Prologue (Part 1)
It had been 700 years and a half, since then.
)) < This, and all future instances, indicate a crescent-moon mark separating scenes.
Oboro was a cat, of course. He was also a male, elderly, and the very last of the Skywalkers. He was a glutton, despite being thin as a rail, had gray fur that puffed out here and there in a way that made him look like an old, heavily used toothbrush head, and a great big bald patch on his back.
But, even with a great big bald patch on his back, Oboro was a Skywalker and, as befit a Skywalker, he was a deeply cautious old coot. As he was the very last of the Skywalkers, Oboro tread very carefully indeed.
He made preparations for his own death, so he would be prepared for it whenever, wherever, however it came.
So the research had been handed down from ages past would not end with him.
So he could preserve it for the as-yet unknown 37th Skywalker whom he knew, one day, would come.
That said, the partner robot Oboro had begun to use in his later years was severely lacking in mental capacity. In the beginning, Oboro thought to pass all the information regarding his research on to the robot verbally, leaving it recorded in her memory. The robot, however, cried that she couldn’t possibly remember all that. With no other choice, Oboro moved on to his next plan. Rather than expecting the robot to remember the information, he had her create a written record of it. For the recording medium she used a sketchbook, and for the inscription she used crayons. When Oboro complained, asking why she couldn’t write more cleanly, she returned with her own complaint that this much writing would use up her green crayon.
After a long, long time and many crayons, Oboro finally completed his dictation.
The pages, covered in writing, were clipped from the sketchbook and placed in a ceramic bottle.
The bottle was filled with mercury, and then corked. Then, finally, the work was done.
– Now hide that bottle.
Oboro gave this order to the robot.
When the robot asked if she could hide it anywhere, Oboro responded that it could be anywhere as long as she was absolutely certain it would never be found. Though the robot wasn’t a great listener, even she caught the inconsistency in Oboro’s words. There was something strange about what he said. Even as a robot, she could grasp the purpose of that bottle. It was to be hidden so it could be found by the 37th Someone. But, if it was hidden in such a way as to never be found, then it would never be found.
When the robot brought up this objection, Oboro told her not to worry about it and just do what he said.
The robot complained that she no longer understood what Oboro wanted to do with the bottle.
-Um, so, Oboro, you pick the hiding spot.
-That I cannot do. The bottle’s location must be known to no one, myself included.
-So that the bottle will never be found by anyone.
The robot was completely confused. Watching with amusement as she frowned in deep thought, Oboro gently shook his tail and said:
-You don’t need to worry about the details. Just find a place where you feel no one will ever find, and hide the bottle there. No matter where you hide it, the 37th will find it. Those who are incapable of finding it, will never be capable of finding it. Listen well,
Well then, I’ll just throw it out the airlock into space, threatened the robot, without listening to the rest. Oboro, thinking she was mocking his wisdom, became upset with her. But then, without making a single move, Oboro replied that she could do whatever she liked. It made no difference. The dream of the Skywalkers was not something so cheap that a little robot throwing it could have any effect on it. His cold words, though, upset the robot. Half-serious now about throwing the bottle into space, the robot stuffed it into the backpack she always wore and ran out of Oboro’s nest.
At the door she paused just long enough to turn and stick her tongue out at him, then she was gone.
-Take care of yourself, Oboro said.
Having finished saying everything, something seemed to break away from his aged body, and his expression became clear.
That was the last the robot ever saw of the last Skywalker.
After that, it was too dangerous for her to return to Oboro’s nest.
Oboro was killed by a Soul Saver Ministry Unit sent by the Assembly.
Tolk was a world of night and fog.
According to the Khans of the Assembly, Tolk was a castle of stone built by the angels in ancient history, as well as an island floating in space.
This explanation was quite satisfactory.
As one might observe, Tolk was indeed a massive, cylindrical construct drifting in space. Those blunt, unchanging outer walls could be said to be ‘the castle walls that surround the city’, and the oxygen mold that burst through the walls, popping out here and there like heads of broccoli, could be said to be ‘a forest that shelters the birds’. With almost no doors or windows on its outer wall, and with the light of the stars shining on its innermost parts, Tolk was a giant night-colored cylinder, filling the sky, rolling along slowly like an empty can on a slope.
