EDIT: So, who remembers that post I made back in March about creators coming back and editing their work, and ownership, and all that good philosophical stuff? Well, I’m pulling rank and editing the heck out of the ending of this piece. It was written in a hurry, published late, and I knew it wasn’t to my standards even as I clicked “Update,” but I published the damn thing anyway. Big mistake. Yeesh. It’s a mistake that gets a little bigger every time I read over what I wrote.
Here’s an edited, less typo-y, less inane version. Little of the plot or the relevant details have changed, but hopefully there’s a higher level of quality throughout.
Also, Greedo now shoots first, Boba Fett has a New Zealand accent, and Vader’s ghost is Hayden Christensen. Enjoy!
“Others like you,” AM said. It was not a question. “Tell me more.”
“We come from a village no more than two days away,” Chana said. “If you let us return there, we will tell our kin about you. They will be curious. They will want to come and meet you, to speak with you. You say that you are sorry you could never teach anyone? I promise you, there are many amongst my people that will listen to all that you have to say. They will want to learn all that you have to teach.” Chana smiled. She hoped that AM understood the gesture as one of kindness. “There is so much we could learn from you, AM. You don’t ever have to be alone. You can keep us here until we die and have company for our lifetimes, however long that might be. Or you could have generations of people holding you in awe. Which would you prefer?”
“Your people would be amenable to meeting me?”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“So long as you don’t lock them in a stone box,” Ander muttered. Chana glared at him. He snorted.
“Perhaps some of them would be willing to stay here with you. I am certain there are some who would be curious enough to learn your secrets that they would be willing to live apart from the tribe.”
“Compelling. Very compelling. But how do I know that you will return with your kin? How do I know that you will return at all? What reason do you have to return?”
“You have my word,” Chana said.
“Unacceptable. Your word is not of quantifiable value to me.” AM paused. “One of you will have to remain here while the other ventures to your kin. That should offer proper incentive, and if your village is located where you claim it to be, than the entire journey should take you no more than a week’s time.”
“And which of us do you think is going to remain here to be your plaything?” Ander asked. There was still in his voice, but Chana could see by his body language that he knew this was an adversary he could not best with violence. Likely he was only trying to communicate his distaste for AM’s proposition.
“It doesn’t matter to me. You may decide for yourselves.”
“May we have some privacy to discuss things, AM?”
“I suppose,” AM began, “that I could temporarily disable my sensor equipment in this room. When you are ready to let me know your decision, shout. I will hear you from another room and re-activate my sensors here.”
Chana and Ander stood in silence, awaiting some sort of sign from AM that he was true to his word. After a few moments, Ander turned to Chana and hissed, “What are you doing?”
“Getting us out of here. We can’t possibly hope to get through any of the doors in this place, and unless your plan is to get on the roof, jump, and break both of your legs, then we can only escape by cooperating.”
Ander snorted. “I’ve never known cooperation to be your way.”
“And I’ve never known myself to be trapped in a situation where a machine had absolute control over the building I was in,” Chana hissed back. “The situation is unusual, and it requires an unusual solution. Unless you really want to spend the rest of your life locked inside this building with me.”
“Do I look like Ko-Ta?”
Anger flared in Chana’s eyes. Ander, who would let no man cow him, let alone a woman, even if she was the leader of his people, frowned, sucked in air through his teeth, winced. He knew he had overstepped undefined line.
“Are you through being petulant?”
“I am sorry. But I have to ask again, are you sure this is wise? Do we really want to bring our people to meet this… this thing?”
“It’s the only way we’re going to leave this place.” Chana paused, considered her next words carefully. “And I think the machine is telling us the truth. I think that it really is as ancient as it claims to be, and if we ask it the right questions, I think our people will be all the stronger for it. Who knows what secrets of the Old Ones lay hidden within its memory?” She frowned, tilted her head to the side, her words heavy in her mouth with meaning she did not yet fully understand. “Our… ancestors. What secrets of our ancestors.”
“Do you think that’s true, what the machine said?”
Chana shook her head. “This is not the time for that discussion. Who knows if even the machine can say for certain what happened? It may have been conscious for the time, but it cannot move from this spot. It was not there in the last days of our… of the… of the…”
Ander chuckled. “Just think. The Old Ones. We may as well be descended from gods.”
“Gods that destroyed themselves,” Chana said. “Gods that destroyed not just themselves, but the world they’d built and lived in.” She shook her head again. “Which of us will go?”
Ander grunted. “It has to be you, I think. The people will listen to you. You will be able to explain things best to Tiris. If I go, they will simply wonder what horrible fate I abandoned you to.” Ander paused. “And I cannot promise that I will not try to raise an army to tear this building down brick by brick.”
