ARCING FORWARD

Entry for Writchal #4
Theme: Unexpected Rendezvous


The summer sun glazes the plantation. The children follow up her joy. The boys, most of them, dash through the lawns. With their arms extended, they bank left and right as they traverse a column of trees in the orchard. The girls, sitting on a cloth made out of knitted flannels, fiddle with their kitty plushies surrounding the toy cooking utensils neatly stacked in the centre.

A boy’s laugh is in crescendo. She snaps her thought and turns around. Then a thud as that boy crashes, his head sinks briefly to the bottom part of her abdomen.

“Hngh.” He grunts.

The impact nudges her slightly back. It must be painful to crash into an Android. She hopes that her uniform, overlaid with an apron, soften it up enough.

The other two following him stops briefly before approaching.

“I told you, you were going too fast.” One of his friend scolds. “And you were not looking too.”

Caitlyn put her broom stick aside before grabbing the shoulders of the boy on her.

“Are you alright?” She asks.

The boy gazes back with eyes and mouth wide. From the looks of it, he doesn’t seem to be in any pain at all.

Caitlyn smiles at him. “Be careful next time.”

“U…uuh,” The boy stutters. “Yes. Yes, ma’am.” He says.

She then let go and grabs her broom stick. “Go back to your friends.”

The boy doesn’t say anything as he returns to his two buddies. All of them hot-foot it away from her.

Caitlyn sighs. She turns her gaze back to the tree she was observing. It’s a beautiful day. Perfect for her to be in the orchard. The citrus trees breathe a soothing chill amidst the searing heat. Their fruits shine bright colours rivalling the sun. She is going to pick them soon and distribute the majority to the market. It has been so far their most reliable way to make a living. Local Proxy Command would come to purchase their goods most of the time for the personnel stationed there.

“Sister Grauwelle Caitlyn!” Caitlyn tightens her shoulder in the wake of a loud female voice that flips her adrenaline switch.

She turns around to a young woman in a similar housemaid uniform as hers, marching toward her with a frowned face.

“You’ve been here for two hours and I only see a third of this orchard mopped up.”

“Uh…” Caitlyn scratches the back of her head. “Apologies, Sister Gloria.” She let the broom stick falls to her left arm as she puts her hands together in front of her. “I was about to…”

Gloria breaks her gesture as she snatches the broom stick from her.

“You know what, I’ll do it.” She grouches. “There’s a kettle of water cooking back there. Go watch that instead.” Gloria says as she begins to sweep the pile of leaves just beside Caitlyn. “God…I thought Androids are meant to ease works.” Caitlyn catches her mumble.

She takes a breath before trudging back to the mansion with her head to the ground. On a staircase leading to the terrace, she sits with her legs tight; chin on hand. Her sight is to the children on the lawn before her.

It is nearly a year since she is first activated here by the owner of this mansion. She came out of a manufacture branch whose Androids are meant for civil use. Those who are willing to afford shall incorporate them to their household. By then they would be just as citizen as their owner.

A girl sits beside her. Her chocolate hair is bundled up on the back of her head, her locks extend past her face. She wears a white headband with a bunny pin attached to its right side.

“Daydreaming again, Caitlyn?”

Caitlyn turns to her with a dissatisfied face. “I was taking a break.”

“I caught you gazing silently at that tree for fifteen minutes straight.” She says. “That seems like a daydreaming to me.”

Caitlyn sighs.

The girl is the oldest, about ten years old. And she is of the outgoing type. Enough to make friend with strangers that she just met. Just like Caitlyn.

“Well, what are you supposed to do when you are not doing anything?”

The girl giggles.

“Anyway, you are an Android, right?” She asks. “What are you daydreaming about?”

Caitlyn’s attention turns to the tree she was gazing at. It’s about two times her height. It has two main branches which splits further into five; three on one and two on the other. Its dense leaves stood out from the rest of the trees. Regardless, it bears not as much fruit compared to the adjacent ones. She attempts to recall any thought that appeared in the past several minutes. To her dismay, none showed up.

“I was thinking the tree looks nice.” She says.

“Really?” The girl beside her tilts her head. “Aren’t you just daydreaming about being a princess who wishes that a handsome prince would come and pick you up?”

Caitlyn leers at the canopy above. She didn’t actually think that she was whatever the girl described. They are fairy tale entities as far as she is aware of. And she doesn’t think herself to be that helpless as to wishing a prince would come and save her. Though it’d be sweet when that actually happens, there is no guarantee that a charming figure would definitely hook her heart.

“Probably.” Caitlyn shrugs.

The girl giggles again. “You’re funny, Caitlyn.”

She is not sure whether that’s a compliment or a ridicule. Her attitude drives a smile on her face, nevertheless. Caitlyn turns to her face again.

“Am I?” She asks.

“Cute and funny, should I say.” The girl continues her giggling whilst leaning to her. “Maybe a prince would actually come and pick you one day.”

Caitlyn chuckles. “Well…” Caitlyn jerks her head. “Maybe if it’s for the best.”

“Sister Caitlyn.” Another mature voice calls for her.

Caitlyn looks over her shoulder and finds a figure striding gently toward her.

“I thought you are supposed to mop the orchard.” She says.

“Well, about that…” Caitlyn replies, glancing toward Gloria who is harshly sweeping the leaves with the broom stick.

The woman, also in the same uniform as her, follows her glance for a brief second before taking a deep breath; striking a concerned face.

