Malthusian Theory

20




The Purpose

Chapter 1 "Malthusian Theory"

The Trans-Siberian railroad was a marvel of Russian engineering, a testament that not even the harsh tundra could stop humanity. I admire their ingenuity and sometimes quite stubborn endurance. These, along with many other traits are the reason they got this far in their development, even going as far as to grace the Heavens. Some might use this as an argument against the more religiously-inclined, that there is in fact no Heaven. The space race may have been born for petty reasons, but therein lay the seeds of greatness.

The conductor cleared his throat, extending his hand and asking for my ticket.

"Right here, sir." I pass the requested stub unto the waiting hand.

As he checked my ticket, I opened the window, looking at the wilderness beyond. The conductor gave a confused look of annoyance, a tight grip on the tickets as a cold, biting wind swept into the cabin. "It's right here. You better jump," came Xion's telepathic warning.

"SIR, STOP!" shouted the conductor, his words disappearing as I dove out the window and plunged into the soft snow.

I rolled for a few seconds before coming to a stop. I rose, dusting off the snow form my clothes, watching as the train dipped beyond the snowy horizon. "You know, you didn't have to scare him by jumping off a train going on full speed," advised Xion.

"I had to do it then and there, I'm surprised he was able to resist the cognitohazard."

"It could be continued exposure made him somewhat resistant to it?"

"Perhaps but unlikely maybe he… Hmm never mind let's focus on the important stuff." I looked around seeing the train move away.

"Alright it's gone Xion could I get a change of clothing?"

Xion floated out of my coat and pulsed melting the snow around me and generating a set of white, winter clothing at my feet. I changed and began trudging through the dense snow it will be at least an other day before I reach the place.

I crossed the Zeya River without much difficulty and kept on moving forward.

Night came and Xion opened up a bit in order to project a light in front as I directed it to where I needed it most.

Day came and we continued on through the forest avoiding the population centers that I could see from above the hill on the coast of the Zeya Reservoir.

"It's a nice view from up here, isn't it?"

"It's just a Reservoir and a few settlements on its coast I fail to see the artistic value in this."

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I said as I continued on.

Soon enough Xion pulsed. "We're close." He warned.

I took Xion out of my coat, extending my arm. He rose, hovering above the palm of my hand. His spherical body separated, each plate orbiting the fluctuating black and violet core. A beam of blue light projected towards the woods. "It's in the forest?"

"No, it's further beyond. Over a hill. Aside from the field I am detecting at least 2 major signatures."

Crossing the treeline, I felt an unnatural force around me. The trees seemed longer now, as if they were narrowing and stretching.

"Look," spoke Xion, directing my attention to something pink and fleshy, writhing and pulsating, nestled in the roots of a bizarre gnarled tree, roughly five feet tall and bent at the middle. I half-suspected the tree might bleed if I cut it. My eyes drifted to one of its bare branches. It took a second before I realized what I was seeing. It was a hand. I pressed my ear to the trunk of the tree, and heard the undeniable thump of a pulse within.

"It appears to be human," Xion chimed in.

"Can't tell in this field. It could easily be the result of reality collapsing, here."

Nearing the top of the hill, I spotted smoke. Climbing over the peak I saw a village of about fifty buildings, all centered around a church. I took Xion from my pocket once more. "Think you could identify, now?"

"Excluding the possibility of a glitch in my matrix, there is definitely anomalous activity in this region. However, interference is preventing me from getting a clear lock on the target. There appears to be a disruption field one kilometer in diameter."

"Interference? What could possibly interfere with your scan?" I asked, observing the village at a distance. The people in it kept themselves busy, with daily chores or gossip. Ordinary life, capable of extraordinary things. But there was nothing remarkable about the place. I counted at least thirty-six family homes, one church, three inns, A ranch, with six other buildings, either to house the animals or their feed. Three more, a bit further away, most likely dedicated to woodcutting and hunting. Tanning skins and drying meats. Lastly, one old factory further isolated from the village. Probably a Soviet attempted his hand at industrialization…

The sun began to set, casting a swath of rich colors across the horizon. I probably had only thirty minutes tops to find some shelter before it got too cold. Looking at the village again, I chose the nearest place. Sliding town the hill I pulled on the snow mask and goggles to conceal my face. Nearing the village, I learned the name of this place: Belorekna.

