(A work of quasi-fiction by Phil Force)
Serin Servus was an odd, 23 year-old Ravus. She was rather plain looking and yet, just didn’t seem to fit. She didn’t seem to care much about how she looked – about how others thought she looked. Her clothes were old, not torn or tattered, but well worn and obviously of a past season’s fashion.
Even her name was more than it appeared. It was rumored her conception was not planned, that her mother, a lower-class Ravus, was impregnated during a random sexual encounter. It was said Serin’s full first name was “Serendipity” – that her mother had named her this as a result of her unplanned arrival. As it was not custom for a birthing license to be granted to a lower-class Ravus who had no documentation identifying the father or his class, the resulting pregnancy of such an act was often terminated. On rare occasion, a pregnant woman would leave the protection and comforts of the city, Aliustera, to give birth in the wilderness. Although it was rare for such a woman to ever return, it was rumored that Serin’s mother had done just that. As Serin’s mother was said to have died when Serin was only a few months old, Serin had no way of confirming or denying the rumors.
Leaving the city was dangerous for any Aliusteran as water was scarce throughout the planet. Aliusterans had developed a method for maintaining a limited water supply for the city. Access to water rations would not be made available to anyone outside. The act of leaving Aliustera would have been particularly dangerous for someone like Serin’s mom, as a result of the Ravus’ vulnerability to sunlight. The Ravus breed spent very little time outdoors as their pale gray skin made direct sunlight almost unbearable. The Crocos, on the other hand, spent most of their free time outdoors, within the confines of Aliustera, of course. Their red-colored skin made sunlight a pleasant experience.
DCPO was a part of everyday life for a modern Aliusteran. DCPO chips were implanted into infant’s brains the moment each infant was born. DCPO (Digital Channel for Personal Optics) chips created images and sounds right inside a person’s brain. This was particularly useful when it came to teaching an infant about his or her new world. Further, these chips enabled legal authorities to monitor the activities of potential security threats. The tracking feature of a DCPO chip was introduced as a security measurement for the governing authorities’ use and could only be activated directly by the CEO (Custodian of Elite Operations) of the Pollex. This ability for Security Patrol to track individual Aliusterians worked to ensure a first-time offender rarely engaged in a second offense.
It was said the act of implanting these chips was, at one point, saved until a child was old enough to want one. Of course, this all changed when the tracking feature was added. Either way, life for a 23 year-old Ravus would be rather mundane without the semi-constant feed of media streaming over DCPO waves being pumped directly into his or her brain. Every Ravus and Crocos had a DCPO chip. But the Ravus rarely had an experience of DCPO similar to one a Crocos might expect. A Ravus wouldn’t be interested in topics in which a Crocos would be and DCPO was programed to stream media of specific interest to the individual.
The way Ravus saw them, the Crocos were undignified, barely Aliusteran. The Crocos had dark red skin and often wore their hair in long braids down their backs. They had little shame, as evidenced by their refusal to cover their nudity. It was rare to see a Crocos wear more than a vestis, a small garment used to cover a Crocos’ genitals. Male and female Crocos rarely wore garments over their chests and stomachs – Absolutely vulgar. Still, they served their purpose.
The Ravus, on the other hand, wore formal, modern attire. Clothes made of colors ranging from black to white, the Ravus knew the importance of dressing to impress. The Ravus’ light gray skin contrasted beautifully with their black, gray, or white garments and silver or white hair. It was common for a Ravus to wear his or her hair short, no more than a few centimeters in length. This was the proper length for an adult Ravus. Serin looked at herself in the mirror. Lips cracking from dehydration, she looked with disgust as the tips of her hair made contact with the dry, flaking skin on her forehead. It was time for a haircut.
“Let’s go” Serin’s roommate, Timi said with an impatient tone. It was time to begin their shift with the Aliustera Security Center (ASC). “Fine” Serin said with an insincere sigh and playful tone. Serin loved her job and Timi knew it. To the dismay of Timi, Serin enjoyed visiting the Crocos sections. Sections A, B, and C, the Ravus sections of Aliustera, were kept cooler than sections D, E, and F, the Crocos sections. The Ravus sections were too cold for Serin’s taste. As a result, she often wore a coat when out in the Ravus sections. On patrol in the Crocos sections, Serin felt more comfortable.
Serin took pride in protecting Aliustera’s water supply from potential invaders. She knew her place in Aliustera was just as important as the place of any Crocos. The existence of the Crocos was very important to the Ravus as it was the job of the Crocos to manage the crops. Likewise, the Crocos relied on the Ravus to protect Aliustera’s water supply. It was understood that Aliustera’s water supply was highly coveted, as the planet was largely covered in desert. Although no living Aliusteran had ever seen a visitor from outside Aliustera, it was common knowledge life outside did exist. The Security system required the active engagement of one-third the adult Ravus population at all times in order to function at full capacity.
The Crocos and Ravus alike took pride in their work. The fact that the Crocos’ work yielded more apparent results was no concern to the Ravus. The Ravus saw the lack of evidence of a potential invasion as proof that the system was working. Although a Ravus’ DCPO chip often worked as means of social connection, Serin preferred to use this resource as means of educating herself. Serin heard stories of life beyond the walls of the city every day. Her DCPO knew her better than she knew herself. It always knew exactly what stories would interest her – what information would be useful to her. Serin loved stories of far away lands. She found the primitive cultures of the Carinus particularly fascinating.
With skin darker than the Ravus and even the Crocos, the Carinus survived better than other species in the hot desert. Although they managed without the aid of the Pollex, Carinus craved the Aliusteran water supply. On a desert planet, water was power. Those who controlled the water supply, controlled the population. Those who controlled the water supply, held the keys to life on the planet. Aliusteran’s founders had been wise enough to form the Pollex to manage the water supply. Without the Pollex, the Crocos might waste the city’s water. Without the Pollex, no security system would exist. For a Ravus, life under the Pollex was good. Serin grabbed a grey jacket off the table in her bedroom and pressed her water rations bottle against the blue light on the front of her water dispenser unit, filling the bottle with a gust of water.
Serin and Timi exited their apartment building into the open space of downtown Aliustera. Serin’s stomach growled of hunger. Timi looked into Serin’s eyes, furrowed her brow, and smiled. Serin was always hungry before patrol. “Let’s just stop by the armarium for a second.”, Serin pleaded in a playful tone. She knew there wasn’t enough time. “We’re late as it is.”, Timi sighed with a smile. The sun glared through the purple tinted glass ceiling 120 feet above the street. It was said Aliustera was large enough to be seen from space. Serin felt pride in her kind as she and Timi navigated the streets. Images of CEO Puerilis projected onto walls throughout the city: “CEO Puerilis Believes in Auliustera!” – “CEO Puerilis Speaks for Aliusterans.” – “CEO Puerilis – 100% Ravus – 100% Aliusteran!” It was that time again – time for Eligo – time for every Ravus to show his or her support for the Pollex and re-elect CEO Puerilis.
At the Aliustera Security Center, Serin and Timi received their daily security and Mo-De (Mobility Device) assignment. Mo-De use was restricted to Security detail in Aliustera. There was really no need for them beyond Security detail. The Ravus had everything they needed within walking distance of their homes. Likewise, the Crocos had everything they felt they needed in their section of the city.
Serin helped herself to the sack of cibusplast near the Mo-De garage entry and began eating it by the juicy, white handful. Timi walked up next to Serin and scooped pieces of the pearly candy into a black sack until it was full – “We have our rations, Serin. Let’s go.” Serin grabbed another handful for the ride.
Serin and Timi rode inside their Mo-De to a Security portal in section D. They were to patrol the corridors of the outside Western wall, checking for breaches and hoarded water. Although the Pollex provided enough water for every Aliusteran to survive, some Crocos hoarded stolen water. Water that was meant for the growing of crops was sometimes stolen and hidden throughout Crocos sections of the city. One popular hiding place was within the outside Western wall.
To keep the streets safe for pedestrians, the Pollex had made it mandatory that all Mo-Des be air-born while in operation. Not that the Mo-De required any real operating from it’s occupants. Ravus at the ASC programed all Mo-De operations from the Office of Mo-De Operations. It was rumored that Mo-Des were once operated by the Aliusterans who occupied them, but this had led to unscheduled detours. It was best to leave the navigating to Ravus who had no personal interest in such detours or distractions. Air-born operations of Mo-Des also enabled Ravus Security Patrol to bypass the Security checkpoints that littered the streets of the city.
Although visiting an area of the city like section D presented certain dangers to a Ravus, Serin loved it. She smiled as the slightly warm air filled the speeding Mo-De as wind through the open vent in the top. It was exciting to interact with the lower race. Besides, the Crocos knew their place. They knew of the repercussions to be if they were to cause harm to a Ravus, to an officer of the ASC. When she was on duty, Serin held authority over every Aliusteran who was not. Timi, on the other hand, was less certain. The center of the city was safer for Ravus as the ASC had constant surveillance of activities in sections A and B. Timi shuttered as they passed a Crocos apartment building. It stretched several stories high and bore no external walls. Timi gagged and quickly closed the vent as the smell of the Crocos filled the cab. Serin looked on with interest as their Mo-De sped by. It was uncommon for a Ravus to have any business in a Crocos apartment building, even when on patrol. Pollex policy made a clear division between Crocos living space and the public area.
Serin and Timi reached the Security portal where the inside and outside Western walls met. With the Mo-De secured inside the Security portal, Serin looked out through the dirty glass inner wall, over a large recreation area and miles of Crocos fields below. Serin reached out her hand and pressed it against the glass as if to touch the particles of pollen that moved across the outside of the glass wall. She felt the warmth of the outside air on the pads of her fingers. It was a testament to the greatness of the Pollex that the Crocos could maintain such a lush supply of crops on the wasteland that was her planet. Timi exclaimed with a sharp disgust, “Serin!” Startled, Serin quickly removed her hand and looked back at Timi, “You are going to get sick doing that! Let’s go!” Timi had already opened the Security door to the outside wall. Timi stepped down the stairwell into dimly lit corridor of outside wall. After gathering her personal light beam from the Mo-De, Serin followed. Now the work would begin.
2. In the Dark
It was important to stay alert when patrolling the outside wall. The inside of the wall was wide and parts were very dark. Security lamps were often out as a result of bootleggers’ desires not to be seen. Support columns seemed to stretch upward for miles into nothingness. It would have been easy for an unaccompanied Ravus to lose his or her lamp to an aggressive Crocos in the Western wall. These Crocus were not like other Crocus. Although it was reasonable to assume most of them had their DCPO chips installed at birth, it was also reasonable to assume the chips of these Crocus had long ago been deactivated via unauthorized surgery or intentional trauma to the skull. Still, there was rarely need for force when apprehending any bootlegger. The security cameras featured in every Mo-De team’s helmets made the spotting of a suspect the most difficult part of any apprehending. Facial recognition technology worked to instantaneously identify any perpetrator. Once they had a suspect’s face, they knew his or her age, where he or she lived, and his or her class. The latter two were closely tied when it came to Ravus perpetrators. The Crocos, on the other hand, rarely made a class distinction when it came to living quarters.
Although the Crocos class system was a joke compared to the Ravus class system, it had its purpose. The Crocos class system awarded rank as a result of his or her productivity. Where a Ravus inherited his or her class from his or her mother and only received class promotions as a result of being chosen to complete Pollex-designed educational programs – “Ravus Class Schola”, the Crocos promotion was usually used as a motivator for behaviors like speedy crop harvesting or planting. Serin thought it cruel to manipulate the poor things with such trivial titles, but understood that such titles meant competition, which meant a better crop yield.
Making her way through the Western wall was a tedious task for Timi. As monotonous as the task was, Serin saw it as part of the job and took protocol rather seriously. Timi yawned as she led the way through the wall’s first cell. Timi passed several support columns without following protocol of waiting for the “Clear” from her partner before moving forward. This protocol was nothing more than the product of standard practice in this first section, as light pouring in from the outside made the limited vision problems of deeper parts of the wall an invalid concern. “Keep pace!” Serin demanded. Timi laughed, looking back at Serin and stopped where she stood. “Well, come on then.” Timi said impatiently. Serin locked eyes with her and, with a disapproving stare, walked quickly to be by her side. She knew, as Timi did, that the rules were in place for a reason, for their protection.
Entering the next cell, Serin and Timi moved further away from each other, Serin near the right side of the corridor, Timi near the left. A smile came to Serin’s face as she felt the warmth radiating off the wall to her right. Not more than a few feet away was a world she had never known, a world of wonder, a world for which she was not made and in which she would not survive. She felt an exhilaration she had only felt while patrolling the Western wall, an illusion of security from danger as a result of her proximity to the vast wasteland just on the other side.
Serin and Timi reached the first pair of columns in this second cell. Timi pointed her light toward the opposite side of the support column in impeding Serin’s path and Serin pointed her light on the opposite side of Timi’s. Seeing no danger on the opposite side of Serin’s support column, Timi said, “Clear!” Seeing no danger on the opposite side of Timi’s support column, Serin said “Clear!” Serin and Timi proceeded to the next set of columns.
