by Zachary Spector
This is a large room, with several identical tables lined up throughout it. There isn’t much else in it right now, because the kitchen staff is off paying attention to something more important. The room does, in fact, resemble an elementary school lunch room in both form and function, save for its total lack of windows, lower ceiling and position about half a mile underground.
Near one of the room’s four corner doors, a little girl of about twelve years sits, doing nothing. She sits on the floor rather than on the bench nearby, wearing a generic tunic, and looking pensive. She’s waiting for something to happen, and is very patient for it. It’s a grim sort of patience, a kind of fatalism.
Some time later—a man comes in through the nearest door. He’s certainly not wearing a generic tunic, preferring instead to bear as little resemblance as possible to the child next to him; he’s a warlot, not yet zipped into his husk but carrying all the equipment needed for it. It does in fact look odd to see this hulk embracing this little girl with such affection, but that doesn’t stop them from trying… or the daughter from weeping.
“You’re going away?” she asks.
Asemoneen answered this question a while ago, so he doesn’t try it again.
“It’s not easy to explain…” And that is true. But insofar as the father has time after all his procrastination, hoping that the draft would leave his name alone, he’s going to try to explain what it’s all for anyway. “Come—let’s sit down.”
So, given no other options, Watch and her father sit down on the same bench, and look away from the table, at a blank wall.
“We’re fighting a war,” he begins. “And so, it has all the things going against it that every other war does… we shouldn’t be doing it because it wastes lives, and there are simpler ways to go about that, and why can’t we just let the politicians fight it out, anyway. So I’m not going to talk about that. The war’s here because… Well. No, I’ll start by saying who’s fighting it.
“Watch—when was the first time you saw the sky?”
Watch looks her father straight in the eye, or as close as she can come to it. “Last year. We were trying to find a new matter tank, and you took me along.”
“Do you remember the people we met up there?”
“The tan people? Yeah, I remember them. They were—” She tries to find an adjective. “—I didn’t understand the way they lived. It was like they damaged the land to get what they could from it, and then left it that way, moved somewhere else.”
“Pretty much. And you see… there are some good tan people… you met a few, I think… but there’s this problem that we always seem to have with them. The tan people like to dig for the resources they need, instead of finding matter tanks like us, and we happen to live in a lot of the same earth that they’d really like to dig through.”
“Yeah, but I don’t get it, why mine? There’s just no need to if you can find the Linktear’s matter tanks.”
“That’s the thing, see? When you think of the matter tanks, you think of them like water, or blood—they’re a thing that you need to have, and so you get more of them, even when that means you have to get messy in the process. But, um… the tan people… the ones who care, anyway… they don’t see it that way.”
“Why not? It’s easy! I could show them how to use the matter tanks if I went up there right now!”
“I’m sure you could…”
The conversation just sort of stops for a while here. It’s not really because either of them is afraid to continue; really, they’re just thinking about each other, as a father and daughter would tend to do at times like this. They need time for it, before Asemoneen goes off and dies for someone.
“People like you and I,” he says, “we don’t really mind what we have to do to get new matter, as long as we get it. But the tans have some other things to say about that, like… for one thing, most of them just think it’s gross. When you might have to fight off a zombie beetle that comes out of the matter box when you open it, that’s usually enough to put a lot of tans off, they’d rather just dig a lot to get what they need and pretend they never have to risk their lives for anything.
“But there’s also something else to it… see, taking and using matter that’s really, truly new is something that a lot of people just can’t take. Their grandparents were born, lived, and died knowing that matter is never created or destroyed, that we have what we have and just have to work with it until we run out… or actually, most of them didn’t think of that limit, but still, that was the idea. And now this Linktear thing comes along, and breaks that rule.
“Now, when you’re breaking a rule that the universe has, that’s like you’re breaking a part of the universe. The tans, they appreciate, they value the condition of the universe in a way that we don’t—they respect the rules it has, and when this Linktear or whatever you call it comes around and starts breaking those rules, it’s doing something wrong to their good buddy Universe, and they… really don’t want to sit by and just watch that happen.”
“But why do they have to kill us for it?!” Watch screams. “Why can’t we just leave each other alone and do stuff with this universe like each of us wants to?! It isn’t hard! It’s just—it’s just—” And she falls, sobbing, into her father’s lap.
“I know. Honey, I know.” And he pauses for a while. “It’s just so hard for us humans to leave a difference alone.”
“Difference in opinion. In religion. I don’t know, whatever it is, we’re fighting over it. And… here we are.”
They wait for a while longer.
Asemoneen knows his daughter well enough that he avoids carrying her back to her room; she needs to wait for a while. He just walks out to go suit up, and eventually some staffers come by and take Watch home.