A Song to the Future (Mirai e no Uta)
“What do you long for.”
You couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the Voice came from; it seemed to stem from every point across the fourth-dimensional axis, including your own soul. It was calm and soothing, maybe even a bit mechanical.
Your consciousness, body and very sense of self were diluted on a bath of pure, endless light. Memories were compromised. But among all the confusion, one could feel warmth. It wasn’t painful at all, quite the opposite: if there was a place such as heaven, this might be it. The light and stillness filled you with joy and bliss like you had never felt before. Ecstasy was probably the word.
“What do you long for.”
Anybody would have known you cannot possibly trick or deceive the Voice. Your most basic instincts told you that it was probably part of yourself too – and you wouldn’t hurt or compromise yourself. So, finally, in this state of peaceful delight, you spoke.
“What do I long for? Why, of course...”
I open my eyes. It feels like the first time, like I’ve been slumbering for decades. Not accustomed to the light and still dizzy, I barely notice the movement around me. It looks like I’m being transported on what seems to be a portable bed across a long hallway. The light is dim but overwhelming still. I hear some voices but I can’t quite pinpoint where they are or what they’re saying. I can barely distinguish shapes and colors, but I feel so tired I don’t really care for now.
A wise man once said: there are no bad controls, just bad players. The people on top know that once you learn how to make an entrance and an exit the show is already like ninety percent done. Since the stage isn’t quite ready for me yet, I decide to go back to sleep.
I don’t remember who the people on top are though.
Dr. Rosmärin’s Entry
Readings seem to indicate that the subject is indeed human and around 17 years old. However, these amounts of radiation are completely unheard of and way beyond what we’ve seen up till now (not bringing into account that one exception).
Quarantine has been established and we are ‘closely’ monitoring the subject. There’s way more people than needed here but I guess there’s not much else to do today. It is news.
Subject has been unconscious for about 3.5 hours at this point and – oh, speak of the devil.
“Good morning sleepyhead! You had us worried there.”
There is a middle-aged woman talking loudly in the middle of the room. She is wearing a lab coat and looks devilishly happy. I still feel a bit dizzy and can’t quite get up; terrible moment but my moment anyway.
“Hello Mr. Subject? Do you understand me? The glass is pretty thick, but you should be able to hear me.”
Where is this place? It seems I’m being held inside some sort of glass cell. The walls do look sturdy. Outside of this tiny prison there is a proper big room; it has no windows however, just a monitor on the wall opposite to mine.
There are two other people besides the woman: right next to her, a timid-looking girl around twenty years of age is sitting on a small bench; she has somewhat of a wavy hair. At the corner, a boy with glasses rests his back on the wall while wearing an indifferent expression. He doesn’t look much older than the girl to me. The woman with the lab coat takes a small notebook from her pocket and starts writing while thinking aloud.
“Subject’s mind looks completely blank. This will probably be more difficult than expected.” She then puts the notebook away. “Ara my dear, would you mind taking care of him while I...”
“M-my mind is not blank!” I finally say. With effort, I manage to sit on the bed I was sleeping at. “I do understand you. I’m sorry, where is this...?”
“Having a Babel Tower can come in handy sometimes” says Glasses with his arms crossed.
“Good, good!” Seems this was enough to reignite the woman’s enthusiasm. She opens the notebook again, ready to do some science.
“I’m sorry Mr. Subject but for now I am not authorized to answer any question you may have. That might change if you just cooperate like a good boy, though.”
“Let’s start with the basics: do you have a name.”
“Do I?” I actually don’t have any idea of who I am. It’s not like I forgot about it either, it just feels like there was nothing before this room. “But that can’t be true.” I wonder if this eccentric doctor might be able to help. I don’t have a reason to be hostile or distrust these people either.
“I... can’t remember. Sorry.”
“Nice.” The woman takes a quick few notes. “Then let’s move on to the very fundamental basics. Are you human, Mr. Subject? Do you know what human is?”
“Human...? Of course I know what a human is! What else could I be!”
“I can think of a number of alternatives.”
“But you do look human, Mr. Subject. Unfortunately, we have to keep you there until we’re completely su–”
Somebody enters the room. Time seems to freeze for everybody except this new guest, who is steadily approaching my cell. He wears a calm expression but for the trained eye it may have been possible to appreciate the very essence of hatred on his face. As he draws closer, he firmly clenches his right fist and readies his arm. Only half a second before the punch would connect the clock begins to tick again – just like the thunder after lightning strikes, a voice of steel and absolute authority has joined the fray.
