Book 1: Chapter 5

Our Best Answer

The halls of the library echoed with stark silence. There was not a sound to be heard across its high ceilings and wooden floors. Around a table sat Chem , Math , Design , and Coder , with Order standing at its head. Order pressed his fists hard against the table. No one dared speak a word. “How the hell did this happen?” Order barked.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Design said, “You wanted people to pick their own government. You said there was more power to the people in the background.”

“How could you ask if this is what I wanted?” Order said, “That gang of cretins will never heed the intellectual elite. They will not take our council nor trust us to execute their will. Our power only exists in Nozomi if people listen to our superior wisdom. If people do not take our advice, then we have no influence.”, Order furrowed his brow. “I trusted these people to not make an incompetent decision. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“What do you suggest we do?” Chem asked.

“Our position, though weaker, is still strong. We shall wait for them to falter, then seize the opening. Governments that rely on intimidation are not stable. When they fall, we’ll seize the initiative ourselves, and make sure they have no room to maneuver.” he paused, “ Math , can you write up quantitative analytics on the citizens here. I want to analyze patterns in their behavioral deviance.”

“Heck yeah!” Math said, “Why didn’t you lead with that? That’s like my third favorite algorithm! I have some preliminary numbers, but I could really use some more sample data.”

“Good to know.” Order said, “Follow me. For the rest of you, that’s enough for today. We’ll meet back here tomorrow.”

Order and Math walked away from the table. Design sighed and walked off. Chem and Coder sat still in their chairs. There was a short pause.

“Do you think he was always so stiff?” Chem asked.

“Right?” Coder said, “He could really use some people skills.”

“Or branding. Is there even a name for this group? Do people even know about us?” Chem asked.

“That’s true.” Coder laughed, “ Stonks would know what to do.”

“Yeah, I really miss that guy.” Chem smiled.

There was a long pause.

“You know uh” Coder started, “I actually used to work with Order before I was plugged in.”

“No way!” Chem said smiling.

“Yeah, he was my project manager. Real stick in the mud.”

“How do you know it was him?” Chem asked. “There’s not a lot of people like him.” Coder said, “He was promoted a few times after he managed me. He lived in a cheap apartment only a block from work, and used to work sixteen hours a day - even on weekends.”

“That’s insane.” Chem said, “Where did you work?”

There was a long pause as Coder looked at his hands. He took a long breath in awkward silence.

“Oh.” Chem said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s alright.” Coder said, “Ultimately I chose to work there.”

“The Triangle Company.” Chem said.

Coder nodded, looking down.

I used to work there too.”

Coder looked up.

“I was a chemist. My project was to make existing happiness drugs last longer for coma patients. But I never expected them to put people in comas to experience it. All of this” Chem gestured around solemnly, “Is my fault.”

Coder stared straight at Chem , concerned.

“Actually, I lied” Chem said, “I did expect them to put people in comas. I saw all of it coming. Not the Tamashi heads, but the hunger, the addiction, the wasting away of our species.” he paused, “I saw it all coming. And I didn’t throw my research in the trash like I knew I should have.”

“There’s never a way to know whether bad things will happen.” Coder said, “Sometimes you just need to do your best and hope.”

“I used to tell myself something similar.” Chem said, “I remember the day I got married. My parents told me it was the ‘right’ choice and the love would come in time. I can’t say that it did. And I hired my friend Hanzō to be my lab assistant. He had some drug problems in the past so he had trouble finding work in chemistry. I knew it was a bad idea, but he was so sure of himself. One year after my research went public, Hanzō died overdosing on it. I remember sitting on the couch with my wife after he died and the world started crumbling away. I had never felt so alone. So thank you for your words of encouragement, but I’ve taken advice from every source I can, but I still seem to come up short.”

“Can I say something?” Coder started. Chem nodded. “I think, and I don’t know you very well, but you might have the opposite problem. With the serum, your friend, and even your marriage - it sounds like you knew deep down how those would go. I’m not trying to give you any more guilt, but maybe you need to trust your gut more. You’re a smart guy” Coder smiled, “Don’t do what other people say.”

“Thank you.” Chem smiled, “I’ll do that.”

At the top floor of a building in the corner of the square, the Nozomi Gang met in secret. The walls were haggard with patches in the paint, and the floor was dirty. The broken windows gave them small slits to glance at people crossing the city square. Gang stood in the center of the room, while Chaos and Fear sat in the corner. Superior and the muscular man stood by the windows, while “ Witch sat on a box on the left side of the room.

Superior and Muscles, I want you to keep watching through that window. Chaos and Fear , keep discussing ideas.” Gang said.

“I’m not Muscles.” the muscular man said, “You can call me ‘Hero’!”

“And why would I call you that?” Gang asked.

“Because there’s more to me than muscle! I want to help people!”

“Fine. Whatever, just keep looking out the window.” Gang said.

The muscular man nodded, then he and Superior looked out the window. Chaos turned to Fear and began whispering.

Gang turned to Witch while the rest were distracted. “In the alley the other day, you said something about a brother.” he looked intently at her, “what exactly did you mean by that?”

“I mean exactly what you think I mean. And isn’t the fact that I know all this about people useful?” Witch answered.

