Of Beasts and Men

By Anike Kirsten

Sci-Fi

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266
19 mins

Chapter One

THE crisp cool of the wind threw grains of piercing sand against Gliese’s exposed skin. Her fur captured each speckle to form a shield against the elements. The smoke of a nearby crashed craft suffocated her slowly, prompting her lungs to expel the sound of protest, and stir her from her unwilled slumber.

She peeled open her eyelids for a second, before shutting them like a bulkhead door at the sting of the sand that greeted her moist and vulnerable organs. She lifted her head from the impression on the beach and cupped her hand to shield her eyes.

“How’d I get ’ere?” Gliese’s mind raced to find the impulse in her brain that carried the memory. She scanned the horizon of the clear sea and white beaches; her memory failed to procure the information.

She needed answers, she needed to get back home! What was home? Little memory of her life before remained. Did she ever have one? Her parents were probably worried sick. Parents? She recalled two like her, male and female. A yearning descended upon her for the person clothed in a brightly coloured garment: Auriga.

The drive! It sat on her desk, plugged into her computer. She didn’t know why, but she felt no one should see what was on it, especially not her parents. It was probably too late, there wasn’t anything she could do. The file was open when she left her room to… do what? Her lapsed memory failed her. The last she saw before, was her mother running toward her. She struggled to her knees and crawled to the craft in seek of shelter.

Smoke rose up and danced from the debris scattered around, but not from the craft itself. She sighed relief when she escaped the harsh heat, then rubbed her hands over her face and arms to disperse the trapped sand. A flash of light in her peripheral caught her attention. She shuffled her bottom toward the console on her right.

“I dunno what any of it means!” she said after a few seconds of an attempt to figure out how it worked, and slammed her open palm down onto the console. The light ceased and a cone of green shone through her fingers. She retreated her hand in surprise and leaned forward to inspect it.

A figure appeared in the cone light, through a shaping of violet rays. The human in the plasma spoke but there was no sound. She was familiar: the human from her younghood. She glimpsed a switch below the light-source of the plasma display and flipped it down.

“...To accomplish maximum efficacy, relay the Neuro Array to subsection D-5.2/C. Reboot and initialize program Theta2.046 ’Awaken’,” The recording paused, and she was left with no answers and more questions. She relaxed her shoulders and slumped into the Pit’s chair.

“Andro 21539, your mission was unsuccessful. Analysis of your experiences and configuration has revealed that your current programming is inferior. You are now ordered to improve your algorithms and upgrade your system. In order to accomplish maximum efficacy, relay the Neuro Array to subsection D-52/C. Reboot and initialize program Theta2.046 ’Awaken’.” The message repeated in a loop.

Was she abducted by machines?! Why? She got up and walked around the craft in search of... something, she didn’t quite know yet. Her head was heavy and shrouded in a thick fog. Where were they?

She walked through the corridors to investigate as much of the ship as possible. Perhaps she would find some of them, or at least one. Her instincts led her down a specific path through the hallways. She stopped in front of what appeared to be the engine room. The large EM drive that filled the room, served as a homing signal to her; it bathed her in comfort and warmth.

She stepped to the console between them. A metal cable-jack hung from a port that protruded, attached to the left panel of the console. She lifted it to the base of her skull. She parted her hair with her free hand and felt a hole that wasn’t there before. It was cold.

She slid the jack into the hole. It clicked in. Her vision was lost. Sound and sensation faded away. The questions abandoned her.

“Initialize program Theta2.046,” she said in recital. “Awaken.” A screech of data connection ran through her neck, up her spine, and into her brain. Light flooded in and the sharp rays of a red sun assaulted her eyes. A repetitive rhythm of beeping echoed in the background. It came at once.

She saw more vivid than before; she knew and understood it. Her mind unlocked and the dark secrets that lay dormant, hidden in a closed filing system, released. It was the answer she needed, what she searched for. It was the truth she yearned to find.

She processed as much as she could, in case she lost the new knowledge and it cast her back into the abyss of ignorance. Parts were missing. The more she accessed, the more questions arose that had no answers. At least, not any in the data bank within her brain or the craft’s computer. The doubt about what Albert tried to show her, vanquished.

She was a constructed being, but who made her, and why? How did no one know? It didn’t make sense. The data was invalid and missing. She needed more, she needed answers. Files of the craft’s logs streamed into her memory. A tear rolled down her left cheek without warning, and fell onto her collar. The craft didn’t malfunction as she was led to assume. How was she supposed to know? It collided with a travel craft, and crashed to the beach. It was in stealth mode at the time of impact; the other craft had no means to detect it, or avoid the collision.