It was easy for Serin to lose herself in her work. Although Serin took great pride in her abilities on patrol, the actual task of clearing each cell in the Western wall quickly became rather monotonous. “Clear!” Timi said. “Clear!” Serin said.
Serin let her mind wander: She imagined how her life might have been different if she were born with Carinus blood running through her body. Fantasies like these were often conflicting to her, as she knew the Carinus were after Aliusteran water. Still, she couldn’t help but admire them. To feel that warmth all of the time would surely be splendid if only her skin could manage the intense sunlight.
Not all Carinus customs were uncharming. Serin particularly liked the idea of a lifetime companion. Still, what Carinus would want her? Even in her fantasies, Serin was burdened by her low self-esteem. Whether she was a spectacle of peculiarity within the walls of Aliustera or outside them would make little difference in the way of vindication.
As much as she fought it, Serin’s reality remained illuminated in the back of her mind. She was a Ravus… like her mother…like Timi… “Timi!” Serin screamed as her lamp caught the struggling kicks of Timi’s feet as she was dragged backward through a small passage branching off from the main corridor. Serin knew she had to catch the Crocos with her lamp or she would never see Timi again. Timi’s screams echoed through the halls.
Serin rushed to the passage and shined her light down it. It was a dead end. But it couldn’t be. Where had Timi gone? Serin heard a scream come from the vent bellow. Serin swung the vent open and dropped in. The fall was farther than she expected and she crouched to reduce the impact of her landing. Serin quickly sprung back to an upright position and threw her beam around the large tunnel quickly. She was rattled, as evidenced by her quick breaths and shaky lamp. No Timi. But her screams were still audible. Serin chased after, following the sound of her friend’s screams, winding her way through the various passages. Who knew anything like this existed out here? Which way was she running? It felt like she was heading away from Aliustera, but she couldn’t say for certain. Shining her lamp down passages as she ran through the large tunnel, Serin stopped suddenly at the sound of a loud bang.
Serin reversed direction and entered a passage she had just passed. Shining her beam deep into the passage as she ran, she could barely make out a living form. Closing in on the shape, her face slowly lit up as she recognized Timi in the distance. She continued her sprint toward Timi and wrapped her arms around her, nearly knocking her to the ground. Timi laughed at Serin’s enthusiasm. “Lucky for you, I’m fine.” she said. Serin laughed with relief.
Evidence of Timi’s attack disappeared quickly with her scrapes. The only lasting memento of the encounter was a scar across her left eyebrow. Although no visible mark was left, hair refused to grow in that place from that day on. Timi wore the scar like a badge. Actual battle wounds were rare and often admired.
The Ravus were very social creatures. When not in direct contact with other Ravus, they would often exchange communication via the DCPO network. When in the presence of another Ravus, a DCPO experience could be shared. As every Ravus knew every other Ravus’ name, section, and security clearance level at a glance via this function of DCPO, most Ravus were quick to adhere to a family dynamic amongst Ravus. Often Ravus would come together to collectively experience a story or game via the DCPO network.
While these social interactions were enjoyable, the real divinity of the DCPO network was most apparent to every Ravus when he or she was engaged in Ecclesia. Timi and other Ravus seemed to really enjoy Ecclesia. Timi had, on more than one occasion, squandered her entire evening’s water supply during Ecclesia.
Serin didn’t see the point. Although her DCPO chip often pressed upon her how important it was to follow recent fashion trends, Serin rarely felt such adherence was worth her water rations. Her clothes covered her nakedness. That was good enough. Aside from this, the DCPO interactions required to navigate the Ecclesia Stadium often felt forced and intimidating. As the Ecclesia layout was constantly changing, Ravus often relied on other Ravus’ path traces to locate new and interesting shops in the Ecclesia Stadium. It was easy for Timi. Her network of friends via DCPO made navigating the Stadium rather effortless. Serin, on the other hand, often found herself lost among the crowd any time she attempted navigating of the Ecclesia Stadium.
It was common for Ravus to engage in Ecclesia as a way of relaxing after Security detail. The proximity of the Ecclesia Stadium to the Office of Mo-De Operations and Mo-De garage made Ecclesia almost an impulsive response to leaving work for the day.
Landing on the Mo-De garage deck, the world outside Serin and Timi’s Mo-De was cluttered with movement. Serin braced herself for the waive of sound to come when Timi released the glass door on her side of the Mo-De. It hit her like a wall. Serin sighed and released the door on her side, stepping out into the busy garage. Ravus returning from the first shift jovially conversed with others as they flowed into the Ecclesia Stadium. Serin knew Timi would follow. Occasionally Serin went with Timi. Navigating the Ecclesia Stadium was not as difficult when she could simply follow Timi.
The alternative was sitting outside, on the front ASC steps to wait. This often made Serin feel as though she looked like a lost child, awaiting the arrival of some authority figure, some Ravus to say where she belonged. Still, Serin preferred this alone time to the barrage of questions that awaited her at the Security checkpoint if she were to attempt to pass through without Timi. It wasn’t that the Ravus at the checkpoint suspected Serin of anything. It seemed as though they just enjoyed harassing her. This was not the case when Timi was around. Timi’s attractiveness made passing through checkpoints a much easier task.
“Are you coming?” Timi asked. Serin followed, her eyes focused on nothing in particular in the distance. The Ecclesia Stadium of the ASC was the largest part of the ASC building. Inside, platforms and pathways moved and changed colors. Bass vibrated through the floors. Glass walls stretched from the floor to the ceiling. The smell of sugar and sweat wafted over the entire lobby. In the entryway, Serin looked around at all of the glass-walled rooms lining the walls of the stadium. Ravus hungrily mauled new garments and gadgets. Scanners emitted optimistic beeps as Ravus swiped their wrists over scanners, exchanging their rights to water rations for possession of the objects of the newest trends. Numerous voices echoed off the barren interior, forming one giant, uneven roar. Eligo posters for CEO Puerilis flashed on every flat surface.
“Serin!” Timi shouted from a distance. Serin looked to find Timi riding a platform, already half-way up to the second floor. Serin ran to catch a platform. When she arrived on the second floor, Timi looked at her with a slight sense of embarrassment and rolled her eyes before turning away and heading toward a nearby clothing boutique. Serin followed Timi’s blue path trace through the various shops. “It is a beautiful color.” she thought, watching her feet and her path trace cover Timi’s in brown. Serin looked back at her own path trace in disgust. Perhaps if she had used the DCPO network more, her path trace would not look so sickly.
Serin looked forward again. This path trace was blue, but not Timi’s. “Merda!” Serin thought loudly to herself. Which way was out? The voices and music that surrounded her seemed to tear her in different directions. She searched the DCPO network for Timi, but could not find her among all of the other shapes and sounds. Serin followed various blue path traces, attempting to stumble upon Timi’s. In defeat and humiliation, Serin stopped and swiped her wrist over the scanner of a nearby bench. With a peep, the bench turned a bright orange. Serin sat, resting her head in her hands and attempted to block out the sounds of the chaos around her.
Then Serin felt the company of another Ravus. She opened her eyes to find Timi sitting next to her. “Where have you been?” Timi casually asked, looking off into the distance. Serin quickly attempted to remove any signs of anxiety from her face. Timi held several white bags in each hand. “Are you ready?” Timi rose from the bench as if the question was rhetorical. Serin followed quietly, looking back to find the bench, once bright orange, now that same brown color of her path trace.
As much as communication via the DCPO network seemed appealing for most Ravus, the potential was burdensome to Serin. It was rare for any Ravus to attempt connection with her via the DCPO network. In spite of her loneliness, Serin felt somewhat relieved by this. More connections would make Ecclesia easier, but Serin failed to find a point in it all. The burden Serin felt was one tied to her duty as a patrol officer.
Although the registered DCPO channels were being constantly monitored by Ravus at the ASC, unregistered, bootlegger’s channels were being discovered all the time. Many of these secret channels made use of stolen Ravus encryption technologies. Without the encryption key, the garbled images and sounds of such channels often mocked Serin. The fact that Ravus technology was used to hide the messages of communication via the DCPO channels just made the experience more frustrating.
Ravus had petitioned the Pollex to limit the Crocos’ access to the DCPO network, but CEO Puerilis insisted it was the inalienable right of every Aliusteran to have access to the DCPO network. Serin empathized with the Crocos. She saw wisdom in the CEO’s choice to continue to allow Crocos access to the DCPO network. In spite the fact that communications via unregistered channels on the DCPO network did create an extra hurdle in the execution of her duties, Serin felt it would be rather cruel to limit Crocos access. Although the operation of unregistered channels on the DCPO network was outlawed by Pollex mandate, the Crocos used these channels regularly in social practice.
Crocos met regularly for “Ecclesia”. This “Ecclesia” was very different from the Ravus Ecclesia. For some reason, the savages felt Ecclesia was to be done far away from the ASC. In large groups, the would form circles around a fire and sacrifice crops to “Phasmatis of the Pollex”. Such sacrifices had been outlawed long ago, but the Crocos seemed to care little about Pollex mandate. How one could honor the Pollex through an act of defiance was bewildering to Serin. According to CEO Puerilis, this “Phasmatis of the Pollex” was a creation of fantasy, used to keep the Crocos subservient. Although this Crocos practice of Ecclesia made access to the DCPO network an important part of Crocos life and waisted a large part of the Aluisteran crop, the allowing of said practice was means to an end. Who knew what kind of pandemonium would take the place of the Crocos Ecclesia?
Serin had been witness to many Crocos Ecclesia, from a distance of course. It was rare for a Ravus to see a Crcocos Ecclesia up close. But they were fairly predictable – moaning, grunting, spiting onto the fire, Crocos bodies convulsing in the flickering light, the feeling of static cling hanging in the air, the sound of electric feedback echoing off nearby rocks, the sweet smell of vomit. It all seemed rather barbaric. The experience made Serin feel sick every time. Still, it was a sort of controlled chaos. Better to let this anarchy out is small spurts than to repress it.
4. Mo-De Operations
Timi often had male visitors. Serin on the other hand, rarely had any visitors at all. Serin had always felt a disconnect from other Ravus. She only received her sex bumps at the age of twelve. Timi, on the other hand, like most Ravus girls, received her sex bumps much earlier, at the age of eight. Serin was ridiculed by other girls throughout most her years in Duco. She found no joy in the touch of male Ravus. Although she felt relief after her first sexual encounter, the actual experience was painful and not fully welcomed. Serin had made the mistake of wondering out of her room at Duco late one night in pursuit of DCPO signal. The dorms of Duco had all been constructed in a way that the DCPO signal could be blocked during the late hours of the evening. It was the perspective of the Pollex that young minds should be resting during these hours. So when Serin slipped out of her dorm that night, she knew she was doing so at great risk. Sitting on the floor next to the floor to ceiling window at the end of the hall, her head leaning against the glass, Serin pressed the pads of her left index and ring fingers to the right side of her neck, just below her jaw line, switching on her DCPO chip. Deeply engaged in a story about the Carinus, Serin didn’t notice the older Ravus boy exit his dorm into the hallway and begin approaching her. Learning about the Carinus had become a favorite exercise for her, even though some of their customs seemed rather odd. serin stared out the window deep in thought. Then the boy entered Serin’s line of vision. Startled at the site of him, Serin jumped, turning her back toward the window. He said something to her, but Serin couldn’t hear over her DCPO program. She really wasn’t interested. Serin stared at the floor as the boy moved closer. She never gave permission, but never asked him not to. Serin lay there, more interested in the story still playing via her DCPO chip than in the thrusting of the Ravus boy on top of her. There had been so much talk about the act. Perhaps it was just better to finally get it over with.
And this was what sex had been to Serin all her life. It was a reason for male Ravus to show momentary interest. It was a distraction from that which she found truly fulfilling. And, at the same time, it was one of the only activities in which she could engage that made her feel less like an outsider. At least during sex, she was doing what she was supposed to be doing. At least during sex, she felt somewhat accepted, if only for the moment. Still, opportunities for this act of conformation were rare.
Serin’s views on social issues made her voicing of opinions rather unpopular. It was Serin’s position that any company who didn’t share her perspective of Aliustera was not company worth keeping. As a result, Serin often spent free time alone, gazing over the city from the view of her apartment building’s roof. The view from the roof was beautiful and the elevation made it easier for Serin to warm herself. Serin knew how such an act made her look to other Ravus, but she preferred to be comfortable and alone than in the company of those would judge.
Still, this didn’t stop her from forcing awkward conversation with Timi’s nightly visitors. She knew Crocos and Ravus were not the same. But she didn’t suspect the Crocos were all bad. After all, the Crocos maintained a fairly lush food supply. Perhaps one would make a good pet. One evening, Serin made the mistake of posing this theory in conversation to Esclavus, one of Timi’s visitors. The tall section B Ravus scoffed at the idea: “Living in your apartment with you?!” Serin didn’t seem to mind the dirt as much as the other Ravus, but instantly formed an understanding of how such an arrangement would result in her complete ostracism. She had already felt like an alien for holding such a peculiar opinion. The Ravus’ response just solidified this perspective.
