Chapter 8:

True Bonds, Part 2


All in all, this unlikely family would spend five years in these forests, living among nature and the wilderness. Throughout this time, Kyle was periodically sending reports to Computer about the biome's health, growth, and stability. His reports often had little of note, but to him and Computer that was a good thing, as it meant there was little need to interfere in the growth of the local wildlife.

Along with those reports were periodical updates about Caleb's growth, which would always be several paragraphs longer, a habit Computer repeatedly asked Kyle to curtail. At fifteen, Caleb had grown into a skilled hunter and forager, thanks in large part to Ella's sometimes reckless training regimen which often sent Caleb out into the woods on his own. Despite Kyle's initial reservations about leaving Caleb to fend for himself, Caleb soon grew into a man capable of surviving a night or two in the woods on his own, and he often did go on several-day-long hunting expeditions when the mood carried him. Kyle's worries soon turned into pride as he watched the boy he raised display his mastery over what he'd learned.

At the same time, there was no way he could not worry about him either. The closer he got to adulthood, the closer he got to doing remainer work on his own. Remainer teams of two or more were rare, especially those with the roles that he and Ella had. There weren't many of them, so they needed to spread out as much as they could to properly do their jobs, which meant at some point the two of them would have to separate with Caleb.

It was strange: he had no particular connection to Caleb, but the thought of separating from him brought a sense of dread he had rarely felt ever since he became a remainer. Having long transferred from organic cells and nerves to nanomachines and cybernetics, much of Kyle's emotions had long been dulled, but for better or worse, his time with Caleb seemed to bring them back in full force. He knew without asking that Ella felt the same way, even though she'd never admit it even if he had.

Yet time continued to pass despite Kyle's silent protests, and the order had finally come down for the three of them to end their surveillance and return to base for a new mission. When he relayed the news to Caleb, he could see sadness flash across his face before it was replaced by understanding. He had lived here for five years, after all. It couldn't be helped that he would feel attached to this place that had become his home in this strange world he had woken up in.

The three of them packed up quickly–only Caleb really had any necessities, after all–and were soon on the go once again. It had been a long time since the three of them had ever traveled outside of the forest, but for Kyle and Ella, those five years were essentially nothing more than a short break.

Kyle and Ella traversed the rough roads to the nearby relay tower with no problems, but Caleb was also weathering the trek quite well. He had spent years learning how to survive out in the wilderness, after all, and though the forests had now been replaced by sweeping hills and grasslands, there wasn't much different to worry about. Of course, Caleb still had to worry about procuring supplies and avoiding heatstroke, but those were merely minor problems he could easily take care of by himself.

And so the three-day journey to the nearest relay tower passed in an instant as the trio steadily made their way through the wildlands of Western Canada. Caleb recognized the tower from a distance, even though he had not seen one in five years. He gulped as he started to feel nervous. He was going to receive his first job as a remainer today.

Kyle noticed Caleb's apprehension. “What's wrong? You get nervous?”

“Not really,” Caleb replied defensively. “I'm ready for whatever Computer can throw at me.”

“Well, there's no need to get too worked up anyhow,” Ella chuckled. “Kyle and I are almost certain to accompany you to your first job, so it's not like it's going to be any different from how it's been so far.”

“I'm not doing this on my own?”

“Why? Did you want to?”

“Er, not exactly,” Caleb replied sheepishly. “I guess I just kinda assumed that would be the case.”

“Even we don't take on missions alone, you know,” Kyle remarked wryly. “You'll probably be given a partner in the future, and you'll have to cooperate with other remainer teams on bigger missions. Having us around isn't going to be all that different from what you'd normally be doing.”

“That makes sense,” Caleb noted, his nerves calming. “I suppose it can't be helped with it being my first job and all.”

It wasn't long before the three of them were deep inside the relay tower, standing in front of the massive screen where Computer's avatar was displayed. Caleb had not seen the polygonal blue face in quite a while, but he could not forget how it looked no matter how much time had passed.

“I see you have grown a bit,” the AI's synthetic voice echoed throughout the tower. “I assume that you are ready to take on the responsibilities of being a remainer.”

“Yes, that's right,” Caleb declared in a clear voice.

“Kyle is a surveyor while Ella is a scavenger. I assume that whatever skills they taught you fell in line with those roles, so I'll assign you a job utilizing both skillsets so that I can determine which role would suit you the best.”

“No problems here!” Caleb replied.

“Good. Then listen carefully.” The display changed to an image of a rocky wasteland lined with canyons and crevasses. “This is an image of a nearby flatland, situated around what used to be the Northwest United States. As you can see, a recent massive earthquake has devastated the area, turning the area into a treacherous location.”

“What do you want us to do there?” Kyle asked.

“My records indicate that the plains were once a location for some sort of human facility, though I am unaware of its function, since it was closed down long before my programming. Because of that, it had always been an area of low priority in my algorithms, but this earthquake has changed all that. Your mission is to inspect the area and ensure that there are no artifacts from human civilization that might cause damage to the local wildlife.”

“What do you expect us to find there?” Ella asked warily.

“I am unable to answer that,” Computer replied. “The data for this area is woefully inadequate. Whoever compiled the information for this location was clearly insufficient in their work ethic.”

“I gues there's nothing else for us to do but check the place out,” Kyle sighed. “Computer, you've made the arrangements I asked you about, right?”

“Indeed. We have plenty of supplies for Caleb to use at his discretion.”

“Then let's get prepared,” Kyle declared as he clapped Caleb on the shoulder. “We've got a long journey ahead of us, after all.”

The trio went down into the storage room below, where boxes of dried and preserved food and jugs of water lined the walls. Caleb was surprised at the amount of food that was available.

“There's no way all of this was found, right?” Caleb asked, still in disbelief. “All of this is way too newly prepared for that to be the case.”

“No, this was prepared recently by the other remainers,” Kyle replied with a small chuckle. “Not all at once, of course–but any time one of them was free, they'd contribute a bit to their local relay tower's stock. We've got nothing better to do, after all.”

“They're not doing all that for me, are they?”

“Who else would they be doing it for?” Kyle asked with a shrug. “You're the only human left on this planet, as far as we know. None of us want you to die, especially not over something as simple as food.”

Caleb was speechless. He knew that Kyle and Ella treated him differently because he was human, but he had no idea that the other remainers also held him up as someone special. It really drove home the fact that his humanity was something the other remainers treasured.

Not wanting to waste any more time, Caleb quickly gathered his provisions, picking out a thick bag of smoked jerky, as well a smaller bag carrying dried fruits and nuts. He then filled two canteens full of water, finishing up his preparations for his first mission as a remainer.

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