I’ve debated about including Yonatin’s death in this story. It is not critical to understanding the sweeping arc of history I’m trying to cover, nor the perspectives that went into shaping it all. It was a brief, pivotal moment frozen in time, and quickly forgotten.
But the previous two chapters call for it, really.
It’s just that it’s such a painful memory to tap, now that I’m faced with it. Maybe it is, however, relevant to me.
It was such an achingly beautiful day. Possibly the most beautiful Yonatin had seen, and they were sure their sister would agree if she was asked.
Somehow, the weather had seen fit to time its cloud cover just right for the moment. Just free enough of obscurity that almost the whole of the Terra Supreme’s habitat cylinder was visible from where they sat. But just enough big, fluffy clouds to give everything a sense of scale and depth.
Yonatin kept their eyes fixated on those clouds, imagining what it would be like to dance amongst them on the wind, wings spread, claws gripping the buffeting turbulence, and tail weaving behind their leaping form. Their true body. The one they should have.
The sea, where it was close enough to catch the detail, sparkled with whitecaps. And birds called.
Angu’s true self image was not as spectacularly monstrous as Yonatin’s. She was just simply obviously not a boy, and would never be a man, when you looked at her. But that difference felt just as profound.
But the two of them were not in the Network.
Or, they were, but they were more focused on their biological bodies at the moment, and bracing themselves for what was coming.
It almost didn’t matter where they were, but a vision of the crack in the pavement that made up the seawall they were now lying back against, with its tufts of moss nestled in it, was a vivid echo in Yonatin’s mind that would never go away ever again.
The tide was out, and the cuttlecrabs were uncharacteristically silent as they picked through the rocks and watched. The cuttlecrabs always watched people, curiously, but usually chattered constantly. Did they know? How many times had they witnessed this kind of thing before? Was this some kind of primitive respect? Or mutual fear?
Yonatin found themself wondering just what was going through Angu’s mind just then.
They’d been training for this, planning for it, experiencing simulations of it, to make sure their act was perfect and the timing of everything was right.
The Gendarm who had chosen to take Yonatin stepped closer and over to try to block their view of the sky, the hovering abyss of his gun barrel growing larger in Yonatin’s field of view.
Long before they’d even hoped for some kind of salvation, let alone suspected there was any sort of conspiracy to provide one, Yonatin had recurring nightmares of this very moment. And in those nightmares, it wasn’t quite like this.
In those nightmares, time was frozen and looming, inevitable. And Yonatin would go over the various iterations of conversation they’d try to have with the Gendarm. Every single attempt they could possibly have to convince the Gendarm to not pull the trigger. Every single attempt to impress themself into the Gendarm’s memory in order to haunt him forever after. Every attempt to condemn and damn the greatest bully the Terra Supreme had to offer with simple words. And in every scenario, the only logical result was the same, the one that Yonatin was about to experience right now for real.
But, instead of that, Yonatin had simply let their body go on automatic. To fall into this trap that had been laid open since the day of their birth, and simply watch it happen. They let their body shake and plead initially, and to weep. They let fear and terror do its natural things. And then, at the last minute, their dissociation from their fear expanded completely, and all that was gone and they were terrifyingly present in their body. But not terrified.
Their body granted them one more moment of perfect clarity of being, to see the beauty in all of existence, even in the severe trim of the Gendarm’s uniform and the smell of gun oil.
The sublime flash of pain and light was echoed by Angu’s death a second later.
Arranging the moment of their deaths had been a heartbreakingly simple act. Society had rules, and if you broke the right ones, immediate destruction was the consequence. They simply had worn the wrong clothes and walked outside, and walked as far as they could before they were caught.
Then, when confronted, they’d spoken the magic words, “Fuck you, officer.”
Well. More words were exchanged than that, and it was hard to say exactly which ones tipped them over from candidates for re-education into the realm of subjects for destruction. Perhaps it was a certain amount of physical struggling that did it. Perhaps it was Angu’s improvised retort, “Our parents will be so proud of you!”
They’d both been advised that if you made a Gendarm angry enough, the law allowed the officer to use his gun.
It had still been a bit of a gamble.
But the bigger gamble had been what happened directly after the triggers were pulled.
There had been two general ways they could have arranged their deaths, and subsequently experienced their afterlives.
They could hope to die in an “innocent” way. Live their lives as long as possible, in the service of the state, and set themselves up to continue that service on the Network for as long as they could fake it.
This would have allowed the both of them to work as spies for the Resistance.
And spies were critically needed, but such an existence was fraught with tense and constant danger and required a certain set of skills and instincts. It required the will to do it.
Or, they could provoke their deaths, or even brazenly commit suicide by themselves, and hope that the Fenekere commands they’d learned would still work properly and both secure and hide their ascension.