I knocked on the door of the house. A young girl, maybe twelve, answered. "Hello?" she asked, hiding behind the door, most likely frightened by my attire.

I knelt, making myself less imposing, but she only cowered more. "Sorry for being so sudden. I… hope I'm not scaring you, but, could you spare a room? I don't have anywhere to stay right now. It's getting pretty cold."

"We have a room," she answered, still scared. I decided to give her something to calm her nerves. I removed my glove to make a small gesture, and soothed her. After tracing it on her forehead, I spread my fingers, cementing the effect. Only, to my surprise it did not work on her. Instead, she instinctively backed away, awestruck by my pitch black hand.

"Your hand's like charcoal," she said, gawking. I used the opening to slip into the house and close the door, so as not to attract anymore unwanted attention. Looking at the girl, she had a sweater over her long skirt, as well as some thick boots. Her blonde hair was tied into a braid and covered by a knit cap. Her blue eyes kept inspecting my hand. In any other situation, I would have quickly incapacitated her. After all, humans had quite a few non-lethal weak spots. But she was so young, and I suppose I found something charming in how entranced she was by her curiosity.

"What are you?" she asked, practically hanging from my arm. It was strange how quickly human curiosity overcame fear.

"I'm not human. Is that a satisfying answer?" I took my hand away from her.

"You look human," she objected, to which I removed my mask and goggles. That only caused her to gawk even more. I suppose that wasn't a wise decision on my part, but a child's curiosity can't be sated. She would have discovered something, eventually. Especially if I was staying here. "You are endangering the mission," Xion whispered, as the girl probed my face with her hands. "It so dark, I can't see anything!" she gasped, searching for a nose, ears. Only satisfied once she found them. She took her hands from my face and began fidgeting with her braid.

"Are you satisfied?" I asked, patting her on the head and inspected the room at a leisurely pace. It was large and decorated with animal heads. Carpets covering one of the walls and the wooden floor. The house had five other rooms on the first floor as well as a staircase leading to the attic, basement, and garage. All in all, quite spacious.

"Well since you're here, you might as well stay," she said, taking my hand. "It's already dark outside. Grandpa always says you shouldn't sleep on snow, or you might not wake up." The girl led me to the guest room.

"Won't your parents be mad because you let a stranger in?" I asked as I looked towards her with some concern.

"They're gone all the time. It's me and my grandpa most of the time, so they won't notice you. And grandpa loves company!"

"I suppose it would be rude to turn down such accommodations, miss- uh… what's your name?"

"Annya!" she excitedly answered. I shook her hand.

"Nice to meet you," I said.

After we exchanged pleasantries I closed my door, taking out Xion for a change of clothing. His spherical body pulsed, changing my heavy clothing to something more civilian. I ditched the mask and goggles for a hooded leather coat, heavy boots, and denim jeans.

"I'm afraid you have a spy," Xion said, pulling the door open to reveal Annya crouched behind it, looking like she'd seen a ghost.

"I- I…" she stuttered.

I completed her sentence. "Got curious?" She giggled nervously as I approached her. Close enough to make another gesture on her forehead, this time to delete her memory of me. I decided it was too much of a risk, hurrying to leave the house before she could recover. I reached for the front door, when I felt her arms hug me from behind. I looked down at her in disbelief.

"Please don't go!" she pleaded. As I turned my head away from her, I saw the village folk through the window, leaving their homes in black robes. A procession of lanterns and flags, with the all too familiar emblem of the Church of Malthus. I ducked down beneath the window, sinking to the floor.

Annya sat next to me, bringing a finger to her lips. "Shh…" She didn't have to tell me.

