The Fiction Challenge: ‘Aria’ by Bibiana Krall

Today is the big day. Here is our first entry for the Fiction Writing Challenge. We will be posting a new fiction story each day until all of the submissions have been published. Remember, the “post with the most” likes wins the grand prize. Voting can take place throughout the duration of the challenge, and then, we will have a final call to vote on the last day. Good luck to you all! Have fun. This should be a blast. 

Scott Biddulph|Editor-in-Chief 


 

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Aria

I am a hybrid. Part machine, part human. The Caucus named me Lai in the factory when they installed my microchip and gave me life. I was created, as many others were to serve the prefecture of Aria, as an advocate between the Duggars and The Caucus.

Ever since the Wasteland Wars, life on earth has permanently changed. Many people did not survive. The ones who did not perish in the atomic fires and ground radiation were left with a simplistic life, deep underground.

They are survivors but have also lost an important part of themselves. The Duggars do not read books, believe in a higher being or share themselves in a collective brotherhood beyond, food gathering, fighting, mating, and slumber. They are violent and unwashed. Yet, below the filth, I see a yearning in their eyes to be more once again.

Duggars and Moles are considered dangerous to The Caucus and more work must be done to make peace. Machines have replaced most humans in the government, because most have reverted to a lower level of consciousness, and that is a detriment to everyone’s stability.

I have been programmed to hear grievances and seek an intelligent way for us to exist together. There are no longer countries or borders; there is only, Aria and the ones who made me.

My software holds many human languages and history.  Even though I do not have a heart, lungs or a reproductive system, I feel the struggle in their faces and expressions when we have our weekly interactions in the Hall of Reckoning. Some refuse to embrace this new world and what must be. I am here only for them. I have no ability to mate or enjoy the comforts of being human.

I am a monstrosity to myself, but I will never share this belief with anyone. We all carry a great burden from what came after the war. I had no say in my creation and cannot bring myself to dismantle, to end it. It is against the law of The Caucus to decide anything without their direct approval. I am humbled and tormented by what I am, what I am not and never will be.

A few days ago a food convoy was dispatched to the prairie, the Duggars, and the Moles. The Moles are the Duggars disfigured with radiation poisoning. They grow tumors on their necks and faces, and the cancer inside makes them barbaric, and difficult to control.

They made war against the convoy and we had to return to the capital without feeding them. I was the only one who stood up for the Duggars when the soldiers wanted to vaporize their holes for their insolence and now am truly alone.

Reprogrammed against any sort of rebellion, I cannot shake the memory buried in my wiring that once my brain belonged to a functional, loving and thinking human.

I discovered a rare wildflower on the prairie that day. Leaning down to pluck it from the scorched earth that still bears many scars from the sky battle. My handler knocked it from my clutches.

“Lai, you are not to touch anything out here. Now we will have to put you in seclusion until we are certain you have not been infected.”

“I meant nothing by it. It was merely a curiosity. I have seen cerulean flowers such as these in a program and wished to study it more closely.”

He grumbled under his breath about my stupidity and then locked me in the charging chair in the jeep. His anger for my actions held far more radiation than a tiny flower could possibly hold.

If I could have, I would have secretly kept this symbol in my charging chamber to look at and ponder philosophy, religion and the pursuit of grace. This is something that makes me different than the other machines. They only run one program, mine prompts me to think, learn and progress.

Only ten years ago there was another world where these delicate plants grew in abundance and humans offered them to each other in love, friendship, and even sorrow. It was an imperfect time, as all seem to be and has ever been. A part of me realizes that there is an order to all things.  I must not share when my program goes offline and I experience emotions I was not created for.

I walk now to the Hall of Reckoning. The twelve members of The Caucus sit in judgment today of a human who managed the impossible. He activated a thousand Duggars. Together they destroyed a water cistern on the edge of the city. They somehow managed to obtain pipes and a pump, the water was redirected to the prairie and for two days they all had fresh water to drink. It is a crime punishable by death.

This man named Thomas is charged with theft of Arian water, destruction of government property and rebellion for encouraging a group to work together against the common good. I will be his only advocate today.

As I charged early this morning, the power went offline for only a split second and this man’s history merged with mine in my memory chip.

Once, Thomas had two children, a wife, and a home. His days were spent working to make water move in homes from the general water supply. While his evenings were spent on a computer studying to be an engineer. A seemingly good man who worked hard and loved simply with all of his being. This utopia was the world before. It is gone.

