Science Fiction

The Other

By

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Synopsis

For over a century, the Reclamation's technology has kept an ancient enemy at bay. That is about to change.

Three generations ago, humanity was nearly mutated out of recognition by a group of technological accelerationists. With the help of visitors from a parallel universe, the surviving humans were able to construct walls capable of repulsing their enemy, and established the country known as the Reclamation.

But in the here and now, the citizens of the Reclamation are divided. Does their continued safety depend upon establishing a dialogue with the ancient enemy, or upon bolstering their defenses even further?

When a boy appears inside the Reclamation's walls, seemingly human but certainly originating from outside, debate becomes outright conflict, one which, if addressed wrongly, has the potential to end Reclamation civilization.

Walls

“Why are you here, Charles?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Don’t be smart with me, Charles.”

“I’m not trying to be smart with you.”

“What is your purpose in the Reclamation?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What are your objectives?”

“I want to talk to Dr. Ekeer.”

“Don’t be smart with me, Charles.”

“…”

“Do you want to destroy the walls?”

“No.”

“Do you want to transmit information back to the deranged?”

“No.”

“Do you want to help the government derange everyone in the Reclamation?”

“No.”

“What are the government’s plans for deranging everyone in the Reclamation?”

“I don’t know of any such plan, and based on what I do know, it’s unlikely that such a plan exists. Dr. Ekeer said that most of the stuff you tell yourselves in the spokes is flat out misinfo—”

“Don’t be smart with me, Charles.”

“If I’m not that smart, why are you interrogating me? If you won’t believe anything I say, why ask questions?”

“We love the Reclamation, Charles. We’re going to protect it, with or without your help.”

“I want to talk to Dr. Ekeer.”

“That’s not possible, Charles. He and his party are seditious. They are endangering the Reclamation.”

“That’s not what it looks like to me.”

“Tell us, then. Tell us all about your time with Dr. Ekeer. Start from the beginning. Tell us what they’re planning in the seditious cities.”

“You know when you call them that, all it does is reinforce—”

“Tell us everything that happened to you from the time you woke up inside the walls.”

“… Okay. Fine.”

#

The auditorium was one of those spaces that seemed poorly lit on purpose. Pragati Una stood under a beam of light at the center of the stage, over a thousand of her supporters enshrouded in near blackness around her.

Sahaan wondered at that, all the focus on the candidate, and yet the people who would vote for her couldn’t see one another. They still cheered for her at all the right moments though. Every beat he’d written into the speech caused a small laugh or cheer or applause to go up from the assembled crowd.

He stood in a room with glass walls, far back and suspended over the rear of the auditorium. To his left, in an adjacent room were the media folks, whose background chatter was more interesting than the speech itself.

Bharo stood next to him, his hands stuffed in his pockets. “I don’t know why we even bother at this point.”

“It does seem kind of pointless in Adamantine.”

Bharo shrugged. “Pointless anywhere, if you ask me.”

Sahaan shook his head. He, like the rest of the cabinet staff, had watched the polling data attentively for the past nine months. Una had it in the bag. Always had. But that was just data. Something about the whole situation didn’t feel right. “I don’t know about that.”

Bharo turned his head just enough so that Sahaan could see his raised eyebrow. “You still taking that trip to Citrine?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure you don’t want to come back to the capitol instead?”

“The acceptance speech is already done.”

“There’s talk about getting a bigger space for the election night party. We could use your help.”

That caused Sahaan to raise an eyebrow. “There’s a bigger space than Portal City Convention Center?”

“The arena.”

“No kidding.” A thought jumped to his mind. He’d briefly dated a theater major in college, one who’d taught him he was never to wish luck upon an actor before their performance, but should instead tell them to ‘break a leg.’ He wondered if perhaps Una wasn’t rushing her assumptions.

Both of them paused to watch how the crowd would respond to a particular beat in the speech—one about finding ways to work together with their political opponents. The crowd clapped. Funny how that worked with this side and not the other.

Bharo, seeming to sense Sahaan’s unease, added, “we’re getting a good deal on the space rental, and there has been demand for more tickets.”

“All the more reason for me to go to Citrine.”

Bharo shook his head. “All the data says that’s a lost cause.”

“Sometimes you don’t do a thing because of the data.”

Another beat in the speech. That one didn’t go over quite as well as Sahaan had hoped but it had managed to garner some applause. He’d have to think about how to present infrastructure maintenance. In a civilization that depended on four-nine’s integrity of quantum field-generating walls, the cost of infrastructure was a touchy subject for both political parties. Except, of course, for Una’s idiot opponent, who wanted to build six hundred fifty kilometers more of them at a time when they were barely managing to maintain the walls they already had.