At first glance, it might have appeared that all of Tolk was rolling together as one united mass. Going by weight, that guess would be about 80% correct. The truth was, Tolk was divided into the massive outer shell that rotated tirelessly, and the stele, which was cut off from the rotation.
The observation platform was a large spherical room located at the very top of the stele.
It was one of the few places in the closed world of Tolk that had windows.
If one was to ask whether the view was nice, the response would be: it depends. The view from there changed quite dramatically every few hours. Half of the observation platform protruded out from the stele, and was made of a single massive window, crafted into a honeycomb frame. However, if one was to look from the observation platform at that moment, they would see only darkness without end. There was nothing interesting to be seen.
The stele of Tolk did not rotate. This meant the observation platform, as well, generally lacked any gravity. However, gravity was the only thing this space lacked. The air flow that blew through the stele due to the rotation of the outer shell stagnated in the observation platform, carrying with it all sorts of objects that were drifting, lost in the midst of the darkness and fog. Beyond this, there were mold mycelium flourishing on the walls and filling the air with countless balls of mold, with fine dust at their nucleus. Here and there were colonies of bioluminescent bacteria that filled the night of the observation platform with an unsteady green glow.
It was dark and silent. No child of cat-kind to be found.
Right in the middle of this observation platform, amidst the objects making a lazy, floating circuit at approximately one centimeter per hour, was a cardboard box with its lid tightly closed.
It was a tired-looking box of about 1 cubic meter, with a worn antibacterial coating.
On the box, the words ‘please take me’ were written.
The letters were large, ugly and had apparently been written in red crayon.
There was a girl inside the box.
She was wearing a stiff, baggy red work jumpsuit. On her feet she had thick, heavy-looking sneakers that were knock-offs of some major brand. She had her entire body wrapped around a backpack, and was perfectly still.
Her name was Christmas.
There could be no mistake. As proof, her name was written right on her forehead. It was also written that she was a robot made by the ‘Koga Factory’ in December of 2184 CE.
Setting these markings aside, no matter how one looked at Christmas she appeared to be nothing more than a little girl of an age when, depending on circumstances, she might still believe in Santa Claus. She had eyes that were quick to fill with anger and quicker still to fill with tears. And, whether angry or crying, her pointed canines stood out like those of Count Dracula. The Gods of RNG had bestowed a beauty mark at the tail of her right eye. The chemicals that had once made her hair reddish-brown had been oxidized, leaving her hair a pale color that still could be said to suit her rather well. A nitpicker could point out that her lack of even the smallest movement ruined the illusion of her humanity, but this was due to nearly all of her bodily systems being in hibernation. If she wanted to, she could engage in yawning, sneezing, blinking, nervously tapping her foot, and all sorts of other unconscious movement.
That said, it had been a long, long time since Christmas’s first December, even by a robot’s reckoning. Since long before she had hidden herself in that box, Christmas was basically unable to move any of the toes on her right foot, and some of the muscles in her left arm were slow to respond to her signals. Her memory system had become obstructed long ago, so she was very bad at remembering new things or recalling old things. Despite being a robot she was quick to forget, and she remembered next to nothing about the past. When she tried to look back into her memories to the time she was born, it was all lost in the darkness and fog of Tolk. However, there was a sort of blurry concept there that she had experienced all sorts of things. She felt that she had walked quite a lot, talked quite a lot, and smiled the whole time.
The one thing Christmas remembered clearly was the dead cat, Oboro.
Christmas remembered clearly the bottle given her by Oboro, the circumstances that had brought her to hide in that box, and the ways her feelings had slowly changed as time had passed in the box.
Oboro had told her to hide the bottle in a place where no one would ever find it.
But Oboro had never told her what to do if she couldn’t think of a place to hide it where no one would ever find it.
She always did her work properly, and hiding that bottle was the very last order Oboro had given her. So, she had to do this properly as well. Christmas thought as hard as she could about where she could hide it so no one would ever find it. But she just couldn’t think of a place like that. She felt that, no matter where or how she hid it, someone would find it eventually.
After puzzling over it for some time, Christmas decided the optimal method for hiding it would be for her to choose a random location and hide there herself along with the bottle.
In this way, as long as she herself was not found she could also be assured the bottle had not been found. If she was about to be discovered by someone, she could just run away. Also, she decided to place some kind of marking on her hiding place so the 37th Someone could recognize it right away, when they came. Writing words would be just fine, there were hardly any cats on Tolk that could read. But, Oboro could read. Because he was a Skywalker. Therefore, it stood to reason that the 37th Someone would also be able to read.
