Chapter 13:

An Unusual Pair, Part 1


A young man sitting on a giant boulder flipped through an old book, taking care to avoid crumbling its worn pages. His long and curly blond hair was tied back in a loose ponytail, and his clothes and large pack made it clear he was some sort of traveler. In actuality, he was a remainer, a cyborg made of nanomachines and cybernetics that used to be human.

His partner Rael, a brown-skinned man with short black hair, emerging from the nearby forest, having left to scout out the local area. He noted the book the young man was holding and raised an eyebrow. “Aren't you done with that book already, Escher? You know Computer doesn't like us carrying artifacts of the past around like this.”

“What's one book to it anyhow?” Escher replied wryly. “Besides, if it was really that bad, why weren't rules like that hard-wired into our programming? Sounds counterintuitive to just let us do whatever we please.”

Rael sighed and sat down on a rock next to him. “What's that book about, anyway? The cover's so faded I can't even read the title anymore.”

“Just some post-apocalyptic story about a lawless civilization,” Escher explained with a yawn. “Ironic, don't you think?”

Rael merely smirked in response. “Sci-fi authors were always obsessed with the end of the world back then. Course, when it really looked like the world was about to end, interest in that genre mysteriously evaporated.”

Escher fell back onto the boulder and looked up to the sky. Mentally, he imagined that he'd yawn at a moment like this, but no such urging welled up from inside him. “They'd probably feel stupid for panicking if they knew what it was actually like here. It's so peaceful that it's boring.”

After gazing at the sky for a little longer, he glanced over at Rael. “Well? See anything out of the ordinary?”

Rael shook his head. “Nothing. You sure the report was accurate?”

“Well, that's what we came here to check, right? Supposedly the local drones caught sight of a toxic waste container nearby.”

“Well, if there is, there's no signs of it in the local forest. Just rocks and trees everywhere.”

Escher glanced around. They were sitting at the foot of a mountain, in the middle of a vast forest. The mountain was far from massive–they could easily reach the peak before the end of the day– but it would certainly be quite the trek. Escher didn't feel exhaustion, but he could certainly imagine it, and the thought of climbing the mountain tired him out before he even took a single step.

As he hopped down from the boulder and prepared for a long trek, he suddenly caught sight of a lone figure descending the mountain. He was surprised, since he hadn't noticed his tracker alert him to the presence of any nearby remainers. So who was coming down from the mountain?

His confusion was soon cleared once the figure arrived at the foot of the mountain. He was decked out in survival gear, carrying a pack that looked larger than the one Escher was carrying around. He was fully grown now, but only a few years ago he was still a fledgling remainer, struggling to learn the ropes. The only human remainer in the world: Caleb. Escher had heard of him a couple of times before, but this was his first time seeing him in person.

“What are you doing here?” Rael asked, seemingly nonplussed about meeting Caleb for the first time. “We didn't hear about you being here when we received our mission.”

“I'm just making my way through the region,” Caleb replied. “I thought I'd check out the mountain here, since I saw it in the distance.”

“I didn't get a report about that,” Rael remarked, clearly agitated. “Did you tell Computer that you were going to do so?”

“I didn't,” Caleb said matter-of-factly. “I wasn't aware there was a mission posted in this area.”

Rael sighed. “Well, did you find the container of toxic waste that was supposed to be here?”

Caleb nodded. “Must have been a false alarm. There was a container up there, but it's empty.”

“Did you report that to Computer?”

“Can't. I'm not chipped the way everyone else is.”

Escher saw Rael visibly suppress a groan. “Then we can't take that at face value. We'll still have to go up and verify ourselves.”

Caleb shrugged. “Sure. I've got to be going anyhow.”

“On a mission?”

“To headquarters. Computer wants me there for some reason.”

Rael huffed. “Very well. But I would consider getting chipped, Caleb. It's inconvenient if fellow remainers don't have effective access to communication, especially in a world like ours.”

“I'll think about it,” Caleb replied with a small smile as he walked away. Rael watched him go with a scowl on his face.

“Like hell he'll think about it. He's been dodging the implant for several years now.”

“It's not a big deal, is it?” Escher asked. “If Computer insisted, I doubt Caleb would have been able to refuse in the first place.”

“I don't like it. He's clinging too much to staying human.”

“That attitude isn't too bad.” Escher watched Caleb walk off with a smile. “Lord knows we could be a little more stubborn when it comes to asserting ourselves.”

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