If Man is Still Alive
A man of medium height and muscular build, his skin dark as space between
the stars in sharp contrast to his white gi, stood facing a pale statuesque
blonde wearing a black gi. His belt was black. Hers was white. He bowed deeply,
as did she. Then, with deliberate slowness born of ritual formality, they each
raised their weapons in salute.
“Hajime,” he said.
Stepping to the side smoothly, he parried Lenore’s clumsy downward slash with a flying cicada movement, catching her blade on the edge of his and directing it harmlessly to the side, then bringing his shinobigatana around in an arc to slash across her midsection. He spun around in a water dragonfly move, avoiding her riposte and finishing her off with a horizontal slash across her throat.
“Hai. Arigato.” Lenore immediately returned to her starting position, starring at him without expression. They repeated the ritual and sparred some more. This continued for another twenty minutes.
“Owatta,” he said. Having finished the exercise, he once again bowed deeply to Lenore, who returned his bow in perfect imitation, then took her wooden practice sword and his own steel shinobigatana to put them away on their respective racks in the dojo.
“I’m going to take a shower, Lenore,” he said. “You should start getting ready for class. Serenity will be calling soon.” Lenore nodded, then turned and left the room without a word.
Watching the door close behind her, he stood a moment and thought once again of how human she looked. Beautiful by design and function, of course, as Mister Universe’s former Love-Bot®. She was improved by his own modifications to be an effective sparring partner, but still a robot. He would hardly be using his razor-edged shinobigatana while sparring with her if she were flesh and blood. As it was he would need to renew her Flexi-Skin® covering soon. The nicks and cuts were getting too numerous to conceal with Gel-Patch® and make-up.
The shower felt good. He had worked up a good sweat and his muscles screamed to be doused with warm water. Their aches, and the ones in his joints, were irritating reminders of his advancing age. All the more reason to continue the exercises, he thought to himself, rubbing soothing body wash over his chest and arms. Indolence would make him weak, and inactivity meant death. So his instructors had taught him.
When he left government service and became a self-imposed exile on this tiny moon, he had resigned himself to the life of a hermit. The robot was his only companion, and despite her appearance she was not good company for anyone with social skills. He continued playing the role set by the former Mister Universe, a man he had killed in the course of his duties, by operating a nexus of free information. He was the last data-pirate left in the system, and he held no illusions that he was doing it for altruistic reasons. He had given up all hope of changing the world when he became an outcast, and no longer believed he had the power to make better worlds.
By the time he dressed and made his way up to the communications studio, Lenore had already patched the cuts on her neck and threw on the formal kimono she wore while giving classes. When he entered the studio, she immediately nodded to him and sat at the main console. He took his seat at the control console to her left and queued up the teacher proxy program. The holo-cam light came on and he smiled at the lens, and then looked over at Lenore, who was also smiling and looking to her right. He moved his hand to flip the switch for her holo-cam, and her hand made the exact same gesture in the air.
Right on schedule, the “incoming wave” light began to blink, and he flipped another switch as Lenore dutifully imitated his movements with digital precision.
“Ni hao, Lenore.” The speaker was a dignified elderly Asian woman wearing a formal neo-silk cheongsam dress in the current academic style. She bowed slightly, possibly indicating that she was of greater rank, but still giving respect. Or it was more likely that her back was bothering her, as he remembered it often did. It was one of the reasons she had retired. She was flanked by five children who also bowed, but in varying degrees of enthusiasm.
“Ni hao, Lenore!” The children shouted, sounding as cheerful as it was possible for small children to be.
“Ni hao, Laoshi. Ni hao, class.” He and Lenore bowed deeply in return, though they only saw Lenore. Likewise, though he was the one speaking, at the other end of the wave it appeared as though Lenore was doing the talking. Her voice sounded warm and feminine, completely different from his soft baritone.
The Serenity was on the other side of the system, millions of kilometers away. However, because of the tachyon-wave technology discovered nearly a hundred years before, the signal was instantaneous, so there was no delay in talking back and forth across such distance.
