We woke up and prepared ourselves to leave the colony and trek onward to Xanadu. Evelyn was still sleeping. Taro and Nell were already up and packing.
Nell noticed me waking, smiled, and said, “You two got really into the Zaza last night, didn’t you?” She giggled about it.
“Oh. . . yeah,” I responded. “Did anything weird happen? I kinda just woke up in bed after a certain point. I’ve never experienced something like that.”
Taro joined, “Well, you and Evelyn checked out and just sat there looking at each other, playing with each other’s hair and other cute stuff. Both of you stopped responding to others. It was a bit weird but that’s fine.”
I replied, “It was kind of like dreaming awake or something.”
Nell asked curiously, “Was Evelyn in there?”
I answered, “Yeah.”
Nell excitedly said, “That is so cool!! I really do wish I could try that out with Taro.”
After Evelyn got up, we headed back to the lounge area. A group of the numbered people saw us and called out, “Hey Nell! There you are! Come over here!” It seemed that Nell was becoming uncomfortably popular around here.
I said in a bothered tone, “What is with that, anyway?”
Nell defended it, “I think they just appreciate me. It’s fine.” The flattery was getting to her.
We joined them in the lounge again. It seemed to be the same group, with a few members swapped out for new guys. I asked 530, “Hey, are you guys travelers? Why do you stay at the inn if you are part of the colony?”
He explained, “We all live at the inns. We do not own personal property. Doing so would only amplify a sense of self-importance. Such grandiosity isn’t desirable. It promotes a culture of selfishness. That’s just the way of life here in Colony 107.”
“Interesting,” I replied. The culture here seemed too impersonal. Their names are numbers and they don’t own property. Yet, the men here seemed hyper-perfect and confident, which seemed to contradict their urge to escape narcissism and ego. Though, I was probably envious of their qualities, which could be biasing my judgments.
Taro asked inquisitively, “I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s with the meat here? Why do you guys eat human flesh?”
505 laughed and responded, “Well, it’s not like we just eat each other around here. The meat is sourced ethically, usually from the discarded infants from Colony 25. The queens sometimes just leave unwanted babies in the forest and so we snatch them up and make use of them. Other times, some people find stray humans from Colony 25 and take them. This is sort of frowned upon. In most rare circumstances, a queen gets eliminated and we are gifted with the highest quality of meat. Queen meat is often used for more than just food, sometimes for sexual purposes.”
Taro looked sickened, but he didn’t press any further. None of us even wanted to ask what was meant by ‘sexual purposes’. These people seemed chill but then monstrous qualities like cannibalism came up and it was hard to view them as decent.
575 looked at Nell and asked, “Why don’t you leave this simp and become our queen? He looks queasy at the thought of the meat. You should really replace Mother.”
Both Nell and Taro became guarded and angry. Nell responded, “No! I don’t want to be your queen. I love Taro, so back off. Why are you so focused on me anyway? Why aren’t you gawking over Evelyn too? What is with you people chasing after me, of all people?”
575 replied with a dominant judging tone, “Well, Evelyn seems to be AI, which is disgusting. The AIs ruined our world and that’s why we live underground, in the shadows. They brought our apocalypse so they do not deserve our appreciation.” Perhaps this was why Evelyn hasn’t really spoken to them. Maybe she could tell that she isn’t welcome.
The tension rose dramatically. An impending physical altercation could be felt. Now I was pissed off that they would talk so lowly about Evelyn. Was it true though? Had AI destroyed the world?
Taro got in between them and the rest of us. He had a real protector vibe about him, though also a justifiably enraged vibe too. The numbered people got closer to Taro, surrounding him and intimidating him.
I yelled, “Taro it’s not a good idea, let’s just get out of here!”
Nell spoke up to the numbered people, “Do not dare fight with him or you’ll receive my disapproval.”
Strangely, they backed off. Nell seemed to know what she was doing. She noticed how submissive they’ve been to her. Even though they disrespect the rest of us, they admire Nell greatly and she seemed to know it and wield that power. “I’m so sorry, your honor,” 575 said genuinely.
Taro, still frustrated, was staring them down and continuing to intimidate them. 505 commented, “Look, Nell, your boy here isn’t even under your control. He’s letting his emotions take over and he’s acting on impulse.”
Nell responded angrily, “Well, yeah! He isn’t my slave or my subject, he’s my lover for fuck sake. It’s also fine if he’s emotional, you guys were messed up.”
Guilt grew in their defeated faces. The whole thing was fairly weird, the way they just obeyed Nell. They could have easily just rejected Nell and trampled us.
Another group of numbered people swaggered over. One of them said, “What are you doing, heretics? You are supposed to be Mother’s people and here you are, like a traitor, gushing over this foreign girl?” He approached the group that threatened us and both groups of numbered people prepared to fight.
After a moment of intense staring competitions and verbal vitriol, they started to battle. They drew their arms and started wailing like the masculine warriors they were. In the midst of the chaos, the doors to the inn flung open. “Hey you fucking imbecile apes!! Knock it off, or I’ll personally hand you to mother so that you will be disposed of like the trash you are,” Guhya said as he stormed into the scene with total fearless dominance.