I pulled Xion from my coat and held him above the window sill to scan the grim parade. "Confirmed," he said, "This is an isolated cell of Malthusian cultists."

"What do they specialize in?" I kept my question to a whisper.

"Typical genetic modification and eugenics programs, focused on stimulating recessive genes within the human genome deemed to be beneficial. Specifically: Those that aid in anti-memetic defense against cognitive hazards."

This information made me look over Annya in wariness. Was she the product of these experiments? I decided to once again use the same gesture on her… nothing. She was immune even to my memetic hazards.

"What did you do?" she asked.

"I tried to erase your memory," I sighed. "I'm sorry."

"Strange. It didn't hurt. Mom and dad's did, though."

I looked at her with invisible horror. The Malthusians saw Annya as little more than a means toward their greater goal of ascending humanity. It was to be expected, and yet I was always shocked whenever humans did such things, whenever they justified their actions by proclaiming the greater good, God, or any number of reasons. Whatever made it easier on the conscience. Nonetheless, I forced myself back to reality. This wasn't the time for some internal philosophical tangent that served to fix nothing in this moment.

Once the cultists were gone I rose to my feet, Annya following suit just as her grandfather entered the room brandishing a Makarov pistol in his right hand, and a bottle of vodka in the other. "Who are you?! What are you doing in this house!? Annya, I told you never to let strangers in! You know how your parents are!"

"Grandpa, I…."

I quickly intervened. "I'm sorry, sir, but she isn't to blame. I let myself in. She has been very kind, not to leave a stranger out in the cold." I smiled innocently, which only made him point the gun at me. A new approach was needed. "Would you at least grant me one last favour? A drink before I go out? Since I am a dead man." I smiled again.

The old man thought about it and with a smug grin he pointed to the table. As I took my seat, Annya brought two shot glasses and began pouring the vodka. She stepped away, concern evident on her face. She was a sweet child, and did not deserve this place.

"It would be rude to drink and not know who is going to kill me," I said, raising the glass, but awaiting an answer.

The old man drank his first shot, nodding to Annya. As she filled his glass, he spoke. "Dimitri Pavlov, Third Regiment of the Red Army under Commander Georgy Zhukov!" he proclaimed, and downed the second shot. I joined him. Our glasses came down with a loud clack. He offered me another.

"Ah, so you reached Berlin. Congratulations. I'm afraid I can't. It would be rude of me to take another drink when you've already granted me my last."

He laughed. "Hah! It would be rude of you to refuse! But, you are principled, I see." At this point he set the gun on the table and resorted to drinking the vodka straight from the bottle. I calmly took the gun and gave it to Annya, who seemed confused. I could only offer a shrug before turning to the man once more, to see his bottle refill in an instant. "To the Motherland…" was all he managed to say before passing out on the table, snoring. Annya's hands were shaking. I gently reclaimed the gun from her, pocketing it before drawing Xion from my coat.

"It's the anomaly," Xion confirmed.

I took the bottle to inspect it. The engravings on the bottom depicted an "A!Co." embossed within a star. "Retrieve," I commanded. Xion's light began pulsating, plates separating to reveal his core as it absorbed the mysterious bottle. Pocketing Xion, I turned to Annya. "Was he always like this?"

"No… Grandpa used to be lively, telling stories about protecting the country, and that without his efforts we wouldn't be free. Then he started having arguments with my parents over what they were doing to me. One day they gave him the bottle. He was never the same after that." She began crying. I hugged her and pat her head, attempting to comfort her. "Annya, help me bring your grandfather to bed. I might be able to help him." She looked up at me with hopeful eyes, before trying to move him by herself. I took Dimitri over my shoulder and carried him to his room, where Annya helped me tuck him into bed.

I looked him over. Ultimately, I had to resort to Xion to make a medical evaluation of his condition. The scan revealed high levels of alcohol in his blood. No, it was alcohol. Ten percent of the plasma had been replaced with vodka. It should have been lethal. "Did he eat anything at all?"I asked.