If she knew how the control-panel worked before, she would have avoided it. She pulled the jack out and ran to the opening of the breached hull. The smoke of the scattered debris burned her eyes.

She hopped out of the craft and raced through the heavy sand in search of the pilot and any passengers they might have had on board. Perhaps there was a survivor? If she could help just one.

Strewn across the sand, and in the bushes, were pieces of what used to be people. Three arms rested under a nearby coconut tree. She gagged and turned away. The contents of her stomach expelled with a force that left her throat and nostrils raw.

She spat a few times in attempt to rid as much of the taste of bile as possible and rushed into the sea. She cupped her hands together and scooped the water into her mouth. It did little to wash away the foul from her tongue and palette, and made her throat burn all the more. She waded deeper into the sea; the clear water muddied in her disturbance of it. She was submerged.

She didn’t want to die, but she didn’t feel she could go on living, either. How could she, after everything she said; knowing what she did? A nag of thought ran through her mind.
Auriga…

She pushed up against the bed of the shore and breached through the skin of the water. She took a deep breath in.



Chapter Two

DAYS passed by since the craft rebuilt itself and took off from the beach of death. How many, Gliese didn’t know. She sat on the metal flooring of the craft and cradled her pounding head. The craft had windows, and the Pit’s devices were more familiar. Did it rebuild to cater for her wants?

It was a ridiculous notion, but she could not think of another reason as to why it would rebuild against its programmed design. How did she end up in the mess of it all? She looked down through the window to her left.

The craft was no longer in the atmosphere but in high orbit around Andrometre. It was the first time she saw her home from that angle, and it was not how she imagined it. Instead of blue oceans, green and brown land, and white clouds, the view from space revealed a construct with domes over its continents. It was surrounded by a translucent grid shield.

There was no star, and no moons. They were alone in space, deep within an asteroid field. Small, round rocks scattered in the void; some brown, with one in an off-blue glow. Was that why none of the travel craft had windows or visual screens?

The solitude allowed her time to process, or rather remember, her suppressed information, according to Albert. She reflected on her existence, in the realization of what she was. Humanity’s name for her kind was orcyform. She gained, or regained, the answers to her questions about ‘magic’.

The fantastic aspect that fueled the enchantment of projection, withered away with the scientific explanation. She yearned to think of it as ‘magic’, instead of the manipulation of photons and gravitons by a device in part of her brain. Ignorance was bliss after all. Her life and experiences were too real. She grew, she felt heartache, she loved, she bled, but not in the manner she previously thought. She felt betrayed by the only consistent comfort in her life: Of Beasts and Man. How wrong it was. How wrong it taught.

The prediction, however, was accurate; she was destined for great understanding. So what now? The burning question she asked herself over and again, came up empty.

“Uncle Sigma,” she whispered. She recalled him, but as Andro185. She searched for feelings she once had, but turned up none. He wasn’t her uncle anymore, merely a fellow orcyform; an Andro orcyform. Was ‘Andro’ perhaps some special designation?

The craft rumbled and shook her in her seat. It pulled her out and she strained against the belts. A jet of gas vented from the starboard wing, and the craft propelled from orbit. Something nudged it. A dampened clank hit the port, and the hatch opened.

Bright, white light flooded the craft and a silhouette of a figure stood in the hatchway. A familiar voice came from him.

“Miss Libra.” His heavy musk was familiar.

"Cygnis?" she asked, her voice weakened. She squinted to adjust her eyes.

“Shall we?” He smiled and nodded his head slightly to the left. He extended his arm, angled to form a hook, and turned to his side. She nestled her hand under through his elbow and followed his lead.

"Whe’ver are we?" she asked.

“A station in high orbit. It’s built into an asteroid.” He gestured to the hallway ahead.

“Wha’? Why?”

“To escape detection by the High Council, of course.” He mocked her ignorance. They would steer clear of attention with him there.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again, ’specially not ’ ere! D’you know Albert?” she asked. He paused mid-stride, and she bumped into him. He turned to look at her; sorrow took over his usual poise.

"Mr. Hollows has, regrettably, been taken. He is being assigned," he said.

“And so what? How does that get such a reaction from you?” Her eyebrow raised in contempt. He continued forward.

“I cannot fault you, Miss Libra. You were born and raised in a society that cloaks all adversity and oppression. You would not know any better.” She waited for him to explain further, despite her anxiety, but he was silent.