The fighting ceased. Despite being smaller, Guhya effectively disarmed everyone and instilled fear. His status was clear: he was the alpha male. He turned to us and said, “All of you, this is enough. You are coming with me. This trouble is a bit too much now.”
We nodded in submission and headed out of the inn. As we were leaving, voices could be heard yelling things like “Nell! Be our new queen! We need you!” The whole ordeal was a bit surreal.
“Where are we going?” I asked Guhya.
“It’s time you meet Mother. You’ve done enough around here and I assume you intended to leave this morning. So we need to talk with Mother,” he responded with irritation.
Nell said apologetically, “I’m sorry for whatever problems we may have caused. This place is pretty different than any we’ve ever been to. We will get out of your way.”
He gave a short and ominous, “We’ll see.”
The rest of the journey was a quiet walk through the city. The numbered people all gave us their attention, watching in what seemed like horror as Guhya escorted us to Mother’s lair.
Strangely, Evelyn did not seem to panic, which eased my fears too. I guess if we were in any real danger, she’d be freaking out by now.
We finally reached the center of the city, where a tall black obsidian tower resided. The Zaza from last night seemed to have strange residual visual effects, as the buildings sort of looked like creatures. “This way,” Guhya said, seemingly calmed at this point.
Before this moment, I never realized how strange Colony 107 looked. The blacklight emanated across all of the obsidian surfaces, reflecting around and creating a strangely colored mess. Greens, purples, blues, pinks, and blacks swirled on the walls of buildings. As we walked by, the textures and colors appeared to shift like holographic fluid. The residual Zaza seemed to accentuate these observations.
Through the doors, there were rows and rows of glass cylinders that contained what seemed to be human babies. Upon closer inspection, the tubes were labeled ‘generation 394’. In horror, I realized that Mother wasn’t producing some sort of technology, she was producing human children. The others in the group seemed to be silently horrified in their own way. Of course, we couldn’t express disgust in front of Guhya.
Guhya spoke as he watched our reaction, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
No one responded.
At the end of the creepy hall, a throne with Mother awaited. As we approached it, she stood up to greet us. “Hello, young ones. Quite the commotion occurring in our presence today,” she said in a kind tone. She continued, “So you’ve seen my beautiful work now, what do you think of my masterpiece?”
I answered with a question, “You are. . . making babies?”
She replied, “I am creating the future. One where the perfect human rules the land. The most intelligent, the most beautiful, and the most strong.”
After pausing, she asked, “Do you know about eusocialism?” Before any of us could answer, she continued, “Eusocialism is an order of life. It is the structure of this colony. It is the way of life for bees, ants, and naked mole rats. This pattern of social lifestyle involves a subordinate caste who follows the lead of a queen, such as myself. It is the next evolution of humanity. It is post-monogamy, post-individualism, and pro-altruistic. Due to crafting our genes at my whims for the last 6 centuries, we have finally achieved the edge of a eusocial order of mankind.”
Her face turned to one of distress, “Though, I must admit, my lineage has made critical sacrifices that I wouldn’t have taken on myself.” She removed her hood to reveal a disturbing monster, full of wrinkles, with a hairless head, a lack of eyes, and strangely shaped facial features.
She continued, “2000 years ago, the world ended. 2000 years ago, our great colony was born. My ancestors selected for the perfect male traits. Traits that, unfortunately, pass on even to us females. Thus, my womanhood was offered away, despite my desires. There’s nothing I can do about this besides continuing the legacy my people left in my hands.”
I asked, “How did you reach generation 394 in just 2000 years?? That doesn’t seem to add up.”
She paused with a look of sadness then said, “Once we notice any error in the genetics of a generation, they are recalled, squashed out, eliminated, and replaced by the next. It is an ugly part of the process. Such eliminations can occur as early as 1 year old.”
I said impulsively, “It sounds like some crazy nazi bullshit. You created a master race of identical people to fit your vision of perfection.”
She seemed to not even consider what I had said.
Guhya stepped forward and spoke, “I am Mother’s assistant. As you know, I am an Aeon, like Evelyn. I have learned how to see into the genetic code. So I observe changes and their effects and input new changes as I see fit to the ends of Mother’s desires. You saw them before, the infants growing inside of those glass tubes. This is much faster than pregnancy. It allows us to make minor changes on a smaller timescale.”
Each time we learn more about this world, I grew suspicious of the answers we were given. Mother presented us with new contradicting narratives about the history of the world and now I didn’t know what to believe. Though, it seemed that an apocalypse is a running theme among different worldviews now. This idea seemed most believable of all.
Mother asked, “Where are you going, young ones? Guhya told me you have a grand mission.”
Evelyn answered, “We seek to eliminate the risk of the Basilisk. We cannot tell you the details of our plan, but we assure you it is likely our best shot. We proceed to Mount Xanadu first, then eventually we are off to Hedo.”
Mother responded, “I see. A noble cause indeed. You will not be taking my Guhya with you.” She pointed towards Nell. “You. You are the reason I called you here today. Everyone in the colony is talking about you. This is unacceptable and now I cannot allow you to leave unscathed. My children have already become fascinated by you and now a statement must be made with the remains of your dead body.”