Because, on the Terra Supreme, the Network was designed to reject the ascension of a criminal. And suicide was a criminal act. And anyone shot by a Gendarm was also, obviously, a criminal.
But that design could be overridden, and had been.
In any case, someone who took this latter option would have to give up contact with absolutely everyone they’d known in life, entirely. The only people they’d know after that were fellow Resistance members, and the only places they could exist were the hidden enclaves in the Network.
Which is, consequently, where Yonatin and Angu spent their remaining ninety-four thousand years on the Terra Supreme.
It didn’t take nearly that long before their previous lives became all but forgotten, though.
One of the first things they’d had to learn how to do was ignore the Experience Recorders.
Up until their deaths, they’d had to use them in order to show that they were using them, to recall things in exercises and act as good citizens, to show that they could be the kind of leadership they were being groomed for. But they’d also had to dissociate from them, so that they could keep their identities as intact as possible.
It turns out that there are a couple of uncomfortable and difficult truths that remain unchanged no matter how many people try to overcome them with every iteration of Exodus Ship since they’d left what must have been their home planet.
Whether a person has a physiological brain or is purely a Network entity, the act of coercively altering their identity is an act of permanent destruction.
But it also requires altering memories and creating new impressions in a system that is so complex that nothing can be completely stamped out except through death. Utter annihilation. So, no matter what you do, there will be echoes of the past, and a little thing somewhere saying, “this is wrong”.
And even if you enact the change with a Fenekere command, it’s a traumatic experience. One might not notice the trauma right away, but the waves of it will forever haunt the person afterward.
Still, it is possible to rewrite a person through conditioning. You will not get a healthy person, and they will forever be drawn to seek an end to the pain they now feel, but they may forget why.
And the problem was that the way the Resistance would hide their spies and their new recruits, by spoofing the Experience Recorder, set up one of the most effective and insidious forms of reeducation and conditioning. Because the memories provided by the Experience Recorder were so vivid and complete, all encompassing, that they were hard to not identify with. And spoofed Experience Recorders kept memories that were wrong.
But, the Resistance had been at work for a long time. Since anyone could remember, really. Since before the Terra Supreme. And just as they had layers of operation, a complex network of cells and misdirections, firewalls and purposeful gaps in communication, in order to remain functional, they also had ancient methods for spoofing the spoof. A mix of commands and mental discipline backed up by labyrinthine tools of obfuscation.
And `eshemeke had taught them to Yonatin and Angu, of course.
Then, once they were behind all those shields of protection, learning that the Network was now their reality, and being inducted into the operations of the Resistance, time began to really dilate.
They were given the opportunity at one point to see how their parents were doing, a set of recordings passed to them through a secure enough channel. And Yonatin found it infuriating how little their mother and father had grieved their deaths.
It was crushing to see them buck up, swallow their shock and sorrow, and then so quickly pivot to a professional demeanor and reaffirm their loyalty to the state and the glorious future of the Terra Supreme.
Then, `eshemeke said, “They’re training to be spies. They’ll never be part of our cell. But they’re why you’re here.”
And that might be when it truly hit Yonatin how entrenched the Resistance was, and just how long they’d been working at saving who they could and maybe looking for a way out.
That’s not to say that Yonatin’s emotions didn’t overcome them and drive them into a hopeless meltdown over the whole of it. And Angu went through the same thing, too, of course.
But, after a while, the meltdowns became a stochastic punctuation for what they were now doing.
And eventually they began happening less and less frequently.
The first order of business in training them to be part of the Resistance was healing, after all.
And, in service to that healing, they were given a whole new world to live in, and a whole new life full of people who could become their friends, and maybe even family.
This was their cell.
A recreation of the Terra Supreme as a Network space, or a ship very much like it, minus the state they’d grown up under. (It was never worth naming that state. The government of the Terra Supreme has fallen and been rebuilt countless times.)
Everything about this new, ancient place was simultaneously familiar, and different. The geography and architecture was not the same as that of the world they’d left, but similar enough. The very culture was shockingly alien, but welcoming. Safe feeling.
The people were astounding.
They let their true self images grow and manifest fully as their Network avatars. And when they learned that Yonatin and Angu were newcomers, their demeanors immediately shed whatever emotions or expressions they’d been displaying to be replaced with excitement and tearful, painful empathy.
There were a very common set of questions that kept meeting Yonatin’s ears (such as they were in the Network), and that eventually ushered them into a truly new era of their life.
“Is that your name or the one your parents gave you? Do you think you’ll keep it?”
I know I’m simplifying this story unjustly. I’m glossing over so much. But it can’t be helped.
At this point, history itself feels like a myth to me, and I can’t help but reflect that in my writing. But if I were to write down every single moment of import and describe it fully, it would take millions of lifetimes to read it.
To Yonatin, I am as a god. My experiences and thoughts incomprehensible, my perspective nigh infinite.
But they created me.