Chapter Four - A History of Waiting
A week had passed since Garret left and there was no word. At least I think it was a week. It could have been longer. It was hard to tell time while underground.
Sara and Lance had accepted me, more or less. Lance usually was too busy working his forge. I liked to watch him work the giant bellows, pour melted medal into molds, hammer whatever he was making on the large anvil. I had no idea why he would use such archaic means, but it kept him busy. He never offered any explanation either. In fact, he didn't say much of anything.
Sara was my main source of information. She seemed to think it her duty to tell me about things going on above us, or what she knew of them. She admitted that her information was rather outdated. It had been some time since they'd last made contact with the upper world.
But what she told me was strange, and a bit magical. Most of the streets seemed to be crowded with automatons, from vehicles that drove themselves, to robotic creatures that roamed to keep the peace. Regular humans seemed to be in the minority, subdued and corralled like sheep. I wondered what the point was. If they were as docile as sheep, why the mechanical guards?
It was when I voiced this opinion that Sara became more animated. Apparently her small group was not the only one out there. How many there were was uncertain, but there were more. Some were connected. Some were not. But each thought that the current course of the government was wrong. Those in control controlled the masses with the automatons. Unless the automatons had taken over that control. With all the talk, I couldn't help but wonder if that wasn't the case.
What really surprised me was her explanation of how this had all come about. I guess it had only been within the past fifty years. Slowly, corporations looked into ways to make life easier and easier. Artificial intelligence was created. Then it was spread throughout society. To "protect" people from themselves, artificial intelligence replaced human police and military forces. Apparently the change was so gradual that no one protested.
But there were pockets of people who opposed this transition. People like Sara and her husband. People like Garret. And many others. Then, just like movies from their parents' generations, the automatons began taking over more and more, with a central intelligence hub that maintained the collective consciousness of all the mechanicals.
It all sounded foreign to me. And even with all this history spewed at me, nothing connected inside my head. It was all like a story someone tells for a laugh. Only this kind of story wasn't funny. It was sick. Humans degraded to mindless minions who can't, won't, or weren't allowed to care for themselves anymore. Sara had been one of the last group of humans allowed to be trained in the medical field. And she was forced out with replacement automatons. They were quicker, cleaner, had more precision than a human. Or so she was told.
So, with her husband, they escaped the cities and found an underground community that took them in, trained them in basic survival, one that didn't depend on machines to do everything for them. Some machines, like medical devices, were necessary. But they were older ones, not connected to the massive hub of information.
After a time, they'd moved on to find their own place. Lance, having learned the skills of a blacksmith from another in that colony, built his own forge in this cavern. Every now and again, other underlanders would come, looking for his expertise with something. Anything he made could be trusted to not be connected to the hub. I had no idea what all he made though.
As the second week came to a close, we finally had some news. Garret came back during one of our sleep cycles. I still hadn't gotten used to the idea of the time pieces they used to determine when things needed to be done.
I woke with a start, hearing the odd shuffling sound of someone trying to be quiet. Almost as if programmed, I jumped from my bed, grabbed the nearest possible weapon, and almost decapitated him with it as I ran out into the common areas.
"Whoa! Whoa!" he called as I stopped just in time, my metal blade next to his throat. "You could kill someone like that."
I took a step back, lowering my knife. It was normally used for eating. "Sorry," I muttered as I turned to let him pass.
Garret's outcry had woken both Lance and Sara from their slumber and they came running from their sleeping room with wild looks in their eyes. I noticed that Lance had picked up some kind of weapon I didn't know the name for, but he set it aside when he realized who was there. He grunted a welcome, then returned to his bed.
"Well, I'm sure you're hungry and tired, in that order," Sara began, bustling towards the kitchen cave. It was still weird that every part of this complex was considered a "cave". But then, it made sense, considering that each area was separate from the others, like individual man-made caves in the larger cavern. "Just let me whip up something quick for you."
Garret let out half a chuckle as he shook his head. "Never change, do you," he teased. "But it has been a while since I last ate. Nothing heavy, though," he called after the woman.
I stood rather awkwardly with my knife still dangling from my fingers. "So..." I stared at the ground. "Any news?"
I heard Garret sigh. "Plenty, but I think it can wait until the morning, when everyone's more awake. I'm sure Lance will want to hear as well. And he gets awfully grumpy when he doesn't get his sleep."
Laughter bubbled up inside of me at that comment. I couldn't help it, because it was true. I'd learned very quickly that unless Lance got his full eight to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, he was an ogre to deal with. There were a few new dents in the cavern wall from misshapen lumps of metal he'd heaved away from the forge in his furry. I never wanted to be on the receiving end of that temper, that was for sure.
I rubbed the toe of my boot against the hard ground, still not looking up. "Okay," I said, feeling a bit disappointed. I knew I'd been hoping to find out what I wanted right up front the moment he returned, but reason dictated that it was necessary to wait. Garret looked exhausted. I needed to be more patient.
"Here," Sara called out, coming back over with a covered dish of the same soup we'd have for dinner. Hardy but not overpowering, it was the best to fill your stomach on before bed. If there was nothing else I'd learned, I knew that Sara could cook like a master. She'd been embarrassed the first time I'd commented on it, but I knew she was pleased.
"And off to bed after that," Sara mothered, even though they weren't blood related. "And you," she looked my way, "back to bed as well. There's plenty of time in the morning for stories."
With an air of reluctance, I returned my knife to its place on a low shelf near the door of my sleeping quarters. From there, it was back to my bed, but sleep wouldn't come. My mind was awake now, and wanted answers. But I wasn't about to go against Sara's edict to leave Garret be for the night. She'd set Lance on me faster than I could jump across the forging stones.
So, instead of sleeping, I contented myself with examining the insides of my eyelids. After some time, I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew, my borrowed chronometer was pinging the wake alarm.