“Oh well.” She says. “Ilyavna, get a hold of your friends okay?” She raises her left hand in level with her face. On it is a handbell that she then shakes. The ringing stuns the children, nine of them. They all turn a wishful gaze toward the woman before storming the terrace. The three remains still as the children run past their left.

Caitlyn and Ilyavna stands up as soon as the last children entered the mansion.

“Alright, I got it miss Gvozdika.” Ilyavna says, gesturing toward the woman before following her friends. On her way in, she cries to everyone else not to let clumsiness arise due to their haste.

“W-what can I do, Sister Gvozdika?” Caitlyn asks her, locking her hands.

Gvozdika looks down on her for a split second. Her face is relaxed; her expression is that of pity. As if she is in despair in dealing with the youngest of her sisters.

“Someone is boiling a water kettle back there.” Gvozdika jerks her head. “You might want to make mother her green tea.”

Oh…yes…

Caitlyn recalls that it is what Gloria just asked of her.

“Yes, Sister Gvozdika. Will do.” She nods, leaning slightly forward.

Caitlyn nimbly climbs the remaining step to enter the mansion. Gvozdika comes after her.

The mansion isn’t as glamour as it sounds. It’s basically a farmhouse large enough to support as much as twenty individuals. The walls are of a bland beige. There are barely any paintings or pictures hanging to flavour them. The furniture has minimal aesthetic value. The halls are mostly empty. Each has a plant in certain corners to at least liven them a bit.

A whistling noise grows louder as Caitlyn approaches the kitchen. Fumes are spewing out of the kettle. She marches toward the stove and turns it off. Once she has the cup and its plate set, she reaches for a box in the shelves above. Inside are a bundle of teabags from which she abducts one and put it in the cup. She pours the boiled water into the cup after returning the box. The contents of the teabag diffuse; the water turn light brownish colour.

Seeing her reflection on the tea, she pauses for a while.

No…

Caitlyn shakes her head just after. “This is for mother.” She says.

She tucks in two sachets of sugar on the plate before making her way upstairs.

The room on the other side is where all the hubbub is happening. The children are in a queue, one by one making their way along a meshed table picking the meals into their plate. Ilyavna stands in the last. Gvozdika keeps the children in check.

Caitlyn slows her steps to gaze at the commotion. It is when she almost crashed with another figure hustling toward her. She turned at the right moment for her reflex to halt her. The girl she was about to crash to also stops just before her.

“Sister Giriltsa.” She says. “You almost spilled mother’s tea.”

“Well that’s a relief.” Giriltsa replies. Her face frowns after she said that. “But stop slowing me down, damn it. I got a lot of work to do.” She continues hustling past Caitlyn.

Caitlyn sighs before proceeding.

As she heads for the stairs, she catches a glimpse of her other sister washing the utensils. The housemaid shares a glance briefly with her, Gravlya. Caitlyn smiles and nods to her. But she doesn’t say anything; instead keeping up in silence.

Eventually she reaches her mother’s room on the second floor. A frail voice permits entry after some knocking. Caitlyn gently nudges the door.

A senile woman is sitting on a rocking chair. Her gaze is to the book on her lap. She only turns when Caitlyn is three steps away from her.

“Ah…my sweet Caitlyn.” She says. “Is that tea for me, dear?” The woman leans her head toward her, slightly shifting her glasses down her nose.

“Yes, mother. Allow me to put it on the table for you.” Caitlyn bends slightly before a table beside her mother and places her tea on it.

“Oh, thank you dear.” Her mother grasps her chest. “I’m not really thirsty at the moment, but you can expect that cup to be empty in about ten minutes.”

Caitlyn locks her hands as she turns to face her. “Glad to hear it, mother.”

“By the way…” The mother says steadily. “We’re going to celebrate your birthday real soon.”

“My birthday?”

“Correct.” She raises a finger toward Caitlyn. “If I remember correctly, your second year will begin next week.”

Caitlyn brings up her activation date from her memory. The date is coming exactly in a week. Her memory is fascinating for a person of her age she thought. She is grateful that her mother remembers the date of her activation. The sense of recognition, although small, hits warm. It makes her feel accepted in the household.

“So…congratulations.” Her mother gently claps her hands.

Caitlyn smiles at that response. “Thank you, mother.”

“Why don’t you sit down for a moment?” Her mother nods at an empty chair near her.

“Um…”

She is, indeed, the most caressed out of her sisters despite her being there for less than a year. From her experience, her mother likes to spend time with her. Most of the times it prevents her from doing the chores assigned. But she couldn’t make herself to deny her requests. Especially when she is her only family member that treated her like one.

“Okay.” Caitlyn sits at the empty chair.

“So,” Her mother raises her head as she opens her mouth again. “How are you doing with your sisters?”

My sisters?

Gvozdika looked down on her with despair. Gloria just yelled at her. Gravlya didn’t reply to her greetings. Giriltsa just scolded her. It’s possible that her minds are just pulling strings on her. It is however, undisputable that she is the driving factor behind her sisters’ apparent contempt.

“We’re doing fine mother.” Caitlyn forces a smile through, hoping that she doesn’t catch that. “We…got along well.”

Her mother takes a deep breath. “Oh, dear Caitlyn.” She says, reaching for her face. “I know a faked smile when I see one.” She gently rubs Caitlyn right cheek.

Caitlyn grabs her mother’s hand with both of hers. She feels its wrinkling texture. Her might is enough to cause a major fracture.