"Bread? Some sausages, but aside from that all he had to drink was from that bottle," Annya said.

Xion summoned a glyph, which I applied to his left hand. Then came the process of transmuting Dimitri's blood to its original state, using the man's left hand as the focal point of purification. "Transmutation has been successful," Xion stated.

"He's better now, but he'll need rest. Let him sleep." I looked at her. "Speaking of, we should get you to bed."

"Alright…"

I stood, taking her by the hand and leading her to bed. I leaned forward, kissing her forehead. She giggled. "Goodnight, Annya," I said, and went to the guest room. I figured I should think everything over. Even though it wasn't necessary, a good night's sleep helped organize my thoughts…


The sun rose, the snow catching its rays with an ember light. While most of the village was still asleep, I'd finished inspecting the other rooms of the house. Spare clothes in the attic, food and construction materials in the basement. Spare parts and fuel for lanterns. Nothing in the parents' room that could explain the Church's presence in the village, or future plans. Malthusians were always intentional in their goals, more an organization than a religion. This village was here for a reason, but it was unlikely for the common villager to have known anything out of the ordinary. I resigned myself to the fact, being met by Dimitri on my way out of the room.

"Good morning. You're up early," I said, extending my hand to greet him.

He looked at me and hesitantly shook it. "You don't seem to be a hallucination. What are you? What have you done to me?" he asked, avoiding direct eye contact.

"I've heard the stories of old spirits roaming the wilderness, passing judgement on mortals. They are not as exaggerated as you may think, but I'm not one of them. I am no demon, either. I'm not here to make a deal in exchange for your souls," I said, answering all the questions he was too afraid to ask me.

His fear only deepened, face going completely pale. "How did you know…"

"It's simple. Unless you are trained to resist, humans are an open book. I am quite the avid reader," I whispered, trying to sound menacing. Sarcasm, I think it's called. I slapped him on the back and smiled. "Hah! Don't worry, I'm just messing with you, I hear those questions all the time. In truth, I might be closer to being human than you think. I generally do not lie, but I'm more than capable of lying, so don't trust me blindly. It's never a wise decision, no matter where you go," I said, and went to make breakfast.

"I wanted to say thank you for coming, and… looking after Annya. And healing me, from whatever those kids put in my drink. I swear, I'll never drink again," he said, following and helping me with breakfast.

"You don't have to," I said.

"Why are you here, anyway?"

"I'm looking for something. I was hoping to get out of here as quickly as possible, but that seems to be off the table, now. Could you tell me about your children? Annya's parents."

He shook his head, sadly. "My Iulia was so sweet. But she changed after she met Ivan, and joined that… cult. She told me they were Christian. That they just read the Word of God differently. In a more 'direct way', but one day… I couldn't bear what they did to her. I was ignorant. It was my fault what happened, and now my baby Iulichika is gone." He clenched his fists, disgust and anger clear in his eyes. "I can tell you all I know. You get it, and then we leave this place."

"You're going to leave on foot? It may not be a problem for me, but humans require sustenance, especially in extreme environments."

"Oh, don't worry. I saved a few toys from back in the war," he said, with a confident, determined smile.

"Toys?"

Dimitri led me to the garage and opened it, pulling the cover away to reveal an old GARD buggy. I was shocked the Authority didn't seize it, as back in the war, GARD was known to heavily utilize anomalous technology. The buggy had been repainted to look plain, but the design was unmistakable. It is German quality, after all.

"You managed to acquire a buggy from the Third Reich and hide it here all this time?!" I asked, dumbfounded.

"Wasn't so hard. Well, compared to the more standard configuration, it was. But hey, it worked! And I kept it ever since, a trophy and reminder. When we were off-duty, my comrades and I would take it out for a ride. And we agreed, since I 'borrowed' it, I would keep it." Dimitri pat the machine proudly.

"Alright. Get it ready in at least fifteen minutes and move it away from the village before starting it up."

"Why not here? It would be much easier," he said.

