The incredible and tragic story of China’s downfall was told between bites of cheese pizza in the Mother Ship’s common room as it departed Earth’s atmosphere and barreled towards their base, behind the far side of the moon. As Ramona stuffed her face, Agnes listened attentively, while Gabe sat by, rolling his eyes at Ramona intermittently and interjecting where he felt she did an inadequate job of conveying this history lesson.
“You know, this is why I said you should just be the one to tell it!” Ramona finally burst, waving her pizza crust as she said it. Her Mohawk fell in her face and she brushed it back with her free hand.
Gabe sighed and looked at his lap, shaking his head. “You’re right; you’re not a very eloquent storyteller.”
Ramona shoved the crust in her mouth and raised her hands fantastically. “See?! I told you! Take it away, Gabe!”
Gabe, who was a very skinny man—-bordering on frail—-with cotton white skin, turned to Agnes pointedly and nudged his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “So, like Ramona said, centuries ago, China was a world leader in production, so much so that almost everything a person used was made in China. Their clothes, their toys, their food, even! But towards the end of their reign, they caught wind of information leaked from Slantia headquarters, and they started manufacturing silverware with this specific alien element, silvovia, because they knew that their downfall was impending. Their intel had confirmed Slantia was going to wipe them out, but they had no idea how soon it would happen.”
The space ship was quiet, other than the occasional rustle of leaves around them, as the air from the vents brushed through the makeshift jungle and sustained a comfortable temperature. The “greenhouse” effect was a calming one for Agnes; she had never felt so relaxed in ages, despite the incredibly uncertain future of this adventure. The three of them sat around the couches in the middle, Ramona on a recliner in the center, and Gabe and Agnes on opposite couches facing each other. Agnes’s stomach rumbled contentedly from the couple slices of pizza she had begun digesting; meanwhile, Ramona was putting in hard work devouring her fifth slice. Gabe had politely abstained from partaking in this “nutritious” (he said, with a sarcastic accent) meal.
“At the time, Slantia wasn’t a real threat; I mean, Slantia was a strong competitor, sure, but China had brushed them off as a wild card with no real long term future in the business.” Gabe pushed up his glasses again and leaned in further towards Agnes. “China thought that Slantia would more or less destroy itself; even when they discovered Slantia’s threat to China, there was still some doubt they could actually accomplish this. However, once they realized Slantia was quite serious about overcoming them in terms of production and mass profit, they devised a strategy. Their plan was that when Slantia struck, they would be able to activate the silvovia in silverware around the globe and use it as a weapon; with so much silvovia spread across the world, the entire planet would be subject to termination and China could use that as leverage over Slantia.”
Agnes liked Gabe, and she enjoyed how he narrated this story. Although he was younger than Agnes by approximately thirty or forty years, she felt he had an aged quality to his demeanor—-he was “mature for his age,” as they used to say, or “an old soul.” He reminded her of an elderly gentleman in a younger man’s body. Besides his eloquence and care for detail, she enjoyed hearing the recounting of this tale, because it had been quite a spell since she had last delighted in the entertainment of a narrative. She had not read literature or heard a fairy tale since she was a young girl in training school. And this story was unlike any other she’d heard—-alien silverware spread worldwide to be used as a weapon of mass destruction? It was understandably “out there” to Agnes.
“This part gets crazy,” Ramona commented, chewing and nodding towards Gabe.
Nodding, Gabe went on. “But before China had distributed this silvovia in any impactful way, Slantia destroyed China’s trade partnerships and cut them off from their suppliers. Slantia made a lot of very bold political moves and escalated tensions. Of course, China, being a world leader among nations, wasn’t totally unprepared, and they had more nuclear weapons and backup plans up their sleeves, except Slantia infiltrated their government and their elite, and assassinated major influencers and decision-makers. Then, with the establishment crippled, Slantia’s double agents took over the government and began the process of erasing China from history, just to spite them even further.”
