Part I: Boy Meets Girl, Shit Hits Fan
“Look Eve... I’m going to need a favor.”
“Oh come on!” Torin exclaimed impatiently, “I’m sorry about before alright?”
Eve regarded Torin with a look that could kill. “I highly doubt the sincerity in your voice.”
“Ok, ok... how can I make it up to you?”
Sitting on the ground inside a camoflaged military tent, Torin’s face was lit up by the glow from the T-unit as he pleaded with Eve.
“What can I do?” He asked in a frustrated tone.
In her digital classroom, Eve reclined in a stiff office chair and began drumming her long red nails on the desk in front of her.
“I guess that depends.” She said shortly. “What is this favor?”
“Well...” Torin replied slowly. “I need you to temporarily disable the communication link between the T-Unit and my Father’s monitoring device.”
“I know, I know!” Torin said hastily. “It isn’t something that is in your programming... but my Father told me that it was technically possible for you to edit the T-Unit code. Is that true?”
Eve thought for a moment. “Yes, that is something I would be able to do.” She replied confidently. “However, given our current relationship status, I do not believe I am inclined to help you.”
Torin turned his arm away and fumed silently for a few seconds. He was running out of time. The Bowl, the town that Katrina wanted to meet him at was about a half-hour hike on a good day, and now that it was only hour until sunset he was quickly running out of daylight. He needed to disable the T-Unit’s link to his Father if he wanted any hope of going into town undetected... especially if anything happened with Katrina... he didn’t need his Father interrupting something important.
“Please Eve!” Torin pleaded. “I will do anything!”
Eve perked up a bit and Torin could swear that he saw a glimmer of retribution in her eyes.
“Anything you say?” She asked with mild interest. “Ok Torin... we are going to have a little quiz.” She said as she stacked a few papers on her desk. “And if you pass, I will help you.”
Torin smiled thankfully, but on the inside he was cursing at Eve with every ounce of his soul. “Sounds fair.” He stated with only the slightest clench of his jaw. “Let me guess... is it about The City’s history?”
“Aren’t you a bright one Torin!” Eve congratulated him in a slightly mocking tone. “Definitely a good start.”
Torin witheld the urge to punch something, and with nostrils flaring, tried his best to calm himself down with a deep breath. “Ok then,” He grimaced. “Let’s get started.”
“Alright Torin,” Eve began. “I will ask you ten questions, and you must get seven of them right in order to pass. Understand?”
Torin nodded firmly as he attempted to prepare himself mentally for Eve’s questions.
“Question one...” Eve started brusquely, “Who is The City’s founder?”
“Easy.” Torin replied confidently. “Doctor John Kavelsky, or, as he is commonly known as nowadays, The Immortal.
“Correct. Question two. What did he invent?”
Torin thought about the question for a moment before responding. “Assuming that you are speaking of his initial invention... since he has had quite a few over the years, I would say that the answer you are looking for is nano-machines; in particular, ones that extend an individual’s life indefinitely based on a replenishing supply of stem cells.”
“Very good Torin,” Eve replied, looking surprisingly impressed. “Your critical analysis of the question was well thought out.”
Torin nodded impatiently and waited for the next question. Katrina was waiting, and any chance of him getting to know her better was banking on his performance. It was all business.
“Question three. When did The Ship leave Earth?”
“The year 2028, five years after Doctor Kavelsky announced that he had discovered Immortality.”
“Correct. Why did The Ship leave Earth?”
“The Earth had become uninhabitable due to a type of cost saving nano-machines that self-replicated. They began to evolve and spread throughout the human race like a disease.”
“I’m sorry Torin, that answer is technically incorrect.”
“WHAT!?” He yelled furiously.
“The Earth was and still may be inhabitable at this point in time.” Eve said patiently as she explained his mistake. “The Ship was built and designed as a safeguard against total annihilation of the human race, not as a result of an uninhabitable Earth. You have three out of four correct.”
“Ah for f... ok. Fine.” Torin responded between grit teeth. “Give me the next one.”
“Question 5. How many people left Earth on the ship destined for Gliese?”
“Five-hundred thousand people.”
“Correct. How long did the trip take?”
“Incorrect. It took twenty years, two months, one week, three days, and five-point-two-one hours... approximately.”
Torin slammed his fist on the ground. “GIVE ME A BREAK!”
Eve raised a questioning eyebrow.
Before he lost it completely, Torin noticed the time in the bottom right-hand corner of the T-Unit screen. Half an hour until sunset... not much time left. He decided that there was no point in arguing.
“Sorry.” He said as he clenched and unclenched his hand repeatedly in an attempt to dissipate the anger that was building up inside of him. “Please continue.”
“Question SEVEN.” Eve continued firmly. “What happened when the ship landed?”
Torin had to think hard about this one. He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead for several moments before answering. “Let’s see... well, they landed. And after seeing the desert-like conditions of Gliese, people didn’t want to leave the life support systems ship.”
Torin tried to remember what his Father had told him... this part of history was always a bit different depending on who was telling it.
“The stress on the Ship’s life support systems was too great,” He continued. “And after the passengers began to get violent, riots broke out as a result. People started to die.”
Eve nodded slightly for him to continue.
“Things were getting out of control,” He explained as he looked up at the ceiling in thought. “And as a result the Immortal and a few others staged a rogue nano-machine outbreak.”
Torin brought his gaze back to Eve and shrugged. “Of course, being fearful of what happened back on Earth, the majority of passengers cleared out immediately.”