Once Esclavus left, Timi took it upon herself to scold Serin for her views of the Crocos. “They are dirty and not like us. Do you think one would not sooner rape you than be your pet?” Timi exclaimed, “I wouldn’t be surprised if your father was one of them!” Timi slammed her bedroom door and Serin began to cry. “That’s how nasty rumors get started!” Serin screamed, clinging to her Ravus title. She felt ill-equipped to make any such claim regarding Ravus society to Timi. Timi fit into her place in Ravus society without trying. Serin, on the other hand, felt as though she never really fit into her given place. Serin felt the desire to walk the beautiful streets of Aliustera and then jumped at the sound of the front door locking. It was section A curfew. Serin climbed into bed and the lights in her bedroom dimmed.
The next day Serin put in a request to the Pollex for a new living space – one where she could be alone. It was best just to keep to herself when she could. The ASC soon reassigned Serin to the Mo-De department. Serin was no longer permitted to go on patrol and remained in her cubicle at the ASC during work hours, managing Mo-De operations for Mobile Security. Serin missed the thrill of personally working to secure Aliustera against invaders, but took solace in the knowledge that she was assisting others in that effort. Still, the work was tedious. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Although the act was strongly discouraged, Serin often passed the time by personally piloting Mo-Des to their desired destinations. This gave Serin a sense of control, over her fate, over a world that seemed somewhat unaccepting, over her growing sense of isolation.
A map of the ASC hung inside Serin’s cubicle – the Ecclesia Stadium, the Office of Mo-De Operations, the Mo-De garage, the Pollex court, the Food Distribution Center, restricted areas, even bathrooms were documented on the map. The building seemed much larger from the outside. She became very familiar with the map and often saw it in her dreams. It was a representation of her new, predictable life. The site of the map, like every day, was repetitive. The more familiar she became with her role in Mo-De operations, the more she dreamed of some alternative. Perhaps she would feel more accepted had she been born a Carinus.
“It was that kind of idea that got me here in the first place!” Serin scolded herself. “How does one admire an enemy without becoming an enemy? Does it make me a traitor? Does it make me less Aliusteran?” “Beeep Beeep Beeep Beeep” Serin’s machine sounded as the Mo-De she was piloting came dangerously close to an apartment building. She quickly pushed her joystick sideways, directing the Mo-De away from the building. Serin hastily plugged in coordinates with her right hand as she manually piloted the Mo-De with her left. When the computer took over, Serin unplugged from her machine and rushed to the bathroom. She felt as though her heart was going to leap from her chest. Serin’s superior, Claudeo opened the bathroom door and Serin quickly shoved the control in her coat pocket. If caught, she would be reprimanded for taking it away from her station. Claudeo was not an incredibly intimidating man. He was fairly tall, but a little too skinny. His data displayed in her mind via the DCPO network as she looked at him with simultaneous pity and shame: Claudeo Trutta – Ravus - Male - Section B - Security Clearance Level 26 “Level 26…”, she thought with disgust. Hers was only a Level 14. He was somewhat pathetic, but he had the power of the Pollex behind him. Claudeo reminded, “You know you’re not supposed to run in the halls of the ASC.” “I know.” Serin whispered with a strained tone. “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and come back tomorrow with your head on straight?” Serin left the ASC with her head facing downward and her hands in her coat pockets, her left tightly gripping the Mo-De control – holding firmly her secret mistake.
The next morning Serin awoke feeling sick to her stomach. She lay in her bed weighing her sense of obligation to fulfill her daily duty and the knowledge that she would likely feel hungry soon with her sense of shame for her near accident the day before. Serin used logic to support the course of action her undying shame made unavoidable. She hadn’t slept well. She rarely did. Serin often found it difficult to make herself comfortable in her bed. She often woke in the night with a feeling of discomfort only to roll over and return to sleep for a few hours. This caused Serin to be frequently tired. She was an accident waiting to happen. After a few minutes, Serin rolled onto her side and the overhead lights in her room dimmed.
Serin awoke several hours later with a sore throat. The light on the water dispenser across the room painted the dark space a stale tint of orange. Serin sat up and the overhead lights came on. She looked with question at the orange light. Serin felt around in her bed covering for her water rations bottle. Raising it to eye level, she looked through the nearly full bottle at the orange light. Had she forgotten to drink her water rations the day before? Serin’s tongue stuck to the backs of her front teeth. She raised the bottle to her lips and chugged until it was empty. She then felt a churning in her stomach, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
Serin woke late the next morning to the sound of Timi knocking at her door. Serin had already missed the start of work. “Serin, are you alright?” Timi called from the other side of the door. Serin’s stomach rumbled with hunger. She attempted to mask the sound by covering her belly with her arms. She was in no place to talk to Timi. Although she appreciated the gesture, Serin felt her inability to perform the menial task of Mo-De navigator was only further proof that Timi was right about her, that Serin was not fit for Ravus society. Serin lay still as to not trigger the light and wept quietly in the red glow of the water dispenser’s light.
Hours later, Serin woke again feeling rested. Serin wetted her lips with her tongue and tasted the salty residue left from the stream of tears she had cried those few hours before. The salt felt like a tease to her otherwise empty stomach. She felt as though she had swallowed a cold stone, which now rested deep in her stomach. It was time to get out of bed. Serin filled her water rations bottle and the light on the water dispenser returned to that stale shade of orange.
Serin left her apartment and walked the main road of section A toward section B, passing numerous inactive security checkpoints as she walked. She reached her hands into her coat pockets and felt the Mo-de control she’d shamefully kept with her. She laughed at her reasoning. As though taking the control home with her would have helped the situation. She felt an optimism she hadn’t felt in years. She had been so foolish. Things were naturally so simple and she was just making them difficult. She was a Ravus, like her mother and even Timi. She was responsible for protecting the water supply. It was so simple. She cried again, this time with a sense of release. She knew what she would do. She would be the best Mo-De navigator she could be. She would work hard and show she could be very useful to the ASC and maybe they would let her go on patrol again.
Serin heard the humming of section A in the distance. The silence of section B felt cold. All section B Ravus were at work insuring the safety of every Aliusteran. The distant humming of section A inspired a sense of loneliness.
The city was getting dark. Serin knew she needed to be home soon. She hadn’t realized how far she had walked. Serin walked hurriedly through the streets. She had never missed curfew before, but had heard stories of resulting harsh discipline. There was only one logical reason for being out past curfew – stealing water. Serin had once delivered a Section C Ravus to the ASC for being out past his curfew. There was no way of knowing what happened to him from there. Even if the Section C Ravus was not involved in water hoarding, he was not fulfilling his obligation to Aliustera, to be resting for his shift that evening. How would this look to the ASC? Serin felt her heart pounding more heavily as the sun fell further below the horizon.
As Serin reached to grasp the release handle on her front door, she heard it lock. “Harena.” she whispered to herself. Panic set in: “Where can I go?! This isn’t section D; this is section A. Patrol will be by soon. Surely I cannot stay here without being seen.” Serin walked quickly Westward. She felt she might be okay if she could get to section B, where curfew was not yet active. “But I’ll never make it to section B without being caught.” Serin dreaded the thought of section D after dark, but felt there wasn’t a better alternative.
Serin tried to stay out of the light. Ravus sections of Aliustera were fairly well lit, even at night, which made this task rather difficult. She dashed through brightly illuminated sections of street, resting in dimly lit portions between street lamps. With each dash, she grew nearer to an apparently inactive Security checkpoint. Serin reached the small wall outside the Security checkpoint and sat with her back against it, gasping for breath. She hadn’t been off patrol duty for long, but even patrol had not kept her s fit as she would have liked. Serin pushed the back of her head against the wall, closed her eyes, and smiled. This was certainly no game. Still, she understood the absurdity in her situation: “Maybe I should just explain my…” “Woooop” – a siren went off. She opened her eyes to find a Mo-De at ground level just in front of her. The Mo-De’s spotlight flashed on, blinding her. She remained frozen against the wall, still breathing heavily. “Serin, what are you doing out here?” a voice echoed from the Mo-De’s loudspeaker.
“Esclavus?” Serin asked anxiously. “You know you’re not supposed to be out here past curfew” his voice echoed over the loud speaker, “Come on. I’ll give you a ride.” Serin was unsure of how to react to Esclavus’ tone. He seemed playful and warm. At the same time, Serin knew they were not alone. The back door of the passenger side of the Mo-De raised open. With some hesitation, Serin climbed into the back of Esclavus’ Mo-De. “Thank you for the ride, Esclavus. Do you think I’ll be okay in section B?” The Mo-De rose off the ground and lunged into full speed. “You misunderstood, Serin. We’re going to the ASC.” “I can’t go there! You know what happens to Ravus who are brought in in the back of a Mo-De.” “It’s where my navigator is taking us. There is nothing I can do.” “Merda!” Serin huffed, kicking the passenger seat in front of her. “Wait! I have a Mo-De control!” Serin said optimistically, “We can connect my control and…” “You’re not supposed to take that from your work station.” Esclavus interrupted. Serin began to cry. “Besides, section B is for Ravus.” Serin felt the sting of the insult. “I can’t believe they let you live with us…and work next to us. To think, Timi’s life was in your hands daily. And all this time you were nothing more than an animal.” Serin began to scream, repetitively kicking the passenger seat in front of her. “Knock it off!” Esclavus demanded. Serin continued her tantrum. Soon the passenger seat was rocking with Serin’s kicks. Esclavus: “1984 to Mo-De Control. Requesting short stop to restrain violent perpetrator.” The Mo-De slowed to a stop and descended to the ground just outside a Section A apartment building. Esclavus quickly hopped out of the car. Serin stopped kicking and cowered in the corner of the backseat furthest away from Esclavus’ side of the car. The door opposite Serin opened as Esclavus shoved the end of a metal pole at Serin. The pole emitted a violent pulse of electricity.
Serin awoke, startled. With her flinch, the lights in her bedroom came on. It had been a dream. The details of which still echoed in her brain loudly enough that she felt as though she could reach out and touch them. What was that bizarre metal pole? She attempted to review her past few days in search of the inspiration for the creation of such a vile object. So, if the Mo-De ride with Esclavus was a dream, then missing curfew was a dream. Serin felt grateful for the fresh start the absence of her dream’s reality presented her. Still, the lesson of the dream was equally valued. She would return to work and earn a promotion. She would shed herself of the title “lower-class Ravus” and prove to everyone she was not a Crocos.
There was still some time before Serin would need to leave for work. Even showing up a little early, as she had planned, didn’t require her to leave for some time. Perhaps some entertainment was in order. Serin reached her left hand up to the right side of her neck and switched on her DCPO chip. It was the conclusion of a story about the Crocos “ignis stick”. The story explained how the “ignis stick”, which launched small metal projectiles capable of tearing through an Aliusteran’s flesh, had been responsible for two deaths the night before: “…CEO Puerilis to address Aliustera…” Serin turned off her DCPO. It was scary to imagine the Crocos with that kind of power. Serin put on her coat and exited her apartment. It was cold, as always. She pushed her fists into her coat pockets and sighed. Today would be a better day. The reality of her dream flickered in the back of her mind. How many days had she actually missed? She then realized there was no Mo-De control in her pocket. “How could that be?” she thought.
Serin entered through the large glass doors on the South side of the ASC. Serin walked into the Mo-De navigation room and sat in the swivel chair at her cubicle. The Mo-De control was missing from her station. What had she done with it? She began to panic. Serin’s superior, Claudeo placed his hand on Serin’s left shoulder. With surprise, Serin turned quickly toward Claudeo, causing his hand to fall limp at his side. “They lost two Ravus last night to the Crocos’ ‘ignis stick’. Your roommate, Timi, was injured during a similar encounter.” “She’s not my roommate.” Serin replied. “Either way, they expect to lose more to this ‘ignis stick’ and need all the help they can get out there. I told them you would be more useful on patrol than in here.” Claudeo gazed at Serin with a smile symptomatic of social rejection. He resembled an apologetic pet and, for an instance, Serin saw the slightest hint of Crocos in him. Serin was grateful to him and simultaneously felt as though he were not worthy of his authority over her. “Don’t forget to confirm your renewal of CEO Puerilis, Serin.”, Claudeo’s voice was muffled by the closing doors as Serin exited the office of Mo-De Operations.
It felt too easy. She had, only days before, nearly killed two patrol Ravus and was now being rewarded with her admittance back into the patrol force. It seemed unreal. Then again, much had seemed unreal in recent history. It was best to not ask questions. Now was the time to prove to herself that she was not completely useless.
Her reintroduction to Security Patrol was met with a probation period. Her new partner, Amaritudo, was an upper-class Ravus: “The distinction between Crocos living space and the public area has been lifted. Our primary objective is to find those ignis sticks and relieve the Crocos of them.” It was understood that Amaritudo would report to the ASC regarding Serin’s behavior. Amaritudo seemed to approach this duty with great distain. “Why is it my job to babysit you?” she asked Serin. Amaritudo came from a long line of upper-class Ravus. As Amaritudo had inherited her class ranking and it was incredibly rare for an upper-class Ravus to be demoted, to Serin, Amaritudo seemed undeserving of the authority she held over Serin.
