Discovery And Destruction
The small seven-year-old child stared sadly into the distance as the shadows slowly moved over the horizon. "Don't cry," his father told him as the tears started running down the pale, smooth cheeks.
"But Daddy, why did they have to go?" the boy asked, sniffling.
The father knelt down so his azure eyes were level with those of his son. "Remember when I told you about Mother Brain and how she was going to make life better for all Motavians?" His son nodded. "With the help of some of her new systems, farming has become much easier. There simply isn't enough work in the farming areas."
"But I'll miss them!" There seemed to be no consoling the little boy.
His father held him close. "I know you will, but it's for the best. There are more jobs available in the towns, they need to go where there is work."
The child didn't say anything else, but remained sobbing in the strong arms of his father, still gazing into the fields where the shadows used to be.
* * * * *
The tall young man stepped out of the dome and ran a hand through his neatly trimmed blue hair. While light did penetrate the sides of the enclosed farming areas, it was modified from its natural form to further enhance the growth of the vegetation. Although he had been working inside the domes for quite a few years, he still needed a moment or so to adjust to the change from artificial light to the bright rays of Algo.
He closed and locked the door behind him and started the walk home. It wasn't a terribly long trip, just under a mile. His home was in a small farming village on the western coast of the main island of Mota, conveniently located near both the ocean and the farming domes. It was almost too small to be considered a village, home to him, his father, and about five other families. Still, he had only been to the nearest town of Kueri once or twice and his village was the only home he had ever known.
Since he had been old enough to work, he made the journey to and from the nearest dome six days a week. His father, the village's head mechanic, had taught him nearly everything there was to know about robots, androids, and other artificial life forms. But instead of using tools to maintain the AIs, his father used techniques. Some of the rare visitors from the towns and cities called it "magic", but the mechanics simply thought of it as a more efficient way of handling machinery. Ever since he was fourteen years old, he worked in the domes; first, just helping to repair the damaged robots but later, overseeing their work. Although he and his father were now assigned to different domes, they still worked together a little in their spare time.
He could just make out the small cottages in the distance. As usual, he would sit down to a simple meal with his father, they would socialize for an hour or so (either with themselves or the other villagers), and then he would go to sleep so he could get to the dome early the next day. While to some this routine may have seemed boring, it was what he was accustomed to and he gladly welcomed the cycle every morning.
However, as he reached his home, his father was waiting for him, a change in the daily pattern. He was about to ask what was wrong when he noticed his father's beaming smile.
"Joshua, I've been waiting for you," he greeted him.
"I can see. What has happened?"
His father's grin grew even wider. "I have a surprise for you, I think you'll greatly enjoy it."
"A surprise?" His father nodded. "Well, what is it?"
"Go to the end of the street and find out for yourself." Stephan Kain watched with earnest as his confused son shuffled down the dirt road to the houses at the opposite end of the village. He knew he would be pleased when he got to the end, but stayed back in order to let his son experience it by himself.
Josh squinted as he tried to see what lay at the end of the street, but the sun was setting in front of him, allowing him only to see shadows. Finally, he saw a small group of people gathered on the lawn of one of the cottages. He strained even harder to see and gasped as the image became clearer as he moved closer. It can't be, he thought to himself. It's impossible... He started running, down the slight slope of the hill until he was near the edge of the group of people. His breath caught in his throat as he saw the all-too-familiar green hair, the delicate profile, the piercing emerald eyes. "Isolde..." he faintly said, his voice breaking as the almost-forgotten name escaped his lips.
She seemed to freeze in place as the sound reached her. Slowly, her head turned to the left as she eventually made eye contact with him. She stared, unable to speak as he stepped closer.
He stood, transfixed by her beauty, as he studied the face he hadn't seen in well over a decade. Naturally, she had aged, but he would know her anywhere. The soft green hair that was once in pigtails now hung straight down her back in a single braid and the once-round face was now home to a pair of fine, high-set cheekbones, but the deep eyes were unforgettable to him. He reached out, as if to touch her, but pulled back, afraid that if he disrupted the perfect picture in front of him, it would dispel into the cool autumn air.
She spoke first. "I've come home."
"I see." He fidgeted a bit, still unable to take his eyes off her. At last, he could not hold himself back any longer and rushed forward to embrace her. "I never thought I would see you again," he said, a single tear trickling down his cheek.
"I thought the same." Isolde pulled away from him, but only to see him more clearly. "You've changed so much," she told him as she reached up to smooth his hair.