Christmas thought this was an incredible idea.
She decided her hiding place would be the observation platform connected to Tolk’s stele. There she found a box drifting among the floating debris, so she decided to hide away inside of it. She used her favorite crayon; a red one that still had a pointed tip, to write ‘please take me’ on the box. Even though most cats on Tolk couldn’t read, she figured it wouldn’t be good to write anything too specific.
Then Christmas hugged her backpack, with the bottle in it, to her chest and began to hide.
For the first ten years she was totally gung-ho. Any time she heard a noise, she would release her system from hibernation and peek expectantly through one of the hand-hold holes on the box. Her expectations were always dashed, but Christmas was never discouraged. From time to time she would pull out the bottle and gaze at it, and at other times she would play by spinning the box around her like a hamster turning its wheel. Every day she told herself this would be the day, this would be the day the 37th Someone would come.
The next ten years were ten years of repentance. Christmas felt the 37th Someone hadn’t come to look for her because she wasn’t dedicated enough. Expecting someone to come find her for nothing was a bit too selfish. She figured she should think up some sort of reward. So, Christmas decided that, if the 37th Someone came to find her, she would make sure to brush his coat every single day.
The next ten years were ten years of even deeper repentance. Christmas decided that, if the 37th Someone came to find her, she would make sure to brush his coat every day, she would clean out his nest every day, she would always be willing to give him hugs and stroke his neck, she would do all the rat and cockroach hunting for him and, if he were to ask, she would even give him her beloved crayons.
And then, in the final ten years, Christmas came to a realization.
She realized the next Skywalker would never come.
She pitied Oboro.
And so, half a decade later, Christmas was still inside the box.
But no longer was she there to hide the bottle. Rather, she was there to do something she should have done long, long ago.
To Christmas, there were only two kinds of cats in the world. To put it simply, they were the ‘Skywalkers’ and ‘everyone else’. And Oboro, the very last Skywalker, was dead. Therefore, the cat that came to open her box would be part of the ‘everyone else’.
To put it more clearly, they would be a subordinate of the Assembly.
She wanted them to come.
No matter who it was, she would kill them.
It would be her revenge.
She would settle the score in Oboro’s place.
Because, after all, Oboro hadn’t done a single thing wrong.
Oboro had taught her all about the fate of the Skywalkers. None of them ever lived long. Those without luck would die in an accident during an experiment. Those without courage would lose their minds to the overwhelming blackness of space. Those that remained would someday meet their end at the hands of the Soul Savers.
Oboro was a remnant.
Oboro was the last remnant.
Christmas had helped Oboro with all of his observations, all of his experiments. She didn’t understand any of the difficult stuff, but there was something she did understand. She understood it very well. Even though Oboro was the very last of his kind, he never gave up. He never became desperate or discouraged. He pursued his research endlessly, not even taking the time to poop, telling himself this would be the time, he would be the one.
And even then, it wasn’t enough.
The Khans of the Assembly didn’t understand. Christmas felt they and their Soul Savers, who knew nothing but killing, could never possibly understand his feelings when he tried so hard, not even taking the time to poop, persevering with all his might and still falling short of his goal. And even then, Oboro didn’t stop. Even after he was certain that he would never reach his goal, Oboro did not stop his research. Even though Oboro was elderly, a glutton, despite being thin as a rail, had gray fur that puffed out here and there in a way that made him look like an old, heavily used toothbrush head, and a great big bald patch on his back. Despite that, despite the great big bald patch on his back, Oboro understood his place as a descendant of the Skywalkers. After judging cooly that he would not be able to reach his goal within his own lifetime, he did not slow his efforts. He added his own work to the research that had been handed down to him, and bottled up his dream for the sake of the 37th Someone that would surely come.
To be fair, the 37th Someone Oboro had bottled his dream up for had never come.
That, she could agree on.
But what exactly had Oboro done that was worthy of death?
She would kill them.
She wouldn’t hold back, no matter who it was. It was too late to apologize. Crying would do them no good.
She would show them the depths of Oboro’s regret.
She would show them who exactly was foolish enough to warrant death.