The front seat of this Mo-De was rather lonely. “Still, it beats the backseat” Serin thought, quietly chewing on a handful of cibusplast, one piece at a time. Amaritudo switched on her DCPO. Serin thought it for the best anyway. Minimal conversation meant a minimal chance of getting herself into trouble. Still, Serin couldn’t help but engage in attempts to entertain herself at Amaritudo’s expense. “Hey Amari.” Serin called playfully, speaking loudly to ensure she could be heard over Amaritudo’s DCPO. “I told you not to call me that ‘Amari’ merda!” Serin smiled a stale smile to herself and turned toward her side of the Mo-De cab, pressing her forehead against the window and popping another piece of cibusplast in her mouth. The reflection of a tall Crocos apartment building swept quickly across the outside of the glass. The reflection of a second Crocos apartment building entered the glass’ frame more slowly and came to a stop.
The door raised and Serin stepped out of the Mo-De wearing new, black armor. The odor of spicy food and sweat hit her like a wall as she stepped onto the hard, dirty ground outside the Crocos apartment building. Serin walked with confidence, the lights of every South-facing apartment reflecting off her new helmet’s face guard, the sun a purple orb in the distance. Serin’s pace stopped at the sound of Amaritudo’s vomit splashing against the hard ground. Serin stood, refusing to turn in acknowledgement of Amaritudo’s sickness. Amaritudo closed her face guard and walked quickly to be by Serin’s side.
Inside the building, Serin and Amaritudo took turns rummaging through the resident Crocos’ belongings. The Crocos grunted in protest, but not a single syllable could be understood by the ears of a Ravus. Although they were dirty, the Crocos apartments were, at first, rather free from any clutter. This came as a surprise to Serin. The Crocos floors quickly filled with clutter as Serin and Amaritudo threw the Crocos belongings around in search of any and all ingnis sticks. What could the Crocos do anyway? Serin and Amaritudo had the support of the Pollex. They were acting according to orders of the Pollex. They had every right. Serin attempted to mask her smile as she dumped a pot of food off an old Crocos woman’s stove: “Nope, no ignis stick here”. Okay, so it was kind of fun – seeing the rage in the poor Crocos’ face and knowing she could do nothing to stop Serin. Yes, life under the Pollex was good.
Amaritudo seemed to take less joy in the work. “Clear!” Amaritudo said with a stern voice. “Clear.” Serin said with a roll of her eyes as she proceeded to leave the old Crocos’ apartment. “This place is a muggy pile of merda and I don’t enjoy being here!” Amaritudo huffed. In spite their efforts, Serin and Amaritudo set off in return to the Aliustera Security Center at the end of their shift empty-handed. “You know, it’s not simply that they smell or that they like their living spaces to feel like ovens.” Amaritudo explained, “It’s not safe in there. You can trust I will protect you in such a setting, but you have yet to prove to me I can really trust you to do the same.”
Serin almost cited her many years of covering Timi, but decided it would be best to answer Amaritudo’s grievance with silence. After all, the story of Timi’s near death experience at the hands of a Crocos under the Western wall was well known among the Section A Ravus. It was just as well. “Let Amari upset herself over her own safety.” Serin thought. Serin knew she was perfectly capable of covering her partner, even if her partner was such an unpleasant one.
When not on patrol, Serin shut herself off from social contact. On occasion, Serin’s neighbor would attempt to engage her in small talk. She found the Ravus rather attractive, but answered his questions with short, one or two syllable answers. She didn’t want to be rude, but the Ravus reminded her of every other Male Section A Ravus she had ever known. In spite of her lack of desire to engage in social interaction with anyone in particular, she missed the superficial connection she got from interactions as seemingly insignificant as her awkward conversations with Timi’s male visitors. Still, Serin had only recently discovered what a risk such interactions presented. It was better not to be known than to be suspected or accused of being peculiar.
She knew herself to be odd and unlike the others. She carefully guarded the secret of her shameful uniqueness, all the while fearing that she would be found out. She often fantasized about amputating that rarity that inspired her to live alone. It was more than maintaining a single-Aliusteran dwelling. She actually LIVED alone. Serin rarely spoke an unnecessary word to anyone, even Amaritudo.
Serin grasped at shadows of any form of happiness. Months into their search for the Crocos’ ignis stick, Serin found no joy in throwing the Crocos’ belongings around their apartments. She had stopped her childish attempts to get under Amaritudo’s skin. Their daily Mo-De rides were absolutely silent. This lack of social engagement only worked to increase Serin’s daydreaming. Soon her daydreams were not only fantasies of escaping her current life, they were her escape. Throughout her day, she kept her mind occupied by watching socially inappropriate scenarios play out in her brain: Lean over and lick Amaritudo’s face, punch the Crocos mother in the head as she passed in the hall, have the male Crocos disrobe and service him sexually. It took strong restraint not to yell obscenities at the top of her lungs as Amaritudo and she made their rounds through the Crocos apartments.
Serin often chastised herself for these daydreams. She knew it was only a matter of time before her next big failure. At the same time, she had very little control over her wandering mind. These daydreams were an unstoppable force, an unchangeable part of her world. Refraining from acting out her socially inappropriate fantasies became more difficult as days past. She sometimes considered such an act preferable to the inevitable failure to come. At least such a violent or inappropriately sexual act would appear to be the product of her will. Another mistake would work as evidence of her incompetence.
“Clear?!” Amaritudo demanded. Serin panicked. What was she doing? How had she gotten here? She scrambled for a memory of the hall outside this apartment, but found nothing. Becoming more aware of her surroundings and herself, Serin felt her lamp in her right hand as it dangled by her side. For what possible reason would she need her lamp? These Crocos apartments were brightly lit by the purple daylight shining through the Alusterian glass ceiling above. “Clear.” Serin repeated as a reflex. She recognized Amaritudo’s lack of response to her absentmindedness as a sign that Amaritudo had not noticed. Serin scolded herself, but quickly lost herself in deep thought again.
The silence of the ride back to the ASC was interrupted by Amaritudo’s calm words: “What was that merda back there? I need a partner who is there when she is supposed to act defendo for me.” Serin tried to form words to serve in her defense, but could form none. She began to panic. Amaritudo would surely report her. So back to Mo-De Operations? Merda no! Harena no! Serin felt her anxiety build as though it were going to explode and then… she snapped her left arm out and punched Amaritudo in the side of her face. A loud clap echoed throughout the Mp-De. Serin buried her face in her hands and wept. What would become of her? “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” she thought. Unwilling to lift her eyes to look at Amaritudo, she anticipated a violent response from the other side of the Mo-De cab the rest of the silent ride. A few minutes later, Serin felt the Mo-De slow to a stop and heard Amaritudo’s door open. After taking a few seconds to compose herself, Serin opened her eyes to find that she was sitting alone in their Mo-De, parked in the ASC Mo-De garage.
A supervisor stopped Serin as she was on her way out of the Aliusteran Security Center. “Why don’t you stay home tomorrow?” the woman said softly, “You’ve been selected for reassignment. We will let you know when your new orders come in.” Serin walked home slowly, dreading the repercussions to come. Surely she would not be reassigned. Even Mo-De Operations seemed preferable to her inevitable fate. Early the next morning, Serin brought her left hand up to the right side of her neck and switched on her DCPO chip: “Meeting with the CEO Puerilis today. All other duties have been suspended.” She would stand before the CEO and plead for the Pollex to have mercy on her. Serin closed the notification to find “Renew CEO Puerilis”, a banner at the top of her line of vision. Serin selected the banner. A male Ravus voice sounded, “Thank you” as the banner vanished.
6. A Light in the Darkness
Standing in the open, dark space of the Pollex court, Serin stared forward into the darkness. Abstract shapes formed out of the darkness and danced in front of her. For a few seconds, Serin forgot where she was. A soft, deep voice snapped her back to the reality of her situation as it echoed in the cold room. The voice sounded as though it were coming out of an old, sickly Alusterian. The soft deep tones of the male voice vibrated in her ears. A sharp and intense pain grew quickly in her head and left just as quickly, like a passing Mo-De. Another second burst of pain swelled in her head. She knew the voice was addressing her, but Serin couldn’t understand his words. The pain kept shoving her deeper into her mind, away from the reality of the temporary pulses of agony. But Serin kept forcing her focus back to the dark room, back to that blinding darkness.
Then light illuminated the insides of Serin’s eyelids. She opened them with great anticipation and anxiety as she sat up in her bed. “Not another dream.” she thought, “It is so hard to tell anymore.” “Not a dream. Not an accident. Not a Crocos.” she repeated silently as she rocked back and forth in bed. Her DCPO chip turned on: “Reassignment Orders for Serin Servus: Ravus Class Schola”.
A tear rolled down Serin’s face. At the same time, she felt numb. Was this really happening? It seemed so surreal. Serin wasn’t sure if she cared whether this experience were a dream. She was going to enjoy it. She laid back and felt a warm tingle fill her body. Was this it? A white light began growing in her mind. A dull hum radiated off the light. As the light grew, the hum grew louder. Soon the vibrating was all she could hear, like shards of metal rapidly clashing against each other. The light became all she could see. The back of her head pounded against her bed with the deafening sound. Then a pulse of electricity: her waist quickly raised into the air, her feet and head digging into her bed. Her body relaxed and her head began pounding the bed again. This wasn’t what she had had in mind. Then another pulse. Her waist thrust into the air again. She felt her teeth moving within their sockets as they pressed violently against each other. She begged for release, for the pain to stop or to lose consciousness. No release came. Between each pulse, she tried to convince herself the pain was not real. She was somewhere else, somewhere peaceful. This was a dream. She was in her bed. “Merda, Serin! This doesn’t have to be so difficult!”
Then the light, the noise, the pain… all stopped. Serin sat up in bed with a tear soaked face and no other trace of the horror that had possessed her moments before. Had she been crying? She laughed with relief. What was wrong with her? Then her DCPO chip switched on again: “Ravus Class Schola: Module 1 Complete”. Surely there was something wrong. This could not be the experience of “Ravus Class Schola” she had aspired to her entire life. That aside, there was something wrong with her DCPO chip if it was randomly switching on.
Serin exited her apartment for the ASC. She would demand an audience with CEO Puerilis. Her confidence slowly shrank as she neared the ASC. She was still a lower-class Ravus. What business did she have demanding anything from the Pollex? By the time she reached the ASC, her demand had turned into a timid whisper. “I’d like to see the CEO, please?” Serin spoke quietly into the automated intercom outside the Pollex court. Serin felt regret in her words almost immediately. Who was she to bother CEO Puerilis with something like this? It was too late. The words had already left her mouth. She awaited the intercom’s response with anticipation. “Please have a seat.” the voice sounded. Serin did all she could not to flea from the waiting area. If bothering the CEO with such small issues would be disrespectful, how would requesting a meeting and then leaving before being seen be viewed? Serin sat in the small black chair at the end of a row of small black chairs in the waiting area, her hands pressed flat against each other, squeezed between her thighs. Her head faced downward. Her eyes remained closed.
The more time passed, the more Serin wanted to run from this place screaming: “Stupid! Stupid! Get up and leave! It’s too late now! Stupid! Stupid! The Carinus. Just think about the Carinus. No! Stupid! You are a Ravus! Ravus! Ravus! Loyal to the Pollex! Ravus! Ravus!…” Seconds turned into minutes: “What is taking so long? No! We are grateful to the Pollex! We are grateful to be seen!” Before she could tell her legs to stop, she was in the corridor outside the Pollex court waiting area. Walking briskly, she begged her legs to turn her around. Then she started running.
The halls of the ASC, once so familiar, now seemed foreign. Where was she going? She didn’t care. She just had to get away from the Pollex court. She could make up an excuse for her leaving. She could say she became ill and got lost on her way back from the bathroom. She was lost. She heard foot steps echo off the stone floors of the corridor behind her. She attempted to quiet her own steps without slowing her speed. She knew she was way out of bounds now.
Serin soon found herself at the end of a corridor. The sound of footsteps grew louder. Her only option, her only escape, was through the only door and into the stairwell at the end of the corridor. The stairwell was dark. The halls below the main level were darker. Walking quietly, she found herself constantly looking back for a trace of light through the stairwell door, proof that she was being followed. She saw no light, but, instead, heard the sound of the door being locked.
As Serin proceeded, the dark hall soon gave way to absolute blackness. Serin walked carefully, her left hand sliding, flat, along the warm wall. Serin looked back, but could no longer see the outline of the stairwell. She saw nothing moving forward, her quiet breaths echoed in the bare hallway. She knew someone would be down to claim her soon.
