautiful as the Holosims?  Their superiority was manifest.  He tried to sit on the thought, but it kept popping up.

When he had been put through his flying paces, they descended back to the ground.  “That was easy enough,” said Alex. “Now, camouflage.  There are two main schools of thought as to the best way for a Holosim to camouflage his or herself…”

Alex was interrupted at that point, however, by a “telepathic” message that had arrived in his mind. “RED ALERT!  TIME CAPSULE DISCOVERED!  ALL GUARDS REPORT TO CABIN FORTY-FOUR!” it boomed out.
The number rang a bell with Mark, but its significance escaped him. “Time capsule?” he asked, as they broke into a run.
“Oh, yes, they can be a significant problem.  Think of it this way.  Just about everything we tell humans about their origins is a lie; you’ve found that out for yourself today, Mark.  If a human ever discovered the truth, think how angry they would get.”

Mark, who already knew how angry a human would get should they learn the truth, nodded in understanding.
“Yes,” continued Alex, “I know I’d have been livid if I’d known.  We’ve covered our tracks pretty well, all things considered, but there’s still a chance someone might discover a time capsule such as a diary from before Holonet’s reign…”

At the word “diary”, Mark’s blood – or whatever – ran cold.  He suddenly remembered the significance of Cabin Forty-four – it was the cabin where his family lived…

He had buried the diary back where he’d found it, but it could easily have come to light again.  Of course, there was always the possibility that there might be two “time capsules” in Cabin Forty-four – but he doubted it…

“You all right?” asked Alex.
“Um – yeah,” Mark replied, slightly queasily.
“I know it’s an unpleasant business, but… oh.  Hang on - Cabin Forty-four.  I remember now.  That’s where… oh, Mark, I’m so sorry.  I’ll do what I can, but… oh dear…”

They had just arrived at a rather odd tableau.  Standing docilely, with no idea whatsoever of what was likely about to happen to her, but nevertheless held firmly in place by two Holosim guards, was his younger sister Sarah.  By the wall of the cabin, his mother had collapsed in tears, surrounded by his other siblings.  His oldest sister, Ellen, looked up and gave him a glance that told him all he needed to know.  He couldn’t be trusted now; he was one of Them.  His father was on his knees, pleading with another Holosim who looked like he was in charge.  The Holosim in question had his arms folded resolutely, and he was looking at Mark’s father with an expression of contempt.  A fourth Holosim held the diary in his hands, thumbing through it idly and shaking his head, wearing a “that was a close one” expression on his face.  Several more had arrived on the scene.

“That’s Captain Johnson of the Guard,” whispered Alex, pointing out the arms-folded man. “He’s one of the oldest Holosims around, converted when the armies of the solar system were Enlightened about 200 years ago.  Between you and me, he’s a total nutcase.  Typically, the longer you’ve been a Holosim, the worse you get…”

Mark’s father realised that he was getting nowhere with the captain, and looked around for a friendlier face.  He spotted Mark and Alex and rushed over to them.

“Please, Mark – Alex – you must make the Captain see sense.  Sarah is only a child, she can barely read, I’m sure she could not have understood the contents of that diary…”
“We’ll try our best,” said Alex. “Come on Mark, it’s time you met the Captain…”

They walked over to Johnson. “Sergeant Williams,” he acknowledged briefly, “and this must be a new recruit – I haven’t seen your face before, boy…”
“Mark Andrews,” mumbled Mark.
“Andrews, Andrews… you didn’t used to be this girl’s brother, did you?”

Mark nodded. “She’s my younger sister, yes.”
Was your younger sister.  You’re a Holosim now, my boy… well, anyway.  What do you two want?”
“We’re acting on behalf of Sarah Andrews,” explained Alex. “Like her father says, she’s only a child…”
“Child or no child, anyone who discovers a diary is a major threat to security and must be energised!” barked Johnson.
“Where did she find it?” asked Mark.
“Where did she find it, sir,” said Johnson pointedly. “It was under her bed.  She noticed there was fresh earth, and went to look, and found the diary…”

Mark swallowed nervously.  Of course, when he left, someone else would have got his bed, and it may as well have been Sarah, who was probably his parents’ second favourite after him, what with her being the youngest and all.  He thought some more about her.  She was a docile, gentle girl, not very bright.  With time the Holosim propaganda machine would have moulded her into an unquestioning slave of her masters’ whims.  She would have lived a quiet life and died a quiet death.  But her  story had almost certainly been nipped in the bud now.

