· · · · · · ·
She was given a green city covered with a white clouded sky. She didn't need to wear earth's colors, they were all around her.
There had been doom prophets claiming that fate had ordained the destruction of mankind, this was Armageddon and the world would be returned to the paradise. She had hated their talking, but right now in the wake of the war, it really did feel like a paradise. There was life everywhere, no scent of decay or gunpowder in the air. She spotted birds on the ruined roofs, heard the buzz of insects nearby, and enormous flowers, trees, shrubbery, all over the place and in many colors. She would have smiled if she hadn't just stepped away from her father's bones.
Willing to smile or not, she walked into the sun and ran her hands across bright green ferns. They weren't anything like those she knew from books and Internet, but she had heard tale of artificially engineered vegetation. It was a safe guess that the Matrixer had started growing these to accommodate their need for food. In a way, the age of the dinosaurs had returned.
Three hundred years had been enough to transform the world, unless Hakuba's clock was malfunctioning. That was enough time for all the warring Matrixer to have died of old age and the scent of humans to be forgotten. Hopefully.
There were a few species with negligible senescence : certain fish, turtles and amphibians. With Matrixer created from these, she had to be careful since some might just be old enough to remember how humans smelled. Furthermore, rumors had said that the generals had biological immortality. If they had reason to start hunting down a human, she was done for.
Mashuranbo was the only for whom evidence existed to suggest he wasn't going to die without help.
What kind of a world would Mashuranbo have built? He had never seen particularly interested in the welfare of the Matrixer. He had treated mankind's destruction as a stepping stone for his self proclaimed godhood.
Well, she would find out later. Her more immediate concern was whether any of these plants was carnivorous. She didn't venture too far before returning to Hakuba. She was about to step in and leave when Hakuba detected movement in the distance.
They immediately dove into the greenery. If there would be a conflict, they didn't want the Matrixer to come close to where she had woken, since the scent would not be entirely gone yet.
Two large dragonflies swept across the landscape, the wings reflecting in the sunlight. Sometimes they landed at certain bushes, it was then that their humanoid heritage became apparent. They stood on legs and had four arms, scaled like those of an insects but softer. They had bones from within, most likely.
She could not be sure what they were doing, since she wasn't experienced with Matrixer outside of tense if not violent situations. They seemed to be inspecting the greenery. For a moment, she entertained the thought this was their garden.
They passed by the bunker, luckily upwind from Yakumo and Hakuba's location. The clicks and chirps mixed with human voice indicated they were talking, but she couldn't understand a word.
"Hakuba, I can't lock into their language coding, anything you can tell me?"
"No, Yakumo," he said softly. "Their language has evolved."
"Is it still encoded at all?"
She could postpone an encounter and wait till she was fully recovered from her sleep. On the flip side, it would be best if she got her language powers updated as quickly as possible.
"Alright, stay in the open. I may have to use the buildings for ammo."
Sure enough, she was spotted the moment she stepped out. Just to avoid offending them accidentally, she made no gestures and kept her face neutral. Maybe she could keep them placated long enough to gather —
She recognized the attack poses before they jumped. Stretching her arms wide, her power extended. All surrounding plants flattened and pieces of the building on either side tore loose.
The two dragonflies crashed into her invisible shield and before they had a chance to recover, they were buried below rock. They shrieked and struggled, but Yakumo held them down carefully.
"Don't move, I don't want to hurt you," she said, but they didn't respond.
She let one of them go and psychokinetically lashed at him when he didn't take the hint to leave. He hesitated, raised a claw to check whether he was bleeding — he was — then looked at his still buried comrade.
"Leave," Yakumo said, hoping it would translate. She released the other, and this time they took the cue to flee.
Yakumo watched them go, saddened. There had been many times in the past where she had been forced to hurt someone, it never became easier. If this language problem persisted, she'd have to do it a lot more in the future.
She returned to Hakuba and sat in the driver's seat. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the energy patterns she had felt. The gem on her chest glowed warmly and she placed her hand on the touch screen within Hakuba. He drew power from her, and knowledge.