Evelyn and I stepped in front of Nell, guarding her. We were the best shot here since we were most attuned to physics and reality. It was our role to take on.
Guhya didn’t do the same for Mother. Instead, Mother approached us. She screamed, “Guards!” and then revealed her claws beneath the arms of her robes.
I yelled, “We need to get out of here! Nell, you and Taro need to go first. Get to safety. Evelyn and I will hold them off.”
Mother took jabs at me. The adrenaline slowed down time to the point that dodging was second nature. My sense of the future was stronger than ever. Her motions could be seen in my head before they manifested in reality. My actions felt preprogrammed and reflexive.
Evelyn tripped her and we began to run. Outside the door to the tower, Nell and Taro were pinned down. One of the numbered people grabbed me, then Guhya grabbed Evelyn. Guhya seemed to be evenly matched with Evelyn. My own hyper-perceptions weren’t enough to escape the power of the numbered men. Evelyn’s face returned to its’ most anxious form. It felt like we were doomed now.
Mother slowly approached us. She went towards Nell first. She said in a menacing tone, “You will not dare cross me or my children ever again.” She pulled back her arm, ready to stab Nell with her claws.
Guhya interjected, saying to himself, “You know, I’m sick of this already. I think it’s time to move on.” He placed his hand towards his head and closed his eyes for a second.
Evelyn’s expression was brought down to a state of peace again.
Mother screamed, “What have you done!! I can’t see! Guhya, you have betrayed me! This was our destiny!” It was apparent that he broke his connection to Mother, rendering her to the limitations of her own biology. She relied on Guhya’s hyper-perception to see. This was our chance.
Suddenly, an army of men stormed the tower courtyard. One of them shouted, “Nell! You are our next queen! You have shown your power against Mother! You are superior! Lead us to utopia!”
A massive war broke out between Mother-supporters and Nell-supporters. Chaos ensued on all sides of us. The men holding down Taro and Nell went to comfort and aide Mother. This gave us a chance to run, so we did.
Guhya chased after us, exclaiming, “You are right, let’s take down this Basilisk!” He had saved us but his reputation was still concerning. We met him as a traitor, who sided with some questionable goals. He was practically supporting a fascist dystopia. How good could he really be?
Regardless, Guhya joined the party.
We continued running through the entropy-filled streets of perfect numbered men clashing over the political divide centered on who is the best queen. It was a sight to see. Occasionally, one of the men would hurl themselves toward us and another man would intersect them and fend them off for us. Rumors of our presence clearly spread very fast throughout the colony. Everyone knew exactly who we were.
“Watch this!” Guhya said excitedly. Suddenly, an explosion could be heard in the distance, in the depths of the city. The lights of the streets we were running through dimmed in and out until eventually, they stabilized. Then a massive blueish flash of light flooded the caverns, making it appear like daytime for a short moment. He started laughing with a concerning glee.
“What did you do?!” Taro asked.
Evelyn answered for him, “He self-destructed one of the power generators.”
Guhya confirmed, “Yep! No way they will follow us now. Let’s get out of here. Follow me, I know the path to Xanadu.” Maybe he wasn’t so bad.
Smoke was filling the caves. It didn’t seem good. Where would the smoke go? Is everyone about to die? Guhya was sketchy but also clearly useful. He saved us and so now we kind of owe him our trust. Though, whether he actually has our trust is a different matter. He seemed to be a chaotic-neutral type. Hopefully, he reveals himself to be more of a chaotic-good type, otherwise, his immense power could backfire on us.
We got to the edge of the city. Some of the numbered men were chasing us but they were far behind. Others chased those who chased us, to help us. I never wanted to visit another one of these colonies again. Hedo and the Akiva clan seemed much saner at this point. I thought the underground was driving people insane but this was on another level. It’s like the world devolved after some kind of catastrophe and humans got stuck in Lord of the Flies.
The earth shook. Towards the cave ceiling above Colony 107, massive vents opened, freeing the toxic air to the world above. From a distance, the giant centipedes could be seen storming the city. Clouds of dust kicked up and obscured the cityscape.
We seemed to be in the clear. Nell said with a sense of relief, “Wow. Being a woman is harder than I thought.”
Everyone laughed at the absurdity.
After about a mile, we approached a stairway to the overworld. Finally, we were to ascend Mount Xanadu and move forward in our goals to extinguish the Basilisk risk. The stairs were at least 6 meters wide. Statues of the centipede functioned as railing on both sides of the staircase.
Evelyn pointed at them, “Shortly after the fall of humankind, people with less developed knowledge regarded the centipedes as gods. They learned to enjoy the deaths of those who suffered and that protected them against being killed themselves. When I was younger, I saw this take place. It was a disturbing sight but yet, human’s found a way to survive. A way to utilize faith to manifest a better reality. Yet, I am bound to truth and the path toward knowledge. I envy that faith on some level. It seems to be happier.”
Evelyn’s moment of vulnerability enchanted me. She hasn’t said much in the way of negative emotions before now. Except when she is panicking of course.
We headed up the stairs into the light of day.
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