“I’m sorry, mother.” Caitlyn replies. “I couldn’t bring myself to hand over the bad news to you.”

“Don’t worry, dear. Your old woman prefers the bitter truth more than a sweet lie.” She pauses for a breath. “It’s not your fault that they behave like this. They haven’t lived a decent life lately.” The woman shrugs. “Not the one they dreamed of at least.”

The woman puts her hand down as she sets her gaze to a desk on her right. There sits a lamp and a picture of two people. One is her, the other is a man.

“Your old man dreamed of making a haven where he could protect the unfortunate children left by their parents. Even in his deathbed, this place is just as he dreamed about. Until in some time after his passing that a scheme caught us up. We were forced to pay a huge sum of money, the sum of money that we didn’t have, for something that we didn’t do.

“And without any way to pay our maidservants, they all left. Your sisters are forced to take their place ever since.”

“Was it the reason why they resent me?”

“They…” The woman pauses for a breath. “don’t really resent you dear. They just don’t like it when you add to their burden.”

Caitlyn squints. She thought of the scheme that fell on them. Who did that to them? What did they ever do to deserve that?

“Why would someone do that to us? What did we do?” Caitlyn asks.

Her mother looks down as that question hits her. She gently shakes her head. “I don’t know, dear.” She raises her head again to meet Caitlyn in the eye. “Some people can really dislike people for being…” she shrugs. “people.” The old woman takes a breath and looks out the window before opening her mouth again. “Well, what can I say? Life is unpleasant. Everything in life is not meant to be. That’s why dear, the most righteous thing you could do is to make it more pleasant for the others.”

More pleasant for the others…

Caitlyn’s mind lingers on that last part of her mother’s statement. She does add that it is the most righteous thing to do. The way she sees it, it has to be about her previous statement. So far, she has been slacking in her chores. Not once she finds herself thinking about random things all of a sudden. It shouldn’t be a problem if she keeps up with what she is doing. That is not the case. The way she revels in them interferes with her duty if not halt it entirely.

The door behind her opens. “Sister Caitlyn,” Another voice calls her. “I need you to wash the remaining dishes.”

“Yes, Sister Gravlya.” Caitlyn straightens her posture. She turns to her mother again. “I’m going to leave for the dishes, mother.”

Her mother smiles and nods.

Caitlyn marches past Gravlya who then closes the door after a small greeting with her mother.

On the sink are stacked plates and the utensils. She picks the top plate and turns on the tap before scrubbing it with a foamed sponge. All the while reflecting on what her mother said about the scheme she mentioned.

What is it that actually caught up to them? How could they let that happen?

Thinking of ways that could’ve prevented it would be a waste since there’s nothing can be done to change that. She could only strive to solve the problems she is facing. Either overcoming her slacking behaviour, or resolve the debt that burdens the household.

How am I supposed to do that?

Then a pat on her right shoulder halts her scrubbing. She looks over her shoulder and finds Ilyavna.

“I’ll help you with that.” She says, positioning herself beside her.

“Uh, you don’t have to do that.” Caitlyn replies, shaking her head.

“It’s okay, I insist.” Ilyavna nods toward the sink. “You don’t want to be yelled by your sisters again, do you?” She shuts one eye.

Caitlyn smiles. “Thank you.”

“Besides, I need to start taking responsibilities.” Ilyavna puffs her chest.

Caitlyn only nods. She is grateful to have her. The girl never fails to cheer her up even when the day is not in her favour. She wishes she have something in return for her kindness. Her brows relax as she realizes that she won’t have anything soon when she keeps on slacking on her job. She has to do something.

The next day.

Caitlyn treads under the bright sky. The road is flanked by hilly plains to the right and a wooded valley to the left. The heat turns delicate as she steps into a shade. A humongous cloud cruise overhead. All around it are thin formations like stretched cotton sheet haphazardly woven together. She let a breeze flutter her ponytail and the skirt of her uniform. A breeze that most of the times took her thought with them to a heavenly ballet far from the reaches of any lands.

“Step back, ma’am!” A Proxy extends his right arm toward her; his palm open. “Convoy is coming through.” He points his thumb to his right.

“Convoy?” Caitlyn tilts her head.

The soldier then turns to said direction. Caitlyn steps a bit closer to him, gazing at the same direction with her head extended. Her view is obstructed by the houses and the wooded area to her left. What’s evident is the rumbling noise that keeps getting louder. Until they eventually pass before her and the Proxy beside her.

An eight-wheeler with a roughly bar-shaped front compartment and a large container on its back. Caitlyn believes that is what they refer as truck. It is only slightly larger than what she is aware of. Its back end is open, revealing some more Proxies sitting inside with a bunch of other containers. A handful more of those trucks follows. She notices that most of them are vacant.

“What’s happening?” Caitlyn asks the Proxy beside her.

“Recruitment fair, ma’am.” He answers. “They’re gathering fresh troops for the war.”

War…?

“What war?” Caitlyn frowns, more of a concerned look.

“The war against the Terran Vindicators.” He nods. “The Primus have been on their edge for a long time now. And I don’t think he’ll call it a day until their reign is vanquished.”

“Why are we fighting against them?”

The soldier steals a glance to the ongoing convoy before replying.