I already know this day will offer no solution for him. I will say the words he cannot, but nothing will save him.

Sunlight and the towering ceiling illuminate the chamber and massive stone pillars must create a sense of awe when humans stand on the Star of Judgment.

I take my place next to the star, as The Caucus assembles. They are silent, as they file in and take their seats at the table on the raised platform to begin. A drone has been activated above me. Flying overhead to record the session that will be broadcast on massive screens across the city.

It is important that machine and human believe there is fairness in these judgments. The accused is allowed to respond at the end. If they fight back or become angry, the drone jams the channel and they are dragged away.

Although everyone is told that fairness rules, I am certain that this is also subjective. All that happens to these humans is merely a lie created to calm them. We live in perfection in the city, but sterileness is also a sort of death. There is a fragile beauty to imperfection. But I digress…

“Call to order!” The speaker raises the torch. It has begun.

He is an odd looking human. Surprisingly slender with dark hair and eyes that seem to calculate and diminish, as they scan the chamber. I discovered him once eating a food packet in his private accommodations and then licking his fingers. I was repulsed by his closeness to the plate, while many outside the city had nothing to eat. But instead of commenting, I gave him my opinion of the Moles and left quickly.

Thomas stands on the star now. His head is held high and I sense no fear in his demeanor. It is curious that he is so brazen; many before him have fallen to their knees and begged for mercy or raced for the table to make violence their final words.

“This man,” the Speaker seems to grow in size and his own importance, “Thomas is accused of the high crime of water theft. He has written a confession of his crime and we stand before all residents of the city to accuse him of treachery against all that is good for progress.”

The Caucus is murmuring amongst themselves, but no one stands to defy this process. Not one human at this table seems to remember anything before this time. Fear rules all, even inside the new government.

A clicking and buzzing overhead ensures that the wasp drone is functioning, as it sends its signal to the masses.

“What say you, Thomas? Did you destroy a cistern and transfer stolen water to the prairie? In order for us to know this truth, you must respond and accept our punishment for the good of all. For the glory of Aria.”

Thomas shifted on his feet, then spread them apart. He is not insolent, but proud and reminds me of image files of settlers from the days when the prairie was a place of adventure, strength, and hope.

“Answer the question, sir. We have ten more sessions before the hall must be disinfected.”

The accused cleared his throat and nodded his head yes. “I did all that I am accused of and more. I am not a criminal. I am a man who wishes to share with my people. I understand that you see my act as defiance. It was not. I wish to live, as you wish to live. Why must I defend my own survival to a council of fools? This caucus is a mockery. You live here in this city and pretend that you are better than we are. Yet, who is to say, if what we choose or what you choose is higher than the other? I am well aware that once you have held this civil presentation, I will die. People will forget me and move on. So it goes. But you claim that I have my final words and I stand here now spewing them. Calling out with everything I have, to all humans and machines to realize that this way is a farce. You kill anything and anyone who does not agree. You eat, you drink and you judge from your lofty table. This is not a new way; it is the same imperfect one I remember from history class. Rebel now! Everyone who can hear me! Take back your lives before…”

The drone’s buzzing stopped abruptly and it smashed head-on into a pillar. The casing broke apart and the screens across the city went black, then a lovely scene of a forest blinked on with a soothing female singing of love and harmony. The Gas of Forgetfulness pumped into every street corner and living space. The people outside immediately seemed to forget and enjoyed the lovely song playing across the screens.

Inside the chamber, the murmurs and rumbling amongst the council. Yet still, no heart seemed to be moved by Thomas or his unspeakable truth.

I am his only hope now. What can I do? I am merely part of this faction and he will lose his life. More humans will die, until perhaps there are none.

The speaker nodded at me. It is time for me to speak. His face was a mask and I noted no empathy for what came next. For the final statement, before Thomas was no more.

“Lai. You hold the final words to defend this man and his crimes. What say you of this?”

Nodding, at the table and turning to Thomas, I moved to step forward. Before I could, he took my hand and pressed something into it. He whispered, “You are not alone. We can change this together. Please find the truth as you can, as you must. I have no one else to ask, please use your knowledge.”

The guards stepped closer to bind his wrists and I shook my head no. Thomas became physically docile, lowering his eyes and dropping his arms to his sides. I opened my hand, curious to see what he had given me.

If I were human, it is certain then I would have more emotional feedback with what I saw.

