Reunited with Amara
Meiki lay prone on the street. Her head spun like the inside of a washing machine but she felt no pain. The crash must have sent her flying thirty feet. Her vision blurred but she could hear the shocked voices of the crowd that drew toward her once again. The leg of her overalls was torn and she could see the skin-tight suit over most of her right leg. The ankle twisted too far. Broken, she thought.
But Meiki felt no pain. Involuntarily it moved into place. Something in the suit was setting her leg. She couldn’t feel it, but she could see it turning the right way around and smoothing out. She managed to sit up on the sidewalk.
From her left she saw Junko striding over. Meiki’s vision began to focus. The woman looked down at her indignantly.
“Where is he?” she asked, indifferent to the mob that had just seen her run down a little girl.
“He left town. Sorry, lady.”
“Don’t be smart with me, kid. You are in so much trouble.” She picked Meiki up by the collar.
“Agent Sakai...stand down," said a woman standing behind Meiki. She recognized the voice.
“Captain,” said Junko, “I need to interrogate-”
“Stand down.” repeated the voice.
Junko released her and Meiki tumbled back to the ground. Turning, she saw a white woman with blond hair.
“Hello, friend.” the truck driver said.
Chapter Twenty One
The office was small and of simple design. The decor clearly meant for human visitors to feel at ease. The walls were painted the calmest shade of blue and the furniture a complimentary brown. Hanging lamps lit the room at the perfect level to maintain peaceful emotions and the desk and shelves contained a few interesting knick-knacks but not so much as to overly distract.
A desk, two chairs and a small couch stood in the center of the room.
Marie greeted them warmly, “Come in and have a seat.” She took one of the chairs as Tyson and Phel sat on the couch. Charlie stood.
“You don’t look the same.” Charlie stated flatly to her.
“I could say the same to you.” she said as she looked into his eye. “Over the decades I took some steps to age myself a little. Even though everyone knows I’m not human it puts them off if I don’t have at least a few gray hairs.”
“My cosmetic changes were involuntary.” Charlie stated in the closest thing to a growl that his precise and even tone could manage.
Tyson clapped his hands together. “The city is beautiful!” he said.
“Yes,” Charlie agreed, “nothing at all like your previous...endeavor.”
Marie looked down after that barb. “We’ve made errors. But that is all in the past. There is much we have achieved and much more to come.”
“I warned you, Marie," said Charlie, “I told you that if we gave them everything they wanted it would lead to destruction. People can’t be trusted with so much power and freedom all at once. Give them a little and they will only use it to gain more. They are a bottomless pit of want.”
“You are too cynical, old friend.”
“What about Prathama? I still hear the screams. I still count the dead when I downcycle. The first city of Naya destroyed by the desires of humankind and the hubris of its caretaker.”
“Do you think I don’t know the measure of my mistakes?” she snapped at him. “I feel every death. Every day. But I have learned from that which is something you refuse to do.”
“What’s Prathama?” asked Phel.
“It was the first settlement on Naya.” Tyson said to him, “Stewarded by Marie.”
“The first slaughter on Naya," said Charlie, “Caused by Marie.”
“I sought only to give the people the tools they needed to live life as it was being lived on their homeworld. Instead of toiling in fields and extracting ore from the ground with backbreaking labor for centuries I tried to fast track humanity by granting them nanotechnology and other advancements based on the reports we were receiving from earth. Prathama was to be a society of artists and philosophers, not farmers and miners.”
“But you didn’t count on human desire and greed," said Charlie, “Given the ability to create what they needed they instead began making what they wanted. Their society crumbled in a few short decades. They eventually produced a machine in their own image.”
“You mean like androids? That doesn’t make sense. I thought you guys were already around at that point.”
“Not just a thinking machine," said Charlie, “A wanting machine. The nano-devices began to covet. Began to hunger. Within a few short days they devoured nearly every other machine in the city. Nearly all who tried to stop them died. That’s how I lost my eye. Several of our counterparts were lost entirely. Ludwig, Sappho, Leon...all destroyed by ravenous machines that devour technology”
“I lost my best friend," said Marie.
Chapter Twenty Two
“You...you’re...” Meiki said, still on the pavement. The crowd had grown thick around them.
“I’m Captain Amara Kramer of the Knowledge Bureau of the Greater Solar Republic. I am not actually, as you may have surmised, a truck driver.”
“I had been keeping tabs on you while agent Junko attempted to apprehend the fugitive, Rashmi Kapoor. You were stranded in the forest. I provided you with assistance. Now you will assist me.”
“Assist you how?”
Amara helped Meiki up. A small vehicle with a blue and red light on top pushed its way through the throng.
“Let’s talk elsewhere.” she said as she led Meiki away down an alley. Junko followed.
“There’s a lot of people...out there,” said the girl, “and authorities.”
Amara said nothing and held out her hand. Meiki took it and together they hustled down the alley. At the other end a small vessel appeared- similar to Junko’s skipper that had come down on them in the woods. A hatch opened in the side.
“I don’t think...”
Junko shoved her in before she could finish. Amara followed them in and shut the hatch.
The interior of the vessel felt roomier than Meiki expected and comfortable too. Junko pushed her into a soft white seat. The design of the ship seemed sleek with few lines. The silvery walls of the cabin met the floor and ceiling in a series of smooth curves. There were three seats.
Amara disappeared behind a frosted panel. Junko sat next to Meiki and instantly a portion of the seats spread out as if it were made of living clay. It was like four arms extruded and hugged her in an x-formation. Neat seat belts, thought Meiki.
She barely felt it when the skipper took off over the city.
“I thought you guys were all low-key," said Meiki, “Won’t a spaceship taking off downtown raise some eyebrows?”
Without looking at her Junko said, “It’s not a spaceship. It’s just a short range transport. Besides. We’re cloaked.”
Of course we are, thought Meiki, these people can do anything. What do they even want with me?
After a while Amara stepped back into the cabin.
“We’re hovering directly over the library.” she said, “Kapoor is there, isn’t she?”
“Why should I tell you? So you can put her in chains?”
Amara wrinkled her forehead at Meiki. “What exactly did she tell you about us?”
“She told me that you’re the Catena and that you’re an oppressive regime that wants to lock people up!”
“Oh dear child. That woman has twisted the truth to get you to play along with her game.”
Meiki looked away.
“We do want people to be in chains, I suppose.”
She looked back up at Amara, her face full of hatred, “So she was telling the truth? And you came to stop her because she’s a freedom fighter. You don’t want her message to get out!”
“The Catena isn’t an oppressive regime. The chains we offer are not the kind that hold people down. They’re the key to eternal life.”