“What if we just talk instead?” I asked with the hope of evading this strange ‘queen‘ situation. “There’s actually some stuff I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
Taro, looking defeated, answered, “Yeah, let’s talk.” He turned off the television and waited for my response.
“Can we trust both of you?” I asked in a serious tone. “There’s a lot we can discuss but we need to have some kind of mutual agreement or trust. In the forest, I noticed that each of us appears to be hiding deeper truths for our own protection. Now might be a good time to explore those truths. It is also becoming clear to me that both of you live in a different world than Evelyn and me. So, can we trust each other?”
Taro paused and then replied, “You two really aren’t from around these parts, are you?” He paused more before continuing, “If you two truly are outsiders, we can trust you if you promise not to betray us and sell us out to other members of the Colony. Seeing as you two do not have any connection to other members, I will assume our trust in you is reasonable. If we can promise that, then we can talk about these truths.”
Evelyn jumped in, “I sense that all of our trust is reasonable in this circumstance. We should proceed and do so fearlessly. This will be the best outcome for all of us.” She almost sounded robotic.
We all looked at one another and eventually nodded in agreement.
“Since I proposed this confession, I’ll go first,” I said. “I come from a place underground, beneath the city of Hedo, where an organization aims to bring forth the Basilisk. Eventually, I no longer wished to join their mission because I believed it to be unright. It seems your world is vastly different from my own. Nell mentioned earlier that it is the year 519. In my world, it is the year 2096. Now I’m not even sure what is real anymore. Your notion of the ancients seems to map onto the ways of life of the people I lived amongst. All of that technology that you salvage is normal and even manufactured in the world I left behind, in Hedo.”
Taro and Nell looked speechless as I continued explaining the world, the overworld, the underground, and the life that I came from.
“Just before meeting both of you, we were escaping death as the clan chased us for the heresy of opposing the basilisk. In both the overworld and among the Akiva clan, knowing of the Basilisk at all puts you at risk for death. Knowing of the Basilisk imposes a responsibility to make a choice to either support the Basilisk or prevent its’ creation. The overworld opposes the Basilisk while the underground supports it. Defying either of their goals puts a bounty on your head. So now we left that world because we don’t belong anywhere there anymore,” I explained.
Nell asked most curiously, “What is the Basilisk?”
I responded with a tone of authority and responsibility, “All you need to know is that it’s a tragic weapon that infects minds, simply through the knowledge of its’ potential existence. Knowing of the Basilisk is dangerous. Worse would be the successful creation of it. I cannot inform you of its’ nature without subjecting you to harm.”
They sat there aghast. Silence ensued for around half a minute.
Taro switched the subject, “Your story is incredible, unfathomable even. I suppose it would be our turn now.” He paused before continuing, “The world we live in, the Colony, is operated by the queens. The lower caste is entirely made up of males. The queens control who is allowed to breed with them, an honor to any male in the Colony. We work for the queens and chase the opportunity to continue our lineage. As you saw on the TV, seemingly perplexed, each of the channels is dedicated to one of these queens. The males of the Colony are tamed by their lust for their queens.”
Now the aghast expression transferred to my face. An ounce of disgust and horror tainted my expression as well. Meanwhile, Evelyn was strangely captivated by the story, listening without judgment.
“And then there’s Nell. . .” He said in a sad tone. “Perhaps Nell could continue from here. It isn’t really my story anymore.”
Nell waited a moment, seemingly scared to talk about it, then started, “Well, my mother was one of the queens. The queens don’t take lightly to female babies. They are assessed for their potential and utility of queendom but most are thrown out to die.” She hesitated even more anxiously. “I am actually one of those females. My mother didn’t want me to die, so she found a father in the lower caste who would take care of me. I take these pills that suppress my female expression so that I can live safely amongst the male caste.” She had tears in her eyes.
So Nell was actually a she. Her androgynous appearance made more sense now.