The Matrixer has a cybernetic core on which everything of their mind was based, language included. Mass manufactured slaves had a benefit if their purchaser could install a new language, should they be produced in another country.
Even back then, language barriers were a problem. Many Matrixer didn't have the vocal chords to speak normal human language and instead developed their own, based on their natural instincts and new sounds. One could have as much difficulty understanding a foreigner as understanding a Matrixer who technically spoke English.
Over the past three centuries, they doubtlessly had developed language so different that her English and Japanese would be entirely useless for communication.
Her only chance was combining her strange magic with Hakuba's advanced technology. Language packs could be accessed through the astral plain, if Matrixer had not evolved to a point where the cores were too organic. The Matrix they were named after were mysterious information cores that handled thoughts, genes, even feelings. Language was part of this.
Much to her relief, she found an astral matrix that covered this region's language. With Hakuba's help, she dug up the information of the local language and brought it into her gem.
She would hear it overlapping the actual physical sounds. With some luck, the matrix was good enough to avoid Google translations. The trickier part was making them understand her. For this, she would have to astrally plant the meanings of her words into their minds while canceling out the language they actually heard. With some skill and luck, they would draw their own conclusions about what language she spoke.
"There is a small risk that who ever you speak to will notice," Hakuba said. "Be very careful."
"Haven't I always been?"
By the time they were done, it had become evening. She took another half hour to let her mind rest from the exercise, then decided to find the two dragonflies. She had something to clear up.
Hakuba scanned the area and found a large group gathered at the edge of the city. They were in what once had been a factory hall, which was now emptied and missed large chunks of its wall. Hakuba zoomed in on them, and she recognized grasshoppers, dragonflies and a few butterflies. This was good, no hive or likely carnivores.
When they approached, Yakumo was pleased to notice the language was translated properly.
They were discussing a monster that had attacked one of the park supervisors.
Oh, this had to be a joke. A park?
The entire group tensed up when she landed Hakuba before the building. The butterflies drew back while the dragonflies turned their long tails forward, ready to try and grab whatever came too close. Seemed they were expecting her to throw more rocks.
"Don't be frightened!" she called. "I mean no harm, please listen to me."
The few that had humanoid enough faces she could recognize as confused, probably because she wasn't as illiterate as the two dragonflies had said.
A small grasshopper style Matrixer approached her, apparently the leader. She took a quick note of how his size apparently wasn't the deciding factor in him heading the group.
"You would be the monster?"
"Yes, it does sound like it. I am so sorry for frightening anyone, but your people did attack me first."
"You were trespassing, they had ever reason to presume you hostile. Especially looking like that."
"It's not the first time my human appearance has caused me problems like this," Yakumo said lightly.
The grasshopper flicked his wings for a moment, and the other workers dispersed quickly, muttered about false alarms and all that. Yakumo was sure they were still around, just in case she would turn out hostile.
"So, tell me what the deal is."
She gestured at Hakuba. "I had no idea this was private terrain, please accept my apologies. I came through the air at night, I had to land because my vehicle was nearly out of fuel and decided to hide in one of the buildings for safety. As you can guess, he is an antique, I can't just sleep in the open."
He had a vaguely humanoid face, which now lit up with excitement.
"Well, as you can guess from me working here, I am very interested in the lost human civilization. Might I have a look?"
She showed him Hakuba, let him inspect him in all the parts he couldn't damage, and made a vague remark about how there still was a bit of human scent at it. He said he had no idea how humans smelled, she had to be imagining it since they were extinct for so long.
After his curiosity was suitably satisfied and he had suggested some improvement on Hakuba's map, he suddenly vanished. Yakumo stayed behind, unsure about whether to leave, but he reappeared fairly quickly. She was used to people telling her to be back, but realized that social behavior would be very different by now for the Matrixer. He might well have given her a cue in body language or scent that she ought to wait.
