Chapter 7:

True Bonds, Part 1


During the Earth's darkest times, when war was sweeping the planet, many of its forests and wildlife were destroyed, burned away by the fires of battle. Thankfully, those days were long over, and after hundreds of years of careful maintenance by remainers as well as the wilderness' natural healing factor meant that the Earth was once again covered with lush forests and greenery.

It was in one of these lush forests, located deep in Western Canada, that Kyle found himself admiring the area's lush and invigorating wildlife. He had spent the past few centuries since humanity's departure from Earth watching over the land's regrowth, and while he had little to do with the forests' revival, he felt a warm swelling of pride at its restoration.

His silent reverie was interrupted by a rather loud holler echoing through the trees as a great moose barreled through the forest at a breakneck speed. Atop it was young Caleb, who was let out a panicked shout as he held onto the moose for dear life.

“Kyle! Help me!”

Kyle sighed as he leapt up onto the branches of a nearby tree and waited for the moose to pass by. As it did, he quickly grabbed Caleb and picked him right off the moose's back, leaping down once the moose had run off entirely. Caleb sighed as he found himself on solid ground again.

“Thanks for the help! That was pretty close!”

“I think that's an understatement, don't you?” Kyle said reproachfully, knocking him lightly on the head. “What did you do to get that moose worked up like that? Didn't I say you needed to respect wildlife?”

“But I didn't do anything!” Caleb objected. “I was just wandering around, minding my own business, when that moose suddenly came after me! If it weren't for my quick thinking, I'd be a smudge on the ground right about now.”

Kyle sighed. “Well, it is mating season. I suppose a male bull might get agitated by someone unfamiliar wandering its territory. Never mind that. Where's Ella?”

“She said she was going to hunt some deer for tonight's dinner. She told me to go look for one on my own too–that's why I was wandering around.”

“She's having you hunt on your own already? Isn't it a little bit too soon for that?”

“But I'm already twelve years old!”

“Only by estimation. Come on, let's go find her.”

Caleb grumbled, but he obediently followed Kyle as he tracked down Ella's location. He had grown a lot in the two years he had been living with them, and while Kyle had never thought about being a father, he couldn't deny that seeing Caleb grow had made him feel somewhat proud. Having said that, the boy was clearly taking more after Ella than him; he was much bolder than he was when they first found him, and he was a little too reckless at times as well. Kyle couldn't help but worry as Caleb continued to grow older and bolder.

The two of them eventually arrived at a clearing, where they found Ella, her clothes covered in dirt and blood. Slung over her shoulders was a giant deer, already skinned and dressed.

“There you are,” Ella remarked when she noticed Caleb approaching her. “Kyle's here, too. Come on, let's get back.”

“Don't try to scoot past the problem here,” Kyle said scoldingly, eyebrows arched in annoyance. “What are you doing telling the kid to go hunting by himself? He almost got into some serious trouble, you know.”

“He has to start at some point, Kyle,” Ella said with a shrug. “You can't baby him forever. Besides, I was close by. I only took my eyes off him for a few seconds, I promise.”

“You shouldn't have taken your eyes off him in the first place,” Kyle sighed. “Never mind. Let's get going, all right?”

The three of them began trekking through the woods. Were it their first time there, they couldn't be faulted for getting lost in the expansive forest, but the trio had been living in the forest for two years now, so even Caleb had familiarized himself enough with the local terrain to make his way through with ease. Their destination was a log cabin situated at the very top of a large hill, where the three of them had been living ever since they came here.

It was the result of convenient circumstance and necessity that the three of them came to live in this forest. Computer needed someone to survey the growth of this particular biome over a long-term period, and Kyle was one of the best remainers to ask. Furthermore, staying in one place made it easier to raise and train a child like Caleb, so there was basically no reason for them to reject the job. For Kyle and Ella, they had spent most of the last few centuries on the move, so staying in one location for a long period of time gave them a strange but nostalgic feeling.

As soon as they reached the cabin, Kyle and Ella butchered the deer, stripping it of all of its meat. They used salt to preserve a good portion of it for later, keeping the rest for the night's dinner. Kyle took Caleb to gather firewood, then watched as he attempted to start a fire. It was one of many survival skills that Caleb needed to learn if he wanted to survive a world devoid of modern conveniences.