An old bearded man enters the room. He is wearing a deep blue, formal uniform and a military hat. He sounds composed and firm. “Think twice before doing something that could put us all in danger.”
“I’m sorry, Captain.” His stance softens.
“Edgy,” mutters the middle-aged woman, looking at the floor.
Now I can focus on the guy who planned to smash my face through several centimeters of crystal. He wears a long dark grayish coat, pretty tattered and worn out. His hair is somewhat long and pale silver. He doesn’t seem older than Glasses. I imagine his age probably lies somewhere between his and the young girl’s. Now that I’ve gotten a good look at him, he is actually kinda pretty.
“It is irrelevant whether you feel sorry or not” the old man speaks. “If this were to happen a second time, I’d have to take action. You know I don’t wish to reprehend you, Zio. Don’t force me to.”
“You are right, Captain. I wasn’t thinking. Allow me to apologize again.” Zio’s words sound sincere enough, but I still perceive a certain frustration on his eyes.
“Oh, I know you weren’t thinking.”
“Captain.” The young girl opens her mouth for the first time as she wakes up. She looks concerned. She is blushing a bit and can’t quite establish eye contact with the Captain, but I can tell she’s actually very determined and has courage to spare.
“Zio couldn’t get any sleep last night, that might have influenced his actions. I am partly responsible for this and thus I want to apologize too.”
“Hah,” the Captain chuckles. “First time I hear about he needing sleep.”
“He doesn’t need to, but it helps–”
“Arabia, you needn’t apologize for me.” Zio interrupts her. “The captain is right. It won’t happen again sir, you have my word.”
Mr. Captain starts laughing genuinely this time, and all the tension in the room seems to cool off.
“Whatever,” he says. “You break it, you pay the next one. I know you guys’ salary and anti-radiation glass isn’t exactly cheap.” He then turns to the Doctor. “How are the test results? Did you start with the examination?”
“We were on it, Captain” miss evil scientist says.
“Good, good.” The old man approaches my cell. “Welcome to my ship, youngster. Don’t try anything funny unless you want to spend some time alone with that guy.” He points at Zio. “Now everybody, there’s nothing else to see or say here. Get back to work you rapscallions!”
And just like that, I’ve officially become a prisoner of the Albatross.
After the Captain spoke, only miss Doctor and Arabia stood in the cell room. The former kept asking me stuff I couldn’t really answer and taking several notes, while the later just went in and out bringing several papers with her. After the questioning was done, the three of us just sit here in silence for several minutes.
“What do we do now” Arabia whispers to Ms. Doctor.
“Wait and observe. Got anything better to do?”
“No, I don’t mean that. This boy has obviously no idea of what’s going on, correct?”
“Why yes, he seems to have amnesia. That’s the reason we are waiting.”
“I know that! I mean... can’t we at least tell him something?”
The two of them keep mumbling and, even though the crystal is several centimeters wide and apparently unbreakable (at least I don’t think I can smash this thing) the conversation can be heard perfectly across the room. I find it amusing, but unfortunately Ms. Doctor doesn’t look quite convinced.
“We’ve got orders” she states. “But... maybe if it’s you, the captain might let it slide.”
The young woman looks at me with a big smile on her face, then immediately goes back to the Doctor.
“I don’t know what to say” she mutters.
Miss Doctor stands up and pulls the bench around, Arabia still sitting on it, until the two of them are directly facing me.
“Guinea Man” she speaks loudly, arms crossed. “We’ve taken the following decision. We will allow you to make three questions. Depending on the content of said questions, we might or might not answer. If we do not, you’ll get another chance until you have gotten three answers. Clear?”
“Guinea Man?” Shit I just made a horrible mistake.
“That’s a beautiful name!” Arabia says cheerfully.
“Answer number one: yes, Guinea Man, or Guinea for shorts. You cannot remember your name (if you ever had one to begin with) and we might get more test subjects in the future. You need a name. And I name you Guinea.”
“That’s a terrible name!”
“I think it’s a cute name! Guineas are those little mammals, right? I hope we get to see one in town.”
“Yes, huhu! Those are guinea pigs. Cute little boys like Mr. Subject here. But listen Ara, I forbid you to look for scientific texts regarding guinea pigs on your own. I’ll find you some good books. Some have beautiful pictures.”
“Yes Miss!” She then looks at the new reborn me and introduces herself. “By the way Mr. Guinea, my name is Arabia. Pleased to meet you.”
“Same, Miss Arabia. Thank you for your kindness.” I bow to the girl. She is the only one who is treating me normally, and those kinds of people you gotta respect.