When he returned, he sat atop of Hakuba and opened a package. What he took out was food, perhaps even a sandwich. He handed it to her, while keeping another for himself. With some trepidation, Yakumo took the food and bit down.
Well, there was definitely meat in it. She hoped it wasn't of any sapient creature.
"So, why are you traveling with such a pretty toy. You from one of those backwater places that still believes humans never existed?"
"Well, we don't call ourselves backwater, but yes. Why do you assume that?"
"You landed in what is obviously a national monument and claim to not have realized what it meant. Only an ignorant fool wouldn't figure what these buildings are."
"Oh, I do believe in humans, but my family says these were just built by Matrixer from the past and that the legends were inspired by our species. I wasn't allowed to read about them, but I really wanted to since we sometimes get called humans. Oh, the debates I've had with my family over historical facts!"
"Meh, skeptics. To be fair though, humans had no magical power of their own, I guess that makes it hard for some to believe they once ruled us Matrixer. I've spent hours trying to explain about robots and being outnumbered, but eh, I know what you mean. Some people are just hopeless," he said. "Speaking of powers, what's your element anyway? I can't place what my guards described."
"Chi. It is just raw energy."
"Huh, never heard of it. Then again, I once met a water elemental who argued with me about web not being a valid element. Tsss. So, how does this power work?"
"I'm not able to do anything really specific, but my lack of elemental focus means I can do other things," she said. To demonstrate, she levitated a nearby rock and twirled it around in the air, then drew some water from a puddle. The latter was harder to control due to the volatile nature of its atoms, and it quickly fell to the ground.
"Ooh, I knew general psychokinesis existed. So let me get this straight, too much elemental refinement means the loss of general manipulation ability?"
"I guess so," Yakumo said. "I wouldn't be able to control fire in itself, but I can affect the temperature, manipulate air, earth and water, and raise barriers."
For good measure, she tore off a five meter chunk of rock out of a nearby building, dropped it above them and raised one of those barriers. The chunks of rock fell into a circle around them. This was a trick she learned early, if you want to earn someone's trust, be open and show off a little. It'll both make you seem less suspicious and impress them enough to not want to mess with you.
He would have whistled in amazement, if he had been human, but the actual sound he made was a loud chirping from his hand legs against his wing.
"So, back to why you're here."
"I was tired of my tribe and their rigid customs. They believe they're somehow superior," she said with a sigh. It was a modified version of what she had used to tell Matrixer while pretending to be humans. She had this whole 'escaped slave' routine, which had always been a good way to build comradely. "I haven't found much of a better place yet, though. You know how people respond to my kind."
"Ah, yes, there is a lot of persecution to the humanoid Matrixer. I suggest you move to the bird domain, lots of humanoids there. Lucifen is almost entirely humanoid and her regimen is sympathetic to Matrixer like you for that reason. Hm, there's Ryuma too in the humanoid, but I wouldn't look him up, he's pretty horrible. Recently disposed of his parents, no idea what place he's gonna build."
Oh crap, Lucifen was undying, and if Ryuzen had a recent son who was still alive, then he probably had been as well. Who else would be? Mashuranbo most certainly ...
"Say, why don't you stay here for a while? We'll work it into the tour, near the end. It'll be marvelous, you jump out of a building with your robot, do a scary human stunt, then the tourists all flee and you meet us at the entrance to reveal you are no human. In exchange, I'll get in touch with a friend who can get you a proper passport and you'll have room and food. How about it?"
If she just disappeared now, she would raise a lot more suspicion than when she acted at ease. Plus, she might have use for that passport, at least till someone found out her tribe didn't exist, and she needed to know how finances worked nowadays, obtain a good map, figure out what new food she could eat, cause this sandwich wasn't sitting well with her stomach ...
"I would love to!"
· · · · · · ·
Yakumo stayed for two months, living in an old hotel room because the grasshopper's headquarters had no beds. She was given a computer, running water and Internet connection, though there was no gas so she had to collect wood for a fire. She ate what she cooked herself. The food was ... she still needed to do something about that. She lives on fish and rations till then.