Taro brought in a lighthearted tone change, “Nell and I are actually in love! We have to hide this from the Colony and unfortunately, we cannot even engage with each other sexually because it seems to activate the kinds of headspace that lust-traps the male caste in their fixated, idolizing, and hypnotic gaze towards the queens. It is what empowers them. The queens seem to prime male infants with addictive substances to enhance their love and proneness to the pull of euphoric stimuli. The temptation for pleasure is what tames the males. So, we resist that because we fear that I will get pulled in and away from Nell.”
It was all so strange, yet kind of touching and noble of him. Nell had gone through so much too. I curiously asked, “What about you, Taro? Weren’t you pushed into addiction as a child then?”
He smiled, looked at Nell, and responded, “Actually, this is one of the reasons I love Nell so much. She saved me from that cycle. She showed me that life can still be satisfying, no, even more satisfying without the constant barrage of sexual and substance-based pleasures. Our loving connection seems deeper than the distant superficial connection the people here have with their queens. It was something I couldn’t have imagined without Nell. I think most of the males here have never tasted such intimacy and wouldn’t know what they are missing out on. So Nell is kind of my hero.”
Nell blushed and hugged Taro.
Their story was touching my heart. “We promise not to expose your truths to the others of the Colony, right Evelyn?” I said.
Evelyn nodded with a smile. “We will protect your truth as if it were an extension of your bodies, because, in some way, it is.” It was an odd thing for her to say, but it worked.
Taro smiled and said, “We will also keep your secrets if we ever meet one of these Akiva guys. It’s actually relieving to finally talk to someone about these things. Insiders can never know these truths, so we bear the struggle of living in the shadows. So, thanks for allowing us to tell our story!”
It felt as if a new friendship had formed. Our bonds would make it more difficult to part ways. I asked, “Why don’t you join us on our mission? We could adventure together.”
His smile faded to a look of sadness as he replied, “I don’t think that we can. We have a lot going on here already as romantic as a great escape sounds. It seems like we’d be throwing that all away.”
The sadness on his face spread to me as I realized our parting was inevitable and necessary for our goals. There was no other way so I nodded in respect for their decision.
“While you remain in Colony 25, we permit you to sleep here and join us on any adventures. You are welcome here anytime,” Taro said in an uplifting tone. “Tomorrow there are some public festivities with amazing food and dance if you care to stay with us a bit longer.”
I was seduced by this opportunity to prolong the escape from our fate. I replied, “Yes, one more day couldn’t hurt. After this, we must tread forward on our own journey and part ways.” I paused momentarily. “Thank you so much for allowing us to stay here. You nearly rescued us back there, on the beach.”
We spoke a while more and then Taro showed us to a room for sleep. There were two mattresses on the floor that looked as ancient as the other technology. One of the mattresses looked a little torn up. I decided to take that one and let Evelyn take the other since she saved my life and all.
The room faded and it began again. Suddenly, I found myself lying on the forest floor; the same one from that dream before. A familiar eerie blanket of fog coated the air. Whispers called me to follow deeper into the forest. An intoxicating curiosity pulled me in. Through the trees, there was Evelyn standing beside a tree, looking up towards the fruit on its’ branches. She grabbed one and then looked at it in marvel and bit into it. Her eyes glowed with a bluish light. Her hair flowed in all directions as if gravity didn’t exist.
She turned towards me, collapsed onto her knees, and then began to wail furiously, in agony. I tried to run away but no matter how fast I ran, I never moved, and instead, I was drawn closer. Her screams amplified. From a distance, her body could be seen disintegrating and ripping apart. Colorful lights emitted from each tear in her flesh form. Her screams began to reverberate, echoes of feedback folding into one another, creating a horrifying symphony of multilayer screaming, manifesting as auditory fractals that vibrated my body in resonation with her expression of terror.
The gravity pulled me in closer and eventually I surrendered to its’ pull. As I turned around, Evelyn’s eyes became apparent. They were slitted like a snakes’. The beautiful pearly appearance had been replaced by strobing, multicolored bars that flickered in asymmetrical patterns. Tears streamed down her face. It was like she was stuck in time, repeating the same second over and over.