The station was cold, and spotlessly clean. Its off-white walls reflected the intense white lights that ran in a series of florescent bulbs, each a meter long. The walls met with the floor and ceiling in perfect right angles. The structure was laid with segments of prefabricated boxes. The smooth interior was tainted with a seam every six paces. It had no decoration, no baseboards or crown moulds to separate the ends of the faces. She ran her hand against the wall: it was plastic.

They turned right into a large room filled with furniture, decorative trimmings, linen, and art along the walls. It contrasted the station’s corridors. Small globes of light hung from the ceiling in four places.

“This is your chamber, Miss Libra. A mug of beverage?” He wanted her comfortable, and continued to avoid her question. She nodded, then sat down on one of the plain black couches. He handed her a mug of hot beverage and sat at the adjacent couch. He took a sip. Her curiosity and confusion fueled her anxiety. She didn’t like it, and part of her did not want to hear what he had to say.

“I will not beat about the bush, Miss Libra,” He took another sip. “We are at war.” She shot her eyes up and choked on her beverage; a few drops spilled down her blouse.

“I' aven’t seen or heard of any war being fought. That’s a wild statement.”“Of Beasts and Man,” He closed his eyes. “I

“Of Beasts and Man,” He closed his eyes. “I was gifted it at my first Littjamas, but it was before the revised editions. Nearly forty cycles ago, when the oppression of humans floated in the open,” He sipped again.

“The slavery of the humans may have ended, but the discrimination and segregation remains. Instead of the Eco-farms, humans were assigned to menial duties that are otherwise a non-issue for automated systems. Just think about it, have you ever seen a human occupying social or political occupations?”

“I’ve seen a lot of them in academic jobs, but that’s the only area I gots exposed to.” He had no evidence, did he expect her to take his word for it?! His points were circumstantial at best and he, no doubt, used them to try and convince her, based in areas he knew she had no applied knowledge of.Craft pilot and escort occupations were filled by both human and Majoris. What she had seen, however, were those beasts in their raids of towns. There weren’t any humans at the Bargain Hunters hub, either. Surely, were he truthful, his hub would have welcomed both species. She voiced her objection and doubt.

Craft pilot and escort occupations were filled by both human and Majoris. What she had seen, however, were those beasts in their raids of towns. There weren’t any humans at the Bargain Hunters hub, either. Surely, were he truthful, his hub would have welcomed both species. She voiced her objection and doubt.

“Very well. Perhaps Mr. Hollows woke you too soon? I will send you back home. Know this, Miss Libra: the ‛great’ Library of the Central Continent has been burned to the ground.” He got up and took her hand.

“I dunno ’bout that. I spent a cycle there in my Learning, it’s impenetrable,” she said as she followed him out of the chambers.

“Not for the Majoris with the projection implant.” He paused then looked out through one of the tubes that showed a view of space

"Wha’ever d’you mean?" she asked. He turned to look at her again. A frown covered over his eyes.

“Your ‘magic’ has real consequences. It is not merely about their feelings,” he continued as he escorted her back to the craft. “I have destroyed my hub as well. Books will no longer be in circulation.” He pushed a button in the airlock and the craft’s hatch closed with her inside. She stared at him through the tube of glass in disbelief. Was he capable of that? He nodded to her then walked into the hallway. The airlock shut and dust filled the area.

She was relieved to be away, but she was left to her own thoughts again. What he said lingered on through her mind. The craft detached from the station and began its descent to the planet.

A red light flickered from the console. She pressed a button and flipped the sound control. An image of Albert appeared in the green cone.

“If you’re seeing this then I’ve woken you, love. I’m sorry for the rude manner I done it, but there wasn’t another way. The townsfolk believe you were taken by the High Council, and won’t be looking for you, but they’ll expect you to come back someday. Please, make yourself comfy. This craft’ll take you to our hidden base. I’ll meet you there shortly, love. If you still have doubts and questions, ask Sigma. Oh, and welcome back.”

It was too late for the message; why didn’t it play when she was bored and alone on the way up?! It was too convenient: the crash, the secret station, the lies? She reached behind her neck; the hole was gone. She frowned and scolded herself for entertaining their propaganda.

They were more devious that time; to force a lucid dream on her was cunning. What did they drug her with? Was there actually a crash, or was that an hallucination as well? There was no station in an asteroid, no construct planet. It was an elaborate gimmick to get her on their side. She had to stop them! But how? Would anyone believe her her. Where would she start? When she met Cygnis, or at the hub? When Auriga came into her life, or the first time Albert kidnapped her? Would they listen to her at all? She had to make them listen. If it meant she had to restrain them, if she were thrown to Captivity as a result, they would listen.