Ms. Doctor takes notice.
“Haha! And whose shall mine name be! You only have two questions left, Guinea Pig!” She chuckles, seemingly enjoying herself.
“Her name is Sonia. She’s a chemist but knows quite a bit about medicine too. She and Hazel do most of the healing in case of need.”
“Arabia you traitor!” She pokes at the girl. “My full name is indeed Sonia Rosmärin. Now this Hazel, who might that be... choose carefully your next question, Guinea!”
I’m certainly not interested in more names for the time being, so I won’t make the same mistake twice.
“Where are we?”
Sonia answers rapidly.
“This is the Albatross, mankind’s biggest hope & greatest technological achievement.” I can’t tell if she is being ironic or not.
“It’s a big military airship, but we use it mostly for transporting cargo. We here now are inside the cargo hold, and your cell is normally used to contain and study high-radiation items.”
Mr. Guinea already knows what his third question is going to be, but it is still unpleasant to think about it.
“Miss Sonia. You mentioned before I might or might not be human. Does this have anything to do with this radiation thing you are mentioning now?” I ask, dead serious.
“Clever boy.” The doctor smirks again.
“That one question we may want to avoid; the reason being you will get more than one answer.”
“Well, for somebody who has orders you’ve been awfully talkative.” This one thing I really want clear and out of my mind as soon as possible.
“It’s all on Ara.”
“If it’s on me, I’d rather answer. He must be very confused.”
“Very well.” The doctor takes a deep breath. She looks serious now, which both gives me some relief but also scares me to death actually. “See here Mr. Subject, so far we’ve determined you are human. Nothing you have said or done up to this point tells us otherwise. You look human. Your answers have been a bit odd sometimes (e.g., it is quite rare how you said the captain looked like a marine. Most people in your state wouldn’t know what a marine is), but nothing off the charts.”
“Picking up stray humans in your condition used to be normal, but it’s gotten more and more rare over the years. Still, none of this worries us. Now the radiation... at this point it is the only reason we cannot let you out of that cell.”
“Is it that high? What does it mean to have high radiation?”
“Usually things with high radiation levels are very dangerous to us, or outright try to kill us.” This time it is Ara who speaks.
“Indeed. Now I want you to understand something: your radiation isn’t just high. It is a miracle you can even exist here with us. No human body would be able to handle that and keep its regular form. But yours does somehow.”
“If you are indeed human (and I believe you are Mr. Guinea), you might’ve established some sort of record!” states Arabia.
“See, everything has a positive side.”
“What would happen if you let me out of this cell?” I ask. I still don’t quite get what they mean by radiation.
“Who knows. Some of us have already been exposed to your body while bringing you here, and we are doing fine. But you were unconscious then. Next time, you could just explode like a big bomb or turn into a poisonous cloud and murder us all.” Sonia seems to be joking, but the fact that I am still imprisoned indicates that those might in fact be actual possibilities.
“Murder? You mean like consciously?”
“Why would I ever do that? I don’t even know if I have a life outside of this cell.”
“Please Mr. Guinea” the young girl speaks timidly. “Try to understand us. We want to believe in you but it’s the first time we deal with something like this. It’s uncomfortable for us too – we just don’t want any accidents. If we don’t follow the procedures things could get really bad very quickly.”
“I see.” I need to organize my thoughts. “But then what is this radiation thing? Does it turn people into monsters? Psychopaths?”
“Not quite.” Sonia doesn’t seem to particularly regret having tackled this topic, but she still looks hesitant about giving a straight answer. “I told you it was a bit too complex. If everything goes right, we’ll fill you in when we get to town.”
“Please be patient” Ara pleads.
Suddenly, an alarm starts ringing and the monitor on the wall turns on.
“That might do it too,” the doctor says.
“Everybody, we’ve got a pack coming towards us. Please get ready. It isn’t big, but as always prepare for the worst.”
In the monitor we can see Glasses’ face, from what seems to be the command room. He looks dead serious, but also like he knows what he’s doing. Just like with my presence here, I think they’re used to whatever is going on but they might have to follow certain procedures anyway.
We hear a rusty voice coming from somewhere near the room.
“Shields and engine are working fine. Cannons ready.”
“That’s old man Castle,” Ara tells me. “He’s below us.”
“Arabia, you better go with Hazel and the Captain. I’ll stay with Mr. Subject.”
“I have Castle here. I’m sure you don’t want to see what I’m about to show our guest either.”
Arabia leaves the room in a hurry.
“Blink and you’ll miss it” the doctor says.
