Origins Chapter 1: Rob & John

A man falls into a ditch in the middle of a forest. He berates himself terribly for making such a mistake, especially since he was discreetly searching for animal tracks: in this world, a hunter can quickly become the prey. And indeed, a figure looms over the ditch, wielding a large branch as a weapon. In a position of weakness, the man in the ditch casts a determined glance: he will not surrender without a fight. The two men stare at each other for a moment, then the one armed lets go of his branch, bends down and extends his hand. The other takes it to pull himself out of the hole he’s fallen into. Once out of trouble, he introduces himself to his new companion in a breath: — I’m Rob. — John. The latter gestures for him to follow. Rob complies without a sound: even in pairs, they must remain discreet.

They walk for a few hours, gathering as much edible food as they can along the way. As night falls, John leads Rob to the clearing he had spotted earlier. They gather enough wood to make a fire and Rob quickly lights it with two stones. But just before they can settle in: — Excuse me? They startle and see a woman at the edge of the clearing. — May I join you? I’ve been observing you for a while, and you don’t seem dangerous. You can check that I’m not armed, of course. And don’t worry about food, I’ve already eaten. The two men exchange a glance: even if she’s unarmed, caution is warranted. But it’s two against one so they should be able to handle her. If she’s not alone, the clearing will provide a good vantage point to see any attackers coming. The three individuals gather around the fire. — My name is Lily, says the young woman. — I’m Rob. — John. — I’m always curious, how did you come up with your name? Do you think someone, somewhere, remembers theirs? — I don’t think so, says John. It seems that it’s the same for everyone: no personal memories, just general knowledge about the world in 2024, and then… — The blackout, declares Rob. But everybody knows that it’s because the aliens invaded our planet, right? — Yes, says Lily, but we don’t know how, what they look like, or what has happened since. — By the way, what year is it? asks Rob. And where are we? — No one knows, John replies. Given the vegetation and the few traces of civilization we come across, we’re probably still on Earth. But since it doesn’t resemble the world as we recall it and we don’t have the means to map or date, it’s impossible to know. But the most terrifying thing is not remembering who we are. Our first name, last name, what we were doing in 2024… Nothing. — And at the same time, Rob intervenes, I feel like I have knowledge about surviving in nature. Maybe I was a Ranger or something like that. — In that case, kudos for falling into the ditch, retorts John. — I know… rookie mistake. I was looking for animal tracks to set traps, then I slipped on mud and… you know the rest. Lily interrupts: — You still haven’t answered my question. — … long stories, says John. — And the best way to get to know each other! It’s not like we have better things to do… — I can start if you want, says Rob, it’ll be quick. So, when I… woke up? — With my friends, we call it the Awakening or the Departure, explains Lily, since it probably coincides with the departure of the aliens. — OK, during the Awakening, I found myself… dazed? Like everyone else, I suppose, which is quite natural. Then I saw people around me starting to get scared. Like them, I began to understand that there’s no more structure, no government, nothing stopping anyone from attacking me. So I discreetly moved away and headed straight for natural areas like this one: since the majority of people were city dwellers in 2024, I figured that they wouldn’t naturally go there, or at least that I’d have an edge thanks to my knowledge. And I don’t know if there was something like Ranger Rob in 2024, but it rang a bell, so I chose to introduce myself as Rob. That’s it. — So you have been alone since the Awakening?! asks Lily. Is this the first time you’ve talked to someone? — Yes. As long as I managed on my own, I didn’t feel like I needed company… I’ve come across a few people, some clearly dangerous, others seemingly more friendly, but I preferred to avoid everyone. John nods approvingly. — Survival above all. Lily turns to him: — You too? — No, replies John, it’s different for me. On the day of the Awakening, like Rob, people started getting scared, but several of us managed to calm them down. Some went their own way like Rob, but the rest decided to stick together: there were seven of us. We shared the work to survive, talked a lot about our memories, or rather our loss of memory… And we decided that each of us would be named by the others. Someone suggested John, several said that it suited me well, so now my name is John. — But then, where is your group? Lily asks. John sighs. — One day, we found firearms. — What? — Yes, some firearms in a box. Which is reassuring when you stumble upon them, but much less so when you realise that there might be others out there that fell into the wrong hands. Anyway, we took them in case we needed to defend ourselves, and continued on our way until I came across this.