Thankfully, Caleb was a studious sort, and starting a fire had long become a simple task to him. Before long, he was enjoying the warmth of a crackling fire just as the sun began to sink below the horizon. Kyle used the deer's bones to boil some soup as Ella cooked its meat over the fire. Their cooking was simple, but Caleb never uttered a word of complaint.

Once the meal was done, the sky had already turned dark. Caleb idly watched the stars slowly begin to appear as he digested the night's meal. As he did, Kyle noticed a cut on the back of Caleb's hand, lightly dripping with blood.

“What's that? Did you get hurt?”

“Oh, that? It must have happened when I was making the fire. No big deal.”

“Don't be ridiculous. If it gets infected, you'll be eating those words.” Kyle took out a first aid kit and started cleaning the wound with a cloth and some alcohol.

“You're overreacting,” Caleb sighed. “The cut's not so bad, you know?”

“Being careful never hurts,” Kyle rebutted. “You're not like us, remember? If you get hurt, you can't get up and walk it off like we can.”

“You don't have to remind me,” Caleb said, sulking. “I know I'm not like you guys.”

“I'm sorry, but it's the truth,” Kyle asserted. “That's why you have to take care of yourself. It's not just about dying – even bad injuries need to be avoided. We have a lot of technology here, but very little of it is suited for medical application. If you end up needing to amputate a limb, it'll only make it harder for you to live in this world.”

“I get it already,” Caleb grumbled. “I'll be more careful.”

Once Kyle finished cleaning up Caleb's wound, he got up and went into the cabin to sleep. Kyle remained at the campfire with Ella; neither of them needed sleep, so they often watched over the area to make sure any wild animals didn't approach.

“Never thought I'd end up being a parent,” Kyle remarked as he stared at the crackling embers of the fire. “I bet my past self would be more shocked to see me doting over a kid than seeing me wandering the Earth in a cybernetic body.”

“It's not a bad thing, is it?” Ella asked with a smirk on her face. “Besides, Caleb's a good kid. He's pretty obedient, even if he's gotten a little rough around the edges.”

“If he's rough, it's entirely because of you,” Kyle sighed. “I'd like to meet the parents that turned you out.”

“Hey, I was always a rowdy gal, regardless of what my parents wanted from me,” Ella laughed. “My brother, though, he was much more mild-mannered than I was.”

Kyle chuckled, but he was surprised to hear Ella speak about her family. She tended not to talk about them as it always brought back too many memories, but Caleb must have stirred some of those nostalgic feelings back inside her.

“I wonder if I'll ever actually see them again,” Ella suddenly said out loud. “I know they're probably sleeping on the expeditionary ship and all, but it's little comfort. After all, how do we even know that the ship is still out there?”

“Don't think about that,” Kyle said sternly. “We can't confirm its status either way, so it'll do you no good to wonder about that now. You have to have faith, otherwise you won't be able to function.”

“But what does it matter even if I do have faith, even if my family does return home? I'm a cyborg who's lost all semblance of humanity. Can I even call myself the same person that said farewell to them centuries ago?”

A deep silence fell between the two of them, with only the sound of the fire audible. “Do you regret it?” Kyle finally spoke up. “Becoming a remainer.”

“Of course I regret it.” Ella replied. “I've been doing this for centuries, after all.”

“Well, I regret it too,” Kyle admitted. “But I also know that if I could do it all over again, I'd make the same choice. That's because the reason I became a remainer is because we had hope the Earth could revive, right?”

“..You're right,” Ella admitted after some hesitation. “I guess after so many years on the road doing job after job, that feeling disappeared.”

“Can't blame you there. Still, there's nothing we can do to change the choices we've made, so we should make the most of the lives we've got now, right?”

Kyle glanced back at the cabin behind him. “The life we've lived these past couple of years hasn't been so bad, has it? You, me, and Caleb as a new family–we can't replace your old one, but you can still lean on us in times of need.”

Ella chuckled awkwardly in response. “Am I supposed to be the mother in this family? I don't know how I feel about that.”

“You don't have to be anything,” Kyle replied. “As long as we're there for each other, that's all that matters.”

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