Caitlyn follows his gaze. There’s another eight-wheeler climbing up the road. It has a different shape and seemingly more compact than the trucks. Its top is relatively flat; slightly curving at the front, meeting the bottom section of the hull which also has a curved front. What’s notable to her is the bulge on top of its hull with a flat top that has a long pole-like object sticking out of it. There are another two smaller ones perching on the bulge.

“I suggest you check the fair, ma’am. I believe the commissar there can do a better job explaining than me.”

The ground quakes harder as the soldier finishes his sentence. A vehicle emerges in front of Caitlyn. One that is roughly comparable as the previous two in size, but has such a distinct form that kept Caitlyn’s eyes wide and fixed.

It has seven wheels on each side. Unlike the other two, they are not encased in rubber tires. Instead, they are attached side by side and sewn together by what appears to be a metallic belt that circumvent the wheels as the vehicle rolls through the road. Only half of the formation is visible from the bottom up, the rest is concealed by its extended side-hull. Its overall shape is relatively rectangular with a curving on its front. It also has a similar bulge with the previous vehicle as well as a pole-like object sticking out of it. Only many times larger. The pole object even extends beyond the frontmost tip of its hull. And the bulge is not just a bulge; rather a combination of a skewed nonagon and a rectangle.

“That there is a tank, ma’am.” The solider says to her, seemingly noticing that she has her wide-open eyes directed at that vehicle. “Very lethal, when supported.”

“A tank.”

“I think you have some interest in the field. I highly recommend you visit the fair. All Androids like you are fit for the job. The splendid wages and prestige are the cherry on top of that.” The soldier says to her in a friendly tone.

“Huh…”

Another tank passes by. It hooks Caitlyn’s attention again as it climbs the road. She watches it disappear to the other side. Nothing else follows that tank.

“Guess that’s the last of it.” The solider says, stepping aside. “Sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. You may proceed now.”

“Thank you, sir.” Caitlyn smiles and nods at him.

She has a grocery task this morning. Her mind lingers at the sight that she has just beheld. The vehicle looks surreal at first glance. But they are truly distinctive and don’t seem like it could be found parking on one side of the streets. She wants to believe she is not seeing things. Thus, she decides to head for the fair the grocery. That led to a double time. Without her realizing, she is now marching at an unusually fast pace.

Caitlyn arrives at the fair thirty minutes later. Having procured all the items in her shopping list, her left arm is occupied for holding the bag stuffed with the groceries. The town centre sees a lot of people coalescing around the military personnel in the area. A Proxy is standing in front of his tent demonstrating his rifle. A group of female personnel with a uniform similar to her are establishing a tent. Some men are seen erecting what appears to be a shooting target inside the tent. Beside them are mannequins wearing various uniforms, including the maid ones. A handful of the crowds stop by to admire their elegance.

The commotion is further amplified by a man standing on an elevated position yelling through a loudspeaker. Caitlyn gazes at him as she walks past.

“Rise o’ children of the motherland! Our enemies have once more took up arms to snatch The Primus’ blessing from us!” The man waves his arm around as he utters his words. “Are we going to let those thralls impose their superstitious views upon us!? Are we going to let the same view that once brought only bloodbath to our people return!? We shall teach them our way instead! We shall liberate them from their wretched belief! And the beacon of knowledge, the beacon of science established by The Primus himself, shall pull them out of the filth just like it once did with us! Scientia, victrix!”

The beacon of science…

The Primus employed all the scholars, teachers, thinkers, and researchers at his disposal to mass-educate the citizens once he consolidated his rule. It transforms the Artificial Creationist from a divine decree driven state into a nation with reason as the order of the day. The people are either developing a concept, or supporting the development of a concept. That is perhaps the beacon of science the man is referring to. One novelty the ArC still holds to this day is the ability to mass-produce high-quality Androids for civil and military use. Caitlyn is one of them.

The Terran Vindicators are looking to replace them with something else. The man calls it superstitious views. The country appears to have had a grim past with them. A bloody one if his words are to be taken. Perhaps that is the reason they are fighting them. If any of it rings inside her is that uniting for a cause is better than a free for all battle royale.

The man proceeds along those lines. His thundering voice is probably heard from anywhere across the small town.

A few steps back behind him is another sight that caught Caitlyn’s eyes. A female officer with a service cap. The ArC insignia shines bright in its face. Her brown hair is straight past her shoulder. There is a tiny braid behind her right ear, to which a denim ribbon is hanging. She is wearing a black double-breasted greatcoat with golden trims tightened on her waist by a silver belt; her white shirt as well as the frills and a pin attached to its collar underneath are visible. The coat has a turnback at the front that reveals her legs. For her bottoms, there are folded skirt that goes about her knee and a pair of tightened boots both of black shade.

The young woman suddenly meets Caitlyn’s gaze, seemingly noticing that she is being watched. Caitlyn immediately flinches away her face. It remains that way until she is way past her. She keeps making her way through the commotion until she finds the mesmerizing vehicle parked on one corner of the fair.

“Tanks…” She says before trotting closer.

A group of people is surrounding the area. Some are gazing at the mighty vehicle. A handful has their attention fixed to a crewman handing explanation, possibly a commander. Caitlyn approaches him, slipping amidst the townsfolk for a better view. As soon as she got the better hearing of what the crewman is saying,

“Who would like a free ride?”

A free ride…

Sounds like an opportunity for her to be in that tank thing. It has to be something to ride on those giant cars. Thus,

“Ah, yes!” The crewman responds excitedly. “You ma’am with the maid uniform. Thank you for raising your hand.” He points at Caitlyn.

