In the shade of a decayed steel watch tower Jonah and Eta enjoy a moment of escape from the harsh light of the midday suns. They were called there by a mutual friend who found a curiosity among the garbage lining the dunes, a camera. What’s better is that its not some digital camera that got ruined like most other electronics but an analog film camera, clogged with dirt but still functional. Eta has begun to lose patience.
“We have been waiting here ten minutes, the foreman is going to notice!” Eta complains squeegeeing a palm full of sweat clear of her green forehead.
Jonah gets on his toes to peer over the five foot tall wall to catch a glimpse of his friend hustling over to their meeting place. “He’s almost here, just keep it down.”
Davin, a friend of Jonah since childhood is one of the villages engineers. His job is supposed to be improving the irrigation system, salvaging useful lost technology and helping make sure none of the buildings fall over. Right now he is just a kid again.
“Sorry I am late but I found it!” he holds up the camera “The film was pretty close to where we found this.”
“Is it still good?” Jonah asks.
Davin slaps in a thick rectangular cartridge and looks through the viewfinder. “Only one way to find out. You two get a bit closer together and I’ll let you know when I am about to shoot.”
Jonah motions to Eta to sidestep a foot or so and they step back into the harsh afternoon sun.
“What does he mean by shoot?” Eta asks only to get a shrug from Jonah in reply.
“Alright stand still!” Davin calls out, the siblings stiffen as though commanded to halt by a drill sergeant.
Click. A small white plastic sheet with a black square shoots out. A minute passes.
“Is it done?” asks Jonah.
“Don’t move I said!” Davin shouts back, Jonah straightens back up just as stiff and now visibly embarrassed.
Another minute passes, Eta begins to walk away.
“Wait wait! Where are you going? I am not done yet.” Davin once again calls out.
Eta calls back immediately “You have no idea what you are doing, bye.”
Jonah throws up his hands and walks after Eta “I will be back to see how it comes out okay?
Davin sighs and looks down at the camera still clinging to the paper, to his amazement out of the darkness the image of his two friends begins to show through.
Whenever possible Eta and Jonah take the long way around to the fields through the south gate of the settlement. This angers the foreman of course but he usually gives them a pass considering the circumstances. Six years prior Mable was attacked by one of many hordes of rampaging androids called M-S-F. During this attack the parents of the siblings barely missed the closing of the north gate and were killed still begging to be let in. They are not the first children to be orphaned in a MSF attack but it’s very rare for it to be so close to home.
The foreman is gigantic for a Mitomi belonging to a mutation they call Gigas who are nearly seven foot tall, dense, burly and hairy. According to mitomi legend a Gigas is born when twins fuse in the womb, the only evidence of the twin being a set of extra horns in front of the two normal ones.
Eta sneaks around first being smaller and quieter on her feet giving the signal Jonah to approach the tool shed. Once inside the relative cool dark interior the door slams behind them and they are both lifted off the ground by hands threaded through their horns like skewers.
“Wasting the engineers time again runts?” The foreman slowly turns the two to face each other three feet off the ground with his large round face between them. “And late no less. Mitomis with no sense of duty are no Mitomi at all.” he nudges the door back open with his foot and walks back out the door still holding them both off the ground. “You kids have been given a lot of leeway in serving the village, which I thought was fair but now… Now you are both adults and need to have some more self respect.” He swings them both around to see the other villagers working and occasionally laughing when they catch a look and the two being dangled. “Now until I see some improvement I will have a special assignment for you both, exploratory farming.”
Eta unlike Jonah has been fighting trying to free herself is first to be dumped out onto the hot open sand “What do you mean exploratory farming?” she asks.
The foreman drops Jonah as well and looks out to a vast leveled plain of sand, a hundred yards square.
The foreman continues “You will learn the ethics of your ancestors by mimicking them. Turn this waste into something worthwhile or show up on time. You get to choose what happens first.”
At the end of the day, little progress has been made beyond a few dozen feet of soil turned and two young mitomi too tired to look up to see the foreman’s satisfied face on their way back in for the night. Normally the whir of generators would kick on now to light the village but tonight the sky is visited by one of the great rings of light that appear to circle the world. Some Mitomi see a spiritual side to the coming and going of the rings but all appreciate the illumination and small degree of silence that comes with that. The village itself is home to a few over two hundred of their kind, mostly farmers with a small contingent of full time warriors to discourage raider harassment and defend against the inevitable MSF attack. At the center of the village is a large well that draws water from the nearby lake and serves as the meeting ground for casual socializing. Mitomi by their nature are passive but often indulge in gossip.
From the chorus a rumor filters through to the passing siblings “A Darkstrain! Taller than a gigas with squinty eyes, he showed up the other day asking about the ruins up north beyond the fields.”
“Did you tell him anything?!”
“Absolutely not! Even if I knew something I would never tell one of the destroyers.”
“Destroyers of Gate city.” Jonah thought to himself reminded of stories told to him about the creation of the great desert by the village elders back when he was a child.
Jonah and Eta quietly make their way through the village passing by the sandstone and sheet metal dwellings of dozens of distant cousins on their way to a run down watch tower they have claimed for themselves. At last making the climb slowed by exhaustion at the days work they sit down for a short evening meals of various greens and breads created through their labor.
The pair surrender to exhaustion against rough straw filled pillows and look up to the ring glowing distantly in the night sky. For a moment Eta feels lifted up and taken elsewhere, flying through the stratosphere past the clouds to the starless night sky to see across the vast open wastes peppered by the lights of distant settlements like their own and the vast forest of light emanating from the gate city at the center of the expanse. In the next moment she is back to the runned down guard tower next to her brother, a soft glow fading from the gem in her forehead.
“Out of body thing?” Jonah asks.
After a moment of registering her surroundings Eta responds “Yeah.” her voice trailing still not quite present.
“Why are they called rings?” she asks.
“That’s what the sages called them, why?” he replies.
“What if they are not rings at all, how can we be so sure that is what they actually are?” her voice strengthens to its typical forceful almost demanding tone.
“Why does that matter, the sages are right about everything else, I trust them.” he holds a hand up and pretends to grasp the ring of light.
Eta sits up “I can’t accept that… I don’t want to stay here and be dictated truth I want to know for myself!” her voice builds into a near shout that is quickly shushed by Jonah.
“You are not going to leave Eta.” he says as he works on making his sleeping space bare-able for the short night.
Eta growled standing up to look over the tower railing towards the south entrance where the belhop stables reside. She smiles “I will just leave with one of the traders.”
Jonah replied “No you won’t.”
Her smile tightened and crooked “Okay, then I will sell myself off to a slaver, you can even have the money.”
Jonah replies “No you won’t.”
Eta slides down the rail and rolls back into her sleeping space grabbing onto her rough straw woven pillow, and screams into it.
“You will have to deal with it Eta. That’s just how life is for us. Dealing with things.”
“No, I won’t, and I don’t have to deal with anything.”
Jonah gives her a sympathetic glance. Her face lifts from the pillow eyes red and teary. She says quietly “And you shouldn’t either.”
The watch tower goes quiet as does the rest of mable village, hours pass and the ring drifts to the horizon as the first of twin suns rise in the east.
CONTINUED: Episode 2