Oopsie! I realised I made a mistake near the end of the story, and that has now been rectified ^___^ Happy reading!
The very first thing I recall, upon opening my eyes for the first time, was the Light.
Soft and pulsing, a glowing shade of azure, it was nevertheless agonising to look at. When, finally, I was released from my narrow home of buoyant fluid, warm air forced its way down my throat, and I began to breathe.
When I think on it, pain was the only real feeling I had until I received my Name. Immediately upon my expulsion from the life cylinder, I became fully aware of His expectations. There was nothing exceptional about me. In fact, there was no 'me'. My brethren and I constantly thought of ourselves as a 'we'.
I can remember taking my first, stable steps out of the life chamber, and laying eyes upon the Crystal. The others surrounded it, just staring at the radiant surface. I tried this immediately. The light was still painful, but I could see my reflection in the Crystal.
I felt nothing as I returned the dead gaze of the face in the huge jewel. It was ultimately strange to see that my face was identical to those of the others, but I didn't know how to be surprised, or hurt, or anxious. None of us knew.
Except for one.
The first time I saw him was upon my emergence into the open air of Bran Baal. There was something slightly different about his appearance. His hair was not blond, but a pure white, though his face was similar to ours. I thought it was shaped differently, until I realised that he was staring into the lake wearing something I later defined as an Expression.
I watched with curiosity as he squinted at the light, bent to the bank of the lake, scooped up a stone and threw it powerfully into the water. It skipped a few times, and then sank. He made a growling noise and then turned, bumping into me.
Falling provided a new source of pain. I didn't react to it, though - I catalogued it in my mind as a Lesson. The strange one proffered a hand, and I blinked at it.
"Do you not require assistance?" he asked, and I looked up into his eyes.
There was something there that I had not seen in my reflection. A quality to his gaze that was exempt from my own. I found myself wondering what that quality was.
Uncertain as to what I was supposed to do with the hand he had lowered to me, I thrust out my own. He grabbed it, and pulled me to my feet. His eyes lingered on my face for a few seconds longer before he raced off, disappearing from view.
One of the others pointed with disinterest. "He has been Named," she said simply, and turned back to her close analysis of a flower sprouting from the cracked flagstones.
I didn't find out what a Name was until much later. Since the Name was not associated with any other of my brethren, I assumed it had something to do with the different quality of the strange one's eyes. Wondering about it gave birth to my curiosity, even before I was 'gifted'. Since no one else spoke of the Named one, I followed suit. It was in my nature to pursue the crowd.
We have no concept of time in Bran Baal. We did not grow and we did not age, and therefore time was of no importance. As my natural programming deemed, I immediately began to learn.
The first thing I learned was of Garland.
He was as set in Terra's nature as air. He was a part of Bran Baal as surely as water did not flow. When Garland talked, the Genomes listened. For that was what I was - a Genome.
After Garland, and the elements, I would study the plants and the others of my kind. I would stare at buildings and calculate how they had been constructed. I did not need to learn words - they were already within me. A Genome cannot learn unless it can ask questions.
We also had to suffer the Light. Garland said it was important for pain-endurance Lessons. I much preferred to study the other things.
My curiosity was not satiated by the knowledge of my existence. Realising my purpose, understanding why Garland had graced us with the quality known as 'life', was integral to my learning, but for some reason I craved more. Whenever I spotted the Named one, I would approach him. Unlike us, he seemed to change as more knowledge was acquired. He gained height and his appearance changed subtly.
Sometimes I would ask questions.
"Why do your irises look so different?" I said once.
The Named one half-laughed. "What on Terra do you mean?"
His voice was different also. It modulated between tones in a manner I found most bewitching.
"What is a Name?"
He narrowed his eyes at that. I continued to stare, barely blinking, until he started to shift around. "Something you would never wish to be cursed with," he said so quietly that I almost didn't hear. With that he walked off. I considered following to ask more questions, but for some reason I felt it would be a bad idea.
One day, I realised I had learned all I needed to know. I returned to the Crystal and stared at it some more.
I was pondering the pattern of light veins in the Crystal's surface when the Named one hurried past, behind me. I turned slowly to watch. Another Genome was following him.
My stare hardened as I fixated on this pursuer. He looked no different from any other Genome I knew.