Meanwhile, Chaos had turned to Fear and begun whispering. The coy glance of his sharpened gaze went unnoticed by all. “I believe your chance is coming.” Chaos said to Fear , “If you want to prove yourself.”

“What? What do you mean?” Fear answered.

“I just heard from someone recently that the food supply in the city is limited” Chaos started, “He wanted to hoard it all for himself, but if we get to it first, we can ration it off, secure some authority…”

Fear nodded.

“Now I know you’re not the strongest here, or the smartest, but with a good idea, you might do well here. Why don’t you bring it up to the big boss?”

“Are you sure?” Fear asked.

“Sure.” Chaos smiled, “Don’t mention it.”

Gang walked to the window. “I need to talk to you,” he turned to Superior . “Privately.”

“Fine.” Superior said, and they both proceeded to the hallway.

Once the door was shut behind them, Gang started talking.

“I want you to tell me about your sister . She’s the only other person around here with a sword. I need you to tell me,” Gang said, “is she going to be a threat?”

“Absolutely” Superior started, “ Kitsune , as she prefers to be called, was a freedom fighter during the Triangle revolution. She led several raids against us. She’s highly motivated by ‘morals’ and ‘values’. She’s a good fighter, no one can deny that, but she hasn’t achieved as much as I have.”

“I assume you grew up together.” Gang said. “Does she have any weaknesses?”

Superior scoffed, “ She has little to no knowledge of the world. She’s spent most of her life in her garden training. She’s never held a real job, or earned anything of value.”

“I meant weaknesses in battle.” Gang said.

“I haven’t had the chance to fight her since we were children.” Superior tapped his blade. “But she’s only one person. I can handle her myself.”

“Then I’ll make sure you’re with me if she comes. Oh, and one more thing.” Gang said, “I don’t want you to trust Chaos . He’s here out of necessity, but I don’t trust anything that comes out of his mouth.”

Superior nodded, then when Gang opened the door, Superior tilted his head and they both re-entered the room.

“Alright!” Gang shouted. Everyone stopped what they were doing and listened. “I’m glad you’ve had time to talk! Now our first step here should be to make sure there is nothing people can do to challenge us. We need to assert ourselves. Our announcement is empty unless it’s followed by some action. Does anyone have an idea for what that should be?”

Chaos turned to Fear . Fear raised his hand.

“Yes?” Gang said.

“What if … uh” Fear started, “There’s not a lot of factory-made food, right? And that’s what people want to eat since it’s not expired. So if we pool all of that together and ration it off, everybody gets their fair share and we don’t run out really quick.”

Gang put his hands on his hips and nodded. “That’s perfect!” he said, “Yes, we’ll gather the non-perishables and start guarding the frozen food tomorrow. It’s the perfect way to exert our authority.”

Gang was so happy with himself that he failed to see Chaos smiling.

Kasumi sat in her old chair on the porch of her farmhouse. She watched Birdcage and Vine tend to the fields. The work came naturally to Vine, who was fascinated by life on the farm. Birdcage was happy to help, but didn’t share the same enthusiasm. Still, they both learned very quickly, and Kasumi was surprisingly overwhelmed at the sight of it. They had agreed not to farm around her father’s gravestone, and she hadn’t looked at it since she arrived back, but Kasumi was still overwhelmed with emotion. It was strange to see other people tending her family’s farm, even though she definitely needed the help.

Farmer walked over to her and sat in the adjacent chair, her father’s chair. Kasumi jumped. Farmer stood up.

“Woah, woah.” Farmer said. “Are you alright? Is it alright if I sit here?”

“Yeah, no, of course.” Kasumi said. Farmer sat back down.

“You know, I love feeling the rays on my face, and the wind on my skin. Something about being out on the farm just makes me feel alive.” Farmer said.

Kasumi smiled and shook her head. She glanced over at him. He was wearing a straw hat and worn-down overalls. He was tall and lanky, but otherwise he felt very familiar. He had a charming smile, and had a very unassuming bearing.

“My Dad would have loved you, you know?” she said, smiling.

“I would have loved to have met him,” he answered. “Again, I’m sorry about your Dad.”

“Thank you” Kasumi said, “It feels like we’re all getting a second chance. It’s what he would have wanted. If only he was here to see it.”

“If I can intrude” Farmer started, “I think something else is bothering you. I know how to sit in these chairs. They’re built so you can just lay into them real nice. You’ve been upright and stiff since we got here. I know you’re sad about your Dad, but there’s something else isn’t here?”

Kasumi paused, “It’s the Gang thing. I spoke with the leader at a campfire on our first night. He seemed like a terrible person. He even has ‘gang’ as a name. I just can’t trust him, and I’m worried about our future.” she looked ahead, “I look at this farm that’s been my home for years, that I worked with my Dad, and all I want to do is stay, but-” she looked at Farmer .

“You have to go.” he finished.

I'm just being called somewhere else.”

“Well you wouldn’t be Miss Nozomi if you didn’t have hope.”

“Is that what you call me?” Kasumi smiled.

“Only to myself” Farmer smiled, looking back at her, “Don’t you worry. Your farm will be safe and taken care of. We can’t have those city-folk run out of rice.”