“That explains why I’ve never heard of China before,” Agnes whispered, incredulously. Until then, she had still sort of held on to a certain disbelief; there was no way that everything she had learned her entire life was a lie. Except, now she was on a space ship headed beyond the moon, and Gabe’s story was starting to add up. Besides, Gabe didn’t seem like the kind of person who could make up something as creative as this.
“Right,” Ramona chirped, and pointed at Agnes. “And so while there weren’t too many Chinese silverware with silvovia in them, Slantia knew about this covert operation and rounded them all up and suddenly had its hands on this complex alien element, and then they were able to mimic it through manmade procedures. Of course, some of the silvovia-infused silverware slipped through the cracks while in the possession of the public, like the one you stole.”
“I didn’t steal it!” Agnes defensively replied, putting up her hands. “Some man framed me.”
Ramona shrugged. “Well, the one you have. Or, had, until I found it on you.”
Agnes thought for a moment, turning over her hands in her lap. Her hands were beginning to feel the throbbing ache of her arthritis, and she cradled her vein-ridden and wrinkly hands within each other, and then asked, “Did you know the man who slipped that fork into my pocket?”
Ramona stretched her arms up and looked around the greenery in the room with a yawn. “Yes and no.”
Now Gabe cut in. “He was a Slanted soldier, yes. Ramona did not know him personally, but he was one of us. Undercover, and supposed to lay low, except he became unstable when he discovered the silvovia.” Gabe shook his head grimly.
Not having any more questions on the existence of China, Agnes addressed another topic she was eager to learn about. “And what of this sister of mine you claim you have? That’s a rather large issue.”
“This one’s all you,” Gabe said, getting up from the couch with a little grunt and brushing off his gray Slanted soldier uniform. He was much shorter than Ramona, who towered powerfully over the others; Agnes had noticed this when they all convened to take their seats in this room earlier. No longer interested in sitting about, Gabe peeked at his watch and softly left the room, back towards the control sector.
Ramona and Agnes met eyes.
“All right, fine. I’d really love a cat nap right now, but I guess I can tell you about your sister too, since, you know, I did bring it up out of nowhere and all that.” Ramona chuckled a little cynically and reclined further in the chair and she closed her eyes as she spoke of a woman named Senga.
Meanwhile, the Mother Ship hurtled onwards, towards the far side of the moon, where the motley slanted crew would reconvene at the Slanted Satellite Base, out of sight from the eagle eyes of the Slantia telescopes that probed the galaxy from below.
In Slantia, reproduction was a monitored, meticulous affair. The people were not trusted with the responsibility of conceiving and raising the next generation, so the government began collecting certain bodily specimens from the female and male body so that they could replicate the process of human life within their factories. Once Slantians reached a certain age, they compulsively donated their reproductive contribution to the Slantia Lab, and were then sterilized thereafter.
Because children were created in a factory, they were raised subsequently in training schools, where they were divided to socialize quite exclusively with their same sex. Occasional integration occurred, such as during a recreational period or for lunch breaks; for the most part, children were not in an opportunity that allowed them to make procreational mistakes until after their sterilization.
Thus, most people did not have siblings because adults only donated once; only unique situations yielded a case of siblings, such as a twins, triplets, quadruplets, or if one’s mother was promiscuous. Of course, even in these scenarios, the offspring were not likely to know they had siblings, because the Slantia Lab kept its records highly confidential and only revealed this private information when trying to blackmail or sabotage individuals. Sometimes the Lab would just terminate the offspring to avoid potential rebellious kin. Although the Lab had attempted to artificially create human beings, they never grew up quite the same way as organic human beings, so they did rely on these mandatory procedures.
Agnes’s mother was a sweet young woman, with far too big a heart to exist in Slantia. In fact, she was uncharacteristically friendly, and while all the other school children quickly learned to be hard and diligent and focused, Agnes’s mother Sofia often daydreamed or sang or wandered too close to the sun. Which is why a young gentleman became so helplessly infatuated with her during her early adulthood, and quite likely in love.