Someone beside me said, "Another will be Named."
Although I was curious, the will of Garland was that no Genome should interfere, so I did not.
I was sitting by the edge of the lake when I saw the Second named one again. It was impossible for me to grow bored, but I had run out of things to learn. Few others seemed to be in that situation, so I sat alone, thinking of nothing.
Second came and sat next to me, squinting at the Light. I decided I might find something new to learn if I engaged in conversation with him. I tried the standard greeting Garland had taught all of us.
Second blinked, and looked directly into my eyes. "Yes . . . hello."
"We heard you had been Named."
"Not . . . exactly."
"Could you tell me what a Name is?"
He hugged his knees to his chest, rocking backwards and forwards with his tail agitatedly tapping the ground.
"Such curiosity is not becoming of a Genome."
"On the contrary, it is quite important that we are knowledgeable, for the time when our bodies receive souls," I replied automatically.
"But you don't need to know what a name is to receive a soul. What you ask is for something more than standard."
I blinked, running that information through my brain. "But I have already learned all there is to learn in Bran Baal."
He looked up in something I acknowledged as surprise. "Everything? But . . . you're not half as old as some of the Genomes who have yet to do that!"
"What is this 'old' you speak of?"
Second shook his head, releasing a slow, heavy breath. "Of course . . . you wouldn't understand the concept of time, would you?"
"What is -"
"Asking so many questions!"
"But that is how we learn."
"That's not what it's all about!"
"That is our current purpose."
He bared his teeth. I had never seen this expression before. "You seem to be faster than the others."
"We are all made the same."
"Only on the surface!"
"You are the same. But you are Named. What is a Name?"
Second sighed and closed his eyes. "A name is, and means, nothing." He stood up, looking around at the other Genomes studying their environment with complete, single-minded focus. "Garland is a fool."
"Garland is Garland. He is synonymous with air and fire and water and earth."
"I told you to stop it!"
"My sentence was not then a question."
"But you're just repeating things you were told!"
I could not think of a reply to that. Second's expression softened as he turned and regarded his fellow brethren.
"No one will look after them when we leave," he murmured, mostly to himself.
"Do you have a Name?" I asked.
"No. I haven't been given one."
"Then why does everyone say you have been Named?"
He looked me up and down. "Garland said I was not to discuss this with any ordinary Genomes."
"You are extraordinary?"
"I guess . . . you could say that."
"What about the First?"
"The First? Oh . . ." He nodded. "He has a name. But a name means nothing."
"Then what is so special about a Name?"
"It's not the name that's important . . ."
"Would you tell me?"
This Genome looked very similar to us in appearance. But, like the First Named one, there was something about his eyes and his manner that made him different. It was not until much later that I understood the term 'older', but it applied to him even then.
I began to prefer Second's company to any other Genome. It was clear that he did not want Garland to find out about what he told me, but he divulged the information regardless. He looked upon me differently to the others, too. It was a strange feeling. Sometimes he would ruffle my hair or widen his lips at me. He never did that to the others. I was never sure what to make of being treated in a unique way, so I mostly ignored it.
And I absorbed his words thoroughly. He spoke to me of Terra and of its long and complex history, in much more detail than a Genome should ever need to know to complete its purpose. Since I had no concept of right and wrong, I could not then hate my home and my function. I also couldn't hate Garland. It wasn't in a Genome's nature to hate their Maker. But Second had no qualms about doing so. I did notice that he flitted over the reason why and how he and First were different to us. He said less and less with every meeting, eventually succumbing to silence and not even throwing off my attempts at questions. Sometimes he would stare at me for long periods, and scratch words into the ground in handwriting that differed from that every Genome possessed. It was so unclear that I couldn't read it. Often he would shake his head, cross the words out and make new ones. Their purpose always eluded me.
Finally, he summoned me to the lake one last time. I remember his words clearly.
"This is it. It's time. I . . . I just want you to know what a name is before I leave."
Conflicting priorities forced me to choose between two possible questions.
"You will tell me now?" was the one that finally came out.
"Yes. I've been trying to think of a way to put it for a long time." He looked up at the pulsing Light in the fractured sky. "A name is . . . a label. It gives the person who is named a sense of individuality and allows people who address the named person to see them as an individual."