“Huh?” She looks around confusingly.

Only then she realizes that she raised her hand. She just got here. The crewman’s offer is the only sentence from him that catches her ears. She hasn’t heard any explanation at all. Yet for some reason, she decides to pounce at that offer.

The crowds around shift slightly, enough for her to move.

“Uh, okay…” She jerks her head before stepping forward.

“What a fine maid to ride our tank.” The crewman says to her.

“Thanks.” Caitlyn smiles and nods.

“Allow me to keep an eye over that grocery of yours.”

Caitlyn hands over the grocery before climbing up to the driver hatch in front of the turret; the driver who had been sitting there climbed out of his hatch when she took the offer and assist her.

“Easy…” The driver says to her as she puts her legs inside. “There we go. If you wish to pop your head out of the hatch, just stand at the seat okay?”

“Okay.” Caitlyn says to him. She turns to the crowds for a brief second and is amazed at the fact that she can now see the top of everyone’s head. A fascinating sight. Everyone was pretty much taller than her a few moments ago.

“Now sit down, ma’am. We’ll drive you soon.” The driver jumps down from the tank’s hull. Caitlyn finds that odd.

“Wait, who’s going to drive?” She asks the man.

The man then slams his fist into the side hull of the tank. “Get moving, she is in place.” He says to the tank. Meanwhile his partner who is holding her grocery disperse the crowd slightly more.

“Alright, ma’am.”

Caitlyn flinches at the suddenly heard rough voice seemingly emerging out of nowhere.

“First, I want you to sit down nicely. I’m down here.” The voice says.

Caitlyn does what the voice asks of her. On her front is a control panel with series of buttons, levers, and a steer that she doesn’t understand. She quickly notices a glowing screen to her right, on the interior across her. It shows a line that wiggles continuously.

“Good, now you see me. At least, my interface.” The wiggles intensify as the voice speaks.

“You can talk?”

“I’m basically you manifesting a vehicular form.” The voice says. “Though not exactly since I’m a male, but you get my point.”

“Huh…” Caitlyn tilts her head.

“My name is Zalatovich by the way. I’m the one that’s taking you for a drive.” The tank says to her. “Now, sit tight. We’re going off.”

The engine roars as soon as he finishes that statement. The tank moves shortly after.

“Whoa.” Caitlyn exclaims as the sudden boost pushes her toward the seat.

The tank strolls for a lap through the countryside. Caitlyn pops her head out of the hatch when the vehicle stabilizes. The breeze streams against her face. A chilling stream of air under the warmth of the day. They cruise through gardens, wheat and flower fields, as well as houses. In the

distances are mountains scraping the skies. Her face is beaming at the spectacle. All appears to be oddly shorter as she gazes upon them.

“So, how do you like it?”

“All of you can move by yourself then?” Caitlyn asks him.

“There is a switch for that actually. It just happens that my commander granted me full control for this affair.”

“Can you rotate your…uh…” Caitlyn pauses. Not knowing what the term is, she continues “head?”

“It is called turret, ma’am. Yes, I can. Here…” Zalatovich raises his barrel and rotates his turret as soon as he says that.

“Woahh…” Caitlyn skips a blink. Her attention is all to the turret as it rotates.

Amazing…

Apart from its impressive stature, the vehicle also has a built-in software that could interact with the crew as well as operating it. Caitlyn realizes that she has never been this amazed in her life before. It must have been spectacular for those who get to ride them on a daily basis. Watching the enemies run as one of them barges in is probably a common sight for the crews.

Eventually Zalatovich reaches the fair again. “Consider enlisting ma’am. We shall appreciate you dearly. We’re departing in six days.”

Enlisting means she has to leave her household behind. All the problems it is suffering from won’t follow her into the war. Which sounds like an escapism from a certain view. An act of denying the reality presenting before her. An act of cowardice.

Caitlyn couldn’t stop thinking about it as she makes her way back home. The Proxy she met at the intersection claims that the salary for their service is impressive. However, she is not sure whether that is worth leaving her mother and sisters behind. Not to mention Ilyavna. Worse her death would harm them even more.

It is noon when she reaches the intersection where she saw the convoy. Two men in black suit is standing on the other end of the crossing. One of them notices her presence. She tries not to bother with them as she crosses the road. Unfortunately, they fall on her as soon as she reached the other side.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” One of them says.

Caitlyn inches away slightly. But she doesn’t feel threatened thanks to the Proxy from before watching them. As far as she knows, he will commit non-lethal wound to those insisting agitations to citizen.

“Afternoon, sir.” Caitlyn squints as she meets the men’s faces; the sun slightly messing with her view.

“We suspect you are associated with Klara Zhel’niyya.”

Caitlyn’s eyes widen as the name is mentioned. “She is my mother.”

“Perfect.” The man snaps his fingers. “Now, please listen to me ma’am. We’d like to pay for your troubles.”

Caitlyn raises an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“Your family is in quite of a debt, isn’t it?”

“How do you know?” Caitlyn tilts her head.

The man smashes his palms against each other. “Well there’s no need for that.” He states that sentence quickly. “Let’s just say, you’re going to be free of that soon enough.”

“Really?”

“Of course.”

His partner hands him a pad as well as an electronic pen.

“Just sign right here.” The man shoves the pad to her.

All her problems flashes to mind as she stares at the blank white screen of the pad. She has to overcome her slacking behaviour. The household conditions already don’t favour them. She must not add to their burden.