He laughed. "I was just a small child when you left, I would hope I've changed!" He playfully tugged on her braided hair. "And you..." He trailed off, speechless.
She shyly smiled. "It has been a long time, hasn't it."
Josh looked around. "Where are your parents?"
If there had been any change in her expression, it lasted only a second. "They're inside, resting after the trip," she hastily said.
He nodded. "Perhaps I'll see them tomorrow. I'll come to visit when I get home from the farms." A wide grin spread across his face. "I work there now, I'm in charge of the machines for one of the domes."
"You're working in the domes?"
Again, an uneasy look flickered across her face, but Josh didn't notice. "It's getting late," she said, pointing towards the setting sun. "If you have to work tomorrow, you should be getting home."
He hated to agree. "I'll come by as soon as I can," he told her. He reached out and gave her small hand a squeeze. "Good night."
Isolde watched him turn and leave. Brushing a few stray hairs from her face, she quickly bid farewell to the villagers who were left and went inside the cottage.
The next afternoon came soon enough. Josh smiled as he saw Isolde waiting for him outside her door. "My father said you should be home around this time," she explained after he greeted her. She took his hand and led him past her house. "Let's go for a walk."
The old friends leisurely strolled through the countryside of Mota, stopping under a large tree with many branches. They sat down, Josh leaning against the trunk of the tree with his legs straight out and Isolde neatly tucking her skirts beneath her. "I remember climbing this tree years ago," Josh said, looking up.
Isolde laughed. "I thought you had forgotten!" She gave him a sly smile. "I also remember you almost falling out!" she teased.
"You could outclimb me any day of the week, we both know that." He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. "But then, after you left, I had to climb alone."
"Surely you could have found someone else to come here with you, there were other children our age in the village."
He turned to her, opening his clear blue eyes. "It wouldn't have been the same. They didn't understand me like you did." The eyes closed again. "Besides, they all left as well. Like you, they left to seek a better life, willing to do anything to get out of this place. Thoughts of having exciting jobs, like Agents or biologists, lured them away to the cities. They weren't content with working in the domes, day in, day out, for the entirety of their lives."
She reached out and gently touched his arm. "Is that what you think? That you're wasting your time here working in the farms?"
"Of course not, I like what I do. You know my father instilled in me his love of machines. He's been training me ever since I was old enough to walk."
She nodded. There was a bit of an awkward silence. "I didn't want to go, you know," she finally said.
"I know." Another pause. "What were the cities like?" he asked.
The question made her uncomfortable, but he didn't see. "Oh, they were terribly crowded and busy. There were so many people and buildings..." She wanted to change the subject. "But that's not important. Tell me about your work."
Josh fingered the bright red collar of his uniform that designated him as a mechanic in the domes. "I oversee the AIs in one of the domes. Though Father has taught me much about how they function and do their jobs, I've been having some trouble with the repairs. But there are a few other workers who can handle any problems."
"It sounds like you do a lot."
He smiled. "Ever since Mother Brain came to power, technological advances in farming have been amazing! The machines, created by her, of course, really do most of the work. My father told me how difficult his work was when he was my age; both of us are quite grateful to her."
Isolde started to say something, but held back. He continued, "Even the domes are marvels in themselves. Mother Brain has ensured our crops will always have the perfect environment in which to thrive."
She tried to change the subject again. "What has your father been teaching you?"
"I'm trying to master the techniques for dealing with the internal structures of the machines." He blushed slightly. "I'm afraid I'm not too good at them yet." She tried to smile reassuringly. Josh grinned back. "However, there is one I have down." He looked around for an appropriate target. "See that dead branch on that tree over there?" he asked, pointing.
"Yes..." Isolde wasn't quite sure what to expect.
He focused his energy and concentration on the simple spell and beamed in satisfaction as the orange fireball released itself from his fingertips and struck the branch, causing it to fall. "It's called 'Foi'," he told her.
She was impressed. "It's lovely."
He walked her home soon after that. "I'll come by tomorrow?" he inquired.
"You shouldn't feel obligated, I know you have other work to do at home with your father."
He shrugged. "I'm sure I can find the time." Josh watched as she shut the door behind her. He left for home, where he found his father waiting for him.
"Come, Joshua, we haven't worked together in quite some time." Stephan led his son to the dusty barn behind the house. Once used for storing hay and various grains, the old wooden building was now home to a jumble of old metal parts.