After what felt like hours, the tunnel grew slightly lighter. Serin saw a stairwell in the distance. No. It couldn’t be. The same stairwell? Had she gone in a very large circle? As she climbed the steps, she felt warm air fill her lungs and wrap her body like a blanket. She slid the door open and the heat hit her like a wall. The red sun crackled above her as she stepped out into this strange world. She collapsed to her knees in the sand, looking over a bright ocean of nothing. How could anything survive in this? She felt the possibility of some alternate life slipping away. Serin leaned forward, pressing the right side of her face into the sand. It burned. She screamed, fighting her body’s impulse to pull back. Serin felt the darkness slowly rising on her, it was the darkness of the tunnel, the darkness of the Pollex, the darkness of life as a Ravus.
Serin awoke in the dark. As she rose to her knees, sand clung to the seared flesh of her right cheek. A sweet smell rode the wind, which wrapped her like a blanket, burning her eyes. Serin turned to find the door behind her closed. She sprung to her feet and lunged at the door, frantically attempting to pry it open with her short fingernails. Serin collapsed to the ground, landing with a thud on her backside. Serin then noticed the smell again and her stomach rumbled. She had never smelled anything like that before, and yet, she felt a strong desire to eat the source.
Serin walked in search of the source. As she followed the smell, the ground grew firmer. Soon Serin found herself walking on a seemingly endless bed of plant life. As she continued, she soon found herself stepping in beat with a rhythmic drum. The drumming was inviting and grew louder as she walked. Soon a light appeared in the distance… then figures around the light. It was a Carinus bon-fire. As Serin approached, one by one, the heads of the Carinus slowly turned to face her, their robes clinging to their thin bodies. Serin stopped just outside the camp. The drumming slowly faded and then ceased as the sound of the last drum beat echoed in the cool night’s air. Serin felt as though she would be sick if she had anything in her stomach to expel. She immediately regretted her decision to approach the camp. Her mind screamed, “Run!” but her legs refused.
Serin jumped at the words of an older Carinus: “Gravatus?” Serin recognized the word from her DCPO channel. Was she ill? Did she look ill? Certainly not. “No.” Serin replied. The old Carinus approached Serin with small steps and the aid of a walking stick. He stretched out his hand, grasped hers and escorted her to the fire. “Sedi” he said, gesturing for her to sit. Serin sat by the fire and the drumming slowly grew into the great symphony Serin had heard from a distance moments before. The sweet aroma that led Serin to this camp was strong and thick by the fire. The old Carinus gave Serin a bowl and Serin ate this strange food with great delight. “Bestia” the Carinus said, gesturing to the bowl. The old Carinus pressed the tips of his fingers to his chest and said, “Par”. He then made the same gesture toward Serin. Serin looked at him puzzled. He said it again, “Par… Par” pressing the tips of his fingers to his chest. He then gestured to Serin: “Oh! Serin!” she said with excitement.
The drumming stopped as all Carinus heads snapped in the direction of the nearby field of plant life. Then Serin heard the attraction. There was something moving among the plants. If it wasn’t Carinus then what was it? Certainly not Aliusteran. “Bestia” Par whispered.
7. Serin and Par’s Walk
Light from the rising sun woke Serin. Had she really slept in the dirt? Serin sat up and looked around the campsite. A four-legged creature hung from a pole nestled high above the ground, in one of the larger plants. A Bestia? Serin felt sick at the sight of this thing. The Carinus began rising from their sleep and migrating toward some unseeable destination in the distance. Two Carinus claimed their prize, the large Bestia, from the plant’s arms and carried it between them on its long pole. As far as Serin looked, she saw nothing but plant life covering the ground and an occasional larger plant rising tall into the sky. The sky… Serin looked upward in awe at the massive blue field above her, the red sun, an antagonizing menace on the horizon. As to not be left alone in the inevitable heat to come, Serin took her cue from the members of the tribe and followed toward this invisible destination.
Before long, the group came to a large hole in the ground and, one at a time, lowered themselves in, leaving the large creature on the ground next to the hole. As Serin approached the hole, she heard a noise she’d never heard before. Was it music…or Bestia? Cool air spewed upward out of the hole and blasted her in the face as she looked down into this mystifying attraction. Carinus climbed into the hole via the remnants of a large plant. Serin followed.
Under the ground, the sound was almost deafening as it echoed off the rock walls. It was water, flowing like blood from a wound. Serin watched with amazement as the rocks gave freely and indiscriminately of this ingredient of life. Carinus drank and bathed in the rock’s gift. Light reflected off the water and danced on Serin’s face. Serin studied drawings on the wall, refusing to believe what she was seeing, expecting to wake in her bed at any moment. One drawing depicted a group of Carinus violently slaying a four-legged creature like the one left on the surface above. Another featured a dark red sun and an underground field of water. Drawing upon drawing depicted a great war, tribes of beings fighting over… over what? Serin searched for meaning. When no such release came, She spoke in an offended tone, “What are these?!” Par looked into Serin’s eyes as if searching for some sort of clue as to what she was asking. Serin pointed at the drawing of the Bestia. Par didn’t speak, but looked back at Serin with less confusion.
Serin then pointed to the underground water depicted in the drawing. Par gave his head the slightest of bows and pressed his walking stick against the floor as he raised to his feet. Par turned, and proceeded deeper into the dimly lit corridor. “Serin…” Par called, “Serin…”. Serin proceeded with caution, following the light of Par’s torch and the stream of water downward.
As the two traveled deeper into the passage, Par’s torch became the only source of light. Serin stepped carefully, understanding each step into the darkness would bring her one step further away from the surface. The sound of the running water next to her comforted her, reassuring her in her every step. The walk was long and disorienting. The tunnel seemed to wind in every direction but up. Finally, Serin and Par came to a large opening in the rock, a large section of the floor covered in water. It seemed like such a waist to let the water spill out onto the floor like this. Par lit a torch in a sconce on the wall of this large room and lowered his walking stick into the water. Par watched Serin’s amazement as the stick slowly disappeared into the.
Serin looked over the pool’s surface with a new understanding of how much water was actually in this room. She kneeled next to the edge and submerged her fingers. Her motion continued and her hand soon disappeared below the water’s surface… then her forearm. Before Serin knew it, she was shoulder-deep in this pit of cool liquid. Serin pressed her right cheek into the water. The cold felt good on her burned face. Serin lost herself in a surge of ecstasy, forgetting for a moment anything but that feeling.
Then Serin felt an urgent sense of shame. Was this alright? Had she offended Par? She quickly raised out of the water and looked at Par. Par smiled, nodding his head and Serin jumped in. The feeling was incredible, like an orgasm, but more consistent and engulfing. It felt as though she were being hugged by the source of life, the creator of all that was good in her world. Serin laughed as she splashed around, gasping for breath. Her frantic arm and leg movements barely kept her head above water. Still , she smiled. Serin took a deep breath and pushed her body deep into the womb of this dark pit of marvel only to be expelled from its depths back toward the surface with each clumsy try. Then she turned over and rested, floating on her back in a state of euphoria, feeling as though she were, for the first time in her life, a part of everything and everyone.
Serin floated around the pool with her eyes closed, tears running down her face and into the water. Serin’s arms moved back and forth in the water next to her. She stroked the water, feeling it slip between her fingers like loose soil. Her movements gradually became more deliberate as she became more familiar with the water. Soon she was pushing herself along the top of the pool with ease.
Thud! Serin bumped her head on the rock wall and came out of her comatose splendor. She quickly pushed her legs downward and raised her head above the water, her arm and leg movements keeping her afloat. Serin looked around frantically for Par. Her heart raced as she searched the shore of this dark, rock enclosure. The torch Par had lit still burned, fixed to the wall. On the ground below the torch, Bestia strips laid neatly displayed on a small cloth. Serin rose from the water and walked to stand over the Bestia. She looked around and back to the Bestia on the ground. A gift from Par?
Serin’s clothes dripped to form a pool of water on the ground near the cloth of Bestia. Her stomach rumbled with desire at the smell of the food. She knelt down and grabbed a peace of Bestia. Could she eat this now that she knew what it was? How strange it was to turn animal into food. Serin’s hunger quickly won over the moral ambiguity she felt. She placed a piece of the cool Bestia into her mouth. It was sweet, but rubbery. The Bestia had been better warm from the fire the night before. No matter. It would fill her stomach just as well. She quickly chewed through and swallowed the first piece and then started on the second… and then the third. Soon the Bestia was gone.
Serin sat with a full belly, the bottom of her back against the rock wall beneath the torch, a large puddle of water forming beneath her as her clothes dripped. She then locked her fingers together in front of her, placed her palms on the top of her head and leaned back. She felt the rough texture of the wood at the base of the torch on the tops of her knuckles. She pressed up against the bottom of the torch ever so slightly and felt the light weight of it pressing back against the tops of her fingers. Keeping her fingers locked, she raised the tops of her index fingers toward each other, sliding the torch up and down on the wall. She knew that raising the torch even a hair too high would free the torch from its place in the sconce on the wall and potentially leave her in a dark, unfamiliar hole in the ground with no means of finding her way back to the surface. The weight of such a simple game made it that much more exciting. The tips of her thumbs rested firmly against the cold rock behind her. She rated her bravery according to how close she felt the fingernails of her index fingers came to touching.
“Serin.” Par interrupted as he stood in the dark staircase, a second lit torch in hand. Startled, Serin sat forward quickly and her torch dropped back into place in its hold against the wall. How long had Par been standing there? Par turned and began the long climb back to the surface. Serin grabbed her torch from the wall and followed. “Thank you, Par” Serin whispered, her smile apparent in her tone.
8. Carinus Camp
At the Carinus camp, there was plenty to eat and drink. There was no competition for resources as there was an abundance and each Carinus gave freely. She had dreamed of this life for so long and yet, is was not what Serin had imagined. She had a friend in Par, but felt as though she were as much out of place in Carinus society as she had felt within the walls of Aliustera.
Still, Serin loved being in the water. The water called to her in her sleep, its cool mouth suspending her, its ripples radiating off her, inspiring a sense of connection with everything in the deep chasm beneath. Serin found herself making the long walk past the vivid stone drawings and down the long passage almost every day. Most days she did this alone. Par was rarely up for such a long walk, but provided Serin with all she would need each day: a torch and a cloth of Bestia.
Serin often lost herself in thought while floating in the great pit of fluent life. Nothing existed outside of her. She sometimes slept on the water, perfectly at peace, drifting around without a stir or twitch.
One evening, several of the Carinus children gathered together in front of the fire. They held hands and bowed in Serin and Par’s direction. One child stood, while the rest looked up at him. He moved his arms and made shapes with his hands – He was telling a story. The other children and the crowd of Carinus were silent. The child then made a deliberate “Puh” sound and reached up with his right hand as though he were snatching the sound out of the air. He pulled back on an imaginary bow and released the sound with a “swoosh” in the direction of another child. The second child threw his hands over his stomach as though he had been shot and fell over as his eyes rolled back in his head. An older Carinus woman watched Serin from the shadows. Soon, the stage was alive with those same actions – “Puh”, snatch, “swoosh” into the guts of other children until only three remained standing. The three simultaneously made the sound, “Puh” and caught their sounds in the air. They pulled back on their imaginary bows and backed away from each other slowly. How peculiar this felt to Serin. She didn’t know what to make of it all.
The audience erupted with applause. the only two near the fire not applauding were Serin and the older woman. The woman stared at Serin blankly as Serin stared at Par with confusion and bewilderment. Light from the fire danced off Par’s face as he smiled. As though he felt her staring, Par turned toward Serin. His smile quickly turned to an expression of concern. He looked downward as if contemplating. Par then pressed his walking stick into the ground, raising to his feet and stretched out his hand toward Serin. Serin grabbed his hand with her left and used the other to raise herself out of her crossed legged position in the dirt.
His walking stick in his right hand, Par used his left to pull a torch from the ground as he left the community area of the fire. Serin followed quietly as Par led her to the large hole in the ground. Inside the dimly lit cave, Par nested the torch on the wall of drawings, in a sconce made of vines and sat, facing the wall. Studying Par, Serin clumsily and quickly rested herself on the ground next to Par, facing the wall. The stream of water roared nearby.
Par pointed with his stick at a drawing of beings fighting. The tip of his stick circled the images of the beings, weaving through them like wind. Then… “Puh”. Par poked one of the beings with this utterance. Then another, “Puh”. He jabbed at another harder than the first. Then another, but more loudly, “Puh”. This time jabbing even harder. “Puh Puh…”, jabbing more and more quickly, his voice echoing off the rocks around them. Par broke his stick as he stabbed it at the rock wall, shouting his final “Puh”. Echoes of Par’s cry were slowly overtaken by sounds of the rushing water. Serin looked at Par with concern and surprise. These actions seemed so unlike the actions of the very calm and quiet Par she had known. Par sat there facing the wall of drawings, breathing heavily, tears running down his face.
Serin gently wrapped her left arm around Par in an effort to comfort him. Par jumped, startled at her touch. He grabbed her hands and made a bowl. He then said “Puh” into the bowl and closed her hands quickly, as if to catch the word, and pressed her hands to her chest. Serin felt her heavy heartbeat under her right thumb. Then Serin began to cry, understanding the significance of this far outweighed her potential to understand it. She felt simultaneously honored and confused.