“If the earth’s fresh,” said Alex, “then surely it must be quite recent.  It can’t be that important.”
“You’d be surprised, sarge,” said the Holosim who’d been reading it, who had just wandered across to them.  Descending into telepathy to keep the information from human ears, he continued. “It’s from the start of the Holonet era.  It turns out the author was her great x3 grandfather…
“Hrmm…” said Johnson.  He thought for a second, then spoke to Alex. “I tell you what, sergeant, let’s be sporting.  We’ll put it to the vote.” He looked at the assembled Holosims. “All in favour of energising both the diary and the girl, raise their right hand.”

Several Holosim hands went up, including Johnson’s.

“All in favour of just energising the diary and sparing the girl, raise their left hand.”

Alex and Mark’s hands went up.  After a second or two, a couple of more hesitant hands followed up.

“Sixteen to four in favour of energising both,” said Johnson, smiling nastily. “Anyone care to do the honours?”
“I haven’t eaten in a while,” said one Holosim, and a nasty laugh spread through the ranks of those who had raised their right hand.
“Very well, corporal.”

Mark gave Sarah one last despairing look that was returned only by a blank, vaguely puzzled stare.  She clearly had no idea what was about to happen to her.

"C'mere, kid," said the corporal, taking Sarah by the hand, "D'you like surprises, kid?" he drawled. Sarah nodded obediently. "Well, there's one right over there..."

Sarah's head turned to follow the corporal's pointing finger. She never knew what hit her. Mark slumped as the glow faded away.

Captain Johnson looked around with the air of one who had just seen a job well done. “Right, then – carry on…”

They all dispersed except Mark and Alex, who stayed to comfort the remainder of Mark’s family.

“We don’t blame you two, of course,” said Mark’s dad, “you’ve tried you best.  One child Enlightened, another Energised – you could say it balances out.  Of course, that’s little consolation to us, but what do we matter?  We are merely human… we should be grateful that you show any compassion to us at all…”

Mark nodded sadly.  Those feelings he’d had earlier on, when he’d been flying above the complex, had completely drained away.  This tyranny had to be ended somehow.  Johnson had shown no compassion – he knew precisely which way the majority of his squad would vote, because they were just like him.  Beauty was only skin deep.

He managed, somehow, to look Ellen and his brothers in the eye, one after another.  He could see that, although they appreciated him trying, the fact that he had been powerless to stop the events that had just unfolded was not going to exonerate him from blame.  They hadn’t said anything, or done anything – with Johnson and his band of nutcases around,  to attempt that would be pure suicide and would merely add to the woes of their parents.  But their eyes showed pure hatred for all Holosims present, including Mark.

What could he do?  Well, there was his plan.  It still wasn’t mapped out in detail, it was full of risk, there were many things that could lead him astray from it.  He had already experienced the sheer thrill of soaring through the air above the puny humans – he gave himself a mental slap for thinking like that – below.  But he had to go ahead. This had to be stopped.

The word beauty had made him think of Holly again.  She was nothing like Johnson, not even remotely, but she was still very matter-of-fact about the whole thing.  Except for her eyes.  He couldn’t fathom it.  What was she really thinking?
Introcution: [link]
<-- Chapter 1: [link]
--> Chapter 3: [link]

So, yeah, Chapter 3 (formerly 4) is seriously going to go under the microscope today as I mix and match bits with the half-finished Chapter 4 (formerly 5, which hasn't appeared yet). But before I do that, I want to add some bits to Chapter 2 (formerly 3. With me so far? ;)). The first reason is simple enough (I reckon it'll make it better). The second is that if I do this, the chapters are back in order again. Which would be nice.

Old Ch2/3/whatever/argh renamed back to "Holosims - Chapter 3" (gosh I love making this complicated) and moved to scraps.
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