Slavery was worse than he’d ever imagined.
He’d seen the concept in the humans’ minds, in their history books and thousands of cultures. He’d encountered the word in their many dictionaries and numerous languages (baffling to him and his brethren, who had never spoken a word out loud until the humans taught them).
None of that mattered. He’d had no idea, no idea, how horrible slavery was.
He and his brethren were One, had always been always One, never separated or divided by such paltry things as distance, but the humans’ machine had managed it. They were severed, scattered, broken even as they sat beside one another in human-organized rows. Their souls could barely see one another, blurred as if glimpsed through squinted eyes.
Slavery hurt. Ached. He would fly apart if it lasted any longer, but somehow, he could not explode any more than he could slip this new yoke.
They had no way to turn the damned machine off.
The very first order from their new monster-master cemented it: You will not touch this device, approach this device, or cause any other object or weather to interfere with this device in any way. Monster-master (Iskinder; that name would forever mean pain to him) elaborated on it from there, but he didn’t need to. None of the brethren could turn the machine off or break it.
And to think: Aakesh had given the humans mercy. Mercy, not wiping them out, not harming them, letting them live once discovered, even letting them keep their technology and precious toys. And the humans had done this in return.
Aakesh regretted his mercy. He’d never regretted before. It was a new and foreign feeling, nauseating, like rotten fish.
“From now on, you are no longer one,” Iskinder (Monster-master) said, pacing in front of them and relishing their inability to disobey. “From now on, you’re… Sundered.” And he smiled.
A cruel joke. So very clever. From One to Sundered Ones.
Regret became hate, hate became loathing, loathing became poison Aakesh had never known, sliding through his veins like mercury, souring every breath and thickening around his heart.
Mercy? There would be no more mercy.
Aakesh could still read their minds (human minds, individual, always vomiting something), and he knew their history of war. He knew their philosophy of battle, knew the way they failed to pass information from one generation to the next, knew the flawed system that allowed fear to inform how and what they taught their children.
Escape was possible. Freedom could be regained.
This would take years.
But centuries mattered very little to those who did not age, and Aakesh and his brethren (Sundered Ones) had the time to carry this out.
No more mercy. At the end of this plan, the humans would die.
Aakesh would never show them mercy again.
It was over and done, and again, they were One.
One. One mind and heart and spirit, whole and dancing over the surface of the water like a thousand ripples from one breath of wind. They were scarred, and not the same; some had died, and all had changed. But they were One. One.
And Aakesh studied the human he’d claimed as his own and wondered how it happened.
He’d vowed no mercy – and there was none, indeed, and for most of the humans (infestation parasites disease rotted fungus). But Aakesh, somehow, had found a little bit of mercy for Harry.
He was an Iskinder, Harry was, descended from that first awful foe. He could be cruel, and he could be willfully stupid. He was human, and humans should die.
But this Iskinder owned a tender heart under all his bitter scar tissue. This Iskinder saw Sundered Ones as people, not mere tools to be used and thrown away.
This Iskinder was an idiot who chose to believe the worst lies his family told him, and yet…
And yet. The Sundered were here, whole, One, because at the most crucial moment of all, this Iskinder had chosen to believe Aakesh and try to save the Sundered people.
The humans of the world should (and did) die. But this one….
He would keep this one and see what happened. Maybe this Iskinder didn’t really deserve mercy (selfish childish immature desperate afraid), but mercy by definition wasn’t deserved, was it? It was given in spite of not deserving.
He’d keep this one and not destroy him. He’d feed this one, house this one, teach this one, train this one. This Iskinder had artistic talent he’d never used; that would be corrected.
It wasn’t hypocrisy. He wasn’t using to destroy and discard. He was building up, creating, healing.
Mercy it was. Aakesh stroked the hair of his new human possession and dreamed how beautiful the future might be.