They made their way to the back of the barn where the lifeless body of a partially assembled android lay on a rickety table. The head and limbs were long gone, but the internal mechanisms in the torso were still complete.
"I want you to fuse these together," Stephan said as he held up a pair of yellow wires.
Josh sighed. "You know I can't do that yet. I'll just wind up making a mess again and you'll have to go to the trouble to get more parts."
"It's never a problem. Besides, how do you expect to get better if you don't practice? How else will you be a thoroughly efficient mechanic?"
Josh sighed a second time. Knowing he couldn't possibly win this argument with his father, he bent over the wires and began to concentrate. A tiny ball of dim light appeared at the tips of his fingers and surrounded the ends of the wires. He fought to control it, but it instantaneously doubled in size and then disappeared, melting the wires.
"That was better than last time, you almost had it." Stephan attempted to console his son. "With a little more practice, you won't have any trouble at all."
Josh didn't bother reminding his father that he had been practicing for almost a full year and the number of destroyed parts in the barn was much greater than the number of intact ones. He let his father attempt to teach him for another hour, but insisted on stopping when he nearly ignited the table. "Perhaps I just wasn't meant to be a mechanic," he told his father.
Stephan smiled and put an arm around his shoulders. "Nonsense, anyone can learn to be anything if he simply puts his mind to it. Furthermore, it's in your blood. You come from a long line of skilled mechanics."
They went inside and sat down in front of the fireplace. "So I'm glad to see you have your beloved Isolde back." Stephan winked at his son. "I remember how distraught you were when she and her family left. For a time, I almost thought you'd never get over it."
Josh chuckled to himself. "That type of thing can be devastating to a seven-year-old child. She was my best friend."
"And now?" The light from the flickering fire danced in Stephan's eyes, making his look seem even more mischievous.
"I'm looking forward to rekindling that friendship." Josh looked up to meet his father's gaze. "Father!" he exclaimed. "What are you implying?"
Now it was Stephan's turn to chuckle. "Oh, nothing. Let an old man have his silly fantasies."
Josh rolled his eyes. "Isolde has only been back for a few days, try not to make the poor girl crazy."
"Don't worry, son, I had no such intentions." Stephan leaned back in his chair. "How are Isolde's parents? I really should make a stronger effort to pay them a visit sometime soon."
Josh started to answer, but then stopped himself short, realizing that he had no answer to his father's inquiry. "To tell the truth, I don't know," he told his father. "I haven't seen them yet either." He paused. "Isolde says they're still resting from the trip. It must have been a rather long journey." His own deep blue eyes took on a playful expression. "And, like you, they're not as young as they used to be," he teased his father.
Stephan laughed. "Go to bed, Joshua."
The weeks passed quickly. Josh adapted to the new routine of waking up, going to work, coming home, spending time with Isolde, and occasionally working with his father before going to sleep again to start from the beginning. Although they had been separated for so many years, Josh was glad to find out they still shared that same special bond. Some days he swore Isolde could see into his mind and read every thought; similarly, he sometimes instinctively knew her every feeling, her every emotion.
"Do you remember that day, years ago, when our parents took us to the ocean?" she asked him one day.
Though it wasn't incredibly clear in his mind, Josh could sense she was going somewhere with this. "Yes," he half-lied. "I do."
"That was a fun trip," she said. He waited for her to continue. "Neither of us had seen the ocean before, it was so exciting at the time. I had never imagined anything so enormous existed! All we had previously known before was our small village, we didn't know of anything else on the entire planet!"
He nodded, but wasn't quite sure what to say. He never really thought about life outside the village and the domes, but he was perfectly content with that.
A sudden, troubled look came into Isolde's big green eyes. "I was only seven years old, I didn't know there were so many people! I had no idea how to react to the city, how to live in such a busy place. It was so overwhelming..." She curled up into a ball, resting her chin on her knees, and for a fleeting moment, Josh saw not the mature young woman in front of him, but a frightened little girl. The sight disturbed him.
"I remember the huge skyscrapers, with the flashing lights and power lines. The others didn't seem to mind, they just stayed in the streets, oblivious to everything happening around them. There wasn't any work for them to do, any work for my father to do, so we left."
At this moment, Josh discovered that this was the first he was hearing about Isolde's life while she was gone. They had been having such fun reminiscing about the times they had had together, they had completely ignored the subject of her adolescent years. It didn't occur to him that perhaps Isolde had managed to purposely avoid that topic until now.
