The seagulls gawk to the edge where the sky meets the sea. Their near identical blue blends in the infinitely far, mixed with orange and reddish gradient blessed by the drowning sun. Three of the maids lean against the ferry’s railing, gazing into the distance. Their thoughts sink, just like the sun, into possibilities of punishments for their desertion.
“Hey, I…” Eri speaks up. “I don’t know, I feel wrong.”
“Imagine what they have to say for our action.” Theo follows.
“The Primus will be mad at us, won’t he?” Rina says, her sight fixed to the ocean floor.
Eri takes a deep breath. “Oh my…” She whines. “I can’t believe I agreed to do this. Do I still have face on my return to the continent?”
“His leave takes about two weeks, right?”
Eri and Theo nods.
“Perhaps we might reserve another session of our seat here to return to the island.”
“And ask for an apology from him?” Eri asks.
“What else can we do? At least we realized we messed up.”
It is when the other maid, Hana, comes marching to their side.
“No, we’re not.” She says. “It’s Lena. She has the instructions yet she decided to disobey them.”
The three shares a glance. It is Rina who turns to meet her.
“But still, running away won’t do good either. How long do you think you can last with the Primus on your tail?”
Rina has a point. Their desertion is a disobedience to no one but the Primus himself. They just abandoned their purpose to serve the pinnacle of the authority. Who knows what consequences await? It could be death. If they return, they would probably still be punished. But at least they can still hold up to their dignity as the maids of Creatio Genetrix.
“We’re not going back.” Hana says, her sight sharp, her fist clenched.
“Maybe only you.” Rina states. “I’ll return with the others. Right gals?” She says turning to Eri and Theo.
“Yea I’m coming with her.” Eri exclaims.
“I shall redeem myself.” Theo says.
“You can leave us if you want.” Rina says to Hana before turning around.
But just after she takes a step to return to the railing, Hana’s right arm spring round her neck. On her hand is what appears to be a dagger. From the corner of her eyes, Rina sees the dagger carve a path through. It was too late to fight back. Once she realized it, the dagger has finished its job.
“Rina!!!” Eri yells at the top of her throat.
“No.” Theo follows.
Rina lays her right hand on the fissure running across her neck as she falls to her knees. Her hand wet with red liquid streaming out of the fissure. There’s something she wanted to say, but she couldn’t since that function has just been taken away from her. Hana shoves her, and she collapses.
“Hana, w-what…” Eri stutters calmly, with a taste of disbelief, as she gazes upon the body of her friend laying lifeless on the floor. Seeing that, she couldn’t resist the urge boiling inside. “Why are you doing this!?” She cries, pulling out her katana.
Theo follows suit. “Treachery.” She exclaims.
Hana sheathe her dagger and pulls out her katana. Her sharp sight, turns into one with full intent to kill.
“I said, we’re not going back. You are, not going back.”
It’s past breakfast. The sun is already bright above. But he can still give in to his drowsiness, thanks to the breeze transitioning between land and sea. His coat separates him from the sands, a makeshift mattress. The experience of sleeping in open ground with no shelter is reminiscent of the days when he was still scavenging supplies from hollow towns and settlements. The days after the annihilation. Before he settled in a hub, he used to rest in desolate shacks or buildings. Basically, anywhere he deems comfortable. Which is why resting on the shore like this doesn’t bother him.
The only thing is, he hasn’t had his breakfast. In fact, he hasn’t had anything at all since the night two days prior. Thanks to that his stomach is twisted.
“Sir…” He heard someone calling his name. Its voice is of a teenage girl, probably in her adolescence.
Since he couldn’t sleep anymore, he ran out of his sleep hours, he decides to respond by turning his gaze at her.
“Ow,” She flinches. “You’re awake.” She says. She has a long straight hair that goes all the way to her waist.
He responds with a deep sigh before turning the other way.
“Pardon me sir, I don’t think that is a place suitable for your rest.”
“I’m fine.” He replies.
“Ah, I don’t think so.” The girl states with a calm, charming tone that adds well to her alluring nature.
He leers again at her.
“When a prominent person like you decided to rest in a place like this, there’s no way anything is the way they are.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m turning seventeen in a week.”
He rises to sit, impressed by how the girl deduced that there’s a problem boiling inside him.
“So you know who am I?” The man asks.
“Of course. You are the leader of our glorious nation, the Artificial Creationists. The most powerful man in the world.”
He takes a deep breath as he picks several grains of sands with his right hand. “How should I live to that title, if a problem like this already pushed me to the edge?”
It is when his stomach grumble. The girl notices.
“Excuse me.” He says.
“Ah, you haven’t had your meal.” She then brought up her utilizer and begin to type into it. “There, please hang on a second okay sir?” She presents a smile that brightens her face even more.
“What should I call you?”