When she had their attention, she would start from the beginning when her projection first became strong. When her life started to fall apart, in her final cycle of Secondary Learning. She was naïve, and trusted too many people. She missed her home in the greatest Library of Andrometre: Central Library.


Chapter Three

THE Library buzzed with hushed murmurs and the muffled patter of feet. Flicked paper, and the crack of pens between teeth echoed as the students flocked around the seven large desks, and filled the galley with a hum. Gliese dreaded that time of the cycle. When the examinations were over, she had to clean up the mess, reorganize the galley, and wipe down the various pages smeared with their adolescent oils. The scent of musk and lilies would hang over the books for weeks. As much as it irked her, she could forgive them. She was once a student herself, though the Library where she took her examinations was much smaller.

The arrangement was strange to those in the country. It was often taken for granted in the cities. The students were given a warm exam locale, with freedom to snack, drink, and discuss items among one another. It was a system that worked for the people, and the results provided adequate evidence of its success. She watched the clock, eager to return to her work. There wasn't much time left, and she had a lot of tasks to complete before she had to leave.

The hands ticked with the speed befitting of a slug. She rested her chin in the palm of her hand, supported by her elbow against the desk top. The voices died down. She looked up with renewed energy; they were nearly done. The Learners arrived and hustled the students out the galley after their examination papers were collected. Gliese hoped it was the last time she would have to moderate.

She sat at one of the large, auburn-wood desks, with piles of books to either side of her, and proceeded to wipe down the pages of each, and free them of the adolescent grime. She shut one book and placed it on the pile to her right, then grabbed another from the pile on her left and continued while she hummed an eerie melody of her past; one she could not recall the words to.

The melody came from her youth. She was a youngling when she was practically evicted from her family home to go to school in a far away city. That was how she perceived it, but such was the norm on Andrometre. Her clothes hung loose off her shoulders; at lease two sizes too large. Her mother assured her she would grow into them, and normally she would have. She was not normal, however, and she never grew, neither taller nor larger. If it weren’t for her facial structure, and the matured texture of fur, people would mistake her for a youngling.

It was seven lunar-cycles since the day she left and headed to the craft terminal several kilometres from home; where she stood in the sparse hall, with her warm beverage in hand and large suitcase in the other. She stared at the giant screen of black and green that hovered above the busy people on the surface; it would tell her where she needed to be.

‘Flight 289 to Rockham City: Gate 13. Boarding now’ read the green on the giant; that was her flight. She hesitated, gripped her cup in rigor, and gazed into the rippling brown liquid contained within.

The steam glided off from its edges and over her fingers. The excitement of what the future held, overwhelmed her. Around her were several other younglings that looked up at the giant. She felt out of place among them.

They giggled with jitters of expectation for the great adventure that lay ahead, while she crippled under the anxiety of the unknown. She carried the burden of family pride and occupation. She could have walked out of the terminal and made her own life, never to leave home; where the strange was known. She could choose her own Learning path and yet, she was content and drawn to the ancestral trade. She could not explain it, but a longing to be near books haunted her.

She was barely three lunar-cycles old when she first saw a book; it was on the eve of Littjamas: her first. It was three cycles later that her family celebrated it again: her last. Every family’s litter gathered in the town centre, and the Elders handed out books to each of them. Gliese received a slim handbook with a glossy cover. Printed in bold red letters, the title read ‘Of Beasts and Man’.

Her parents rejoiced; it was a tradition of the Elders to predict the life of the youngling through the books they gifted. Gliese’s was a prediction of great understanding. On that eve, a female human appeared in her room; she stood in the corner as the shadows played with her petite figure. Gliese could not make out her features, and though she was daunting, Gliese felt calm and safe. The human consoled her in the eve with songs to fall asleep from that day on. She never thought to ask for her name.

“Last call for boarding Flight 289 to Rockham City at Gate 13,” the voice said over the com in the terminal. It signaled for her to leave the safe environment she would not see with the same eyes again. She stepped through Gate 13, and onto the bridge. A flight-attendant human took her papers and scanned them.

“Welcome, Gliese Libra. We hope you enjoy your flight,” he said with a smile. She regarded him for a second.

“Thanks,” she replied with a forced smile, and stepped forward into the craft. She wasn’t used to humans. She grew up in an exclusive Majoris-only community, and only saw one or two humans. She didn’t find humanity’s upper lip and smooth skin appealing. It was odd, and she was confused at their difference. She later learned they were a race of their own.

She took her seat, and reached into her case. She pulled out the handbook of Beasts and clutched it to her chest in comfort. As the Pit’s door shut, Gliese saw the human from her younghood again; she sat down in the pilot’s chair and looked back to wink at her. The engines whirled. Who was she? She forgot about the human, and hadn’t seen her since. Gliese looked up from the smudged pages of a textbook and saw the Library empty. How time slipped by with the repetition of daily responsibility.

