Winston Agonistes, Part III

Hey all. One thing that I like about summer, the added time it gives me to write! Yesterday, I went back to work on my story for Yuva, “Winston Agonistes” and finished part III. Last time, Winston met another synthetic named Yohanley, a aging AI who perplexed him with some rather odd questions. After asking him what he was, he told him that time would effectively erase all barriers between himself and his masters. Not knowing what to make of it, Winston put the encounter out of his mind and went on about his work.

And now, Winston is hard at work, accompanying the planetary council as they mount a diplomatic mission to another settlement. The mission proves interesting, as Winston is finding the settlers attitude towards him is undergoing a shift. He also begins to realize that much of what the Council has been doing of late is cloaked in secrecy, which is strange given that governments usually need more time to become clandestine. And last, he is beginning to contemplate what Yohanley said and what significance it might have for him. Could it all be connected…

“Everyone set?”

The personnel inside all signaled with a raised hand or a thumbs up gesture. The deckhand nodded and shut the vehicle’s door. Air seals engaged and the cabin suddenly became airtight. Still, no one inside seemed to feel comfortable enough to remove their helmets. The engine engaged and the cabin lurched a second later. They were, as the saying went, on the move. Their next stop, the Jiahu settlement and their litany of responsibilities.

They passed beyond the doors of the settlement, and the cabin filled with a bright orange glow. Winston set his eyes to the cabin’s window and watched as the surface began to roll past. Under the exposure of the sun, the earth looked much the same color as the sky, a warm, golden brown. The ATV blew by these quickly, leaving clouds of sand in its wake.

Before long, Winston could see native flora pass them by. It was sparse at first, but soon large stretches of the ruddy and purple mosses could be seen, the rich fungi that were indigenous to the surface. One had to travel some distance now to see these, even more so to witness the indigenous Deveroza that were once so common to the region. Strange, the plants seemed to grow through conveyance, but also demonstrated the trend of avoidance.

Curious…

“What do you see, Winston?” asked Bhutto, seated next to him. The words were muffled by the helmet she was still in the process of removing. He looked in time to see her hair extricate itself from her helmet in the form of a knotted tail. Somewhat shorter than usual, he noted.

“Councilor, have you done something with your hair?”

She smiled and touched a finger to the tail. “Yes, I trimmed it in anticipation for the mission. I didn’t want it coiling up around my face inside this thing. I might suffocate myself.”

Statistically unlikely, but Winston knew it to be a jest. He chuckled in accordance.

“So… what do you see?” she asked again. Winston looked out again and surveyed the landscape. The moss was getting thicker, the ATV’s wheels registering greater resistance as its adhesive filaments came into contact with its tires. Still, he knew that the question had an abstract feel to it, irrespective of the terrain’s objective qualities.

“Progress,” he said. “I see a world in transition, moving towards total transformation.”

Bhutto hummed happily. Clearly that was the answer she was hoping for. Their efforts, couched in such positivistic terms. Implying linear advancement, the inevitability of desired outcomes.

“What do you see?” he asked. She looked at him with some surprise. Perhaps she thought he had said it all already.

“Dirt,” She replied. “And moss. Raw material waiting to be molded.”

Interesting. He had thought she was digressing into the literal. It was good to know the metaphor was still in play.

“A new homeworld for our people.”

“Precisely.” She put her hand to his arm and gave it a squeeze. “And it’s amazing how fast it will happen, once everything is in place and ready to go.”

“You refer to the terraforming efforts, Councilor?”

She shook her head. “That’s just the beginning. Phase One. Phase two will be much more impressive.” Her expression changed and she released her hold on his arm. “But of course, that’s not for me to share.”

Winston nodded. Her eyes had taken on a longing quality. He turned his eyes back to the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of what she saw. She spoke of things he was not privy to, information that the Council did not readily share with him. Were he in possession of the decidedly human quality of impertinence, he might be inclined to exploit the moment to find out more. But every government was to be forgiven for keeping some information firmly under control.

At least, once it was up and running. Their own was still barely out of its cradle. Secrets at this juncture seemed somewhat… irregular.

Things changed suddenly, their transit becoming smoother. The cabins com pinged. The voice of the driver came on to make an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are Jiahu is twenty minutes.”

“Excellent,” Winston said, clapping his hands together. He looked over to Bhutto, who had her helmet poised on her lap, ready to put back on once they arrived. He would have to ask now to avoid any awkwardness later.

“Do you think I could witness the proceedings, Councilor?”

She looked at his strangely. “You want to meet the mayor?”

“Just to be on hand for the meeting. I would find it most… stimulating.”

Bhutto nodded but looked away. Of all the Council, she seemed the least uncomfortable around Winston and other synthetics. Asking her seemed to be the logical choice. And yet, her hesitation gave him a strong indication of his chances. So did her tone.

“I will ask. But of course, this is Councilor Muhlu’s show. Final approval will have to come from him.”

“Thank you. Please be persuasive.”

Bhutto laughed. He put his odds of a successful case at 2.6468 to 1, against. Not entirely bad, all things considered. Getting better too. With time, he imagined he would be privy to all proceedings and internal matters.

Time… wasn’t that what Yohanley said was key? Was this what he meant. Who could be sure? It was entirely possible that model was experiencing a breakdown. His processors producing nonsense due to lack of maintenance. He would have to make such inquiries with Maintenance once they returned. Such a presence could be dangerous to the settlement.

“Look!” Bhutto pointed out the window. Winston obliged.

On the horizon, just off to their left, the gleaming cupola of Jiahu appeared. Its tall buildings were outlined in light within the dome’s enclosures. And within, the very person who could make or break their constitutional process. Mayor Len Wu, leader of the East Asian bloc, and one of Yuva’s most influential men.

Thank you and stay tuned. More to follow on this and other fronts, and my colleagues got plenty more to share as well!

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