"We went from city to city, in search of something to do," she went on. "And in every place we went, we found the same thing. People lazily strolling about the streets, without a care in the world. And the buildings! The same buildings in every single city, with flashing lights and wires connecting them. It took me years to realize why! I suppose part of me had always known, but on that day..."
She stopped, rather abruptly. Josh reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder, and she seemed to suddenly remember he was still there.
"Let's go back," she said, in a completely different tone.
Josh stared in amazement at the calm, composed twenty-year-old who was now before him again. He wanted to ask, but something told him to hold back. "Back where?" he simply asked.
"Back to the ocean, I haven't seen it from here since that one time we went. It would make a lovely day trip."
He decided not to comment on the unexpected change. "When do you want to go?"
"Whenever it's convenient for you." She was smiling now, and Josh could tell that these plans were starting to excite her.
"I'm sure I could take a day off sometime soon."
"That would be wonderful."
Josh kept his promise and in less than a week, they started off for the seashore. The walk was about double the length of Josh's daily excursion to the domes, and they reached the ocean when Algo was shining in the afternoon sky.
Isolde left him and stood right at the edge of the water. Josh watched as the cool breeze blew through her flowing green hair, which she had let down that day. She closed her eyes as her hair swirled about her face and her long skirt was blown back by the wind. His mind took him back to that day when he had first seen her after she came back to the village and again, he was astonished by the beautiful woman his childhood friend had grown into.
While he reflected on this, Isolde took off her shoes. She gingerly stepped into the cold water and felt it surround her ankles. "Well, what are you standing there for?" she called to him.
He joined her, leaving his own boots next to hers on the sand. Wincing a bit at the freezing water, he stood next to her and stared out at the sea.
"I wonder if anything's out there," she said. "A place that's untouched by new technology and science and everything else in our modern world."
"What good would a place like that be? I..."
"I know what you think," she cut him off. "But I think differently."
He was about to ask her what she meant, but was interrupted by a wave of cold water splashing him up to his shoulders. Before he could retaliate, the devilishly grinning Isolde had already run down the shoreline, laughing over her shoulder. "We're not seven years old anymore!" he called as he took off after her.
He caught up to her easily. "Now you're going to get it," he said, picking her up.
"No, Josh, don't!" she screamed between fits of giggles.
"I can be childish, too!" he said, smiling, as he dropped Isolde into the icy water. She screamed and managed to pull him down with her.
"You're a lot stronger than I remember," he told her, cringing at the water that now engulfed him.
"So are you," she said. "All you could do when you were younger was push me near the water and hope I would stumble and fall. Now you could probably throw me if you wanted to."
"But why would I want to?" He stood up. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to go try to dry off on the sand," he said.
She followed him. "If I had known we were going to get so wet, I would have brought an extra set of clothes," she said, squeezing the water out of her hair.
"You should have thought of that before you splashed me. Besides, there's nowhere to change."
She shrugged. "I would have figured something out."
"I'm sure you would have." He leaned back and stretched out on the sands, looking up at the sky that was now beginning to grow dark. "We should probably start heading back soon."
"Oh, let's stay just a little longer, I want to see the stars before we go home."
He agreed and they sat, in silence, and waited for night to fall.
"I love how the sky is reflected in the water, it makes it so much more magnificent," Isolde finally said.
He looked at her in the starlight. There was still a hint of the innocent child in her sparkling green eyes as she gazed at the night sky. She soon became aware of him studying her, and turned to him.
There was so much he wanted to ask her, to find out the mysteries of her shadowed past. To finally find out what had been plaguing her that day when she first asked to go to the ocean. "Isolde, I..."
She stopped him by gently pressing a finger to his lips. "Shh, don't speak, just look."
He took her hand away from his mouth and held it while he continued to look at her. After another moment, he started to speak again. "Isolde, I just wanted to know..."
She kissed him. Josh was a bit taken aback, but the shock soon wore off. He ran a hand through the wild green hair and brought her close to him.
Do I love her? Josh asked himself. I can't love her, she's Isolde, she's my best friend, she's my childhood companion, she's... As he pondered this, Isolde pulled away from him and looked at him.
"Did I do the wrong thing?" she shyly asked.
"Of course not," he told her, sitting up. He tried to pick up his train of thought where he left it. She's...she's...all I ever wanted and more. He reclined again on the sand and she curled up next to him with her head on his chest.
"You mean the world to me," he truthfully told her.