Eve smiled for half a second and raised her chin. “You are correct so far.” She said pertly. “What happened next?”
Torin bit down on his knuckles as he tried to remember the rest of the story.
“Ok...” He continued slowly. “Then the Immortal set up a military-style dictatorship and forced the Ship’s passengers to begin constructing a settlement around the Ship...” He nodded with confidence and smiled. “Is that a thorough enough answer?”
“Yes that will do.” Eve replied with a pause. “However it is an incorrect response.”
Torin’s mouth opened in disbelief as Eve outlined the proper answer.
“The Immortal did not found The City with a military-style dicatatorship.” She pointed out with conviction. “He was elected through a fair democratic process.”
Torin turned his head away and strung a few choice curse words together before looking back at Eve.
“I should have known that would be a trick question.” He said angrily. “You were created by them... it makes sense that they would try to change history.”
Ignoring his outburst, Eve looked at him blankly. “Three questions left Torin,” She stated. “And you already have three wrong.”
Torin swallowed hard and closed his eyes while nodding in acceptance. “Ok... what’s the next one?” He asked tersely.
“Question eight.” Eve began with a condescending air. “What happened during the Rebellion?”
It was crunch time. Torin began to sweat as he prepared his next answer; he knew that he would have to keep his response skewed to what the administrators back in the City would find acceptable if he wanted to get the question right.
“The Civilians under the Immortal and his... democratic rule,” Torin started carefully. “Began to feel that they were given the short end of the stick. They wanted the comfort of the life support systems that the Ship offered... therefore, a group of these criminals got together and tried to overthrow the government.”
“Fantastic Torin!” Eve interjected brightly. “The speed of which you applied the new knowledge I gave you earlier is impressive. I believe that you may just have a good chance at being accepted into the City after all!”
Torin sighed and had to remind himself of the prize waiting for him at the end of this nightmare in order to control his suppressed rage.
“Then, in the middle of the revolution...” Torin continued without acknowledging Eve’s comment. “Is when the Exo’s showed up.”
The Exo’s... thought Torin gloomily as he looked at his black robotic arm. What a shock they would have been to the people arriving on Gliese. He couldn’t even imagine the terror the passengers would have felt in seeing them... did they really have no idea what they were getting into when they left Earth?
Torin tried unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh.
And they thought spiders were scary.
Eve regarded Torin with a worrisome look. “Is there something you find humorous about the Exo-Skeletal Lifeforms?” She asked in a disturbed voice.
Terrifying. Monstrous. Demons in every sense of the word. Rippers, Spitters, Stalkers... just some of more common Exo’s that he had come across -- all of them named after their preferred method of killing. No, he did not find them humorous.
Torin shook his head. “I’m sorry.” He said with a serious expression on his face. “I was thinking of something else.”
“Alright...” Eve said cautiously as she kept a worried eye on Torin. “To finish the question, please summarize what happened after the first Exo sighting.”
Taking a moment to clear his head of the nightmarish creatures, Torin shifted uncomfortably and tried his best to focus on something bright. Something happy. Something Katrina.
Katrina! Torin remembered with a jolt and glanced at the time... ten minutes until sunset. Well, he was definitely going to be late... the only thing left to determine was just how late he was going to be.
“Panic.” Blurted Torin.
“Panic...” He repeated grimly. “After the Exo’s showed up, everyone forgot about the Ship and began working together to defend themselves; there wasn’t time to squabble over who controlled what... especially when people were being torn to pieces.”
Torin couldn’t believe what he was about to say, but he knew that it was necessary if he wanted to pass the test.
“The Immortal saved the day.” He said with mock enthusiasm. “He had been working on a new type of nano machine that increased the strength of a human ten-fold, and with a small squad of fighters, the Original Six, they managed to quell the Exo attack.”
Torin sighed in a depressed manner, his Father would tear him in two pieces for saying these things... and he literally could, because like most of the Hunters in the Outerlands he had an impressive amount of Nanom’s installed; in particular, the ones that enabled him to rip sheets of steel like they were pieces of paper.
Rubbing his forehead with his hand, Torin managed to roll his eyes without Eve noticing.
“After successfully gaining control of the colony,” He continued. “The Immortal turned the Ship into an advanced military academy. And with the help of his elite soldiers, the Defenders, he has been protecting us ever since.”
Torin lifted his eyebrows questioningly.
“Well.” He said flatly. “Is that an acceptable response?”
“It is a bit shaky.” Eve replied with hesitation. “But yes it will do. Two questions left.”
A small sun icon on the bottom of the T-Unit blinked and was quickly replaced by a moon icon. Outside, the sun must have slipped beneath the horizon.
“Question nine...” Eve began.
Torin wished with all of his might that the next two would be easy.
“What was the Black City?”
Fragments of images and sounds rushed into Torin’s head. Crumbling walls, blood, smoke, screams of terror; Torin grimaced in pain as he tried to shake his mind clear. The entire city had been left in a charred black ruin. He was so close to remembering what happened...
Eve’s stern voice had snapped him back to reality.
“The Black City?”
“Oh, yes... right.” Torin said as he blinked rapidly for several moments. “That was the city that was formed by rebels and Citizens who wanted to take their chances and live by their own rules.”
“Correct. And what happened to the Black City?”
Torin was surprised. “That’s it?”
“Bonus question...” She said as an intense look came over her face. “What happens when you live outside of the City?”
He should have known.
“You die.” He said flatly.