From the moment she seized on this new goal, thoughts of how hard or lonely it was to hide there flew from her mind. Hiding there nursing a grudge was much simpler than hiding there holding a dream. She didn’t have to do anything. She could just stay there in the box, curled into a ball in the cold darkness. Wearing a red work jumpsuit, with thick, heavy-looking sneakers that were knock-offs of some major brand, floating in a suffocatingly small box with her small body wrapped around a backpack, Christmas was perfectly still.
She heard a sound.
Christmas ignored it. After all, even if she peeked through the hand-hold hole nothing would be different outside the box. She couldn’t count the number of times she had gotten her hopes up at sounds like that, only to be disappointed. She wouldn’t move at every single sound like that any more. She had stopped giving in to those childish expectations. There were plenty of things up in that observation platform that could make sounds. The stone walls would creak when the temperature changed, and the flotsam was always bumping into things.
She heard the sound again.
Even just floating there in the box, she understood quite a bit. The observation platform had changed a lot over time. It hadn’t been this cold, before. The flow of air had been slower, and there hadn’t been as much mold. Among the mold there was some that had colonies of bioluminescent cells that shone their green light in through the hand-hold holes of the box. With the changes in temperature and airflow over the years, the variety and amount of mold that could grow in that space had probably changed as well. The temperature of the area would influence which molds were able to grow there, and there may have been some varieties that were carried by the flowing air from far, far away. In forty and a half years, this level of change could happen. In another hundred years the changes could be even crazier. It would be fun if some really bizarre mold started to grow. Talking mold, walking mold, that sort of thing.
The third time, it wasn’t just a sound.
Weak microwaves were striking the box.
They were the kind of waves send out by cats unconsciously, to help their night vision when they were walking in pitch darkness.
Christmas released all her body systems from hibernation. In a single instant she halted her anaerobic respiration, magnetized her high speed nerves, expanded her blood vessels and activated all of her micro-machine groups. She lit up one end of her autonomous liquid transfer system, and quickly bypassed any electrical systems that wouldn’t carry a signal so she could launch a query to her cardiovascular system. Her three hearts, which had worked through the hibernation, responded that the next scheduled pulse was not for another two hours. She was dying for more oxygen in her blood, but Christmas decided not to increase the tempo of her pulse right then. She would be in trouble if she made any noise. Instead she burned through the oxygen she had stored up in an attempt to get some warmth into her corpse-like body. The action potentials in her nerves collided in confusion, and her instruction signals were unable to reach the periphery of her body. She didn’t have enough oxygen. After an instant of hesitation, Christmas used one of her voluntary circuits to send permission to her lungs to resume respiration. Her breathing might be heard, but it was better than delaying her hibernation recovery any further.
She quietly breathed in, then out.
Despite the surrounding temperature being well under freezing, the breath that escaped her slightly parted lips would never turn white. No matter how many times she used her chemical signals to boost the process, her body temperature continued to increase at an agonizingly slow rate.
She heard another sound.
It was close enough for her to easily tell that it was the sound of four feet kicking off from the ground more or less simultaneously.
5 meters. It couldn’t possibly be closer than that.
What could she do? What could she do?
The most important thing was being able to move. She dropped the priority on increasing her brain pressure or getting her Ph balance to safe levels. She magnetized her entire skeleton and threw the ON switch for the nerves in her bones. By concentrating all oxygen consumption into her muscular system, she pushed her body to move.
She opened her eyes.
She saw a boxed-off section of darkness, the mold-stained walls of the box which she hadn’t looked at in a while. In front of her eyes she could see the hand-hold hole, and beyond that the observation platform.
That was it. There were no further sounds.
But, she knew it was there.
Her fear sent shivers through her body. For Christmas, whose autonomous systems had begun to awaken, it was enough to make her want to cry in terror. She was so embarrassed by what a weakling she was that she wanted to die. Even though she was pretty confident in a fight, and despite all her boasting about how she would kill the first cat to come and open her box, now that someone had really come she couldn’t bear her own cowardice. But, of course, she couldn’t actually cry, just then. If she did that, the cat outside the box would notice her. Plus, in this cold her tears would definitely freeze.
Careful not to touch the box itself, she began to uncurl her body, fighting down her fear all the while. She slowly raised her head, and put her face close to the hand-hold hole so she could peek at the outside.
On the other side of the hole, there was darkness.
The darkness had two golden eyes, staring at her from right on the other side of the hole.