Serin took the torch from its place in the wall and helped Par to his feet. The two walked slowly back to the mouth of the cave, to the remnants of the large plant which they used to climb out. The air outside was warm. Serin smiled as she breathed in deeply. Sounds of the distant Carinus camp rode on the breeze like a Mo-De in that long stretch between Sections A and D in Aliustera. Making the walk back to camp, Serin reflected. As much as she had felt out of place inside the city, she missed it. Aliustera felt so far away now. Serin smiled as she reveled in the irony inside her. It was a part of her and she felt love for it even though it hurt.
Then a blow to the back of Serin’s head sent her face hurling toward the ground, her left arm breaking from Par’s grip, her outstretched right arm doing little to break her fall. The older Carinus woman dropped from the arm of a large plant, her bare feet making a dull thud sound as they collided with the dirt trail. “Metua!” Par exclaimed. Metua extended her legs, raising her body to a standing position. Serin lay on the ground, the world around her spinning uncontrollably as the two voices argued behind her. Carinus phrases flew back and forth. One word was repeated several times: “Gravatus”.
Serin awoke to a pulsing headache. Startled, she sat up quickly in her cot in the medical facility in the Carinus camp. The scene before played over in her head. “Par?!” Serin cried, “Par?!” An elderly Carinus woman came to Serin’s bedside with a wet cloth in her left hand and a bowl of smoking embers in her right. She held the bowl under Serin’s face as she pressed the cloth to her forehead. The warm smoke filled Serin’s lungs and she slowly let her head fall back to the cot. Her lungs and face tingled. Serin closed her eyes. The darkness in her mind was quickly populated by wild streaks of rampant bright orange. The colors danced with her for an immeasurable amount of time, playing with her in the way children play with each other. Serin felt a playful gaiety she only remembered from childhood.
Serin awoke again feeling as though she were missing something. She clung to the world she had just left, a world of bright brilliance that seemed to know her better than any living person. She stood from her cot. A pain in her head and dizziness overcame her ability to stay standing and Serin fell backwards, coming to a rested sitting position on her cot. An empty feeling grew in Serin’s chest. She felt as though there were weights hanging from her ribs, inside her chest. Quickly Serin folded over, placing her head between her knees, and vomited. The elderly Carinus woman came back with another bowl of smoking embers. Serin reached up and knocked the bowl out of the woman’s hand, spilling orange, glowing pieces of burning plant on the floor. A few pieces hissed as they were extinguished by the small pool of vomit on the ground. The rest landed on the dirt floor with a bounce. The elderly Carinus woman sighed and sat next to Serin on her cot, her right arm wrapped around Serin, her left hand stroking her hair.
Serin stared blankly as the pile of embers on the ground slowly morphed into a giant fire. This fire was different from the one the night before. There was no conversation. There was no entertainment. There was only a body at the center of the fire – Par. Carinus stood around, staring into the fire. Looking through the fire, Serin found Metua’s tear-streaked face. What was to become of her? Would the Carinus punish her? Serin felt anger fill the hole the loss of her friend had created in her. She clenched her fists and her jaw as she stared at Metua. Then Metua looked up at Serin. Their eyes locked. In Aliustera, Serin would have quickly diverted her eyes in such a situation. She never knew how long was too long to keep eye contact and certainly didn’t want to inspire conversation. Still, there was something about this eye contact that was welcoming, the apparent mutual hate. The fact that they shared this hate made Serin feel, in a way, close to Metua. This feeling of connection made her hate Metua more. Metua represented everything that was wrong with life on this planet, every reason she didn’t belong in Aliustera, everything that was wrong with her.
Where Serin had once found love and connection within the tribe, she felt nothing but disconnect and alienation. The Carinus dealt no punishment for Metua’s actions. Instead, life carried on as it had before. Even the vast pit of water below the camp held little relief for Serin. She floated for hours, aching for any kind of connection, any sense that she was not once again alone.
9. Something in the Water
Serin awoke in the dark. Startled, she struggled for leverage. But where was the floor? Serin attempted to inhale, but soon found herself choking. Her arms flailed around in the darkness, violently splashing in her dark abyss as she suddenly realized where she was. Her left hand slapped against the rock floor next to the pool. Serin quickly found the edge and pressed her forearms into it, raising the top of her body out of the water. She folded over the edge of the pool and coughed.
Then Serin lifted herself out of the water and rolled onto her side, facing the water. What had happened to her torch? How long had she been down here? Then Serin noticed a dim light beneath the water, just under the far wall. Another room? Even so, how was it being illuminated? Serin stood and walked carefully toward the wall to her left, her hands searching the darkness for her torch. The more she tried to ignore it, the more the light under the water seemed to glow. What was under there?
Serin inhaled deeply in preparation for an exploratory dive and then exhaled. She inhaled again. What was stopping her? She exhaled. She inhaled deeply and exhaled. “Just go!” Serin thought. She inhaled deeply and dove in, head-first. She pushed against the water, propelling herself toward the light. Soon the light became much brighter and larger than it had appeared from the surface. Serin continued propelling herself forward toward the light until she found herself resurfacing in a well lit area. The closest walls were rock, but further walls looked like the interior of the ASC. Impossible! A long tube rose out of the water and into an Aliusteran-made ceiling. Had the Carinus stolen material for these walls from Aliustera? Were they hoarding water? It was no wonder the Carinus land appeared to be so fertile. And Par? Did he know? Serin scolded herself for not realizing sooner. She climbed out of the water onto the rock floor.
Serin spotted a doorway on the other side of the room and headed toward it. A closet? No, an elevator. Serin stepped inside and pressed the only button. This was Ravus technology. Of course, the Carinus had bartered with Aliusterans: Water for Ravus technology. It seemed so unfair. Ravus and Crocos barely had enough water to survive, while the Carinus literally swam in it. Serin reached the first floor and the doors of the elevator opened. Serin immediately began receiving her DCPO signal. Impossible! Unless… Was she home?
A reporter described chaos in the Aliusteran streets. Muffled screams sounded in the background. It was a work of fiction. It had to be. Serin stepped out onto the deck of a giant storage tank. She looked out over miles of calm, purple water and then down at her arms as she raised them toward her face for examination. The entire room and everything in it was purple. Serin looked up at the familiar, purple glass ceiling a few feet above her head. An ASC security camera hung from the corner where the wall and the ceiling met. Its lens pointed right at her. Serin knew it was just a matter of time before someone came to collect her. But who? The elevator doors closed quickly behind her. Hearing the doors close, Serin turned quickly, rushing back to the elevator. The keyhole next to the doors mocked her. There was no way back. The only way out was forward. Serin walked along the water’s edge, looking over the vast desert of water in awe. The longer the Security team took to get there, the more she had to fight the idea that this DCPO program was true to the reality of Aliustera.
Then a boom shook the ground on which Serin walked and sent ripples through the large body of water next to her. A second later she watched the news room explode into a barrage of brilliant blues and golds with a loud “BOOM”. The voice of the reporter came from out of view, screaming and crying, forcing incomprehensible word fragments toward his audience. “No!” Serin switched off her DCPO. Smaller explosions sounded in the distance. They seemed less real without the DCPO’s echo of the sounds. The Carinus had no reason to attack Aliustera. What enemy did Aliustera have if not the Carinus?
Serin walked until her legs ached. Then she walked more. Her lips cracked and her throat grew dry. She knew the Aliusteran water supply was not hers to drink from. Serin pressed onward. “On a desert planet…” Lies. “A water shortage…” Lies! Still, she was being monitored. She would surely be reprimanded for drinking water that was not hers. There was no point in making things any worse. Serin ached for the transport of a Mo-De, even if a ride in a Mo-De would mean severe punishment. Who would come for her? What could they do to her? She knew the truth about the surplus of water in Aliustera. A truth that profound could not be silenced. But, of course, that was why there was no Mo-De team coming to retrieve her. This section was out of bounds.
Then a chill ran up Serin’s spine. Was she not to be granted admittance back into the city? Was she to remain in this limbo between Aliustera and the world outside? She would have to drink then. They couldn’t expect her to sit by this vast water reserve and die of dehydration. But the abundance of water could sustain life for only so long. With no food, she would not make it more than a few months at most. “Shut up, Serin! We don’t even know if we are stuck in here.” she thought.
A door appeared in the distance. Serin took each step with simultaneous joy and fear. What was on the other side? Could she even open the door? Serin grasped the door’s release handle with trepidation. She squeezed the handle and slid the door open. Her heart jumped at the sight… Darkness. Serin walked into the dark timidly. Was it the court of the Pollex? Serin shuddered with a wavering sigh and heard her sigh echo. The room was much smaller than the Pollex court. Serin took small steps forward, her arms stretched out in front of her. Then, as if the floor had just ended, she began to drop.
Her heart leaped into her throat and then her descent stopped. It was a step. She felt out into space with her right hand for a handrail and found one. She wrapped her fingers around the cold rail and stepped forward anticipating the next step. Serin slowly made her way down the steps. With each flight of steps cleared, light became more abundant. Soon Serin found herself looking in through a window in a door to a stone hallway of the ASC.
She pushed the door open and timidly entered the hall. She tried to walk quickly and quietly, every sound echoing off the ASC walls. The ASC was unusually quiet. Explosions sounded in the distance as dull “thud”s. Serin opened the doors of the “restricted” hallway into a large, dark room – the Pollex court? She stepped forward into the darkness and the floor lit up with a bright orange. It was the Ecclesia Stadium. Serin walked slowly, watching with awe as her bright path trace illuminated the glass walls of the Ecclesia Stadium. It was not nearly as scary like this. Serin spotted a light in the distance and slowly walked toward it, running her fingers along the glass walls, illuminating everything she touched. The sound of explosions gradually grew louder as she grew nearer to the light. Serin pushed open the doors of the Ecclesia Stadium and her bright orange path trace was flooded by the bright florescent lights of the ASC halls. Serin walked quickly through the halls, past the Pollex court, and out of the ASC.
The streets of Aliustera were chaos. Red powder blew through the air and burned her eyes and throat. Smoke poured out of a nearby Ravus apartment building. Explosions sounded all around her as she walked with no urgency in her step. Serin felt as though she were a child exploring a strange new world. With nowhere for the smoke to go, the streets of Aliustera were difficult to navigate. It all seemed so distant. Even the explosions seemed somehow muffled.
Then an explosion erupted near Serin’s feet. A ringing buzzed in her ears before slowly fading into the sound of chaos and her DCPO: “Civil war has taken Aliustera…”. Another explosion. Serin fell to her back and gazed up through the gray smoke, at the purple glass ceiling. Sections were stained black. “Well this hardly seems civil.” Serin thought.
Then a hand grabbed her by the left arm and raised her to her feet, pulling Serin relentlessly forward. Before she understood what she was doing, Serin was running, practically being dragged by this foreign gray blur, this strange Ravus. With her right hand, Serin lifted the bottom of her shirt, exposing her belly, to cover her nose and mouth. She squinted as means of keeping the smoke and strange red powder out of her eyes.
Stopping to kneel behind an overturned Mo-De, the Ravus turned, shining a light in Serin’s face. Serin heard a voice, but couldn’t understand its words through the loud confusion. Then the light moved out of her eyes. The Ravus’ mask covered most of her face, but Serin recognized the scar on the young Ravus’ left eyebrow. It was Timi. Serin wrapped her arms tightly around Timi. “Serin!” Timi shouted. Serin could barely hear her. She pulled away to see Timi’s face. Timi pulled down her mask, “We have to move”.
Serin followed Timi through the obstacle corse that was once the beautiful Aliusteran street system. Timi stopped just outside the door of a Section A apartment. She banged on the door with the palm of her hand and shouted, “It’s Timi! Let us in!”. The door slid open and Timi and Serin quickly stepped inside. Serin closed the door behind them and Timi turned to face her. “I thought you were dead.” Timi said with wide eyes and a smile. “I’m not dead.” Serin said with a fleeting sense of consternation, “Wait. What is all of this?”. “It’s the Crocos!” Timi said with a tone of disbelief, “Where have you been?”. “You wouldn’t believe me, Timi.” Serin said. “Commander Puerilis…”, Timi started. “Commander?!”, Serin interrupted.
A voice from across the room interrupted: “You’re her. Aren’t you? You’re that half-breed.” A tall male Ravus stood menacingly. For the first time in months, Serin felt very self-conscious about her appearance. She hadn’t cut her hair. Her skin was now darker than any other Ravus’. She must have appeared maniacal. She was obviously no Crocos, but a “half-breed”? “Get her out of here!” the Ravus shouted. Serin turned toward the voice and found herself staring into the eyes of a rather unfortunate looking Ravus. Her skin was dark and wrinkled. The left side of her face was discolored and scaly. but her eyes were beautiful, even familiar. “Mom?!” she and the woman asked simultaniously. Serin’s heart sank as she realized she was staring at her own reflection.
Serin looked to Timi with defeat in her eyes, “Don’t worry; I’m going”. Serin stood and walked quickly to the door. “Wait!” Timi shouted, but Serin was already out the door. Serin closed the door behind her. It was getting late. Serin knew she needed to get to her apartment quickly if she was to be home by curfew. Did it even matter? Was her apartment still standing? Was it still her apartment? Serin found it hard to believe this was the city she had left those few days before.