A transparency lifted out of her body, at which point a disturbing sense of relief appeared on her face. Her form began to slowly atomize and merge with the universe. Even the physics of the world distorted. The forest bent and shifted. Not only was she screaming, but now laughing in a fit of mania. It was as if she couldn’t contain her mind.
It was horrifying.
The dream ended, rushing me awake, only to see Evelyn sleeping peacefully across from me. This eased my fear somewhat and I eventually drifted back to sleep. But seriously, what the fuck.
-The next morning–
Upon waking, there was a rush of chatter and noise coming from outside. Sunlight leaked through the windows. Music could be heard in the distance. Laughter filled the streets. It was a lively and comforting vibe. The closest thing we had to this in the underground was the community game night where we played DDR and cheered each other on at karaoke.
Taro appeared in the doorway and excitedly said to us, “It’s time for the Electrocity Festival! Are y’all ready for this? This is one of the most epic days of the month. Let’s go have breakfast at the local zazahouse and get some nice coffee and bagels to start our day!”
We got dressed and headed out to the ‘zazahouse’. It was only a 5-minute walk from their place. Every street had a different kind of exciting commotion going on. One stuck out in particular. Grown men were cheering, drinking, and gaming on a retro arcade machine without a care in the world. This is how life could have been for the rest of humanity if the Basilisk was never known.
We arrived at a nice little cafe that appeared to be worn out. The paint was disintegrating and the wooden floor was decayed, but the smell of aromatic caffeinated beverages, blueberry muffins, and maple syrup made up for the shoddy appearance.
We each ordered coffee and some sweet and savory breakfast items. Taro offered to pay for us since we didn’t have any of the local currency, which appeared to be. . . bottle caps. When ordering, Taro suggested we stray away from the Zaza-enhanced drinks and dishes, warning us that this was the addition of a mood-enhancing substance that increases the citizen’s tameness and fondness for their queen-run world. Evelyn and I both decided to heed his warning.
Halfway through our coffee and breakfast, Evelyn suddenly appeared startled. I asked, “What’s wrong?”
Evelyn responded, “This isn’t right. We need to get out of here right now.”
Everyone turned to Evelyn with concern.
“What’s going on? I’ve never seen you so frightened,” I asked.
Evelyn continued, “I think it’s best if we return home now. Something is going very wrong. I can’t yet figure out what it is but it’s going to happen soon. We need to get out of here.”
It didn’t really make sense, but we decided to play along with her premonition, at least to reduce the distress. I was really hoping that she wasn’t as crazy as she seemed right now. All this stuff about destiny was spooky and now this? If she was this far off, then maybe our journey was just pure madness.
We headed back with an atmosphere of silence and anxiety among our group. Once we arrived at the house, Evelyn was nervously pacing back and forth, as if she was trying to resolve some kind of internal conflict. Her eyes glowed red.
The least I could do was try to help reduce this panicky state with what I’ve learned in my training. I asked, “Hey, Evelyn. Do you think you could try to explain what exactly is going on? My role in the underground was as a psychologist. I might be able to help you process whatever it is that is stressing you out so badly.”
Evelyn stopped pacing and suddenly locked eyes with me. I’ve never felt such an intense transference of negative emotion from a person. It was similar to the instance that occurred before we ate s’mores but absolutely horrible. Yet, I started to feel as if she wasn’t crazy.
She spoke quietly, “Oh no.”
She turned to the door and stared at it for 30 seconds. Then, there was a knock. Chills overtook my body. Taro and Nell both stopped talking to each other and looked at the door. Taro slowly advanced towards the door and quietly assured us that we will be fine. Suddenly I trusted Evelyn’s bizarre premonition much more than the reassurance of Taro, regardless of how reasonable he was. His fatherly-toned reassurance only enhanced my impending doom. Not sure what Evelyn feared, but whatever it was, was about to happen right now.