During this time, she learned to understand the way English had evolved, and could soon speak it as well without relying so much on her magic. Any use of her gem would cause it to glow, and that increases the risk of questions. Matrixer didn't need power augmentation to work their magic, after all.
Aside of her work as tourist scare, she earned a little money from shores she could perform with her powers, like renovation and making the ruins safer to explore.
Since Matrixer could not use human technology due to said tech being programmed to not work for them, they had to rely on more primitive means. They had things such as blenders and televisions, but they were copies of older models, rather than anything advanced. Hakuba's holographic projections were quite the attention drawers.
Arthropod Matrixer society didn't include clothing beyond a social or artistic statement, so she had to invoke her poorly developed sewing skills to expand her wardrobe. Most important were lift bands on her arms, waist and legs, in case she would need to fly. Fortunately, nobody here had much of a fashion interest and she could easily tell them her many layers of clothing — to keep her scent down, to hide her lift bands and to hide her gem — were because she just didn't have much cold resistance.
They had no burial rituals either. There were several skeletons lying throughout the ruins, if she found any, she was to hand over the bones. They'd be sold to collectors. When she stole a moment off of work, she returned to her father's bones and buried them quickly. Still no ritual.
A map was far more difficult to obtain than anticipated. Any creature with an electric sense could navigate using earth's magnetic field and quite a number of arthropod Matrixer had this function installed. On top of that, most arthropods could climb or fly and so needed little in the way of roads. Maps only showed the rough location of villages and cities.
Currently she was on what once had been called Long Island, though it was renamed into something she could not pronounce. Most of the cities from the human ages seemed to be destroyed and known as haunts for outlaws. The Matrixer had either build atop the ruins or founded new cities. No old names were honored.
Aside of the technological setback and biological differences, Matrixer society had effectively replaced the human world. They had courts, laws, Internet, economy, but it all worked their way. Their Internet for example had signals that conveyed scents and most of its information was auditory since arthropods had poor eye sight. What little visual information there was was mostly for the eight eyed and multi-faceted.
This unique digital design also kept it from properly interacting with the other domains. From what she understood, the mammal and bird Internets were a lot more usable for her, but she had to pay a special fee to access those. Since her translation magic didn't work on the written world, it was useless to her. Hakuba was learning how to translate, but it took him time.
One thing was for certain. Matrixer were everywhere now. In a world this advanced, would there really be anything like the island of hope her father spoke of? Could humans really remain hidden here, or had they secretly integrated?
Was it really worth introducing humans back into this world, if they still existed?
Some of the less fanatical doom prophets had suggested humans should just die out, the Matrixer would continue their heritage of civilization. Sure, humans would be remembered wrong, but how many nations were remembered or forgotten amongst humans anyway?
If there were no humans, was she wasting her life searching for them? What else could she do?
Her hopes grew slim the more she realized how devastatingly fragile her quest was. During the war, she had used this quest as a beacon. Wait till the world is calm, find Center, bring peace.
The world was already well on its way towards peace. If it was indeed true that Lucifen was working on an equal opportunity world, then she would most likely succeed. She was the strongest general after Mashuranbo.
Every day, she returned from work at a later time. She got along well enough with the director, who was friendly beyond his curiosity to her powers and Hakuba. The tourists she met were likewise kind folk and more civilized than anticipated, though she was warned only the well behaved were let in.
Once she returned home she continued searching for hints of Center.
To the west, her father had said, but he had been unable to tell her where to go. Linear west? North west or south west? Just how much ground did she have to cover, if her Internet search didn't give her any clues?
For what little she could understand of arthropod cyberspace, most websites that spoke of human activities were silly urban legends, which depicted humans in a distorted form that none took anymore serious than alligators in the sewers.
Sometimes, she sifted through written recollections of the war and saw the war through Matrixer eyes. Multifaceted and smelly as it may be, it made it difficult to see humans as the poor, helpless victims. Many of the humans had treated the arthropods cruelly or with condescending contempt.