"A label provides individuality? But Genomes are not to be individuals until they receive souls."
"Yes, well . . ." Second lowered his gaze in an almost embarrassed fashion. "Listen . . ."
"Well, I've talked to you a lot, haven't I?"
"Indeed. We have engaged in many conversations."
"Yes . . . and while I know you're not in any way different from the others besides being a faster learner . . ."
"That is debatable."
"Let me finish. I've . . . enjoyed your company and I will miss you. I have . . . a gift for you. I've thought long and hard about this. You don't have to use it at all but I've automatically singled you out from the crowd. And, since I see you as an individual . . . I've given you a name."
Only my incapability for emotion stopped me from being bowled over. "You have Named me?"
"Yes. In ancient Terran, the word for 'quick' is Mikoto. That's how I think of you."
"My label is now Mikoto?"
"If you like. You don't have to use it. Like I said, it's just how I refer to you."
I nodded. I expected something to happen, now that I had been Named. But nothing did. My eyes did not change and I still could not form an expression. I wondered if something had gone wrong with the Naming process.
Then, the second question I wanted to ask made itself known.
"Why are you leaving Bran Baal?"
Second was aggrieved. "Garland wishes it. He has . . . plans."
"You are taking First . . . this 'Kuja', with you?"
He laughed. "No, Kuja is taking me." Suddenly, he turned serious. "I have a huge favour to ask . . . Mikoto . . . I don't know if I will return to Bran Baal again. Although the other Genomes don't have emotions, I do. And even if they have no recognition of Kuja or me . . . I'm worried."
"I don't have time to explain what that is! Garland is going to do something stupid, I can tell. He doesn't care about us. Even we don't care about us! All Garland cares about is restoring Terra!" He grabbed my hands. "Mikoto, I need you to look out for the Genomes. I need you to care. If something goes wrong, I want you to make sure the Genomes aren't wronged in this. We never asked to be created and we were never asked if we wanted to fulfil our purpose. If Garland messes up, it's us who will pay for it!"
I blinked, not understanding. "We are incapable of caring."
"But you should care! If only I didn't have to go . . . I'd look out for us. Garland won't! If I'm not going to be here, someone else has to be! Mikoto . . . it was never the name that changed Kuja and me. I still don't have a name and I care!" Second was pacing around now, clearly frustrated. I couldn't contemplate his actions. They were completely outside my limits of understanding.
He seemed to reach a decision. Wretchedly, he turned back to me. "Mikoto, I'm sorry . . . but you have to see. Come with me."
I followed mostly out of curiosity. Second led me away from the lake and up the ramps to the Gate. Strangely, it was open. I had never seen it open before. I wasn't given time to wonder at it, though, for I was pulled by the hand into the area beyond, across a glowing white walkway and to a twisted tree. As Second approached it, the energy between a knotted branch and the ground shimmered.
Abruptly, I was somewhere else. It was dark and malformed, almost organic in appearance.
"Where are we?" I asked impassively.
"This," Second said sadly as he dragged me onwards, "is Pandemonium."
I asked no further questions until we reached a yawning chasm in the ground. While I stared into its depths, considering how far down it went, Second moved away from me and began to call for Garland.
The Maker appeared quite suddenly. A tall, black spidery creature, with a billowing dark cape and a radiant red light in his chest, his face was lined and grey.
"You have kept us waiting," Garland said in a voice so deep it seemed to entail many, many chasms and run far further below than the one that stretched before me. He looked at me with cold eyes. "What is she doing here?"
Second began speaking rapidly. "I won't go unless you do this for me."
"What makes you think you have a choice? Come, Kuja awaits!"
"No! This Genome has learned everything there is to learn, and I have told her more."
"Against my wishes?" When Garland's voice was angry, it seemed to make the air crackle with lightning.
Second only narrowed his eyes. "Yes. I have given this Genome a name. I want you to finish the process."
"Why on Terra would I want to create a Third?"
"I know you were considering it anyway, Garland. You don't trust Kuja or me as far as you can throw us."
Garland smiled unpleasantly. "Finally, something we agree on."
"You wanted a back-up plan? Mikoto is your Genome."
"Mikoto, eh?" Garland rubbed his beard with one hand in a thoughtful way. "What exactly is your reason for wanting a Third?"
