One of the first things a child learns is that they don't live on the surface of the world. Humans used to, but they live under it, because the surface has become bad.
Later, reasons are added. The first is easy to understand: germs. You will get really sick and die if you go to the surface. The second isn't as simple: air. Long before germs would kill you, if you directly breathed the air, it would get you. Why?
It isn't contaminated. There aren't any radioactive materials left. So why?
It has too much of many things.
Most trace gases were the same, and nitrogen was the same. Even Oxygen and CO2, Argon even, were all within the range allowable to humans. But, a few trace gases weren't. A debate was still ongoing exactly why this happened, but gasses such as CO and SO2 had much higher levels than normal.
How had that happened? Mizushima didn't know how. After all, he didn't take much interest in finding out why. He could vaguely remember various hypotheses involving volcanism, maybe the bombs, and various other reasons. Either way, it didn't matter anymore. The worst of the worst fates had been given to him.
He was exiled from the facility.
It didn't mean instant death. No, they weren't that nice. He was given a supply of air, some food, and kicked out. The air wouldn't last but a couple of days, and the food was only enough for a couple of days, at best. One last thing was given to him, a filter for the air. It would manage to clean the air of about half the monoxide, but only for about a week, gradually working worse and worse.
All this to force you to try to pitifully survive, if at least only a day longer. If somehow you could survive the air with the filter, the pathogens in the air would down you in the end. If you could stand the pathogens somehow long enough, the air would get you. No cases otherwise existed in this world, other than the maruta and Iceman. Even how they survived with the gasses was a biological mystery, something that replicating the mask gave but wasn't understood in the least.
So he was doomed. It was expected. But what wasn't…
It was so beautiful…
He had been to the surface once, a long time ago. He didn't remember much about what it looked like. His late wife had loved coming to the surface, and that was what eventually killed her. The surface had somewhat scared him then, but he saw now.
This was nature, the vibrant greens, towering canopies, the light sound of insects, the leaves crunching under the soles of his shoes, the sun shining down brilliantly between the trees. This is what humans had lost in their foolishness. This was something worth regaining. And even if only for a little while, he had attained it.
Mizushima wandered for a while in this wonderland. For that is what it was to him. So many things he had only seen in old videos and textbooks, never up close. Night came, and the sky was cloudless, so he saw the starry sky. So beautiful to him it was. Humans still had control over some satellites, but he had never gone. This was a glimpse of what they would see. Lucky…
"It seems I can withstand the pathogens, at least a little." Mizushima muttered. He hadn't gotten sick yet, after 2 days. He was relying on the filter, his air long used up, but it helped little. He was deathly sick from the air. The little he could move was spent eating a little, just to stay alive a little longer. He was leaning against one of the largest trees in the forest. Eventually even his food disappeared, and he felt the illness from bugs and the air come over him.
He was delirious… so he didn't know if they were really there, but sometimes he believed he saw someone, one of the maruta, looking at him. Sometimes 2 were staring at him. Finally, in one of his less delirious states, he called out to them.
"Hello. Who are you?" Curiosity won over one, or maybe some vestige of damned control over him, and the larger of the two came over. "Your number? "
"#3707." He shivered. But then his eyes grew wide. "You're the voice…"
All maruta had a small system built into them at birth. It included their ID, owner, tracker, and a small communications transceiver for commands. He had hacked the server for their messages prior to releasing them, and sent a general message detailing what was happening and what their options were.
"Ha…. –cough- you haven't gone far enough, you know." Mizushima had also told all those who chose to leave to get as far as possible from the base.
The maruta looked defiant. That was a good look for them to have. "But others came after us, so we helped them get away. Plus, Father told us to watch for signs of originals coming from the place."
"I'm not mad at you, nor do I control you any longer, and I won't try. After all, I am broken. Father, huh?" So Iceman already had the maruta believing in him. Only a few days, what a man. The charisma always shone through, but he hadn't expected it to happen this fast. Did something happen?
The second maruta had appeared closer when it saw Mizushima hadn't done anything to #3707, and was hiding behind him. He weakly smiled, trying to keep his sanity with his lungs burning and his gut twisting.
"So, what is your number, little one?" Mizushima was able to see it was a small child, maybe 5 years of age. It was scared, but still told him, in such a small voice.
#3920 was maybe 5, #3707 looked 15-17, and Mikoto was 20. All so young. What about the older ones forced to endure the servitude their entire lives just for being born? Mizushima coughed violently, blood in it. He was going fast. This must be his calm before the storm.
"Why did you free us? You and your friends all controlled us completely. I saw what some of the others were used for, so why? You had complete power. Why?"
#3707 had finally snapped at him, a former master. He couldn't stop yelling at Mizushima, letting out all the things he had wanted to yell at them, the scientists and torturers and slave drivers. On and on he yelled at Mizushima, until finally he couldn't yell any more, sobbing he was. He knew too much pain for how young he was. #3920 had long since begun crying. Too much. It was too much.
Mizushima waited until they cried themselves out, thinking over the answer, and how best to answer.
"Because, I was scared."
"Scared? Scared of what. You had everything!"
"Everything except humanity. We had all lost that along the way." Mizushima coughed, more blood coming up. The calm was breaking. He had a headache, dizziness. The filter wasn't helping much when he coughed.
The two maruta were standing in front of him, staring at him. #3707 finally spoke.
"I can't bring myself to forgive you. For too long you controlled us. But I heard about a nicer master, one of the leaders who didn't do as he pleased with us, and even praised us for doing things right and who didn't harm when they did things wrong."
Mizushima nodded. Yes, though he did it for different reasons, that could only be him. None of the others had even done part of that.
"And you set us free. I can't forgive you, but I can thank you for what you have done."
What a marvelous gift. Karma? One last concession from God?
#3920 spoke a few words quietly. "I don't know…" she paused. Mizushima could see that she was thinking hard, trying to come up with the right words. "I can forgive you." She was hiding behind #3707's back, so Mizushima could barely see her, but he could hear the warmth.
This was all unlooked for, but still the best thing that could happen under the circumstances. He could barely believe how lucky he must be. He didn't expect forgiveness nor thanks, but he got both. Mizushima began crying, the first time since he lost his wife.
"Hurry back to your Father, #3707 and #3920. No more maruta will escape. Being kicked out like this was proof. You must get as far away as possible, because they will be searching for all of you." Mizushima couldn't see anymore. His eyes were too teared up to see, but even if he could see through them, it would have been black. His vision was failing with the sickness. He only had a couple of hours left at best. "Get as far away as you can, find real name instead of numbers, and don't let yourselves be captured in their horrific slavery ever again!" The two began running away, and he was coughing violently again. He couldn't see it, but he could feel his body breaking.
He breathed in the air unfiltered, and thought it was just so ironic to die of oxygen deprivation, SO2 poisoning, and sickness in this glorious air. Death by CO poisoning isn't beautiful. But still, Mizushima never thought "I wish I hadn't ever done that."
Because this was his price to be human again.
And so, Mizushima was forever cursed to haunt the land, his.... no, really!
Alright, so it's over. My long "battle" with this story has finally come to a crawl. It's been fun, and I was right. Coming back after months of not even thinking about it has given it a fresh feeling. I'm able to halfway look at it as if somebody else wrote it and critique it from that angle. However, it's definitely not perfect. Weird grammer that isn't easy to understand, spelling errors, or continuity errors in the story itself are all possible.
Since this is the smaller sister-story to Forgotten Verses, it will also need to fit in perfectly with the relevant period of time in FV, and therefore I might still make a few changes later on. But for now, it's considered completed. Thanks for those who read it, and please review it!