Equality had been farthest for those who looked the least human. For the short lived arthropods in particular it had been hard to learn they could have been given immunity to certain diseases and weaknesses, but were withheld this because it was more convenient if they died. Monetary reasons, like why no one produced anymore light bulbs that could last a century.
She didn't actually believe the world was better off without humans entirely, but it didn't seem that worse off either. Slavery seemed to be gone, at least, a thing of the evil past.
If she were to find Center and try to bring out humans into this world, leading them with her powers, she would start another war if humans were numerous enough, or trigger a genocide if they weren't.
It was during one of these late nights that Hakuba told her the first good news since she had woken. She was just in the middle of cooking when Hakuba's detached head floated through the door and started reciting an article that he had just finished translating.
Mashuranbo, the savior of the Matrixer, god of their destruction, liberator of the world ... was dead.
She had been two years old when her father had told her about the meteorite impact. It had lost two pieces of raw power, one of which had embedded itself within her. Long stories had followed over the potential of this power and the responsibility it gave her in relation to the war and humanity. The first her father told her to do was to use these powers to immerse herself, shield herself from Mashuranbo's senses, for he had the other.
She hadn't wanted the power, hadn't wanted to hear those horrible stories, but again and again, her father had told her she needed to be able to defend herself. One can't learn to use their power in ignorance and one can't survive in a hostile world without knowledge. Knowledge was the key to survival for the weak.
"But am I really weak? You said I was strong."
"Mashuranbo has the same power, but he also has what he was made with. You will be weak when you meet him unprepared."
Mashuranbo was one of the very few Matrixer who had looked entirely human. Ironically, he had been the greatest enemy of mankind. He had singlehandedly started the war. If not for him, there would have been no rebellion and the Equal Rights For Matrixer movement would eventually have freed the slaves.
It was Mashuranbo who had misguided everyone. The Matrixer who wanted peace had been killed by him, their powers given to those who followed with the destructive creed. That was the dreadful reality of the Matrixer. They could just kill who ever disagreed and have their strength increase from it, rather than losing potential allies.
To her young self, all Matrixer were horrible enemies and the worst was Mashuranbo. Knowing he held the twin of her power only made it feel like her destiny to defeat all Matrixer. Her father had kindly tried coaxing her out of this. She had spoken out of fear when she said she wanted them all dead and would not listen. He spoke of hope and forgiveness.
Hope had to be reduced in size soon. Humans were losing the war.
Mashuranbo announced his godhood to the world and very soon it became apparent this meant a dictatorship.
The Matrixer had been left with no history, culture, advanced technology or even a real society. Once the war was nearing its end, they turned on each other in an effort to establish a hierarchy. Mashuranbo thought it was funny.
It was during these harsh years that Yakumo started to believe her father when he said the Matrixer were victims too. They had looked to Mashuranbo as their savior, only to find another slave driver. What his godhood games did was create a world where the cruel thrived. Kind Matrixer died as much as humans had done before.
Yakumo redirected all her hatred onto Mashuranbo.
She would find other humans in Center, she would bring peace between them and all good Matrixer, she would free both from Mashuranbo. If the humans wanted her to be a weapon, she would be one, but only against Mashuranbo. If she did not outlive him, she would kill him or he he would kill her. Maybe, they would both die.
Except not. She had outlived him.
Maybe it the article was wrong. Could she risk this?
She breathed out heavily and stared into the flames for a long time, building up the momentum in her gem.
Then she finally let down the cloak that shielded her from being found by the twin of her extraterrestrial power. Even in sleep it had been upheld, she'd trained it for her safety.
There was no resonance anymore.
Either Mashuranbo had separated from the meteorite's power and it had been destroyed somehow, or it had been destroyed along with him, somehow.
There was no guarantee there was a Center, but without Mashuranbo, there was a chance it humans and Matrixer would be united without a war breaking out.
She stood up. The west horizon was waiting.
· · · · · · ·