Taro opened the door, smiling. Three men in trench coats and dark glasses appeared in the doorway. They walked in without Taro’s permission, asserting a disturbing level of dominance in his own household.
One of them spoke in a nearly monotone voice, “All of you are to come with us. The queens have summoned you. It is important.” The three men enclosed us and pulled out dirty ancient-looking handcuffs. “Do not worry, we mean no harm but we need to use these cuffs in the process of transporting you. As far as we can tell, you are in no trouble but the rules of our role dictate that we must transport foreign members in the safest way possible to ensure the security of our people.”
One of them pointed to Nell and Taro and commanded, “Both of you will accompany us and explain your connection to these outsiders when you meet our queens.”
We walked silently towards a train station. Somehow the playful happy energy of the citizens was no longer comforting. Instead, it was like an eerie backdrop that resided somewhere in the uncanny valley, tainted by my emotional state in a way that couldn’t be settled down by any amount of wholesome vibes.
We finally arrived at a rusty damaged looking railway system. We entered at the demands of those who took us hostage. Even Taro and Nell struggled to feign a sense of okayness. We spent only a couple minutes in the janky thing but it felt much longer.
While riding the train, an individual on the outside had a crowd surrounding him. It was a peculiar scene, but what was weirder was the moment the guy turned toward me and locked eye contact. His eyes were a piercing red and his charisma infected my mind immediately. He seemed like a psychopath to me, despite having no interaction with him at all. He maintained eye contact as we passed, then eventually smiled at me in a way that felt threatening. The connection he made to my mind reminded me of those strange moments with Evelyn. Who was this guy??
We arrived at our destination. There were a series of what looked like palaces. Similar to the slums, the buildings looked fairly damaged. They stacked much higher than in the slums, seemingly like makeshift skyscrapers or castles. A smoggy haze and a level of darkness set in. The surrounding brown fog was lit up by televisions fit into some of the windows. Cables were connected all over the buildings. It felt as if these palaces could collapse at any moment. They looked like a child’s pillow fortress, except with trash and recycled building parts.
After entering the 5-meter tall extravagant doorway, there was a red carpet leading all the way to the backside. We slowly walked down this pathway in great anticipation. At the end of this large hall, a bunch of females sat on a variety of couches, lounging around and laying in seemingly seductive poses.
The moment they became visible, Evelyn turned to me and whispered calmly, “I know it will be okay now. Don’t let fear overcome you. We made it.”
The man in the trench coat holding her cuffed hands interjected, “Don’t speak yet. You must talk to your queens and then they will decide your fate.”
How could this be okay? The situation was getting worse but Evelyn’s reaction grew more self-contained and confident.
The queens had a dominating, whimsical, and sadistic aura about them. Not a care in the world. Not even for our immensely distressed states. Many of them even smiled while observing us. It reminded me of the scene back at the Akiva clan, yet much more menacing.
One of the queens stood up from the couch and walked closer to us. She spoke, “You there, in the purple hair. Do you mean to disrupt the flow of our society? Women are not allowed to live among the male caste. As such, I naturally became very interested when I heard about a purple-haired girl infiltrating our Colony.”
Evelyn responded submissively, “Your majesty, we only come in passing. We have no intention of staying. We did not know of your Colony and its’ function.”
The queen walked closer to Evelyn, inspecting her, scanning her body up and down with a judging look. She replied in a sinister tone, “I don’t think so. Men, take her to the back room.”
The men in trench coats hauled Evelyn away. Evelyn turned to me and gave a slight nod as if she was assuring me that it would be fine. What would they do to her? Taro mentioned that females were often killed here. Coming to Colony 25 was a mistake.
Then, the queen casually walked over to me. “You are unique. You really are some kind of outsider. I can tell just by looking at you,” she said as she scanned my body and gave a flirtatious smirk. “Take him to the jail. He will be our new toy.”
As I was taken away, I turned back to see Taro and Nell, who were now being approached by the queen. They looked in my eyes with a deeply apologetic and guilt-ridden expression.
A sense of dread overflowed in me.
I entered a jail cell.
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