“What do you want?”
“Nothing,” She says. “I just happen to patrol around here and found you lying on the sands.” She turns her gaze to the horizon in the distance.
“Then why sit here with me?”
“I’m just taking a break, I’ve scoured a vast area just now.”
“This particular point seems to be convenient.”
Julia turns to him. “Wow, you’re quite the one with negativity.”
“You know how I’ve always adored girls of your age.” He says with a higher tone. “In addition to the meal you’re offering, you clearly are seeking my attention.”
The girl takes a deep breath. “Have you always been like this?” She says, her voice remains gentle despite the somewhat provoking tone of the man. “People can be genuine too, you know?”
The way Julia maintains her composure impresses him even more. He squints at the sands, trying to come up with an example of a genuine intention ever since he took power, which grounds the conversation to a halt.
The foliage behind them rustle. The splashing waves adds to the arrangement.
“Hmm,” Julia hums while turning her glance above, seemingly in an attempt to break the silence. “Ah, think about us. We could choose to live our life without concerning what’s going on out there. In fact, everything here is sufficient for our daily needs. But we decided otherwise.”
The man turns to her. He sees straight to the white of her eyes. The gentle touch of a girl entering her adolescence, such tenderness has been missing from him for decades. A reminiscent of how he got this far, the will to raise a daughter that shall see him through to the end. The first one hasn’t even seen the daylight, when the thralls took her away. The second did well sustaining the frail within him, until the thralls’ light blinded her away. His conquest is to ensure, that no thrall shall take another blossom that he nurtured.
“We ship our commodities abroad for the economy, and all of our men to meet your army quota.” Julia jerks her head. “That leaves us children here to guard the remainder of our people. And as your conquest goes, we begin to have less and less to give. And you start to toss us aside as you gain more territories.”
The girl’s glance turns into him, along with her bright smile that stuns him.
“But have we ever once protested against you? Especially when you are here? Or perhaps loot some of your valuables in your mansion?”
“I believe…” He mutters in a faint voice that hopefully doesn’t catch the girl’s ear. “It’s hard to believe there’s nothing behind that community effort.”
Julia chuckles, still with her heart-warming smile. She then gently shakes her head. “That’s our obligation as your citizen.” Her gaze turns into the point where the sky meets the sea. “As long as the beacon of civilization shines bright, as long as it marks its presence in history, that’s all that matters. I believe you are leading us there.”
Even though there’s a hole in her statement, that they still want the beacon of civilization to mark its presence in history, it is not a thing that they could be blissful of in practice. In fact, it might even be a grace that would never shine back upon them. To think that there are people striving for such cause…and not even once he thought of such dedicated communities…Maybe he really stands upon the sweat of countless people, excluding Microv, Derrick, and Sofiana, that wishes nothing in return from him, other than the wealth of his realm.
Maybe that’s what Lena is thinking. Looking back, ever since Sofiana disappears, his gears spin ever more sluggish. As if they lost the fluid that grease its surfaces and ease its rotary motion. Maybe she’s really willing to restore the discipline that he dropped, with hope that he would perform better than he is currently. And the improvement of his performance meant the quality increase of the citizens’ life.
The man nods. For a girl of her age, that thought and determination of hers are ought to be admired. One really could learn from anyone.
“An even simpler example is,” Julia continues. “Notice how I didn’t overpraise you with your titles. Instead, I view you sir as a conversation partner on par with anyone of my age.”
Even though it’s rough, it’s indeed simpler to grasp. Presenting over the top courtesy and adulation shows how one wishes to be noticed for either promotion or commendation, something that improves their privilege.
“Where were you educated?” He asks.
“Well,” She turns her gaze downward for the first time. “I wish I was.”
No formal education, as expected. Since this island’s resources are dwindling, it shouldn’t be able to sustain an educational institution.
“How are your parents?”
“My father died in the defense of Vaniyya. Which eventually fell before we retake it again.”
The battle where Microv fought to the very end, spared only through the fondness of the head of the Vindicator’s army at the time, the first empress herself.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Julia tilts her head and grins as soon as she glances at him.
“We’ve won anyway. You don’t have to worry.” She takes a deep breath. “My mother…, she was a labor in an orchard.”
“She just passed away due to a fever.”
“You couldn’t afford a cure?”
“Herbs commodities that made it here are rare. Hence, they sell them at a high price. Even with my job as a cook in the militia…well…” She cowers, resting her head on the wrapping of her arms. The girl who has held her composure wither under the fact that she couldn’t save her mother despite her effort. Perhaps even her father.
She nods in silence. Her eyes turn weary, as if it starts to drizzle.
