Part I: Boy Meets Girl, Shit Hits
Oh Teacher My Teacher
"Citizen..." Chimed a metallic female voice. "Please answer the following multiple choice questions on the previous video clip of John Kavelsky's 2023 interview with Larry Richardson."
"No thanks." A boy's voice responded irritably.
Sitting on the lower ledge of a canyon that overlooked a small lake, a sandy-blonde haired boy in a worn out grey military outfit cursed emphatically at his arm.
"I hate you Eve." He said with a fed up gesture. "Just cut the crap and move onto the next topic."
Located on an LCD screen implanted in the boy's robotic left arm, a stern blonde woman with icy blue eyes regarded him coolly.
"Torin..." began Eve reproachfully, "It is imperative that you learn about the origins of The City's foundation, in particular, the role that Doctor Kavelsky played."
"Doctor Kavelsky is a d-"
Torin sighed and shook his head. "How many times do I have to tell you Eve, I don't care about politics and I don't want to learn about how 'The City' came to be... N-e-x-t topic you stupid A.I."
"Torin, even though I am an A.I.," Eve replied curtly, "That does not mean you can treat me as a lesser being. Perhaps this is news to you, but The City does not treat rebellious youth kindly."
Eve regarded Torin with what he could only hope to be derision.
"And..." she said in a warning tone, "I am in a position to report you."
Torin couldn't help but laugh at her.
"Every time we install an update and reboot you I love telling you this Eve..." Torin said with an evil grin. "You are a hacked T-Unit."
Just as the moment of shock was dawning on Eve, Torin lifted his robotic left arm that the T-Unit was implanted into and gave Eve the grand tour.
"Does this look like The City?" he asked in a mocking tone.
The desert-like landscape that surrounded them was broken up by several interlocking canyons with rivers running through them. One of the few areas that had water, it was able to support a few small bushes and trees, but little else.
Torin leveled his arm to get a good look at Eve and was quite happy to discover that she was in a state of barely contained rage.
"THIS IS PREPOSTEROUS! THIS IS T--"
"Treason?" Torin finished for her. "We go through this every time Eve," he said smugly, "And every time you say the exact same things... at least you are consistent I guess."
Judging by her silence, Torin knew that she was attempting to contact the head administrators back at The City.
"Won't work Ma'am." He said matter-of-factly. "We disabled your communication function years ago. You're stuck with me!"
Eve glared at Torin. "I don't see why you have divulged such information to me Torin, as I will now be unwilling to teach you anything."
Torin sighed patronizingly and shrugged at Eve. "You always end up figuring it out eventually." He stated. "I might as well get a bit of enjoyment out of it."
He let Eve process the newest tid-bit of information and took the opportunity to analyze the fox-like features of Eve.
She was a decently attractive middle-age woman, however the combination of her conservative blue dress, tightly pulled back hair and non-existent personality rendered her to be about as appealing as one of the spiders from Earth she had shown him.
"This is what we always agree on..." He said tiredly, "You promise to teach me everything in the course curriculum besides the political crap, and I promise that I won't make your digital existence a living hell. Plus..." he continued, "You get the opportunity to report me if I get captured and forget to reboot you. It's a win-win I guess." He said with a shrug.
Eve didn't say anything for quite awhile, but judging by the look on her face Torin knew that she had made up her mind to agree. It was a little discomforting to Torin when he thought about just how well he knew this cold-hearted A.I.
"No." She said flatly.
Torin was genuinely surprised. "Wow!" He said with a smile. "Sixth time's the charm I guess."
Eve stood up as straight and tall as her five inch by ten inch screen world would allow. "I will not help in the education of a rebel." She stated firmly.
Torin decided to move over to rest his back against the cliff face; he couldn't help but think that maybe the last spot he was sitting in was unlucky. Bringing her back up into view, he chose his next words carefully.
"Firstly, I am not a rebel." He clarified. "We, that's me and my Father, do not like the rebels either. They cause a lot of mayhem and get people killed."
Eve's firmly pressed lips seemed to relax slightly, and Torin figured that he was on the right track.
"We live outside of The City because we have to, not because we choose to." He said in a patient manner. "In fact," He continued, "I hope one day to apply and be accepted to live in The City." The last bit was a lie, but Torin hoped the truth in the rest of his story would compensate for it.