"My business is my own."
"It also my power to give life and I want to know why I should! Tell me!"
Second snarled. "Because you might screw up."
Garland's expression froze. And then he burst out laughing. It was a long time before he stopped.
"Very well, very well. I could do with another errand-runner when you two leave, anyway."
Second bristled at that, but didn't say anything else. Garland turned to me. I regarded him quite coolly.
"You might hate me for this," Second whispered to me. "And I'm sorry. But someone has to care for our fate." Squeezing my hand briefly, he stepped back. I returned my attention to Garland, with no clue as to what was going to happen to me.
"A given name has no real meaning," my Maker said with a grin.
"Then what is it that Kuja and the Second possess that we don't?"
Garland's eyes lit up. The red fire in his chest began to flare, and his hands made complex movements. I could feel a great pressure on my body and mind, like something outside my skin violently trying to burst into my interior.
"Kuja and that little runt both possess a soul, Mikoto!"
The pressure was fast becoming pain. I dropped to my knees, trembling. Even the Light had never done this to me!
"But . . . we are not meant to receive souls yet . . ."
"An angel of death needs a soul, my dear!"
With that, my shared, emotionless little world exploded.
It is probably hard to describe the reception of feelings to someone who has always possessed them. My surroundings seemed to cave in on me, my mind collapsed under the weight of the mixture of love, hatred, anger, sorrow, and fear that was loaded on my consciousness. The pain was so much more real. Whether I lived or expired was suddenly of great importance to me. I was terrified of Garland, and extremely happy to see the Second approach me with what I now understood was concern and compassion.
Now I knew what worry and care were, and I was weighed down by a great deal of both.
I became aware of my limp body against the slightly warm, pulsating floor. Second was beside me, his eyes wide with fear for my well-being.
"Mikoto, are you all right?"
I understood what the phrase 'all right' meant for the first time. Weakly, I nodded, but couldn't seem to regain my composure. Everything was different now that I had emotion. I could vaguely begin to see the difference between right and wrong and nothing looked the same anymore. Even my physical surroundings seemed darker, more frightening.
Still trembling, I blinked at Second.
"Mikoto," he whispered harshly, beneath Garland's hearing range. "You must remember. You're the only person who'll be aware when Garland messes up. You have to take responsibility for the others. Garland will use you and the others will reject you, but you're all they have. Promise me!"
"I . . . I promise." Second's affection for me was now plain, and I didn't want him to leave me here alone.
"Good . . . and take care of yourself, Mikoto. Don't let Garland do to you what he did to Kuja and me."
"What did . . . he do to you?"
"I hate to interrupt this emotional scene," Garland growled, "but you are wasting my time. Go to Kuja!"
"He doesn't want me to go."
"He doesn't have a choice! Now go!"
Second stood up, and nodded. He caught my eye before he walked out of sight.
His expression was apologetic.
"Now, Mikoto," Garland said, lifting me to my feet. I was staring at my hands as though I had never seen them before. "Mikoto!"
I looked up. Garland smiled radiantly, and placed a hand on my shoulder in what was supposed to be a comforting manner.
"We have much to discuss, my dear. Let us not waste any time."
Nothing was ever the same after that.
Garland's initiation was frightening. Second, whose presence I missed already, had not told me everything, for I wouldn't have been able to understand without emotion to fuel my mind. Now, however, the past, present and future were laid out bare before me.
I learned much more than I'd ever wanted to.
Kuja had been created specifically to prepare Gaia for assimilation. Garland liked to play God, and had made him differently to my brethren and I. That was why his appearance was so dissimilar.
Unfortunately, the Genomes as a community had rejected anything slightly strange to them. If it was not part of the Learning, it was not important. Most Genomes ignored each other anyway, but Kuja, and now I, had feelings, and such rejection was painful.
Thus, Second had been adapted from a regular Genome, in the hopes that he would be more easily integrated into Bran Baal's warped society. This hadn't been entirely successful either. I could understand this. Kuja had always seemed hostile towards everything and Second was just lonely and sad. I wondered if I, too, would suffer this same fate.
