That Which Defines Us

For a long time, the world was focused on only one thing: self-gratification. As a child, I knew no other world than one that placed the individual before the masses. Was this wrong? Perhaps, though I had no way of knowing if it was, no way of knowing how to press forward without thinking of myself first.

It was the way of the world, a realm where only the strong survived.

When that world ended…well, so did the way of thinking and the way of living. To survive in a new world, where the laws were in favor of something so much more than a single human life, mankind had to adapt. It had to cast away the illusion, had to see past how the souls live, blind, in their fraudulent ways.

 

“Get ready to move. The enemy is almost upon us,” Karly shifted her gaze from the paper she was writing, long hair falling in soft waves as she glanced towards the door. Rodger was already leaving, a sword strapped to one hip and a gun hanging from the strap across his chest. Karly capped the pen with a sigh before rising from her seat, her back popping as she turned away from the book she was writing.

As she stepped into the hallway, she heard Rodger say, “Magner’s crew will be here in twenty, Danny. We don’t want to be caught unaware.”

“Then we should beat them to the quarry!” Danny’s voice carried further than Rodger’s.

There was a sharp undertone which spoke of anger, something that turned to ice as he continued, “Better yet, why not have Karly do something? From what I’ve heard, she’s good at getting through to people. Or disposing of them, if the situation calls for it.”

Her lips pressed into a tight line. As she came closer, Karly said, “Just because I’m good at it doesn’t mean anything, Dan. I have no love for bloodshed, nor will I kill someone just because you wish me to.”

“You have a responsibility to this faction!”

“I have a responsibility to all of mankind, not just the rebellion.”

Danny froze, then. His eyes were wide, jaw slack. Karly regarded him calmly, holding his gaze as his mouth opened and closed. No words came. She didn’t expect any. Her gaze shifted to Rodger, voice soft as she asked, “How many seek help? How many seek sanctum?”

“Thirty-eight,” Rodger gestured to the hall and the three of them began walking. Rodger bypassed many of the doors, lips pressed into a tight line. After a moment, he finally said, “Our supplies are low, Karly. If we keep healing and feeding anyone who comes to us hurt or hungry, our own people won’t survive.”

“We have enough supplies,” Karly paused, letting Rodger open the door for her and Danny. The sour man passed through first, Karly on his heel with Rodger behind them. She kept her gaze ahead of them as she continued, “These people come here because they have no one they can turn to. It is our job to make sure they are well, to give them support and a place to rest. It is our sole purpose, our soul’s purpose.”

They made their way into a wide, cavernous chamber. Dozens of people camped on the ground, each finding a sense of warmth from the massive fire burning in the middle of the room. Karly bypassed the two men she walked with, slowly weaving her way through the people. Her hands brushed the backs of these people, ghosting over their shoulders and caressing their necks with loving tenderness. She paused when a child ran into her legs, skinny arms winding around her legs.

“I can’t fine my mama!” He wailed, eyes red and misty. Karly knelt and cupped his cheeks in her palms, her thumbs rubbing soothing circles under his eyes. When she pressed her forehead to his, the little boy deflated and sank into her chest. “I just wan’ my mama, Lady. I just wan’ my mama.”

Another woman took the child, whispering soothing words into his ears as they sat before the fire. Karly watched them for a moment, taking note of their physical bodies. They would need blankets. They would need water for washing. She turned, gaze sweeping over every person in the room. Most were in the same condition, skin and bone and with concave stomachs. Rodger stopped at her shoulder, voice low as he said, “We don’t have enough supplies for all these people, Karly. We can’t support them, ourselves, and the refugees that are coming to us.”

She turned to him, locked their gazes. “Have you no faith in me?”

Karly saw the way his eyes widened. He shook his head, voice harder as he said, “I have faith in you like I have faith in the Gods, Karly. You have given everything you said we would have. You say food and supplies are in ours hands, but the storeroom keepers say otherwise. We are running on empty, Karly. Empty.”

Her attention shifted to a group of children playing in a circle. She gestured to them as she said, “Look at them, Rodger. Seem them as they play, see their smiles and hear their laughter. Do they move and talk like children who are starving, who are beaten and oppressed?”

“No, but –”

“Look there, at the women readying to greet new life,” Karly weaved between the people, pausing to rest a hand on a crying woman’s crown. A slender hand grabbed hers, squeezing until her bones ground together as she screamed. The woman crouching between her legs rubbed her thighs, encouraging her to breathe as Karly said, “Is this woman, who is giving birth right in front of you, the vision of someone who has nothing? Is she begging for food? Is she cursing the world for what has happened around her?”

“No, but –”

Karly leveled a look on him and his jack clicked shut. “These people, while they do not eat like kings, are happy with what they do have. These people know we are doing what we can for them, that we are sure to give them what they need to live while their souls are sure of this world. Until they decide to leave us, we have only one job. Can you tell me what that is, Rodger?”

There was a stillness which carried over them, a sense of understanding. Rodger ran a hand through his hair, voice soft as he said, “We are to ensure the safety, to the wellbeing, of all who come to us for help.”

She smiled. “That is our job, yes. It is what we were born to do, what all people are born to do.”

“If everyone thought like you,” Rodger dropped a hand on her head, eyes old and sad. He held her gaze for a while. Karly waited, patient. When he smiled, his voice was serene. “If the world followed you, there would be no war, no hate or violence. There would only be peace.”

She laughed, lightly. “It is not me they would follow, Rodger.”

“Then who?”

She guided him away from the chamber, towards the surface where the sun was just beginning to rise. As they made their way further, as the chill began to crawl closer as the heat of the fire faded, Karly made her way through the tunnels with a sense of purpose. As they found their way outside, she went and stood on the edge of the cliff overlooking a broken, dying world. Her gaze shifted to Rodger, then. She stepped to the side, silently beckoning him to join her where she stood.

On the horizon, an alien ship ghosted by.

“Everything you see before us was made by the same force, Rodger,” Karly began, arms resting, at ease, beside her. A stray breeze ruffled the fabric of her robes, the white cloth fluttering around her like a silver, holy shroud. She tilted her head back, eyes closing as the first rays of dawn washed over her features. As warmth bleed into her body and soul, she whispered, “The land, the sky, the sea – even the alien ship on the horizon, the good and the bad which haunt us – they were all made at the same time.”

She opened her eyes, watching as sunlight began to chase away the darkness.

“We cannot speak to these invaders,” Karly turned to him, hands folded in front of her in a pictured of perfect noble-womanhood. She held his gaze, voice soft as she said, “We defend ourselves because we do not wish to die, but we are no better than these distant strangers that invaded our world by killing them unprovoked. You ask what everyone would follow, if not me? Look out there. Listen to the world’s gentle whisper, see the life that will always be here even after we’re long gone.

“See, truly see, and you will have your answer.”

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