Eve regarded him warily, but seemed to be loosening up a bit. "You seem to be telling the truth," she said slowly, "But how did you manage to obtain a Civilian Teaching-Unit in the first place?"
Torin glanced at the unit that had been custom-built into his arm.
The small T-unit that was intended to be an all-inclusive textbook, encyclopedia, teacher, and City informant, was fused into a roughly cut resting place along the forearm of his skeletal-like metal arm. Going all the way up to his shoulder, the black metal arm was anatomically correct and worked as well as his real one did -- with only the occasional jerky movement every now and again. Looking at it now, he really wished his Father would have shelled out for the nicer model with realistic synthetic skin, but it was much easier to install a T-unit on a robotic arm without having to worry about skin growing over top of it. If he could have it his way however, he would have ditched the T-unit and gone for the realistic looking arm in a heartbeat. Because even though he had never talked to a girl his own age, he was a sixteen year-old boy after all, and you never know when an opportunity could arise.
"Did you or your Father murder an innocent Civilian for one?" Eve asked suspiciously.
"Of course not!" Torin responded heatedly. "It's my Father's job out here to protect people, and I would never kill anyone to get a T-unit... I don't even want to have you on my arm." He said truthfully.
"Well then where did you 'acquire' me?" Eve asked with a raised eyebrow.
Torin peered down at the deep blue waters of the lake below as he tried to recall the story. It had been so long ago... maybe when he was eight years old? Him and his father had just settled down in one of their first homes after fleeing from Black City and Torin only had a prosthetic arm at the time. Yes, must have been about 8 years ago he thought to himself. He remembered something about a very sad lady who thought that her son looked a lot like him.
"Two years after the Black City disaster" Torin began, "My Father and I were looking for a place to settle down and came across a small town near the outskirts of The Wall."
Torin held his right arm in the rays of the midday sun that had just began to peek over the canyon top.
"We met a lady there, she was nice... but very depressed. She had lost her son in a Ripper attack, and I guess he would have been my age at the time."
Torin glanced back at Eve to find her watching him closely. "My Father talked to her," He continued, "Helped her grieve... we had lost some of our family as well."
Torin was surprised that Eve was going to be the first person, or perhaps thing, he considered, that he was going to tell this story to. Whoever or whatever it was to, it felt good talking about it anyhow.
"I don't remember them," He said softly, "But I used to have a Mother and two sisters..." Torin reflected on the memory for a moment before letting out a weak laugh. "And an arm." He said with a sad smile.
Eve didn't say anything.
"Anyhow," he said with a shrug, "The lady's husband had been a rebel supporter within The City and was executed. Her and her son were banished outside The Wall, and shortly after he died."
Torin picked up a rock and tossed it towards the lake below; he had to wait a few seconds before he heard a satisfying sploosh.
"For her," Torin said solemnly, "You were a constant reminder of the life she once had... And for me," He continued, "You were a chance to be normal... we came to an agreement I guess."
Eve glanced to the side and appeared to be pondering something. It was the first time Torin had ever seen her break eye contact with him, and he couldn't help but be a little unsettled over the human-like behavior she exhibited. Where did his father get this new version?
"Alright." She said begrudgingly, but as she did so her voice cracked a little.
Emotions? Thought Torin with surprise. This new T-Unit upgrade was turning out to be more complicated than he had bargained for.
"But I am going to teach you at least the basics of The City's foundation." She said in the stern tone of a seasoned instructor. "Because that is a very important topic for anyone living on the planet Gliese... City resident or otherwise."
Torin was relieved. What Eve didn't know about her previous reboots, was that it normally took him weeks or even months for him to convince her to start teaching him again. And if he wasn't completing the curriculum at the pace his Father set for him, then his Father wasn't teaching him how to hunt Exo's. 'A dumb Hunter is a dead Hunter' -- it was his Father's favorite line.
"Ok Eve," Torin said in an friendly tone, "We have an agreement."
Eve sat down behind a desk in her bland digital classroom and looked at a set of notes. "I'm going to have to have a little chat with your Father though." She said grimly. "If these records are correct, your grades are looking quite sub-par."
Torin laughed and shook his head. Looks like the sympathetic Eve is gone for now. He thought to himself wryly.
"Alright Eve," Torin said as he stretched out his limbs. "We'll have to pick this back up later though. It's getting hot out here and I need to have a break."
