Chapter 4:

A Lost Child, Part 4


“This is an incredibly preposterous circumstance,” buzzed a synthetic voice deep into the heads of Kyle and Ella. “In the first place, I have no records of a missing cryogenic pod chamber being reported during the expeditionary ship's launch.”

“That could've been for any number of reasons,” Kyle suggested. “Maybe the supervisor in charge decided not to mention the missing chamber, or the incident might have been covered up to save the face of some powerful politician. The fact is, there was a chamber left down here, and this kid was in it.”

“A troublesome hypothesis, but I cannot deny the proof in front of me.”

As Kyle spoke with the disembodied voice, Caleb looked around for its source. He was at the top of a giant tower that stood tall in the middle of the dusty wasteland he had spent the last day wandering through with Kyle and Ella. Unlike the primitive and ravished environments he had seen so far, the tower looked incredibly alien, as if he had suddenly been transported to the future. The tower's insides were no different, as they were covered in all kinds of futuristic technology that Caleb had no way of giving a name to.

“Boy!” the voice suddenly boomed. “Tell me your name.”

Caleb looked around, searching for the source of a voice he could not find. Kyle playfully tapped him on his shoulder and pointed out a light blue screen sitting at the top of the large wall they were facing. There, Caleb saw the image of a polygonal face which seemed to stare down at him despite its featureless expression.

“C-Caleb,” he stammered as he nervously answered the voice's question. “Um... are you a ghost?”

Ella burst out laughing at Caleb's query. “That's a good one there!”

Kyle smirked as he ruffled Caleb's hair reassuringly. “This is Computer. You've heard us mention him once or twice by now, right? It's an artificial intelligence network that monitors the Earth's status and gives us tasks to take care of. You can think of it as our boss, basically.”

“I see.” Caleb was still somewhat confused, but he didn't want to drag the conversation down by asking for further details.

“If we're done horsing around, I have a very important thing to ask Caleb,” Computer boomed. Caleb quickly snapped to attention, rigidly awaiting the system's questions.

“Unfortunately, it seems my creators did not expect anything like this to happen when they wre programming me. As a result, I am unable to decide on what should happen with you. Therefore, I'll ask you directly: how do you want to live from now on?”

The question was not one that could be answered lightly. Even if Caleb had not suffered memory loss, he was still a young child in a desolate world with no society or civilization. He didn't have many options if he wanted to stay alive.

Caleb glanced up at Kyle and Ella, who were also awaiting his answer. “Can I stay with them?” he asked innocently.

“Oh, that doesn't sound like a bad idea,” Kyle remarked.

“Are you kidding?” Ella rebutted. “You know what kind of jobs we get up to, right? We can't take a kid with us. He'll be in constant danger! Hell, he almost got hurt getting here!”

“He'll be in danger no matter what he decides to do,” Kyle argued back. “At the very least, he's going to need someone like us to help him out. Besides, he'll need to learn survival skills if he's going to be living on Earth, no matter what he decides to do. If that's the case, aren't we the best ones to teach him?”

Ella still seemed hesitant, but she couldn't argue against any of Kyle's points. Computer seemed to take that as a sign to jump in itself. “I'm also in favor of this resolution. The boy cannot stay here, as this relay tower was not created for long-term habitation, but the outside world is too dangerous for a lone child. You two were the ones who found him, so you should be the ones to care for him.”

“So that's how it's going to be, huh?” Ella grumbled. “You really don't pull your punches, do you?”

“I-I'm sorry for causing you trouble,” Caleb apologized.

“Look at that, you're making the kid apologize,” Kyle jabbed at Ella cheekily. “Have a heart, will ya?”

“I didn't say I was against it!” Ella growled. “But I have no idea how to raise a kid. Having to take care of Caleb while doing our usual missions is going to be tougher than you think, Kyle.”

“Well then, why don't we test to see how much it'll affect your jobs?” Computer asked. “As it happens, I have some simple tasks for the two of you to do. Take the child along with you and see if watching over him actually interferes with your ability to work.”

A loud beep sounded as Computer sent the mission details straight into Kyle and Ella's brains. The two stood still for a moment as they processed the information, then broke out of their trance as if they were simply lost in thought.

“That doesn't sound too hard, now does it?” Kyle glanced over at Ella.

“No. I can't complain about getting some easy work now and then either.” Ella sighed and put her hands on her hips. “So, are we doing this?”

“Yep.” Kyle turned to Caleb and gave him a warm smile. “Follow us. Don't worry; it's not too far from here. We should get you out of that suit, though; you can't expect to wear it for the long term.”

The tower had several levels, each one dedicated to various specific maintenance labs and offices necessary for maintaining the Earth's environment. At the bottom level below the ground floor was a massive storage area, which was mostly made up of the many things the remainers had salvaged since humanity left the planet. Among these were a giant pile of clothes and fabrics that had been gathered over the years.

“Not a lot of children's clothes here,” Ella observed as she sifted through the piles of clothes. “In the worst case scenario, we'll have to break these down to make something that fits Caleb.”

“Well, let's give these clothes a proper search before we resort to that,” Kyle remarked. “Caleb, if you see something you like, just let us know.”

Caleb looked through the clothes, but it was hard to tell which clothes appealed to him and which wouldn't. They were surprisingly well-preserved considering how haphazardly they were kept, but even then the colors had been faded and the material was on the brink of coming apart. At this point, he was fine with anything so long as it kept him warm.

In any case, Caleb was less curious about clothes and more interested in what Kyle and Ella did as remainers. “What kind of job did Computer want you to do?” He asked Kyle as he continued to dig through the clothes.

Kyle hummed as he thought about how best to explain his job to Caleb. “Well, first let's talk about what kind of jobs we do. As remainers, we're not all sent to do the same jobs. We each have specializations based on the kind of experience and skills we used to have back when we were just normal humans. Do you understand what I'm saying so far?”

“Yeah.” Caleb nodded diligently.

“Well, depending on those specializations, we're given different types of jobs to do. For example, Ella is a scavenger. She usually gets jobs to hunt down relics of old civilization and either bring them back here or take them apart so they don't negatively affect the natural environment they're found in.”

“So Ella brought all this back here?”

“Not on her own, but essentially,” Kyle laughed. “It'd be like her to make a mess like this, too.”

“Are you a scavenger too, Kyle?”

“No, I'm a surveyor. I basically go place to place and check to make sure that nature is progressing normally. If leftovers from human civilization are affecting nature adversely, or if there's something that might make it hard for humans to live in a particular area, it's my job to report it so that other remainers can take care of it.”

Caleb made a face as if he was trying quite hard to understand what Kyle's job was. Kyle laughed heartily as he watched Caleb's brow furrow deeper and deeper. “Well, don't think about it too much. You'll have plenty of time to learn, after all.”

After a bit more searching, Kyle and Ella finally found some clothes that would fit Caleb, and his regulating bodysuit was replaced with a set of travel-ready clothes. Caleb shifted a little uneasily in his clothes as Kyle inspected the cloth.

“Well, it's a little worse for wear, but I think it'll hold for at least a few days,” Kyle remarked. “We'll try having some clothes put together for you once we get back from this mission.”

“Do you guys get clothes like this too?” Caleb asked. Kyle and Ella's clothes looked a lot newer and durable compared to his, after all.

“We'll show you how we get our clothes later, kid,” Ella replied gruffly. “For now, we need to head out. You're good to go, right?”

Caleb nodded vigorously. “All good.”

“All right, let's go then,” Kyle declared. “The location's a few days from here, so the faster we get moving, the better.”

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