Good evening ladies, gentlemen, art and literary lovers. Welcome to Art Stories.
This is The Alchemist concluding the little experiment Tokunbo and I started 3 weeks ago.
By the time I met Ariannamaka in person, she was twenty-five and we’d already been friends for ten years. Our first encounter had been online, in a government sanctioned chatroom. Her family was rich; they lived up in the skydome, where gravity had been artificially adjusted to original earth levels for those who gave the greatest ‘offering’ to the Prophet. I could tell instantly that she was desperately lonely and afraid, though she never did admit it. Her profile hologram was beautiful but grim. In it, she wore a crop-top, lying in a bed, unsmiling. She fascinated me in the bizarre way that fires fascinate moths.
I sent her a private voidspace message.[Hi], I said. [Hey there], She replied. [What’s it like, living up in the skydome, with the blessed richfolk and the Prophet?] [Boring. That’s why I’m in here, chatting with lowly platformers like you]. The sarcasm slid smoothly off her tongue.
I laughed, and we exchanged a few more VM’s about what it meant to be the last ones left, to be the future of our kind. Once she sensed that I shared some of her own sentiments, she ported me into a shielded chatroom that she and her friends had written out of the government base voidspace code. There, the messages came. Cautiously at first, then in a flurry as I echoed them as my thoughts too. Finally, Ariannamaka told me what they were planning to do and how they planned to do it. I was intrigued. I was excited. They encouraged me to join them; they said that they would need my help when the time came.[This whole Ark is a lie and we will expose it,] Elegebde said to me. He had been doing most of the talking since I ported in. [But we will need someone from the lower platforms to set things in motion. Someone the people of the platform will listen to.] [The kind of person we can make you if you listen to us.] Ariannamaka added.
Her voice was soft and pleading in spite of the harsh electronic data filter convincing the Prophet’s eavesdropping spies that all we said was benign.[Fuck yeah. Count me in], I said. I was 16. I was bored. I didn’t know what I was getting into. But I think the real reason I agreed was that she was just beautiful and interesting enough for me to be that stupid.
Ariannamaka told me she loved me on the day we took down the Ark. The same day, she also told me she was the Prophet’s daughter and that Earth was still standing; that it had never been destroyed. It was also the first day that we met in person. We were on the Ark Control Bridge, and she had plugged in her external mod disk into the Ark’s central control systems. The gravity generators, the public viewscreens, the Prophet’s audio network. We were taking control of it all, and once I made my announcement to the people, we would control them too. I had prepared meticulously for this day. I had read books; studied revolutionary histories of old earth; wormed my way into the right circles; gained the trust of the Prophet’s lackeys and even become Youth Leader of the Ark Church with the help of Ariannamaka and her friends. I was primed to topple the government. Expose him and his coterie.
Imagine being told that the earth was still standing and that my handler and best friend was both in love with me and the daughter of the man I had learned to loathe. It threw my mind into something of a tailspin.
“No.” I couldn’t stop shaking my head. Earth. My home. It was there. And she…she, the Prophet’s daughter. She loved me.
“Don’t you…feel it too?”
I didn’t want to answer that.
“You chose to keep it from me. Earth. You. Everything.” I stopped. “Why?”
She advanced on me with arms slightly spread. She seemed radiant now. The cityscape painting the octagonal windows of the Control Bridge provided a perfect backdrop of ambient light for her svelte figure. She stopped an inch from my nose.
“Would you have done it still?” Her breath was hot on mine, and it smelt like azaleas in the rainy season. The memory of old earth made the knot in my stomach wind tighter.
“You used me.”
She moved a half inch closer. I wanted to retreat, but my body had left me and since given itself over to her.
“Don’t you see?” she said. “It would never have been. For you and I. For us all. It’s a small sacrifice to pay for freedom.”
Her hand reached for mine. I pulled away.
“You must do this,” she said, a plea in her voice. “Or all will be for naught. Make the announcement.”
“Why, Aria?” I said. “Give me one reason why I should trust you now.”
She opened her mouth, but said nothing.
I shook my head once more. “I won’t.”
Her arms came under mine, and she placed her head on my chest. It was warm and – as much as I hated to admit – mildly comforting. I felt her heartbeats: feeble, rapid. I couldn’t place what fear it was; that of losing everything, or losing me.
“Please,” she begged.
My pulse mirrored hers, but my heart was set. I took her shoulders and gently pushed her away from me, hating the distance it put between us, but convincing myself it was for best.
I took four steps. Maybe five. I didn’t count. But I hadn’t gone far when the Immobilizer hit my side.
It took seconds for everything from my neck downwards to cease function. My limbs went rock solid and I felt my spine slip away. My brain slowly shut all signals to the motor neurons in my limbs and torso.
I crumpled to the ground. I didn’t need to turn to see who had shot the toxic needle, because he appeared above me.
“Too late to walk away now, friend.” His real voice was thick, much older-sounding than he looked. The small-arm had been re-holstered. “We have too much hanging on this.”
“Aria!” I shouted.
She came around. Her face was turned away.
“What’s this?” I asked. “He shot me!”
She said nothing.
“Look at me!”
She didn’t turn when she spoke.
“You. You brought this on yourself.”
The woman I gazed on now was no longer the one I knew. Her voice had a steely edge to it; more purpose, more drive. It did not smack of love or hate. Only a sense of…focus.
“I told you,” she said, walking back to the Ark controls. “You must do this. It’s a small sacrifice to pay for freedom.”
I felt my heart turn to ashes.
“You love me.”
I saw her stiffen then. The air in the Bridge paused.
“I love you,” she said, finally. “But this is Plan B.”
Elegbede hoisted me on a chair, pinned the vocaphone system to my ears. He slowly plugged another needle in the barrel of the small-arm, then waved it in my face.
“This one shuts you off. For good.”
He nodded to Ariannamaka. She came and bent over me. Her eyes were on fire, and tears seeped from them.
“Make the announcement.”
I thought about the Prophet and his lackeys and his Ark Church. I thought of old earth. I thought about what it meant to be the future of our kind.
I thought of Ariannamaka. And I thought of the freedom promised.
Was it? Freedom?
“You’re your father’s daughter,” I said.
She remained deadpan, but the tears poured even more.
Into the vocaphone, I said:[Fellow platformers! Today, I bring to you, the revolution…]