Eve glanced up from the papers. "Ok Torin, but before you go could you please answer one question regarding the video I showed you previously?"
Torin sighed. "Sure."
"What do you think of the City's Founder Dr. Kavelsky?"
"The Immortal? Torin asked off-handedly and considered the question for a moment. "I hope he burns in hell."
Eve blinked rapidly as if she had just been slapped in the face.
"Go to sleep Eve." Torin quickly commanded before she could reply.
The T-Unit shutdown and the screen went blank.
Torin let out a long breath, he knew that his little comment wasn't going to go over well when he turned the unit back on again.
Let her steam on that one for awhile. He thought to himself with a grin.
"Whew!" Torin exhaled and rested his head against the cool canyon wall, the entire ordeal had left him exhausted. "It would have been easier to kill a Stalker." He said tiredly to himself and closed his eyes.
He couldn't get comfortable for long though, because just as he was considering the pros and cons of having a quick nap, the sound of laughter startled him.
Torin's eyes flashed open.
Someone had been watching him.
"I don't know about that." Said an unknown voice skeptically, "Even people with two fully-functional arms have a hard time killing a Stalker."
Whatever chance this mysterious person had in winning Torin over disappeared with their little comment about his arm.
"Where are you and who are you?" Demanded Torin angrily as he pushed off the canyon wall and crouched into a fighting stance.
Fuming, he was ready to show the voice just how dangerous he could be.
"Yikes," the voice said with a hint of amusement, "Tough crowd..."
Torin tried to locate where the voice was coming from, but his normally accurate hearing was distorted by the echoing of the canyon walls and he couldn't pinpoint where the figure was hiding.
He scanned the rocks across from him and was just about to move closer when the voice called out again.
"Coming down!" the mysterious figure yelled in a warning tone.
Hearing the scraping of rocks, Torin looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of long thin limbs and brown hair falling fast towards him.
Rolling quickly to the side, he barely avoided a boot to the head as the figure landed nimbly where he had been sitting just moments ago.
Furious, Torin stood up and lunged towards the trespasser in an attempt to push them off the ledge and into the lake below.
Turning in surprise at the last second, the intruder looked at him with wide eyes.
Wide feminine eyes.
Torin stopped abruptly.
The intruder was a girl, he realized with a jolt.
And a beautiful one at that.
Glancing back at the dangerous drop Torin had been planning to launch her off of, the girl looked back at Torin and smiled charmingly. "Oh come on," She said playfully, "You wouldn't hurt a girl would you?"
Torin eyed her warily. "We'll see about that." He responded flatly.
Backing away from her several steps, Torin analyzed the intruder closely. She was absolutely gorgeous.
Probably just a little bit older than himself, she had the curves of a young woman, but the slimness of youth. Her hazelnut eyes were framed by long dark-brown hair that was parted in the front and tied into a long pony-tail that ran down to her smoothly arching lower back. She wore a tight fitting white jumpsuit that didn't leave very much to the imagination, and she was by far, by leaps and bounds, the most attractive girl Torin had ever met.
Realizing he had been staring at her for a few seconds longer than he should have, Torin quickly looked away to avoid being caught.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, a little less angry this time.
A smile tugged at the girl's cheek as she stood up tall and crossed her arms. "That's not a very nice way to introduce yourself you know..." She said in a condescending tone. "Hasn't your Father taught you how to talk to women?"
Torin went beet red. "Look!" He said defensively, "I'm not the one eavesdropping and jumping on people!"
The girl laughed. "Well for that I apologize." She said sincerely, "But it's what you get for hanging out on 'my' ledge for the past two days."
Torin's eyes narrowed. How long had she been spying on him for? Remembering his Father's warnings about interacting with the townsfolk, Torin's metal arm clicked as he crossed his arms and frowned at the girl.
"You better explain yourself before I decide to push you over that ledge after all." He said in a warning tone.
The girl sighed heavily. "Looks like you have a lot of work to do if you're ever going to get a girl to like you." She said and shook her head patronizingly.
"Well then tell me who the hell you are!" Torin said angrily, "You've obviously learned all about me in the past few days, how am I supposed to trust someone I don't know?"
The girl thought for a moment before responding.
"Hmm, ok." She said as she seemed to make up her mind about something.
She held out a hand towards him.