Serin walked slowly toward her apartment, her arms crossed over her stomach. Section A felt colder than usual. Explosions sounded in section D. Serin came to her apartment building. It was still standing. Serin looked at the building with a sense of disenchantment. She didn’t belong there anymore. If not there then where? Serin continued toward Section D. Sounds of the explosions seemed so far away.
Serin reached the end of her apartment building and felt as though there were a great weight holding her there. She felt a strong desire to avoid the bedlam in the distance. But this was something else. Serin climbed the nearby fire escape to the roof of her building and looked over the city. In spite of the great distance between the fighting and herself, Aliustera seemed, somehow smaller than before. Tiny fires in the distance reflected in Serin’s eyes. The soft thuds of these explosions insulated her from the violence in Section D. The chaos was quite beautiful from such a distance. In spite of the great chaos, it all seemed a little too familiar. Not the acts of violence, but the rage.
Serin watched the apparent disorder in the streets of Section D, Ravus attacking Crocos, Crocos attacking Ravus. Was there a plan? Was there a purpose? Still no sign of the ignis stick. She felt a distance from the scene below, a sense of isolation. She wasn’t a Ravus anymore than she was a Crocos. She had become something unfamiliar to herself. Instead of anger, Serin felt pity, for the Ravus and the Crocos. Feeling as though she belonged to neither side, she felt empathy for both.
More than that, she felt empathy for Metua. Metua had acted out of fear, out of fear for Serin. The thought seemed so silly. And Serin felt pity for Metua, understanding how fear had motivated her own actions in the past.
How foolish she had been – how evil. Serin thought back to her crimes against the Crocos. Searching her mind for relief from her guilt, Serin kept coming back to the Pollex. It was all lies. They had made her into this “Ravus”. But how were they to know she wasn’t? Born to a Ravus mother… “Mom, how could you do this? No, that’s not fair. She wanted to give me the best life possible.” Was it true? Was she… a “half-breed”?
The great purple sun sank slowly beneath the horizon. But no security lights ever came on. Serin sat on the roof with her back against the wall, gazing over the the darkness of her city, tiny flashes of light illuminating small areas for seconds at a time, the dull thuds of explosions lulling her to sleep.
Serin awoke to the sound of pieces of the metal fire escape rattling against each other. The building shook below her. Startled, Serin pushed her upper body upward, away from the roof’s surface. She looked around with a frantic confusion. Sunlight was just beginning to illuminate the purple glass above the inner Eastern wall. Serin now found the air difficult to breathe. She coughed as her lungs rejected the air. Serin turned to find flames leaping toward the sky, over the edge of the building. “Merda!”, Serin quickly pushed herself to her feet and ran toward the stairs. The air burned her eyes. Serin clumsily held herself upright via the hand rail as her feet slipped and stumbled quickly down the dark fire escape. She felt a sense of gratitude when her left foot hit the ground.
Dark figures scurried around her. Small fires floated effortlessly through the darkness before exploding into larger ones at the sound of glass shattering against Ravus apartment buildings. For a moment, Serin lost herself in the beautifully coordinated chaos. The danger seemed so distant, as if that of a dream.
Then one of the scurrying shadows made contact with Serin’s left shoulder, knocking her to the ground. This was no dream. these apparitions could harm her. As the sun rose over the Eastern wall, Serin knew the dark figures would soon take on the shapes of Ravus and Crocos. Yes, Ravus, Crocos, and her. On what side could she stand? In what direction should she aim her defenses? In that instance, Serin knew. She was not Ravus. She was not Crocos. She was not Aliusteran.
Serin took off running, running away from this war in which she had no place, running away from her past, running away from the lies, running toward the ASC. When Serin reached the Pollex court, Ravus seated in the waiting area looked at Serin with defeat in their eyes. Serin walked, with a sense of entitlement by the seated Ravus, refusing to make eye contact with any of them. She spoke loudly and confidently into the Pollex’s automated intercom: “I demand an audience with the Commander Puerilis!” Weak, defeated sounding laughter rang out in the stale air. “He isn’t seeing anyone.” a condescending voice sounded from the back of the room. It was Esclavus. “The fact that he won’t see you doesn’t mean he won’t see me!” Serin snapped. “What makes you so special?!” Esclavus said angrily as he jumped up from his seat and marched quickly toward Serin. Serin began to respond, but Esclavus’ large fingers’ tight wrap around her small neck made her attempts to speak futile. Serin choked, gasping for air, as Esclavus lowered her to the ground. Serin pried at Esclavus’ fingers, squirming around on the ground beneath him in an attempt to get free. “What makes you so special?!” Esclavus demanded. Serin raised her right foot, striking Esclavus in the genitals. As Esclavus knelt next to her in pain, Serin gasped for breath and spoke: “I know the truth.” she said, “The truth to which you have all been blind.” Then a sharp pain grew in Serin’s head. She closed her eyes and fell to her knees. The pain grew stronger as though it were a blinding light, blocking everything else out of existence.
Seroni awoke in her Section D apartment. A story about the Pollex’s expectation of a large crop yield this season played over Seroni’s DCPO chip. Seroni switched off the DCPO program. Flashes of the Ecclesia the night before echoed in her head: “We give of our food and water in faith…the Phasmatis of the Pollex bares witness”. And that glow – that high pitched, sweet radiation that connected all Crocos. Serin looked up at her ceiling, smiling. “It is a good day.” she thought. Seroni went to her mirror and studied her reflection, her dark Crocos skin and her long Crocos hair. Her Vestis clanged to her otherwise naked body. The right side of her face was pink and disfigured. Memories of her Crocos life flooded her mind as she looked around her one-room apartment. She remembered her parents, her childhood, working the fields, everything but where her disfigurement came from. Either way, it was time for work.
Seroni took great pride in her work as a Gatherer. It was her job, as a Crocos, to harvest the Aliusteran food supply. Water was scarce, but the Pollex had entrusted her kind, the Crocos, with a large portion of the water supply. A water supply was necessary for growing food on this desert planet. The water supply was highly coveted by those who lived outside Aliustera. The Carinus would surely diminish the Aliusteran water supply had the Pollex not put the Ravus in charge of protecting it. Life under the Pollex was good for a Crocos.
Seroni’s heart sank when she saw the long line through the Security checkpoint. The Ravus Security officers usually didn’t give her much trouble as long as she kept her head down and avoided making eye contact. Still, she feared being late for work. Seroni got a great sense of identity from her job as a gatherer. Greater than the fear of losing her water ration for being late was the fear that came from this apparent threat to her identity. Still she knew, if nothing could be done to speed up the process, there was no sense in allowing herself to become anxious over the situation. Seroni stepped up to the Security podium and removed her vesti. She kept her eyes facing downward as she held her vesti out for examination. White lights of the Security machinery moved around her bare body as a Ravus Security Officer wiped the top and bottom of her vesti with a fabric swab. The Security Officer inspected the swab and reached her gloved hand under her podium. The machinery’s lights turned green, cuing Seroni to return her vesti to place and continue through the checkpoint.
When Seroni arrived to work, she reached into her locker to gather her work gear. As she expected, the bottle containing her daily work water ration had been removed. Seroni grabbed her burlap sacks and closed the locker door with a sigh. Startled by the sudden appearance of her neighbor, Servio, Seroni jumped. Servio chuckled to himself and handed Seroni a bottle of water.
Between the inside and outside Western walls, Seroni and her fellow Crocos picked crops from the ground. Seroni felt the warmth of the red sun on her bare back and smiled. The heat felt good. Seroni stopped her work for a moment as she watched two Ravus prepare to enter the outside Western wall. The Ravus thought they were so much better than the Crocos. But the Ravus were not a social species. They were barely Aliusteran. They didn’t even have a distinctive language. They communicated through chirps and clicks. “Savages” Seroni thought as she noticed a scar on the left eyebrow of one of the Ravus, “I wonder how she got that?”. “Seroni!” Servio said, “Pay attention to what you’re doing.” Servio laughed as Seroni returned to her work.
It was the job of every Gatherer to collect all useable crop from the ground and transport it to the Mo-Des just inside the inner walls. These Mo-Des were piloted to the ASC garage at the end of every day. The Pollex would distribute each day’s take the following day to Aliusterans all over the city. Of course, as a Gatherer, Seroni had first pick of any food she wanted. Yes, Life for a 23 year-old Crocos was good under the Pollex.
Seroni smiled as she quietly filled her burlap sack with cibus. What more could she ask for? Still, something was missing. In spite of her social status as a Crocos, there seemed to be this heavy weight pulling on the inside of her chest. It was this emptiness inside which felt like the cold metal of a Mo-De. Was it her scared face? She knew the scar had always been there. But she couldn’t remember the experience that left this disfigurement on the right side of her face. Had she repressed some sort of horrible memory? If so, she wasn’t going to attempt to remember. Besides, the scar tissue didn’t seem to matter to Seroni’s male visitors. It was said the purpose for sexual intercourse was once procreation. The way Seroni saw it, procreation was an undesired potential consequence. She knew male Crocos liked the way she looked. They had since she was young. Seroni enjoyed the attention and the physical gratification. but the potential consequence of conception often loomed over head, especially when she was in the moment. Still, Seroni tried not to think about it. There was no sense in dwelling on potential consequence. Besides, contraception was the male’s job. As long as she chose male partners she could trust, there would be no reason for concern.
Cibus neared the top of Seroni’s sack. “Harena,” Seroni thought, “I might have over-filled it.” Seroni pulled the draw string at the top of the sack and lifted the sack over her right shoulder. It was heavy and she leaned forward as she carried it. Servio laughed at the sight. Seroni shook hear head and smiled to herself. How silly she had been for filling the sack so high.
When Serini had made it to the steps that scaled the outside of the inside Western wall, she released her tight grip, letting the sack fall to the ground with a dull thud. Seroni turned to climb the steps backward, pulling the heavy sack with both hands. Seroni took each step with her feet first and then leaned backward, using her weight to raise the sack to the next step. Seroni’s arms and legs burned. Servio’s laughter sounded in the distance.
When Seroni finally reached the top of the stairs, she flung her burlap sack over her right shoulder with a sense of triumph. Her sense of pride quickly faded as the heavy sack pulled her backward, off the ledge. Seroni fell quickly to the ground, her body rotating in the air. Servio rushed quickly to Seroni’s side: “Seroni?! Are you okay?!”
Serin woke to the sound of Servio’s voice. He was calling her “Seroni”. She was Seroni. No! She was Serin. She was a Ravus. Then why did her body look like that of a Crocos? Why did she remember a Crocos childhood? Did she remember a Crocos childhood? She remembered remembering a Crocos childhood. But it all seemed so distant. All she really remembered was that morning, waking in her section D apartment and working in the field. “Seroni?” Servio asked, “Are you Okay?”. Serin felt bewilderment in her understanding of his words. She looked up toward the nearby security camera monitoring Crocos activity outside the inside Western wall. Serin spoke, “I’m fine.” The language seemed so primitive and yet, it was so familiar. “Thank Pollex!” Servio exclaimed.
Serin excused herself from the rest of the day’s work. She had to be careful not to draw attention to herself. Still, a fall like that surely merited one day away from work. Serin let herself into her section D apartment and lay down between the sheets on her bed. From where did this world come? From where did this identity come? And the war… What happened? Serin looked out into the calm streets of Aliustera. She had the memories of a Ravus. “Par?!” The empty feeling in her chest was suddenly so easily explained. This understanding was comforting and, at the same time, painful.
Serin pulled the sheets over her face. Memories played through her mind as she attempted to decipher reality from fiction, as she attempted to choose which reality she preferred. She was good at being a Crocos. This, somehow, made the Crocos reality seem more unrealistic. As much as she begged herself to believe she was Seroni, the reality of life as a Ravus outcast was inescapable. Serin felt cheated of her second chance, a chance at being normal, a chance at being happy. Serin wept silently.
Then Seroni’s door slid open. Two Ravus entered. One was the Ravus with the scar over her left eyebrow, the one Serin had wondered about as she watched her hours before through the inner Western wall. She knew Timi so well. How had she not recognized her before? Serin felt betrayed by her own mind. But how was it that she looked like a Crocos?
Timi threw Seroni’s things around the room. Serin fought the impulse to protest. This wasn’t really her apartment anyway. It was Seroni’s, Seroni the myth, Seroni the lie. Serin smiled at Timi. “What the merda are you smiling at?!” Timi demanded. Serin understood, but knew better than to respond. Timi slapped Seroni’s face. Serin turned her eyes back toward Timi, never letting the smile leave her face. Serin watched with pity as Timi and her partner left Seroni’s apartment.
Serin looked into the mirror at Seroni’s face. She looked like Serin: Same bone structure. But she was Crocos. She had long braids dangling from above her dark red face. It was like a strange dream, the reality of what she had secretly feared, the Crocos side of her. Strangely, she enjoyed it. But it was not real. This world was not real for anyone. Not really. There was still social unrest between the Ravus and the Crocos. Serin pressed the pads of her left index and ring fingers to the right side of her neck, of Seroni’s neck just below her jaw line… Nothing. She tried again. Still nothing. “The fall must have damaged my chip” she thought.