This young man Harold was interning at the Slantia Lab and neither of them were quite sterilized yet, in that awkward period of time in their young adult lives, when their secret relationship metaphorically slipped up and tripped into a rabbit hole from which they would not be able to return. They were old enough to experience romance but not old enough for their operation, and while there were a medley of illegal contraceptives on the market that one could obtain at the time, both Sofia and Harold were too poor to afford it. This was a gamble that did not pay off, and while they thought they had gotten away with it after nine months of discreetly downplaying Sofia’s new convex shape, after the twins were born, a loose end reported them and Sofia was immediately seized—-not before Harold was able to “send the twins down the Nile,” so to speak, and fake their origins at the Slantia Lab. He forged their creation documents and blended the two newborn girls into the Slantia system, so that to all unsuspecting eyes, they appeared to be conceived from a scientist’s hand, just like all the other children. Harold was later detained, as well, and while the Slantia government pulled out their hair searching for the twins, it never suspected that they were plainly under their supervision the entire time.
“Senga is a badass,” Ramona said, while chewing at her thumb’s nail. “When I’m old, I can only hope I’m like her.”
Agnes restrained herself from feeling offended by this lofty insult, and rather, told Ramona, “It’s remarkable how likable you are to me, despite being completely crude and impolite at every opportunity.” She was growing annoyed with Ramona’s nail-biting and cursing. And there was also this strange, jealous part of her that didn’t really want to know anything about her supposed twin and what this woman was like today—-a “badass,” according to Ramona.
Of course, Ramona was Ramona, and she merely laughed at Agnes’s comment. “We’re just from different upbringings,” she shrugged, and began scratching her head while scrunching her long, distinguished nose and squinting her eyes. “I feel really relaxed right now, just really comfortable. This ship is practically my home! It’s been, like, a really long voyage. We’ve been planning this coup for twenty years, and after all our work, we’ve almost done it!” Ramona grinned her wide smile and wiggled with excitement.
A yawn burst from Agnes’s mouth and she quickly covered it with her palm. A yawn is your body preparing yourself for more work, played in Agnes’s mind, a lesson hardwired into her mind. The vents in the room kicked up a notch and the leaves and vines quivered with a roomwide shushing. Agnes yawned again, which was enough of a cue in Ramona’s mind.
“I agree, let’s lay down before we get to the satellite. It’ll be a lot of commotion once we dock.” Ramona stood up from her recliner and extended a hand towards Agnes to help her get up from her sunken spot in the couch.
Agnes took Ramona’s hand and pushed up as much as she could, but she was so settled into the cushion that Ramona basically lifted her up to her feet.
“You mean, sleep in the middle of the day?” Agnes asked, looking up at Ramona, who was practically a couple feet taller than she was. Agnes’s posture was slightly hunched, which made Ramona seem even taller.
With a chuckle—-the way she chuckled at almost everything—-Ramona replied, “Why yes. I know it’s not in your programming, Madame Worker Bot, but you’re allowed to sleep whenever you want. As much as you want.” Ramona grinned and twisted a lock of her hair. “Aren’t you pretty tired from this morning?”
Agnes was used to sleeping when her cubicle complex announced it was time to rest. She long ago learned to disconnect her mind from the impulses of her body, to deny the feelings of “tired” and “lethargic” from influencing her decisions. This was how she able to appease the demands of being a Slantian laborer in her country, and it was only now, in this space ship with Ramona, that she paused to listen to the aching in her joints, the soreness of her back, the inexplicable weight added heavily to her movements as she allowed “tiredness” to envelope her.
“Yes,” she replied. “Actually, I am pretty worn out.”
Ramona nodded, having watched the changing of Agnes’s eyes as she sunk into this feeling. “Let’s get you a bed,” she said, guiding Agnes towards the hallway leading out of the common room.
Part VI is on its way!
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