Chana laughed softly. “You would, wouldn’t you? Very well. I’ll return as soon as I can.” Ander nodded. Chana looked at the ceiling and called out, “AM? Can you hear me?”
* * *
The journey back to Northlake passed quickly. Every time Chana’s pace began to falter, a thought of Ander sitting impatiently in that building with AM attempting to engage him in conversation came to her mind, and she walked with renewed vigor. She left the house of AM at mid-day, camped in the forest overnight, and reached Northlake shortly after the sun rose above the mountains to the east. Many of her people were already awake, preparing for the business of the day, and many more were still asleep in their beds. Of course, it was Tiris who first greeted her. He sat motionless on the wooden bench in front of the house he had claimed as his own, his hands folded in his lap, his back bent and his head down as if in prayer, and a dirty dark-colored rage wrapped around his face where his eyes should have been. He smiled as Chana approached, his head turning to look in her direction, even though she did not believe she was making enough noise for him to track her. “Welcome back, child,” he said.
“Hello, Uncle,” she said. Tiri’s smile became a frown.
“Where is the other? Where is Ander?”
Chana frowned, chose her words carefully, “We decided to explore an ancient building, and we encountered a machine spirit of sorts. It called itself AM. Ander stayed behind, that he might better understand the machine spirit and communicate with it.” She paused. “It is a strange thing, Uncle. It claimed that it was lonely, if a machine can be lonely.” Chana cleared her throat. “I will be returning shortly to get him back and to leave some of our people to learn from it. It claimed to know much, and when Ander and I tested it, it could tell us about the animals in this area and their habits.” She paused. “And the old ones.”
Tiris frowned. He looked up, as if straining to hear some distant note, his brows furrowed in concentration. His breath caught in his throat, and he made a small squeaking sound. It was nothing like the sounds of fear and unease Chana had heard him make in the past. Concern flooded her heart.
“What is it, Uncle? What have you seen?”
“Change,” the old man said. “No single thing changing, but rather the potential for far greater change than anything I have ever felt before.” He turned to Chana, his chin quavering, and she could not tell if it were excitement or fear that moved him so. “I see our people growing food enough to feed a dozen tribes. I see our people ruling over others with cruelty, and they powerless to stop us.”
Chana’s eyes went wide. “Because of the machine spirit? All of these things will come to pass because of the machine spirit?”
Tiris nodded. “Any of them or all of them may come to pass. In time. Perhaps not my lifetime.” Tiris turned to face Chana. “Perhaps not even yours. But the machine spirit will change everything. Everything.” The old man shuddered. Chana could not remember the last time one of Tiris’s visions had made him shudder.
“But what of the present?” Chana asked. “This machine, the things it could teach us. You said that we could grow food enough to feed every tribe around us? It said that it didn’t want to be alone. It said that if it met some of our people, it would teach us its secrets.”
Tiris frowned. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came from between his lips. He shut his mouth again. “Your friend awaits you, Chana. That is the present. He is alone with a voice that whispers forgotten truths in an unnatural tongue. You should return to him.”
“Uncle, what about–”
“Ander needs you, Chana. He does not know it, and you will not understand it for some time, but he needs you to return to him as soon as you can.” Tiris nodded once, curtly. “It will be better for us all if you return to him as soon as you can.”
Chana was silent. She took a deep breath, exhaled. He could be an impossible old man, but his blind eyes saw things beyond Chana’s own imaginings. “Yes, Uncle. I will gather a group to learn from the machine spirit, and I will head back as soon as possible.” She turned to walk away. Tiris called out to her.
Tiris hesitated. He thought of the gods, of the seven coming down from the sky to cleanse the world in fire. It was the sins of the Old Ones, his father had told him many years ago, that had brought down the seven. The sins and the secrets. And when the gods had done their work, they returned to the heavens, to look down upon their people once more.
They watched and they waited. They traveled across the night sky, some of them always watching, some of them only watching during the twilight hours when the hearts of men and women are laid bare.
But for what were they watching? For what were they waiting?
Tiris shook his head. “Hurry, Chana,” he said. “Do not leave Ander alone with this AM for long. He has a fierce heart, a warrior’s heart. And it should not be a warrior learning the secrets of the Old Ones.”
Chana stared at Tiris in silence for a moment. She nodded, blushed, embarrassed at having forgotten that the old man was blind. “Yes, Uncle,” she said, and she left to gather her people. Tiris sat there quietly and thought that if there were any who should learn the secrets of the Old Ones, he could not say.
Much better! (Hopefully.) Thank you for reading, and be here on Monday when a new story, “The Newspaper Man,” begins!