Bharo cast him a skeptical side-glance, hands still shoved in pockets. “Why do you do it, then?”

Sahaan shook his head slowly. “Because the spokes matter.”

Sahaan and Bharo stayed on until the end of the speech, and even a little later still. Una smiled graciously at the end, then waved as she walked offstage. She had good presence, her delivery of the speech had been near-flawless, and the crowd adored her, but there was something Sahaan couldn’t quite place about this entire campaign cycle, something he especially sensed when he watched the chatter from the other side on the media. Now that he was thinking about this, he realized, it wasn’t so much the chatter on the other side that bothered him, but the way his colleagues ignored what the other side was saying. That and the growing sense that the other side was ignoring them, too.

The assembled crowd dispersed slowly through the auditorium exits while Sahaan and Bharo checked the email and news on their handhelds. Initial media reports confirmed Sahaan’s sense that Una’s speech had gone over well.

“Is Una still heading back to Portal City tonight?” Sahaan asked.

Bharo looked up from his handheld. “That’s the plan. We still on for dinner?”

Sahaan nodded.

Once the crowd had gone, they hailed a cab and went to their favorite restaurant in Adamantine, The Hedgerow. Hedgerows, a particularly rare ancient flora, had been re-cultivated from ancient biomatter preserved in the former scientific and military bunker that the city of Adamantine had been built on top of, which, before the founding of the Reclamation, had been called merely ‘A2.’ Those hedgerows now lined the entire restaurant front and were a distinguishing feature of the large public gardens adjacent to it.

Bharo talked almost exclusively about their post-election plans, mostly all the different ways that they were going to try to establish relations with the nanite-bodied, who lived beyond the Reclamation’s walls.

He remembered the first time, as a child, when his father had shown him the satellite images. Portal City and all the hub cities were swathed in green. Brown roads stuck out from them, reaching out to little dots of green on the periphery. Beyond them, for thousands of miles in all directions, the ground was red-brown with splotches of silver. And then there were the cities of the nanite-bodied, spiky pinnacles of serrated metal.

It was time to figure out what was going on out there, but Sahaan maintained a mild concern that some of his colleagues were jumping to the conclusion that the nanite-bodied would not threaten them again. Especially in Sahaan’s family, no one could forget the fact that barely more than a century ago, the expressed goal of the nanite-bodied had been to mutate all of humanity into their idea of ‘perfect.’

“Is Una still planning on dinner with the Alterran prime minister tomorrow?” Sahaan asked.

Bharo smiled as he chewed his salad.

“Is there a story there?”

“Just rumors,” Bharo said. “It seems that they don’t like each other much. I think the only thing they have in common is complete revulsion toward Gadh.”

That was Una’s opponent in the election.

“Maybe they can spend the whole dinner talking about him, then.”

Bharo chortled. “Maybe.”

“I wonder though…” Sahaan was immediately sorry he’d given voice to his wandering thoughts.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing.”

The expression on Bharo’s face told him he wouldn’t be getting away with that. What are best friends for, anyway?

“I just wonder… Clearly Gadh is resonating with people in the spokes. Take, for example, the walls. He wants to expand the Reclamation to include the Asym Valley, the Eser Coast, the Esim Valley, and the Bekel Plains. Now, adding, let alone maintaining that much more wall would devastate the economy and be a maintenance liability. And, of course, it would leave us vulnerable to attack. But to them, it would make them safer. Citrine, Bengine, Exenine, and Enerine would effectively become ‘outer hub’ cities.”

Bharo had stopped eating his salad and was now looking at Sahaan as though there were food on his face.

“They want what we get to take for granted. A feeling of safety.”

“You’ve read the same reports I have, right? The ones that explain how it doesn’t matter if you’re in Portal City or a hub city or a spoke city? How, if a hostile nanite-bodied could actually get through, all parts of the Reclamation would instantly become insecure.”

“Yes.”

“So?”

“They don’t read government reports out in the hub.”

“Why not? They’re not classified or anything. This government has gone out of its way to be transparent about our security risks and our security strategy. Establishing contact is part of that.”

How could Sahaan explain? “It has to feel that way to them.”

Bharo chortled in that dismissive way he sometimes did. His dismissiveness of the spokes was one of Sahaan’s least favorite qualities in him, but Sahaan checked his irritation straight away.

“I prefer to operate on facts,” Bharo said.

Sahaan let the topic drop and took a few bites of his salad before turning the conversation to the details of Una’s election party.

#

About the author

Matthew Buscemi is the author of numerous novels and short stories. His work has been a semi-finalist for the Cygnus Award. He is also a software engineer, a freelance book typographer, and an avid reader of fiction of all varieties. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his husband. view profile

Published on April 24, 2020

60000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

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