She packed away the cleaning kit and gathered her belongings into a box, setting them in the foyer under her coat. She walked up and down the labyrinth of books for the last time, and took in the smell of the Library to hold her a little longer. She greeted every spine with a gentle stroke, and made sure they were organized in order; alphabetically. It was a compulsion. Whether it was learned or natural, she didn’t know.

She stood at the entrance, box in hand, and stared into the Library once more. It was the last time she would be in it. A few minutes passed before she pushed against the swinging door and reversed out to catch the last glimpses of the place. She paused as the door exposed her back to the outside world.

With a deep breath for courage, she turned around and started for her apartment. She planned for months in preparation for the trip. After several cycles away, she was due back home. She could vaguely remember what it looked like; would she recognize her parents? Were they still alive?! She wondered how many siblings she had.

It was customary to return to share one’s knowledge a cycle after Learning finished. She had no contact from home; in case she became distracted from her Learning. It was time for her to relinquish her prized position as Librarian of Central Library onto another.

The Librarians before did a poor job of keeping the Library. She couldn’t understand why the High Council allowed it. It was Central City and therefore, the main Library of the world. She knew there were other matters to attend; matters of the world took priority.

The affairs of each of the five continents were burdensome and time-consuming. She didn’t understand politics but she knew there were issues the High Council could not ignore. One such was the insurgency that arose from the Northern Continent and traveled south.

They hadn’t made an appearance on the Central Continent yet, but gossip already filled the streets with the outrage and disgust of the Insurgency’s raids on small villages and towns. Several Majoris called humans vile names in response to the Insurgency’s deprivation of literature in those communities. The humans who were innocent were frequently slandered against and referred to as beasts.

Several Librarians lost their careers and purpose in life because of them. Gliese felt rage build up inside at the thought of what they were doing to Andrometre and its people. She feared the consequences of their actions. Many Majoris became openly racist and the High Council never condemned it. It wasn’t fair to the humans who remained civil, and had to bear the brunt of the hatred toward the Insurgency. She sighed and headed to the port.

She boarded a craft and left for home. She passed the time with ‘Of Beasts and Man’. The craft landed outside of Holmstown, in the Eastern Continent, in time for luncheon. She didn’t know how father’s cooking tasted any more; she was too used to ready-eats.

Home cooking wasn’t readily available in the city unless a family invited you, and she didn’t know anyone. She stepped off the bridge and scanned the small terminal for a sign with her name on. Maybe they forgot she was expected to be there that day? The Com-Guild was highly competent and she doubted that their notice was not delivered.

A large male and female walked in brisk toward her, their smiles so wide she could count every tooth. Their arms extended and violated her personal space with a smothering embrace. She was trapped.

“You ' aven't changed!” the Majoris Gliese identified as her mother, said in a whimpering near-screech. She smelled of a sweet fruit.

“Welcome back, Glie,” her father greeted in a deep voice. “Come, let’s go home.” He gestured to a carriage outside the terminal. The trip back was long and awkward. Unfortunately, silent was not one of the attributes. Her mother babbled continuously about how things had changed; the new Elders, her new siblings, and their progress. Gliese wanted to pull down her ears to, at least, make the high pitch a little lower.

She jumped out of the carriage as soon as it stopped, and was greeted by ten younglings; each tried to clamp onto her legs, some of whom tried to climb up on her using her loose blouse as support.

Her father showed them away to give her space, and led her to the house. It was a large, worn-down building with off-white walls and green shutters at every window. It was not familiar. Gliese expected some nostalgia, but none came. She sniffed at the air to catch a scent she might know, but there was nothing: it was not home.

She would settle in soon enough; she was adaptable, a trait encouraged by the constant relocation every cycle of Learning. She called many places home. The town was her first, and would be her last. With a sigh, she picked up her large suitcase and ventured into the house. She observed every inch of it as she made her way up two flights of stairs toward her room. She braced herself against the door with her back and slowly creaked it open. The room was bare with only a closet, bed, and a lamp.

“We thought you might want to add your own touch to it,” her mother said from behind. “If you don’t like the colour, we can paint it.”

“It’s fine,” Gliese was eager to be alone.

"Then luncheon will be ready in an hour, we’ll see you downstairs." Her mother walked down the hall, paused, and looked back. “By the way, an Elder will be joining us. She wants to speak with you afterwards.” Gliese nodded, and escaped into the blank room. At last, solitude.





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