Serin lay in her bed, in Seroni’s bed, and drifted off to sleep. The next morning came quickly with the sounds of Crocos yelling. An angry group of Crocos was forming outside, just below Seroni’s apartment. Serin felt simultaneously alarmed and relieved. At least this seemed more familiar. Still, no explosions… no fighting in the streets. Servio flung open Seroni’s door and said with excitement and his arm outstretched, “The Crocos are revolting! Come!”. With hesitation and bewilderment, Serin walked to Servio, taking his hand before exiting Seroni’s apartment.
At the ASC, Seroni and Servio’s group of Crocos joined a much larger group. The Crocos marched around at the bottom of the steps at the large glass doors on the South side of the building. A large group chanted in unison, demanding equal access to water. A large male Crocos stood atop the steps and shouted back at the crowd, “The CEO does not speak for us! It is time we speak for ourselves! We are not animals! We are not slaves! We are not second class citizens! It is time we stop being treated as though we are!”
A loud hissing sound erupted, shrieking over the crowds loud chanting. Smoke spilled out over the group of Crocos. Serin soon found herself being forced to the ground by panicking, fleeing protestors. When the hissing stopped, it was replaced by sounds of coughing and gasping. Serin felt as though she had swallowed a hot coal. Debris stuck to her palms as she rested on her hands and knees, her body heaving as she struggled to force air into her lungs.
Serin awoke to the sounds of Crocos and Ravus scuffling, the Ravus attempting to arrest the Crocos and the Crocos attempting to escape. The Crocos’ attempts to escape were more telling than any previous act of insolence. It was no secret to the Crocos that Ravus Security used facial recognition programs to aid in the arrests of suspects who somehow managed to escape arrest. The ability for the Ravus to track the Crocos via their DCPO chips meant they would be coming for the protestors soon. These escape attempts pointed to future resistance, an uprising, a refusal to bow down any longer.
Serin took her cue from her fellow Crocos and leapt to her feet, charging after other Crocos who had managed to escape the grasps of Ravus Security. The checkpoint on the road home was destroyed – pieces of broken glass and computer parts scattered all over the road around it. In fresh paint on the front wall of the checkpoint was printed in the Crocos language, “The road to loss of personal freedom will be paved with apathy”.
Upon returning to Seroni’s apartment, Serin felt unexpectedly calm. She expected retaliation from the Ravus. This, to her surprise, inspired her to feel rather calm. She had seen Ravus arrests many times before. Harena, she had arrested several Ravus before. She knew exactly what to expect. Still, they couldn’t arrest all of them. Serin blew off to sleep. Her dream-state was a dark one. Images of nude, lifeless Crocos bodies flashed in her mind’s eye… and plants taller than buildings. There was no sun, only darkness. Aggressive, indiscernible whispers cluttered her thoughts – Par’s body at the center of the fire that consumed it. As though from outside her body, Serin witnessed Metua swing from the arm of a large plant and kick her in the back of the head. Then Par and Metua arguing. That word – “Gravatus”. It wasn’t about Serin. It was about Par. Serin watched as Par pressed his hand to his chest as his eyes rolled back in his head. Metua caught him and lowered him slowly to the ground, crying as she held him. Metua’s crying streamed across the darkness of Serin’s dream. Then… silence. Serin felt a familiar presence. It was peaceful. It was Par. Par reached out with his right index and middle fingers to touch Serin’s forehead. As he made contact, a burst of light flooded Serin’s brain. It was the power of the Pollex, but so much more. It was the Crocos and the Ravus. It was the Bestia and the plants. It was the past and present of everyone and everything. Truth flowed over Serin and Seroni as she now knew they were one in the same. Serin wept tears of joy, feeling love for everyone and everything in her seemingly insignificant world.
Serin awoke suddenly. Her dark Section D apartment seemed somehow illuminated. She felt electricity flowing through her body and the furniture around her. She rose to her feet and walked gracefully across her room, every step sending waves from her feet across the floor and up the walls. Serin walked barefoot, down the streets of the city. Serin mentally welcomed the rising sun, shining through the purple glass that surrounded the city. Security Patrol whizzed off in the distance.
The smell of metal filled the air. She had never noticed the smell before, but it was familiar. Smiling, Serin proceeded through Section D. Entering Section A, the stone street felt cold on the pads of her feet. She smiled at the sensation. Soon Serin arrived at the large glass doors on the South side of the ASC and let herself in. She walked calmly past the Pollex court waiting area, through the halls of the ASC and back out into the desert.
The desert night sand felt warm on Serin’s bare feet. Serin took joy in this warmth, feeling a connection with this ground that had so recently disfigured her face. A small light flickered on the horizon as she walked without trepidation. No longer would she be bound by the laws of the Pollex. No longer would she attempt to fit into her place in Aliusteran society. She would finally be free.
Nearing the Carinus fire, dancing figures began to appear out of the darkness. When the first spotted her, he froze and stared. Then another ceased his dancing. A moment later, the drumming stopped. Everyone stared. Then one Carinus male raised his hands to his mouth and blew. As he blew, a full, unwavering tone sprang forth into the warm air. Others joined in. Soon every Carinus in the area was welcoming Serin back in harmony – every Carinus but one.
From just the other side of the fire, a pair of familiar eyes stared at Serin. The Carinus’s face smiled. Her eyes flooded her cheeks like water flowing through the cave. Silence filled the air as every other Carinus watched with anticipation. Serin leapt into full sprint, charging at Metua, her face cold a emotionless as she ran. Metua raised her head upward to face the night sky and closed her eyes as Serin wrapped her arms around her. Metua rested her chin on Serin’s right shoulder, wrapping her arms around Serin. She squeezed Serin tightly against her.
Serin grabbed Metua by her shoulders and pulled her away to look at her face. Serin smiled at Metua, her eyes squinting as if trying to find some water to expel. Metua smiled at Serin, tears streaming down her face. Serin felt the weight in her chest she had bore since Par’s death rise out of her and float off into the night sky as if on waves of smoke from the nearby fire.
Then Metua spoke with hesitation, “Serin… I am sorry.” Serin looked at Metua with a smile of astonishment. “Ravus?!”, Serin asked. Metua sighed with a smile, “Come sit”. Serin sat next to Metua on the ground near the fire. “Many season ago…”, Metua continued, “Metua come to Carinus with other Ravus to teach ‘truth’ of Pollex. Par was there. Par and Metua just putus then. Par become friend with Ravus. Ravus offer help but burn village when Par give proof of lie. Water is life. Life is free. Ravus attack Carinus. Metua and Par too young to fight. Metua and Par hide from fighting. Ravus and Carinus look for Par and Metua, but not find. Ravus leave Metua. Metua stay with Carinus. Learn Carinus. Learn lie of Aliustera.” Serin sat in awe of Metua’s words as Metua spoke late into the night.
12. Fear and Love
War, once again filled the streets of Aliustera. The bodies of Ravus and Crocos littered the streets. Explosions sent shrapnel in all directions. Cries of pain echoed off the ruins of apartment buildings. Ravus and Crocos fought. But there was no sign of Serin Servus. Then an explosion in the South wall big enough to crack the ceiling above. The sounds of war ceased as Aliusterans stopped and stared with trepidation. The ASC building crumbled to the ground and a desert of water poured over it. At the end of this massive surge floated Serin Servus. As the water receided into the under-belly of the city, Serin floated on her back down to the streets, a victorious smile on her face. Ravus and Crocos lay in the streets coughing, and gasping for air.
Serin rose to her feet. Walking through the debris and between Aliusteran bodies, she spoke each sentence, first in Ravus tongue, and then in Crocos: “The deception that we are not one has kept us in competition with each other, constantly fearing the other is going to do us harm! But look around you, brothers and sisters! We are the same! I was once a Ravus. Now there is no apparent difference in any other Crocos and me.” She stopped and reached her hand out to help a rather frazzled looking CEO Puerilis to his feet. Serin looked him in the eyes as if she were speaking directly to him and continued loudly enough for everyone in the area to hear, “The water shortage is a lie. There is no longer a reason to fight! If we can learn anything from history, it is that we will find reasons to divide ourselves, to say one is better than the other! But if we choose love over fear, we can live united forever, not against some other fear, but for each other!”
Seasons passed and, without the protection of the Aliusteran ceiling, Ravus began taking on physical characteristics of Crocos. It was soon accepted that the Ravus and the Crocos were one in the same. A hybrid of Crocos and Ravus language filled the air. There were no longer dividing lines between sections. And everyone gathered to hear the story of Aliustera, as told by Serin Servus:
“Ages before the lives of every Aliusteran were overtaken by the rule of the Pollex, the dominant race was governed by a sense of community. Every individual was responsible for his or her own actions. As a strong symbiosis surged throughout the tribe, members were generally eager to hold themselves accountable. There was no need for serious competition, as the planet provided more than enough sustenance as long as every Aliusteran did his or her share of the work. The race entertained themselves with the composing and telling of stories. These stories were celebratory of life on Aliustera and used to instill Aliusteran values in the Youngers of the tribe. As years passed, the body of stories grew, ideas took on metaphoric figures that resembled Father and Mother. Emotions were soon identified as spirits; some caused pain and others, pleasure. These simplified portrayals of adult themes were easier to explain to children. As generations passed, so did the understanding of the metaphors. With the removal of this understanding went accountability. It was no longer understood that these “spirits” were internal and the products of the individuals’ actions. When an Aliusteran could look outward for the source of pain or pleasure, he or she no longer felt a sense of accountability. Pain and pleasure came from a world over which they had little power.
With each telling of these stories, the details changed as a result of the tellers’ perspective. Soon opposing tellings of the stories surfaced. A number of camps formed as a result of the opposing beliefs. Likeminded Aliusterans told their versions of the stories to each other over and over, fixing the variations in the perspectives of future generations and adding new changes to the story. Then, a day came when the various tellings of the story of Aliustera barely resembled each other. Aliusterans began arguing over who told the correct story… then fighting…then killing. Soon battles left the fields of Aliustera drenched in blood.
One camp built walls around a fertile section of land as means of keeping members of the other camps out. This section of land was chosen for its abundant water supply as a result of the vast aquifer miles below the surface. Although the water supply was great, it would take time to produce a new food supply. In the meantime, members of the enclosed city left at night in order to hunt and gather food under the cover of darkness. Hunting rarely yielded much in the way of sustenance, as the nocturnal animals were better equipped to avoid being hunted than members of the camp were to hunt them. Often the only available sources of food were the crops grown by other camps. As wars continued to rage outside the city, stealing food became a gradually more difficult responsibility. Retaliation from other camps grew more frequent.
Then members of an outside camp poisoned the land outside the city after stripping it of it’s resources. The area outside the city became a vast wasteland. Members of the camp inside the city began growing crops within the city walls. Although there was no rain after the poison attacks, the depth and size of the city’s aquifer kept an unknown quantity of water free enough of poison. Members of the camp inside the city enclosed the city in purple glass as means of dealing with the increasing heat. They only left the protection of the enclosure to maintain their crops. As a result, members of the inside camp soon lost much of the pigment in their skin. The dark skin of members of the outside camps became means to identifying the others. As the camp inside the city knew their telling of the story of Aliustera to be the correct one, they maintained the title “Aliusteran”. Members of the camps outside the city would come to be known as “Carinus”, as a result of their dark skin.
Over time, Aliusteran tellings of the story began to show subtle differences, even within the city. As a result of the attacks on the city and fighting within the city, the elders formed a governing entity: “The Pollex”. The Pollex outlawed tellings of the story of Aliustera. The name was no longer fitting anyway. This city was Aliustera, home to the Aliusterans. Those creatures outside, the Carinus, were not the same species. Although the law worked as a deterrent, the Pollex couldn’t prevent Aliusterans from telling their story and making up new variations. The more the Pollex fought the telling of these stories, the more Aliusterans retaliated.
It became clear that laws would not keep the Aliusterans from fighting. Perhaps distraction would do better. But the Pollex’s distraction enslaved us by turning us against each other. We feared each other and others who would take our precious water, never understanding there would be plenty to sustain us comfortably if we chose love over fear. Not only were we slaves, we were grateful to our captures for the protection they offered from the threats they invented. It was only through love that we obtained the peaceful and fertile place in which we live today. It is the unwavering perspective that enslaves us, arrogance that causes us to fight with each other. When we stop using logic and believe what we are told simply because we are told we are right, we forfeit our ability to see the world as it is. The greatest lie ever told was, not of the water shortage, which we now know to be a falsity, but that we should fear each other. We are more similar than different. But difference helps us grow. If we chose to not fear that which we don’t understand, but be curious about it, our potential for understanding will be limitless. Only with open minds and open hearts can we maintain this utopia. And let this warning resound throughout the generations: ” Reciting the text engraved in a large stone in the center of the city, “Fear will lead to pain, desert, and death; but love will lead to abundant life.”