I hadn't seen the daylight in years.
Not since the incident.
I don't know if it was, in part, my complete refusal to step outside. A long, long time ago, my mother and my grandmother had come to the door of the base, begging me to come home with them, but I refused.
I had to live here now.
Since everyone else was gone.
This was my job, my duty. That's what I told myself. But now…
I hadn't heard from anyone in years. No old "Operator? Operator, you there?" No one had called me by name for so long…I think I had nearly forgotten it. If it weren't for the fact that I repeated it to myself, over and over again, the first time I realized that the words had slipped from my mind.
"You are Darius Wang, son of Norman Wang, son of August Wang… You are Darius Wang. You are king. You are king. You are Darius Wang. You are king…"
Don't forget, don't forget, don't forget…
Then I had slammed my fist down on the desk before me, spilling my coffee all over the place, burning me. I couldn't even clean it up properly, it was so dark.
No one around to hear me swear.
And one day I swore that if no one picked up the line and called in twenty years, I would end myself.
But then I remembered what grandfather and father had always said: it was my duty to be here. I had to stay.
Was there any way to undo an oath?
You could go outside… But I refused to go outside.
I refused to go because it was light, there was light, so much light, and it was all dead, dead and dying and decaying, and anyway, there were androids, androids that spilled blood, so much blood…
I was so much better off trapped in this silent void of darkness. At least that was what I told myself.
Until I received the call.
"Is there anybody out there? Anybody? Anybody at all?"
The crackling from the radio sounded in my ears, and I started, waking up from my dreary stupor. I sat up in my swivel chair, nearly knocking over my bottle of drink in my haste, and adjusted my headset, calling the monitor in front of me to life.
"Hello? Hello. Operator speaking. Hello? This is Darius Wang of Niaolong Base 5116. Hello? Can you hear me?"
Silence. Then, a crackling along with a sigh. "Life," said the person at the other end. "There's…life…"
And those words had been the exact thoughts running through my head…
Life… I guess I was going to live another day. I would not let the blackness take me further in...maybe afterwards, after the voice was gone, maybe then…
But I was an operator. I had to answer, before I got too carried away with my own fantasies.
"Life? Is that all you wanted to check for? Is there none where you are?"
No, no, no, that was too harsh, too gritty… Stop it, stop blaming those outside for not contacting you…
I steeled myself, corrected myself. "I apologize. I'm just as surprised as you are. I haven't heard from anybody in years."
"Years, hm? You've been counting them?"
"No, no, I haven't. How may I help you today?"
"When did you stop receiving calls?"
Seriously? This was the first question he chose to ask? Out of everything that I could help him with…
"It happened gradually, sir. Is there anything that you would like me to help you with?"
There was a sharp coughing from the other end, probably from sand inhalation. So this other person wasn't from any of the cities, at least, he wasn't there right now…
"You…you sound young. How old are you?"
Wow, wasn't he getting a bit too friendly? No, no, I had to be professional… "I am nineteen years old, last I checked."
"So nineteen years ago, there were still calls?"
What, had this guy been stuck in a time void? What was with all the weird questions? But…
Don't be rude now…that was what father would have said.
"Yes, sir. Back before I was born, there sure were a lot more people here."
"Anything else you might need, sir?"
"I'm a traveler. I'm looking for the way to Shuijing City."
"Well, thankfully, my friend," I said, opening up a new window on the nearest monitor to me, "I can provide you with all that." Finally, something that was in my job description.
"Thank you," said the voice on the other end. "You said your name was Darius Wang?"
"That is correct, sir." Both curious and wanting another name to repeat besides my own, I asked, "And what might yours be?"
"Rinthe…Well, nice to meet you, Mr. Akiya. I'll have your information ready in a second. So, uh, what's it like outside?" The servers weren't like what they used to be…I'm sure that no one had bothered keeping them in repair.
"You don't know?"
"I…haven't really been outside since…the others went. I need to be listening to the radio at all times." Lies, lies. I had kept my headset on at all times, but I hadn't heard anything.
"Well…it's nighttime. Um, a lot of sand. A lack of oxygen.
"Ah. So, same old, same old." If it was night…Well, the time on the monitor screen confirmed that. But nowadays, I slept when I was tired, and woke when I wanted to. Day could be night, and night could be day, and it wouldn't make a difference to me. I reached a hand into the open bag of chips next to me and took two.
"What are you eating?"
"Banana chips. You said Shuijing, right? The information should be ready in just a moment…" I pressed a few keys, and pressed directions, and Shuijing City popped up. Ah, yes, Shuijing City… Capital of the land… "Let's see…you have your coordinates?"
"I'm about three kilometers from the Sunaarashi Unit base. Going east."
"Sunaarashi? That place…" I felt a chill run down my spine. The name sounded familiar … In a new tab, I searched up 'Sunaarashi Unit base'. "You didn't…come from there, did you?"
"As a matter of fact, I did."
"But that place…" I swallowed. The results…"Never mind. You're going east, you say?" I looked at the virtual map. It hadn't been updated for a while, now. Still showed green grass and trees… I glanced back at the results for Sunaarashi. "You're heading in the right direction," I finally said. "Looks about eight to ten days away. You have enough food and water for that?"
Silence from the other end. Then, "I have enough."
"All right. Will that be all?" I asked, about to hang up.
"No…don't leave me. I…would like someone to talk to. That is, if you're not too busy…"
"It's just…I think I'll go mad, if I'm all alone again…sorry. I must be bothering you."
Well, this was…new. Usually it was the person on the other line who hung up first. Always too busy, them.
"Of course, Mr. Akiya. I'll be glad to keep you company." But in truth, I suppose I was glad for his company. "Though…you do know that I won't be able to talk to you after you enter Shuijing?"
"I know. But even so…"
"If it's nighttime, sir, you should get some sleep. You have a long way to go."
"I've been sleeping for so long, now…I don't think I'd be able to close my eyes."
"Well, suit yourself. I'm feeling a bit tired myself, so… I'll always have my headset on, so feel free to contact me at any time." I left the monitor on, and climbed into one of the bunks next to the work space, drawing the curtain closed. I lay back, staring at the ceiling, and adjusted my headset. It had been so long now…
"…Thank you, Darius."
"Hey, no problem. It's my job, isn't it?"
The darkness…I hadn't seen the outside light in years…nor had I heard anyone's voice in that span of time. Always waiting, watching, performing my duty, listening to nothing but static… Every day expecting some knock on the door from some android squad… Getting hauled off, getting shot…
But now, there was hope.
There was someone outside, someone who wanted to talk to me… Even if it was only for a moment, even if they were going to die the next day, there was still someone…
I smiled, and closed my eyes.
Finally I could sleep, looking forward to waking up.
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