That, or…

Paying the debt.

And now there are two men offering to do it for them. Clearly a chance to save her family.

“I don’t have a sign.”

“Just, write your name then.” The man nods.

“Okay.”

Caitlyn takes the pen and write her name on the pad. The two men then withdrew their gadgets as quickly as they pulled them out.

“Thank you for your cooperation, ma’am.” He says again. “I can assure you that you’ve made the right choice.”

They then turn around and walk away from her.

Caitlyn sighs a relief. It’ll be over soon. Their debt will be lifted. Her mother and sisters will surely be grateful for it.

“Good day, ma’am.” The Proxy guarding the intersection greets her as she continues walking by.

Back home, she finds Gvozdika on the front. It doesn’t take long until she notices Caitlyn. The young woman nonchalantly crosses her arms. Caitlyn rushes toward her.

“Where have you been?” Gvozdika asks as Caitlyn reaches her.

“I…uh…” Caitlyn rubs the back of her head. “There is a…recruitment fair.” She sinks to herself, pointing her indexes to her right.

“Recruitment fair?” Gvozdika tilts her head.

Caitlyn nods, “Yes.”

“You don’t intend of joining, do you?”

“Of course not, Sister Gvozdika.” She says, smiling hesitantly. “No way I’m interested in what they are up to.”

Gvozdika takes a deep breath. “We need that grocery for breakfast.” She shrugs. “But I guess you came just in time for lunch.”

Caitlyn hands the grocery to her per her request.

“Now sweep the lawn, Sister Caitlyn. And please…actually do it this time.”

Caitlyn presents a single nod. A short but sure gesture. She proceeds to grab a broomstick and begin doing what’s asked of her. Her shoulder light, knowing that this burden on her family will be over soon.

The day quickly turns dark. All the children are already asleep.

When Caitlyn is wiping the kitchen sink…

“CAITLYN!!!” A thundering voice calls to her.

She turns around and finds Gloria striding toward her at an unusual speed and might in each step.

“Sister Gloria.” She greets her. But she doesn’t show a sign of stopping anytime soon. The frown on her face grows ever more evident as she is closing in. Her left palm is clenching. On her right hand is a letter and an envelope.

Without a warning, she yanks Caitlyn’s uniform near the collar; her left fist tight on it.

“What have you done!?” The tone on her last word is higher than the rest.

Gravlya and Giriltsa emerges from the corners at Gloria’s yell.

“Huh…?” Caitlyn stutters. She really has no idea what she did.

Gloria casts the papers on her right hand aside and shoves Caitlyn down with both of her hands against the kitchen sink. Her back slams against the shelves while her head just hit its edge. Caitlyn dares to raises her sight. She finds before her a wrath incarnate.

Gloria hangs the letter she was carrying in front of Caitlyn’s face. Caitlyn finds a statement written as clear as the war on the horizon.

…the approval to yield the properties of Gregori Zhel’niyya to Prime Respite…

Signed, Grauwelle Caitlyn.

Caitlyn’s core sinks. It is as if she is just shot point blank with a tank’s main gun.

“You sold us out, you MUG!”

“I’m sorry, Sister Gloria.” Caitlyn pants as she utters those words. “I didn’t know it would be like this.”

How could she know? No one informed her beforehand. She really thought those two men would help without any repercussion such as written.

“Oh…right…you didn’t know.” Gloria rolls her eyes, turning around. Gravlya and Giriltsa walks closer as she does that. “Guess it’s right for me to be here then,” She turns her attention back at Caitlyn, nodding at her. “Because it’s time to teach you a lesson!”

Her harsh words are followed by a severe kick to Caitlyn’s chest.

“Aaghh!” Caitlyn presses her hands against the part where Gloria’s foot landed.

Gloria chuckles. “Good thing they installed pain receptors on you, eh?” She sweeps the back of her feet against Caitlyn’s left abdomen.

“Grrghh!” Caitlyn cowers as she strives to minimize the pain. Her body collapses sideway.

Then another kick; as powerful as a football player’s penalty. But instead of a ball, it is Caitlyn’s stomach.

“Aaahh!”

“I should’ve done this a long time ago!” Gloria yells again.

“That’s right, make her repent.” Giriltsa adds to that in a loud and flat tone.

Caitlyn pulls her legs closer. But then Gloria stomps on her right waist. She slowly raises her shaking hands at Gloria.

“P-please Sister Gloria…I’m sorry.” She stutters.

“Sorry doesn’t help us in any way.” Gloria replies. She follows it up with a kick to Caitlyn’s face.

Then another.

And another.

She thought for a moment that her sisters would appreciate her deed. How naive that thought is. How poorly that aged.

Gloria pants as she takes a step back. It appears that she is merely taking a break. It is when she hears something rolling on the kitchen sink. Caitlyn steals a peek. A dough roll is now on Gloria’s hands.

The pain starts to grow unbearable for her. She is recently activated anyway. Caitlyn eventually gives up. With her heavy breath, she musters her strength to acquire a deep one and relaxes herself. All she would do now is to cover her head. Not to minimize the pain, but to conceal the sight of what Gloria is about to do next.

“I don’t remember agreeing for you to be here…” Gloria says, slamming the dough roll to Caitlyn’s face. The crash is heard across the house.

“And so far…you only make our life harder!” The dough roll again crashes against Caitlyn’s face.