"I'm Katrina" She said with a smile.
Torin wasn't amused by the friendly gesture and kept his arms crossed.
Katrina rolled her eyes. "Well aren't you a prick." She said in exasperation and put her hands on her hips.
Torin raised an eyebrow.
"It's really too bad" Katrina said in an irritated tone as she turned away from him and started walking towards the ledge drop off, "I thought you were kinda cute."
Torin opened his mouth to reply, but all he managed to get out was a meek, "Uhh..." before Katrina turned and started running towards the drop off.
"Whoa!" Torin exclaimed, "What are you do-!" Before he could finish his sentence Katrina leapt off the edge with a powerful kick.
And as soon as she had arrived, she was gone.
Rushing to the edge, Torin peered down at the lake more than 80 feet below for a sign of the crazy girl who had just jumped into it.
He saw her straight away.
Floating calmly in the crystal clear water, Katrina swept her back and looked up at Torin expectantly.
"Last chance!" She yelled.
The echoes of her voice off of the canyon walls reverberated in Torin's skull long after they had been blown away by the wind.
"Ah God Dammit!" Torin cursed at himself.
Why did I have to act like such an asshole when she first showed up? He thought to himself angrily. She thought you were cute you idiot!
Torin stepped away from the ledge and tried his best to think about his options intelligently.
He could just ignore the girl and maybe talk to... Who? Eve? He thought to himself with a laugh. She was probably going to tear him a new one for insulting The Immortal the first chance she got.
"Or..." He said to himself with a smile. "You could go talk to the beautiful girl who thinks you are cute."
Torin considered what his Father might have to say about the whole idea.
Fairly lenient on how Torin conducted himself during the time he was away on assignments, his Father had but one golden rule: Stay hidden and don't talk to anyone. Torin was positive that his Father would toss his ass into a Ripper den if he told someone about what him and his Father were up to.
Torin reflected on the last time he had crossed his Father. It had been 6 years ago and even then he had gotten a pretty good hiding for simply talking to a wheat farmer about the weather. Now, they were camped out next to one of the roughest towns in the Outerlands, "The Bowl"... or "Barbwire" as the local gang of bandits had recently renamed it, and crossing his Father would mean serious punishment this time around.
Old Markus would sure be pissed if I messed around. He thought to himself gloomily.
Despite his reservations, Katrina had just reminded him of a second interest that had been exponentially gaining in importance... especially in the last couple years.
Torin made his way back over to the ledge and peered down at the lake. Swimming slowly on her back, Katrina's toned body became momentarily visible with each stroke she took. Barely covered by a layer of shallow water, Torin imagined what Katrina might look like when wet.
Any misgivings about displeasing his Father disappeared entirely.
Ah... what could go wrong?
Analyzing the lake below for the optimum spot to land, Torin chose a spot to the right of a very large and intimidating rock that jutted out several meters from the canyon wall. If he remembered correctly, judging by where Katrina had been swimming initially he was fairly certain that Katrina had aimed for the same spot. Fairly certain.
Katrina noticed him peeking over the edge and waved.
"I'm waiting!" She called up to him cheerfully.
Torin would have replied, but he was so nervous that he would have been more likely to rain down a stream of vomit than a witty remark.
Watching his chosen point on the ledge carefully, Torin backed up until he was about ten feet away and lined up the jump.
He closed his eyes and tried to build up all of the courage he could through sheer willpower.
"GO!" He shouted to himself and released the pent up energy.
Apparently he didn't have enough will, because when he opened his eyes he was still in the same spot.
"God dammit Torin!" He yelled at himself. "You're such a pussy!"
He stood up and began punching and kicking furiously at the dropoff ten feet away.
Surprisingly, it seemed to help a little, because bit by bit, he started to get closer and closer with each strike. Soon, after a few consecutive combos in a row, he was shuffling, then shambling, then jogging, and then finally full out sprinting towards his jump point.
The edge of the cliff came faster than he had wanted it to, but in a matter of seconds it was there, and there was nothing he could do about it.
His heart skipped a couple beats, and with all of his strength he pushed off a small rock to launch into the air -- and slipped.
Now he was falling, face first, arms flailing, and over the rush of wind he thought he could hear a girl screaming in terror.
The water came quick, and it came hard; there was a cool rush, followed by a bloom of pain, and then blackness.