I could also understand now why Second had been so incensed by Garland's plan. Originally, the Maker had only intended for one angel of death to plunder Gaia, but the Genome's attitude towards his purpose had only worsened with his complete rejection by the other Genomes. Second's arrival had infuriated Kuja. He had refused to let Garland name the new angel of death. Garland trusted neither Genome to complete the work set to them, but with competition, he hoped Kuja would try harder and thus succeed.
Then I learned that Second was to be Kuja's successor. This angered me. Unused to emotions as I was, I let them take over.
"It is not fair. You are using us for your own ends and I will have no part in it!"
Garland bristled. He drew his hand back, and lashed it across my face.
No one had ever been violent towards me before. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I was hard-pressed to understand why.
"This is your only purpose in life! Who gave you life? I did! And as such, you will always do as I command or I shall kill you myself! Your thoughts and feelings don't matter. The end justifies the means and Terra must be revived! Do I make myself clear?"
Garland's anger was truly terrifying. It sent violent ripples of fire through the environment, forcing even the strongest-willed person to cower.
"Yes . . ."
From then on, I found it very hard to fulfil Second's wish. When Garland was not 'initiating' me into the knowledge of our purpose, I wandered around Bran Baal. The Genomes looked upon me as some new object of fascination for a while, and then ignored me. I had never been paid any special attention before, but now I had feelings and the loneliness was agonising. I spent many hours weeping uncontrollably. On the outskirts of Bran Baal was the room Garland had created for Kuja. Without a soul, the other Genomes needed neither rest nor sleep, and with Kuja and Second gone, I now had it to myself. The pillow of the bed in there was almost constantly wet with my tears.
Garland was the only person who saw me as an individual. I used to savour each calling of my name and the hours of attention he would spend on me. Although I knew I should hate him for his abuse of my race, I began to grow excited at the prospect of his special 'learning' lessons. Even when I had absorbed every detail of ruined Terra, of its method of absorbing planets to survive, of the roles that everyone played, knowingly and unknowingly, I sought him out. At first he would ignore me if he had no use for me at the time.
Then, slowly but surely, he allowed me to watch him work Pandemonium. I'd follow him up to the Invincible and we'd stare down at Gaia through the ship's eye. One day, he revealed Second's fate to me. I hated and feared Kuja for having the gall to purposely 'lose' the first and closest person I'd had to a friend. Garland did not seem surprised.
"It was in Kuja's nature," he said simply.
I think Garland did eventually enjoy my company for its own sake. Now that time was a part of my understanding (for I aged quite rapidly over the twelve years following Kuja and Second's departure), I felt pity for him. He alone had been left with the responsibility of reviving a long dead civilisation. He had to be thousands of years old, and he often seemed to miss his own kind. The only other intelligent creatures on Terra were his own creations, the Genomes, but without emotions they could not engage in true conversation, or understand how a person with feelings thought. Kuja had hated Garland's authority and disinterest in his well-being, and Second had disliked seeing his people used like this. It might have been Garland's brainwashing, or my sympathetic nature revealing itself, but I thought of him as a friend.
Back in Bran Baal, however, I hated being an Individual. The loneliness was swiftly becoming unbearable. As a result of my fellow Genomes' ignorance, and Garland's dislike of any protest, I began to hide my emotions. It was easier to speak in a toneless voice, and smother my sorrow. I was unaware at the time that suppressing my feelings to blend in better with the Genomes went against Second's wishes.
But how could I care for them? My species, they might have been, and I know I should have felt compassion for them even in their zombie-like states. After all, I had been identical before receiving my soul. But Second hadn't had to last for this long. Besides, Garland seemed to approve of my quietness and my uncaring nature, and I would do anything to please him. In the end, I just couldn't be bothered to care. Even my own life, my own fate, became unimportant.
My sense of right and wrong dried up as well. I stood on the prow of the Invincible as Garland used the great Terran ship to destroy Madain Sari, and then Alexandria. After the decimation of the second great city, Garland seemed immensely pleased. It had something to do with Second, but I didn't know what. He didn't tell me, either. Surprisingly, thoughts of Second no longer inspired regret and feelings of loss. I was simply past caring.
Kuja seemed to be doing his job well. Garland said it was for the wrong reasons, but it didn't matter. The end result was the only thing that did. I was too tired of life to disagree.
***End of Part 1***
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