“They’re on top of us. Everybody stay calm. They won’t be able to penetrate the deck.” This time it was the Captain speaking. He has a very comforting presence.
“Captain, are the outside cameras working?” Sonia asks the monitor.
“Only number 4 is damaged so far. Don’t say anymore, you need it for science.”
The doctor smirks.
“Hazel, give our Frankenstein here some eyes.”
“Blink and you’ll miss it,” she mutters.
What the cameras are showing us is obviously not of this world. Some of them move like insects, others are levitating like fish. The bigger ones are approximately the size of a mastiff, not very big, but they seem to distort the light around them, so they are still somewhat hard to spot. Some of them have their bodies constantly changing shapes; I would assume they are made out of some kind of liquid or even flat-out gas, but whatever they are, they are definitely alive. They scratch and bite the surface of the ship, as if trying to dig a hole. Some of them attack the cameras, giving us less and less angles to look from. There is no sound; I assume it is because of the wind.
“What are we going to do?” I ask.
I just noticed cameras 5 and 8 show a dark spot on the distance. It looks humanoid and is holding two thin blades.
On that moment an old man with working clothes and a big gray moustache hurriedly enters the room.
“Did I make it in time?”
“Hi Castle, just barely” Sonia says.
“Damn, one never gets tired of this.”
“Don’t go saying stuff like that around, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. You should be scared even.”
“That boy is the only entertainment I get to have on this goddammed ship. Can only take a break whenever he’s out.”
“Let’s see then.”
The Albatross had submerged into a sea of dark clouds. It was incredibly windy and looked like an ordinary thunderstorm, but it was far too sudden for this to be a natural phenomenon.
There’s about fifty of them, Zio thought.
The small ones moved fast and could even teleport short distances sometimes; they would be an easy miss for a regular human. But a regular human wouldn’t be able to stand on their own two feet on top of a moving airship around twelve kilometers above the ground.
These creatures jumped at him as soon as they noticed his presence. A regular human would already be in danger just by being so close to them. Contact could be fatal.
But Zio was no regular human. He didn’t even need to rush; the more scratches he got on him, the weaker the creatures would get – his blood was poison to them. His body was immune to any kind of distortion too.
Once the creatures started slowing down, it was his time to strike. He slightly cut his own palm until he got the edge of both twin blades painted in red. Now slashing through them like this would be enough to really hurt and make them retreat, but if one wanted them gone for good, they’d have to destroy the nucleus. All of them had at least one – that was probably the ‘alive’ part, and it was very tiny. A cut so stupidly accurate would be almost impossible to hit for anybody who couldn’t naturally sense the very essence of these things when they were nearby.
“Now where’s the big one,” he muttered to himself while methodically disposing of the monsters. The destruction of the core made them vanish instantly, so after Zio’s quick flurry attack he was alone on the deck. All had taken about twenty seconds.
“Now comes the good part” Castle said, watching from the cell room.
A second wave of these beings came flying around from between the clouds like a big bank of salmon. The pack ran directly into Zio and swarmed the surface of the ship; the deck was full of these creatures again. While the boy in the gray coat tried to fend off some that were jumping at him, the remaining ones started to collide and hop on top of each other, effectively creating a more complex organism – fusing. This one had three big protuberances that kind of looked like wide arms and a head.
“That’s the big one.” Zio quickly tried to make some space between them as the creature approached. In a swift motion that made a ‘click’ sound happen, the boy crossed the two thin blades and they combined into a bigger sword about the size of an old claymore; this unique trick weapon was gifted to him long ago. He then took an offensive stance and ran towards the mighty behemoth. The two collided. Zio seemed to vanish into the being’s embrace.
For a moment the boy felt lost, but he quickly snapped out of it. Bigger enemy usually meant bigger nucleus. A few seconds later, the tip of the claymore could be seen after piercing the monster’s body and, in a flash, the weapon cleanly cut the creature in half. Its remains vanished in an instant. The sky returned to a normal, peaceful blue.
“Hell yes!” Castle roared. Sonia looked satisfied. Guinea had a lot of questions to make.
Zio took a small radio device from his pocket and heard a voice. It was the captain.
“Good job, youngling. Are ya hurt?”
“Thanks Captain. Nothing major; I don’t think I’ll need treatment. Anything left to do here?”
“Radar shows no more lectures, we can rest for now. A couple of cameras snapped but we’ll take care of that when we land. Now come back in kid, let’s celebrate.”
Zio hung up and sheathed his sword.
As a curiosity, while he was being embraced, the boy could barely hear the words “I love you,” but he didn’t like reading into his fights too much.