As time flies, the man begins to drown in his thought. The silence through the passing hour along with the soothing atmosphere of coastal scene hastens the pace of his neuron. His daydreaming breaks as soon as Julia turns to her left. He follows her sight. In the distance, he makes up a figure running toward him. It appears to be a girl, of similar age to Julia. Her golden hair is full of brilliance under the daylight.
Julia rises up and waves at her.
“Over here!” She yells, although she never needs to do that.
“Here’s the package you’ve ordered.” The girl says.
“Much obliged, Vittoria.”
The golden-haired girl, apparently named Vittoria, nods with a stiff expression.
Julia then hands out the hand-sized container to him.
“Are you sure?”
Julia grins. “It’s not good to skip your meals you know? And it’s improper to reject when someone is giving you one.” She winks.
He raises his hands and let her place the container on them. Under the lid, are rice and blobs of other cuisines that isn’t in his preference. He suspects those are vegetables that he never knew.
For a moment, he turns his glance at Julia who sits again beside him, willing to ask whether she has other kind of cuisine that perhaps grazes his preferences. But the fact that the other girl, Vittoria, is willing to go through all the trouble of preparing the meal and delivering it here, even though she is an Android, holds him back. It’s impolite to ask the host for something else when they provide such treat, especially when there’s the bare minimum in their storage.
But clearly, he couldn’t reject it either. He has no choice. He raises the spoon given along with the container and scoop a piece into his mouth. His jaws begin to prance as the piece is basked in his saliva. Along with it is a taste that he had long missed.
Uttering no second thought, since he is starving, he scoops another piece and another. Eventually, the container is empty before he realized it.
“Ah, you’ve such an appetite.” Julia exclaims, clapping her hands.
“Impressive indeed.” Vittoria follows.
He takes a deep breath when Julia hands him a bottle of water. After taking a huge sip, he hands the bottle back.
“I’m in your debt.” He says to them.
“No really, you are not.” Julia says.
“It’s our duty to protect and serve the people.” Vittoria continues.
He squints at Vittoria as soon as they both stand up. The details of her features, especially her crimson eyes, and her pale skin, they trigger a reminiscence inside him. It’s like he has seen her before. But he couldn’t remember. Still, the fact that there’s a person in this struggling island that could afford an Android is disturbing.
“This doesn’t seem to be your birthplace.” He says to Vittoria.
“Ah,” Julia slips in. “We found her washed up ashore four days ago sir.”
“I am indebted to their deeds.” Vittoria nods.
His glare remains for a time, through the silence as he digs deep into his mind. But there’s still nothing to be found. In the end, his exhale is the thing that comes through.
“Perhaps I was being too cautious.”
Julia then hands out the container and the bottle to Vittoria and tells her to return. Vittoria gives a brief nod before hustling into the distance.
“Well then, I shall continue to patrol.” She says to him. “We’re still lacking manpower, even the cook has to do the patrol.”
“Don’t die.” He replies.
She bows before walking around him. Soon, she is nowhere to be found. He continues to recline on his coat, his sight to the skies covered by a formation of foliage that sway from one side to another.
And time flies. His daydreaming led to him skipping the time again. The peaceful atmosphere is just what he needs before he heads off for further conquest. Somehow things are getting messed up in his mansion. The reminder for his meal, the emptying of the fridge, they just felt unnecessary. Not to mention that he has punishments for the maids in mind. That girl Lena could really mean for the good of him. But his leave means his leave. A moment where he can do anything he want, being himself, slacking all day long, eating as much of his favorite food as possible, all that stuff. Being disciplined throughout the moment feels a bit off.
That aside however, he at least has to appreciate what Lena is doing. All of his personal maids, including those that accompanies him during his leaves, not one come up with merits that improves him as a person. Everyone is just following the procedure handed to them, which makes them no better than a mindless virtual intelligence in an endoskeleton doing household tasks.
And thus, he wonders…
How did this all began?
It’s not long until he notices something.
“Iva…were you that terrified of me? After everything between you and I?”
He finds himself climbing uphill when sunset comes, his coat hanging on his shoulders. This time, he’ll be in time for the dinner that Lena makes for him. The discord between him and that maid shouldn’t go any further, especially on his leave. Things will just turn bitter for everyone. Lena would be a subject to Microv’s wrath, and he himself won’t have the leave that he wished for, since his stomach is empty most of the times. Even now he wished to be in his mansion as soon as possible, and have anything that the maid made him. Anything.
This will be a sign of his appreciation. He shall rekindle his interaction with her.
“Sir…” He suddenly heard someone calling him from behind, followed by the noise of his panting.
He turns around to see the boy from yesterday.
“What do you want?” He asks.
“Lena isn’t the one that doesn’t answer my messages immediately.”
For a moment, the fact that they have been chatting for some time sounds quite disturbing. He stands in place with an eyebrow raised in the face of it, although his expression isn’t visible. It takes another second for the implication to seep in. Knowing that, he turns around and increases his pace. The boy follows close. On his way, he wishes that he’s too ignorant to understand what that implies.