"I have unfinished business with the Malthusians," I informed him. "Thank you for the information, I'll be back. Just wait outside the village, somewhere where they won't hear you start the engine. When I'm finished, we'll need to get out of here as fast as possible." I turned, exiting the garage and heading straight for the church at the center of town.

As I walked the main street, I noticed fresh footprints in the snow leading up to the old, wooden door of the church. I pushed inside, finding a modest interior, lacking the typical stained glass windows and frescoes depicting biblical events. It was rather small, with six pews in a row on either side of the aisle, leading to the altar, and two doors to either side of the apse which opened to a set of spiraling stairs, leading to the bell tower, basement, and library.

Xion scanned for life, informing me of the priest's location. He was in the back and tending to his library, which gave me time to prepare. I stood between the two front pews, staring through the muddy window into the grey, winter sky.

"Ah, greetings. May the Lord bless you, my child. What can I do for you?" the priest said as he approached, Bible and crucifix nestled in one hand.

"I don't really know. Could you tell me about this place?" I asked, still staring away.

The priest drew an apprehensive breath. "Well, this village has quite the history. It was first founded by soldiers of the Red Army who received the highest accolades and were given the land to develop it. After Stalin's death, the people in the gulags were freed. Many of them joined the village. After that, I came here with my people, about five years ago. We wanted to be free to worship God in our way." He continued, passionately telling me about the local, family run businesses.

"Tell me, do you believe in God?" I asked, interrupting him. "Specifically, do you believe in God… Or the writings of Malthus?" I turned to face him, removing my hood, causing him to fall back, clutching the back of one of the pews.

"What are you?!" he shrieked in terror. I bent my knees and lowered myself to get a better look at him. He was a heavyset man with a black beard, a long hair tied back into a ponytail, and a few grey hairs, wearing the standard, black robes of the Orthodox clergy.

"You pretend to worship a God you don't believe in," I said. "Or is Malthus just a way to personify your twisted ideals into a religion of fanatical eugenicists?"

"You dare?!" he snarled, pulling a knife from his sleeve and swinging at me. I grabbed his wrist, gripping it tightly as he drew another knife from his robes. I brought my other hand up to stop it. The blade slid clean through my palm, but drew no blood. "How?!"

"I don't have to obey the laws of your reality, not to mention the fact that it has collapsed, and that this village is strangely intact so if u were to bend it it would break completely. And you wouldn't want that would you now?" I explained, smiling at him menacingly. "This book for example. It's more than it appears to be." I removed my hand from his knife, snapping the blade from the hilt, and reached for his Bible. It changed in my hand; A gleaming sword of light that lit up the church, casting long and harsh shadows on the wall.

The priest's eyes widened, a numb terror painted on his face as I stood with sword in hand, lifting the blade briefly before plunging it into his heart. It seared his flesh with a loud, crackling sizzle, smoke rising from the wound. I pulled the sword from him, the priest clutching his chest. He slumped to the floor, dying a slow and painful death, as the sword reverted to its mundane form. Just enough time for me to ask one last question before I left.

"Tell me. Why do you hate the Authority?" I asked.

Through ragged breaths, his expression contorted to pure rage, he spoke. "They claim to be the shield of humanity," he wheezed. "Yet they stood by and did nothing as a superior generation was slaughtered in not… one, but two major wars. All to secure their own interests! They don't stand for humanity, but against it! They must be… eradicated, if we are to further mankind." His rage began to fade as the cold hands of death set upon him. "Just think… no more war… no more illness. No more… suffering." He struggled to his feet, clutching the pew for support.

All I could do was laugh. "You know, I thought you'd be different. but I guess none of you have minds of your own. All you know is propaganda. Using eugenics to 'evolve' humanity." I sighed. "I thought you were the mastermind here. But nothing changes with your death. You weren't even worth killing…" The priest collapsed, dead.

I took Xion from my pocket, absorbing the anomaly into his core before scanning the building. "I found the source," he said, "It's underneath us."