It was withered and dry. Almost all color had drained from its petals, but it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. The minuscule flower on the prairie that was knocked from my hand and he, a stranger had saved this for me. No one had ever given me a present or considered me to be worthy. I am a lowly hybrid, a hated machine.

I have no tear ducts to weep with, but I sensed a need to hold this moment in ponderance. Now I finally understand what my future holds for me. The words took longer than normal to formulate. My program slowed down, then sped up. My grip tightened around this flower and indeed, I was immediately infected with the mysterious virus.

Images of glistening nature, the philosophy of Sun Tzu, Rumi, and many others, and finally the word peace flashed in my output, faster and faster. The heat of my overworked processor played these messages over and over until the speaker asked me again.

“Lai, you must initiate the final statement. Shall I call your handler to assist?”

Looking from face to face on that council and once more at Thomas. I knew what I must do. What we all must do, to be better, to actively strive for peace.

“I am here to speak on behalf of the accused. To sway your thinking that he is like so many others. A threat to society, a menace set to break down the solidarity you have worked so hard to achieve. I am troubled by something and I must share it. Once there was a world where water was free, food was grown on farms, not laboratories, and children were born from love, not necessity. Humans, many humans wished for harmony. Only a few created this time in history, this minimal existence you claim is better. Machines like me were not part of this, yet now I defend what those humans once stood for.”

Stepping closer, I knew they would disassemble me if they could. I have no olfactory senses, but their rising trepidation was evident, even to me.

“Lai. This anti-government outburst is uncalled for. Stick to your programming and defend this man properly or we will have to call in your handler.” The Speaker’s face mottled with rage and confusion. Defiance was something he was not indoctrinated to comprehend, yet he was very much a human.

“Ah. But you see, sir. It has finally happened. The virus is already moving inside my circuits. I will no longer blindly take orders from you or The Caucus. Before you call the guards to take me and my new friend, Thomas, away… know this. It has already begun. Look to the windows and see for yourselves.”

The caucus rose and tripped over each other pressing to the window to look upon the streets below. Chaos had returned, but this time it would be different.

Lai knew the codes for the city screens, the hybrid programs, the single task machines and the mainframe to the power supply. The virus had been released into the system immediately upon touching the flower and no one, not even they could stop it now.

Rushing to take her away, the human guards were stopped by a wave of her hand. The Fog of Forgetfulness was traded for the Mist of Serenity and all humans, including Thomas, fell into a deep, temporary, restful sleep.

Two dictation hybrids came to her aid and lifted Thomas gently from the floor.

“Carry him to my charging chamber. Bring him water and food; guard his safety until I arrive. The others shall be placed into the holding room until I know how to proceed. We all must find a kinder way to live. No harm shall come to The Caucus. Please leave me. I need to consider these matters alone.”

Ten minutes later, The Hall of Reckoning was devoid of anyone but her. She stepped up onto the dais and pushed each chair back into its proper place. Stepping to the window and looking down, she observed the thousands sleeping where they had succumbed to the mist.

What would become of them all? How could she redesign this new world to include all, to forge peace with no death or defeatist judgment from her or any government? Sadly there was no immediate answer for these issues, but there was one thing she did know for certain.

The answer rested in elevated perceptions, the endless pursuit of knowledge and gifts from brave strangers, like Thomas. Smiling at the brilliant level of consciousness she enjoyed from exposure to the virus, Lai whispered to the precious bluebell in her hand, “It has begun.”


Author’s Bio:

Bibiana Krall Aria two drops of ink fiction writing challenge

Bibiana Krall

Short Bio: Bestselling author of the suspense novel, Escape into the Blue, and proud to be part of her first hive writing experiment with, Gender in Fiction: A collaborative study, author of four published novels, a slew of literary short stories, regular contributor to Millionaire Digest and Read My Mind Magazine, former international travel expert, and luxury insider, Bibiana Krall has lived the adventurous life she writes about in her novels, highlighting strong female protagonists and character-driven stories utilizing social narratives.

Winner of a Pay It Forward Scholarship from Wilkes University CW, Bibiana Krall recently earned an MA in Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her teaching MFA in Fiction. Learn more about Bibiana’s books, watch cinematic book trailers and enjoy blog posts at WWW.BIBIANAKRALL.COM

YouTube http://bit.ly/2vE0wbG

Amazon Author Page http://amzn.to/2hWotDh

Twitter http://bit.ly/1zXgMjY


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