“Today, class,” Lenore continued, “we are going to watch one of Aesop’s classic fables. This one is called The Old Man and His Sons.” Lenore appeared to touch a button on a panel off-screen, and her image was replaced by a short animated video.
He watched the class as they watched the video, thinking of the figures arranged in the makeshift classroom. The teacher, Laoshi Ann, was an old friend from his younger days as an Operative for the Alliance Parliament. She had been a Companion, an educated woman of high status, and it had been his privilege to use her skills numerous times for missions of great diplomatic sensitivity. They had learned to respect each other over the years, and he was more than happy to help her when she had asked for his assistance with her class.
He had never met the children face-to-face, but he knew their parents well. They were the crew of the Serenity, a Firefly-class freighter. The runaway doctor, Simon Tamm, had married Kaylee, the ship’s engineer, almost 7 years ago. They had the two redheaded girls, Annabelle and Ariel, ages 6 and 5 respectively. They had their mother’s sparkling eyes and auburn-red hair, though Annabelle had inherited her father’s serious outlook, while Ariel had her mother’s open-faced smile.
Zoe Washburn had given birth to the twins, Isaac and Esther, nearly a year after her husband, Hoban “Wash” Washburn, had been killed in that Reever raid in 2518. He had banked some sperm and she made the decision to honor his memory by having his children. They turned 6 just over a month ago. Isaac the stern little warrior and Esther the dimpled class clown.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds and Inara Serra were the parents of Zachariah, though Inara had died of a terminal illness only a few years ago, which was why Laoshi was asked to join the crew. She could never take the place of Inara, but the crew were simply too busy to look after so many children at one time. Laoshi had been Inara’s mentor at the academy, and had eagerly come out of retirement to play nanny to her favorite pupil’s son and God-children.
Large for a 5-year old, Zach Reynolds was a brooding dark-haired hot-head with a fondness for fighting. Boys with similar temperaments often became bullies, but Zach was a defender of the weak, not an exploiter of weakness. His fights were almost always with his father. Lately, however, his aggression was also directed at Laoshi and Lenore.
He would certainly hate the former Operative. They all would and for good reason. He had tried to kill the crew of the Serenity 7 years ago, on an assignment from the Parliament. They would remember his face and voice without fondness. Thus, the man who had no name spoke only through Lenore.
When the old video was over (it was a pirated library archive file from the original colony ship from old Earth – saved for just the sort of educational situations as this one) Lenore smiled again and said: “Now, how was that? What was the lesson the old man tried to teach his sons?”
Most of the children looked bored. Zach had begun to bounce a ball off the ship’s bulkhead, ignoring the question. Only one child remained cheerful and attentive. Her hand was up and waving wildly.
“Go ahead, Ariel.”
“Family should help each other!” Ariel said brightly.
“That’s right, Ariel. Families should work together and help each other. Together you are stronger than when you are apart. Isn’t that right, Zachariah?”
Zach threw the ball and caught it on the rebound, then did it again, his face a mask of annoyed disinterest. Then it broke into a smile suddenly as a large hand swept from off-camera to grab the ball. Jayne Cobb tossed the ball aside and began to tickle the boy with both hands. Zach screeched with laughter and the rest of the class broke into giggles. “Uncle” Jayne was the only adult that was able to break through Zach’s rebellious anger, and the two were close friends.
“Please pay attention, class,” Lenore said. Her smile conveyed polite admonishment, but her voice was firm and authoritative.
“You heard the pretty lady, Zach,” said Jayne. He picked up the child and sat down facing the holo-cam, setting Zach on his knee. Jayne had apparently decided to join the class today. This was not unusual, as the grizzled mercenary had never received as much formal education as these children were receiving, and saw this as an opportunity to catch up. His presence would keep Zach in line, and the boy was beaming with delight.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Zach.
“Thank you, Zachariah.” Lenore’s smile was warm, as it imitated that of the former Operative. He felt a sense of hope for these children, and for the crew of the Serenity. Perhaps by improving their lives he still had a right to believe that he could make the world a better place.
A better world.