“You should just DIE!” Gloria slams Caitlyn for the third time.

Then the fourth.

And fifth.

“Hh…hghh…hh…”

Caitlyn’s body is shaking on the floor. Her arms lie flaccid before her face as she lost the strength to lift them. Gloria raises the dough roll again for another score. But that’s when a hand grabs her wrist.

“That’s enough!”

Gloria looks over her shoulder and finds Gvozdika standing firm behind her. She shakes her arm trying to break loose from her grip.

“Let…go!” She exclaims.

Gvozdika does what she says after she yanks her arm for the third time. Then Gloria shoves the letter to her sister’s face.

“You see this, Gvozdika!? She just doomed us all!”

Gvozdika grabs the letter from her. Her eyes moving left and right as she process the text.

“This place now belongs to Prime Respite, that damned corporate entity, thanks to this piece of junk!” Gloria yells again. “She destroyed what father had strived for years to create! She has to be punished! SHE HAS TO PAY!” With all her might she lifts the dough roll high just as her statement ended.

But Gvozdika is quicker. She pulls her back—the moment force enough to turn her around—and slap her face.

“I said enough!” Gvozdika’s tone shocks her sisters. It is one raised to a level never before heard by any of them. “Stand down, Sister Gloria! She doesn’t know.”

Gloria shoots a bitter glare at her.

“You are not the Gloria I know.” Gvozdika says. “Go back to your room, immediately! Whoever you are!”

Gloria sniffles. She then stomps the floor before striding away, throwing the dough roll down in the process. Gvozdika grabs it as it rolls. Her sight is turned to her other sisters when she stands up. They’re still standing there with half-lidded eyes, avoiding Gvozdika’s glance.

“You both aren’t exceptions.”

Gravlya and Giriltsa walks away like nothing happened.

Gvozdika crouches on a knee before Caitlyn once she returned the dough roll.

Caitlyn is panting as she struggles to push herself up with her feeble arms. Her chest feels heavy in addition to the pain. And she realizes that her eyes become wet as a tear trickle down to the floor.

“Sister Caitlyn,” Gvozdika grabs her left shoulder. “It’s okay…”

Her whimpering grows. Three more droplets of tear hit the floor. Gvozdika inches closer to her, positioning her face just beside her weeping sister.

“Hush…” She whispers. “It’s okay, Sister Caitlyn. It’s okay. Don’t worry.”

Caitlyn knows that she didn’t mean those words. How could selling out the entire orphanage and its orchard is okay? It is their only residence and their only way to make a living. How could one not worry about where should they live afterward? Most notably, how could she be okay should something happened to her mother when she heard of this additional burden?

Gvozdika is about to pull Caitlyn closer when she suddenly shoves herself away from her. She quickly rises on her feet before nimbly trudging away; her left arm holding her stomach. Once she is inside her room, she shut the door—locking it—and cower inside the enclosure of her blanket. There she sinks her face to her knee and let her tears run free.

Why does this have to happen? Why it has to be me? Who have I wronged? Why would anyone do this to me?

No daylight touches her for the next five days. She doesn’t bother to open the curtains. There are knocking on the door several times. She doesn’t bother to respond either. Not even when Ilyavna is behind it. Her room is on the second floor and has no balcony. Hence no one could enter without breaking a furniture or two.

Gvozdika once more stands before the door at the evening.

“Sister Caitlyn, please…open up.” She asks in her ever-gentle voice. “I want to talk to you.”

Caitlyn pulls her blanket closer. Her pain is probably nothing compared to Gvozdika’s. She is the oldest after all. Thus, being an example is mandatory for her. Being persistent in her job while keeping the household together in the face of harsh reality has probably shoved plenty if not hundreds of swords through her back. Caitlyn fears that she adds into them a single force of a giant hammer that pushes those swords even deeper. How could she face her after that?

“Caitlyn please…” Gvozdika knocks again. “It’s just between us. Please…”

At this point, Caitlyn lost count how many times she pledges. She is such a determined woman. If she couldn’t enter per Caitlyn’s consent today, she will return the next day. And it will go over and over again. So, it’s probably better to let her in now. She saved her too anyway.

Caitlyn hesitantly rises from her bed and opens the locks on the door. She then returns to her bed and cover her body with the blanket again.

The door creaks. Gvozdika gently enters the room and shut the door.

She hears her approaching her bed. Her hand reaches for the curtain. But Caitlyn grips the curtain just as she does.

“Please, don’t.”

“Isn’t it too dark for you?”

Caitlyn shakes her head.

Gvozdika proceeds to light a candle which she then puts on a desk. She pulls a chair beside Caitlyn’s bed and sit there.

“Sister Caitlyn, I appreciate that you want to change our situation for the better.”

“But I did it wrong, didn’t I?”

“Well…” Gvozdika sighs. “It is my fault. I should have told you.”

Caitlyn pulls her blanket tighter.

“Prime Respite found us shortly after we’re in debt. For years they have offered us to pay for it, in exchange for our properties. And for years, I have rejected their offer.” Gvozdika turns her attention to the walls and ceilings of Caitlyn’s room. “This mansion is father’s legacy. It is a witness to his sweat and blood. They have to get through me if they wanted to grip this place.”

“Now it belongs to them, isn’t it?”

Gvozdika flinches her head. “Sort of…”

“Sort of?” Caitlyn’s eyes widen.