It did not take me long to find it: A generator in the basement. Xion's scan revealed it to be the source of power for the disruption field, jamming radar and preventing most technology from getting an accurate read on the area. I took Xion in hand, his plates reshaping into a gauntlet, with his core floating above the back of my hand. Spreading my fingers, I prepared to disintegrate the generator. With a concentrated pulse, it simply burst from existence, leaving nothing behind. Returning Xion to his original shape, I began to stow him away when he stopped me.

"Wait. One last anomaly detected."

I left the church and headed for the factory, where I was met with a familiar symbol: Amazing! Co. With no time to absorb everything, I had Xion generate a containment field instead. And configuring it to freeze it in time to prevent Amazing! Co. from demolishing the building, and standard Authority signal flares set to a timer. The containment field should last for a month, giving the RPC time to establish a site here and deal with the Malthusians.

Following the tire marks in the snow, I made it to the outskirts of the village while the Malthusians were still groggy and mostly in bed, tired from last night's ritual. What mattered now was getting out of here while we still had time. Dimitri had the buggy all set to go. Annya was already dressed and in the back seat with her most important possessions packed.

"Where were you?" asked Annya, yawning and rubbing her eyes.

"Solving a problem. Are we ready to go?" I asked, strapping in and patting her head.

"Just waiting for you, that's all," Dimitri said, turning the ignition. The engine rumbled to life, and we drove away.

As I looked back, I saw the village disappear over the horizon. Signal flares rose over the skyline, gleaming brightly and trailing smoke behind. Hopefully the Authority's satellite network would pick them up and send forces immediately. Meanwhile, I would move on toward the next objective, getting closer to my goal.

"You called the Authority, didn't you?" asked Dimitri, keeping his eyes on the road.

"I guess the Third Regiment of the Red Army was actually part of the RAVAAF?" I asked.

"Yes. I managed to sneak this baby underneath the Authority's nose. My comrades and I, we saw what the Nazis were doing firsthand. Even lost some good friends. We drove as far as we could from the Authority." He was quiet for a moment. "You probably found that generator. And I'm sure you destroyed it, which means the Authority will soon uncover what my comrades and I hid beneath the snow." He looked angry.

"I'm sorry. But the Authority changed. And in case you're wondering, I'm not an agent for them," I assured him.

"I never doubted that part. I don't think they would collaborate with something they'd rather contain and study."

"You'd be surprised. but then again, they don't know who I am, yet. And I'd rather keep it that way." I turned to look at Annya, who was staring at us curiously.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Someplace where you can be free," I said, smiling.

"We're going to Vladivostok. I got a few friends there. Their families live there too, so we won't be alone." He looked back, briefly, giving Annya an assuring smile. She beamed at the idea of seeing the rest of the world.

Dimitri slammed on the brakes suddenly, everyone lurching forward against their seat belts as something staggered into the snowy, unpaved road. Something pale and humanoid, covered in blood, sticky with sap. Bits of tree bark clinging to bare skin.

"Iulia?!" Dimitri gasped.

Annya sat up in her seat, peering through the window. "Mom?!"

Dimitri bolted out of the buggy, running to embrace her. She was still disoriented from the effects of the disruption field. Erratic, and unable to speak. I had Xion clean her off, and provide warm clothes. Annya hugged her, tried to coax a response from her, but Iulia's expression remained empty and horrified. The trauma of being forced into such an unnatural form must have stretched her mind to its breaking point.

As we reached a paved highway, everyone had settled into quiet. I looked at the rising sun, wondering about Annya's future, and what she might achieve, and where I should go next. There would be new places to see, new people to meet, and anomalies to contend with. But for now, I just wanted to enjoy the brief moment of serenity.

Soon we reached Vladivostok, and would part ways.

"What's your name?" Annya asked, tugging at my coat.

"Cyan" I said, smiling down at her. "My name is Cyan."

"I'm so glad I met you," she said, cradling my hand in hers.

"I'm glad I met you too, Annya."

In the end, everything will be alright.


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