It’s indeed dinnertime when he arrives. He opens the door to the unusual humid and steamy air of his mansion. From the spacious living room, he could make up a stream of high-pitched noise. He leers at the boy.
“Check every corner,” He says. “I’m heading to the kitchen.”
“Excuse my incursion, sir.” The boy bows at him.
“Accepted.” He responds while hot footing to the kitchen.
The steam is even thicker there. He finds a pot on an active stove with boiling water. After turning off the stove, he opens nearby window panes, trading the steam with the air outside.
“Sir, she’s here!” The boy’s voice echoes from another room.
He hurries there and finds the maid lies unconscious on the floor, alongside a mop that could squirt cleaner’s liquid to the floor. Her shirt is soaked by her sweat that covers her face all the way to her nape. And from the man’s point of view, he could make up what appears to be a bruise on her forehead. The boy is putting two fingers on the base of her head, just under the jaw where one could catch the beating of their veins. He then turns to the man who is standing beside him.
“She’s alive. But her condition is problematic.” The boy says.
“Lift her up.” The man responds with his gaze trained above and around him.
“Did I stutter?”
As soon as the boy places the maid on a bed, inside a room that he led him to, a flash of the past sparks inside his head. A glimpse of someone who was once in her position. A someone he used to cherish like his own daughter, even though she is not of his blood. A someone whom he risked his life to save.
The tender waves are dimly lit by the moon and the stars. The wind breezes through as armed Androids climb to the main deck of the adrift ferry from their speedboats. It carries cargo abroad for a fair share of gold from the main continent. There are not so many citizens on board, but the Androids remain cautious as they scatter to the corners of the ferry. Innocents who are caught amidst the incident have their hands on their back and their face against the deck’s floor.
An Android officer then steps into the deck following his men. In total, there are ten more men on board, including him. He strides toward the maid with his head high. Hana salutes him as he walks over the bloodied bodies of the maids that were once her colleagues.
“Such convenience that we have two eyes on the island.”
“Request permission to engage sir.”
“Engage?” The officer says, raising an eyebrow. “Her majesty’s daughter has confirmed the absence of any ArC facilities in the area.”
“But his mansion is there.”
“What are you expecting?”
“He has his personal device in that place. In addition to this ship we are taking, we might extract useful intel stored there.”
The officer squints at her. “Can you name one useful intel that we would find?”
Hana falls silent. Her eyes shift from left to right continuously as the officer glare down upon her.
“We’re not going then. This ship is enough.” The officer turns around and gestures to his men to take control of the ship.
The officer turns back to the girl again, finding her with clenched fist and sight to the floor.
“Please, sir Warren. Let me have him. At least let me lay waste to his properties.”
“You have no idea what you’re up against.” The officer responds calmly.
“He’s just a slacking man who left his responsibilities to others. I can deal with him with a single swoop of my blade.” She insists.
“We only need to win over him, not murder him directly.” As soon as the officer says that, something glimmering in the face of the night fall from her eyes. It reflects the dim light of the moon as it plunges to the floor, wetting it. Seeing that, the officer eases down slightly. “Grudge, isn’t it?” He says.
“He took my parents away from me!” She exclaims, raising her face with glimmering eyes toward the officer. “At least they could rest in peace once I’m done.” She sniffs.
“I guess it doesn’t matter if you are killed in the process.”
Hana shakes her head.
The officer takes a deep breath. “I’ll have six men extract the intel you’ve promised. You can go and seek out his head.”
His statement is like a huge boulder that suddenly falls upon a narrow stream of tears, blocking their path. Hana begins to grin; Her face returns to shine with a glimmer of hope.
“Thank you, thank you very much sir Warren.” She puts her hand together and bows to him.
“You’ll have her support, but I’m only extracting her and the intel. Understand?”
The officer then calls out to his men. “Six of you come with her for a one-way trip.” He points at Hana.
Along with her bursting determination, a dim groan reaches her ears. She turns to the source of it, from one of her colleagues that turns out to be still breathing.
“Hh…hHan…a.” The girl with shoulder-length and slightly wavy hair calls for her, extending her bloodied arm.
Hana walks to her and kneels beside her. The girl grabs her forearm with the remainder of her strength.
“P-please…don’t do this…”
Hana sets her sight downward for a moment. “I’m sorry.” She says before pulling out her dagger and thrusts it against the dying girl’s chest, toward a point where her heart is supposed to be. It’s not long before her sights turn empty, and her grip on Hana’s forearm is let go.
“Now ready yourself.” The officer calls her from across the deck.
Hana quickly stands at attention. “Yes sir.”
“The Sentinel be with you.” He says, tracing a line from the base of his neck to his chest.