Gvozdika nods. “I took this matter to court. They manipulated you to sign the deal with them. It is against the regulation. So, they aren’t allowed to touch this place for the next twelve years. In fact, they are prohibited from entering this region at all.”

Caitlyn turns slightly to her sister. “I’m not hearing things, am I?”

“No, you’re not. Being a corporation, screwing up can cost you dearly. But we have to pay them away within that timespan if we wish to keep this place. The sum is…too much given our capabilities. I am only confident in keeping this mansion.”

“I see.” Caitlyn returns her sight back to the walls before her.

Gvozdika turns away. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. I could have prevented it, but…”

“I understand, Sister Gvozdika.”

“I’ll make sure the others apologize to you. One way or another.”

Caitlyn gently nods.

“We can make it. As long as we stick together and not giving up, I believe we can.”

Caitlyn takes a moment to appreciate her. She finds comfort in her soothing voice. Turns out the way she looked down on her isn’t really genuine. She does care for her, even concerned. Maybe she was just tired when she heard Caitlyn haven’t finished her job. It felt like she is actually sick of her behaviour. But then realizing that she lacks the energy to change that, she is forced to accept it. Who can blame her after all her responsibilities?

“I will start working tomorrow.”

Gvozdika raises her attention to her. “You don’t have to. If you still need time you can-”

“I insist.”

Her words halt Gvozdika’s. A smile is her first response to that. “Very well. But take it easy, okay?”

Caitlyn nods.

“That’s all I have to say.” Gvozdika stands up. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Hearing the footsteps of her sister, Caitlyn twists her body. She finds Gvozdika walking back to the door. Something urges her to move. So, she rises up and trots to her.

“Sister Gvozdika…” She calls her.

In a split second after Gvozdika turns around, Caitlyn wraps her arms around her.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Gvozdika rubs her hair. “Anything for my youngest sister.”

Caitlyn tightens her embrace. “I love you, Sister Gvozdika.”

Gvozdika wraps her arm around Caitlyn. She pats and rubs her back.

“We love you too, Sister Caitlyn. Don’t ever act like we don’t.”

Caitlyn doesn’t feel like letting go. The embrace is such a solace for her. She still holds the responsibility for what she did. But at least she can now be at ease with it. Deep down she wishes to be the one who pulls the swords out of her and mend her wounds.

They gently let go one minute later. Gvozdika returns to her work while Caitlyn returns to her bed as soon as she locks the door again.

Paying the debt is now out of the table apparently. There is no shortcut to that. Her option therefore is to change her behaviour. From a slack to disciplined. Who could provide better guarantee…

…than the military?

Caitlyn grips her hands. Another chance to set things right is there. The Proxies will shape her discipline into its utmost rigorous form. And if what the Proxy at the intersection meant what he said, the salary could full Prime Respite’s hands so they won’t lay it on her family’s properties. Those sweet promises however, comes at an unsettling yet obvious risk.

“Death…”

The ArC is mobilizing for a war. As far as she is aware of, people die there. A lot of them both humans and Androids. Caitlyn could no longer perceive that as dreadful as it’s supposed to be. Because it’s her only path to salvation. Besides, she is an Android. It would at least take more than what’s required to kill a human. She believes that she could get through when she does her best.

Caitlyn takes a deep breath.

She promised to Gvozdika to start working tomorrow. But she didn’t specify what work is she about to do. Moreover, the fair is scheduled to leave tomorrow as Zalatovich said.

“So be it…”

Caitlyn picks a sheet of paper and a pen in her room and begin writing a letter. Then she grabs a duffle bag and fills it with her things, mostly two set of clothing beside the uniform she is wearing. Once everyone is asleep, right at one hour before midnight, she rushes to a convenience store which opens for twenty-four hours and purchases some cooking ingredients.

Back home, she unloads her grocery and begin mixing measures of them. Her product meets its completion two hours later. A cake with chocolate icing and white frosting along its top and bottom circumference. She returns to her room and packs her bag as well as her letter. Caitlyn gently intrudes her mother’s room; finding her still asleep. She tip-toe closer and kisses her in the forehead.

“Farewell, mother.” She whispers. “I will atone for what I did. I will fix our situation.”

Once she shut the door, she heads down to the dining table and put the letter beside the cake. She then tucks a candle in the centre. A single candle that represents her age, the relative amount of time since her activation. Caitlyn takes a deep breath after covering the cake with a food cover.

“Here I go.”

Caitlyn leaves the mansion once more and rushes for where the fair was. There she boards a truck along with several people that just make it. And as dawn break on the horizon, the convoy makes their departure.

Her seat is next to the open end of the container. She watches in awe as her hometown grows ever smaller. All the while recalling what she has written in her letter.

Dear my beloved mother and sisters…

I hope you will all do fine in my absence. Don’t let it be known that contempt drove me into this, rather my love for all of you. I apologize for making the past year harder for all of you. I don’t intent for that to be. Now I’m in safe hands. The Proxies will take care of me. They will surely change me. And while that is happening, you don’t have to drag me around like you always did.

I promise that upon my return, I will be a different Caitlyn. The one who will make you proud. The one who will stand on her own feet and carry years’ worth of weight which have been sitting on your shoulder. But before that, I first have to do my duty.

To serve the ArC.

To serve The Primus.

To serve science.

Scientia, victrix.

Sincerely, Grauwelle Caitlyn.

P.S. Please take care of Ilyavna for me.


Writer: PrimDom

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