John pulls out of his pocket a strange object that is clearly not made by humans. — What… starts Bob. — It’s theirs! Lily exclaims. It’s the aliens’! — Yes, says John. There’s not much doubt about that. — May I? Lily asks. — Yes, go ahead. John hands the object to Lily, who examines it closely. — Anyway, John continues, I found this and Yohan, one of the group members, joined me. He saw the object and… I don’t know how else to say it, he lost control. He told me it had to be destroyed immediately, because it could bring us all back under the control of the aliens. I explained to him that we needed to consult the group before doing anything rash and that personally, I would keep that thing until we have the means to study it. He pulled out his gun and threatened me with it. There was fear and hatred in his eyes, and I think that it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen that look. Maybe I was a soldier before the alien invasion or something like that. So I grabbed his weapon and tried to subdue him, but a shot went off during the fight and Yohan died in front of me. Soldier or not, I don’t think one gets used to that. Lily and Rob are hanging on his words. Lily isn’t even looking at the alien artefact anymore. — So I left immediately. I couldn’t see myself explaining to the group what happened, and I felt like I didn’t belong with them anymore. Since then, I’ve been travelling alone, hiding, a bit like Rob, but one day I overheard a couple’s conversation: a new society is getting built in the West, a place called Birth. So I’m going there. A heavy silence follows his story. — I’m sorry, says Lily. Now I don’t know if I should tell you about the story of my name… — Why? asks Rob. — Because I’m part of a group. And for now, fingers crossed, we’re still together. — Don’t worry, says John. What’s in the past is in the past.

Lily takes a deep breath: — The beginning is more or less like John’s: people start getting scared, but a man (who is now called Paul) manages to calm them down. We form a group of about twenty people and help each other. Like your group, we talk a lot about the invasion and the missing memories, but we don’t hate the aliens. I mean: with everything that they’re capable of, why didn’t they just exterminate us? Why did they take away our memory? What happened during their reign? There’s something fascinating about not having all the answers, isn’t there? she says, brandishing the artefact. Anyway, about my name, it took some time to find one that suits me. Paul suggested the name of a flower, but I found it too… I don’t know, cliché? So I told him I would only accept the name of a poisonous flower. He told me that lilies were toxic to pets. I found it pretty and kept it, even though I would have preferred something more menacing. — Why did you want a menacing name? asks Rob. — I don’t really know. Maybe a remnant of my life before, like you? Anyway, we’re looking for a place to settle with my group, and I was sent as a scout here to see if it could be suitable then I stumbled upon you. You seem to have been here longer than me, so I thought you could give me a hand. — If you’re looking for animals as a food source, Rob says, I haven’t seen any tracks near the water points, so I don’t think there are any, or at least there are not enough for twenty people. — There don’t seem to be any other humans settled here, John adds, so no territorial struggle or potential enemies. It’s rather isolated so that’s good, but as Rob said, I don’t know if there are all the resources you might need. If the idea is really to settle down, there might be a lack of raw materials to build something more durable than tents. — OK, so that probably won’t be our spot. But… Lily hesitates, do you want to join us? You seem to have interesting skills, and we’re ready to welcome anyone as long as you’re not… unstable? — I’d rather not, John replies. I don’t think groups are for me: I need more structure, a real framework. That’s why I want to reach Birth. I think that I could become a soldier there and avoid responsibilities that don’t suit me. — And you, Rob? — Me… I admit I’m not sure. I can’t see myself staying alone now that I’ve talked to you guys. I don’t have strong convictions about aliens, frameworks, or society. The only things I love are nature and my friends: John, you trusted me and pulled me out of that ditch. If you don’t mind, I’ll go with you. Don’t worry, you won’t be the leader or anything: I’ll just be your comrade, covering your back. Rob extends his hand. John hesitates for a second, then takes it. — That’s beautiful! Lily exclaims sincerely. Listen, if you come across my group, you’ll always be welcome! — Thank you Lily, says Rob. I’m glad you two are the first people I’ve really met. — By the way, I need to give this back to you before I forget, says Lily, handing the alien object to John. — You know what? Keep it. If you find the aliens fascinating, maybe it’ll bring you more luck than it did me. Lily’s eyes shine and she has to refrain from hugging John. Then the small group organises the guard shifts and extinguishes the fire. The next day, they part ways with a simple nod: they need to remain discreet to move, but they know that they’ll never forget this encounter. Rob and John head west while Lily heads north.

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