The half dozen mindlessly savage assailants that have gathered in the parking lot are no match for the pair of mountain lions and single moose that Feria summons to dispatch them. Although she cannot use her magic directly against the neurally-displaced homicidal maniacs, she can use it to bend the rest of the animal kingdom to her will.
“I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching a moose gore robozombies to death,” Bowie exclaims, as he lightly rubs a circular pattern on her back affectionately.
“You’ll be able to do it yourself soon enough,” she pats his thigh. “You all will.”
Feria is the leader of the group of unlinked survivors which she has gathered here at the unusually placed Pal Mart. Their unlikely fortress sits ten thousand feet up in the heavily forested mountains where it is easier for her to protect from the monsters that gather outside, using nothing but her magical prowess.
For over two hundred years the International Constitution had protected the right of human beings to use magic, but the mystical arts had died in just a few generations as a result of the neural link implants, which had been made mandatory half a decade before this all began. The grotesque technology not only prevented people from using magic, but had turned them into ravenous brutes when the entire neural link network was infected with a virus.
Long before that took place people had begun to abandon magic. It could be too unpredictable, and the desire for safety had become humanity’s primary obsession. That was how the world government kept humanity in check, and eventually convinced most people to voluntary submit to the implants, before attempting to force the rest. In the few years only a small portion of the population still rebelled against implants and continued using magic, but ironically, only to defend their right to use magic. As the prison population skyrocketed and wealth inequality increased and the environment began to collapse, the magic users remained cautious, unwilling to exercise their power to revolt until it was too late.
“You go inside and rest,” Bowie offers. “I’ll stay up here and keep watch. Talinda made some soup and it’s actually kind of delicious, believe it or not.”
“That sounds like a good idea. Thanks,” Feria squeezes his shoulder and gives him a warm smile before heading down to the others to recharge.
She wants to kiss him and he wants to be kissed by her, but Feria is still summoning up the courage. Bowie remains on the roof, perplexed about whether he is doing something wrong. On several occasions she has expressed her interest in him, but there is still something alien about men to her, which makes taking it further difficult; at least that is what she tells him. Yet he cannot help but feel like he is doing something that prevents her from being able to make the next leap.
Growing up in an all-woman coven of witches hidden deep in the mountains, biding their time as they planned a revolution with similar groups around the world, resulted in Feria having some major gaps in her social experiences. Most notably with men, who she had only encountered briefly before the apocalypse began, when assisting the older women with neural link removals. During those rare expeditions into civilization, which was crumbling exponentially, she had experienced many things that were foreign to her life in the boonies. None quite so confusing to her as men, and the strange attraction she felt towards them, no matter how dangerous she had been told they were.
“Hey Feria, you hungry?” Talinda asks as soon as she arrives in the shared living area in the corner where automotive products were once displayed.
“Does a robozombie shit in its pants?” she confirms with a question, and takes in the inviting aroma as her ward and student ladles the food into a bowl.
As quickly as she takes her seat, Talinda sets the bowl on the table in front of her, but before she can sample a single bite another one of her magical apprentices rushes into the room with a flurry of bluster and excitement.
“Come on, you gotta see this,” Maliq implores, almost bursting out of himself. “She did it. She really did it!”
Feria gets up to follow him, guessing that he is talking about Kaleesta, her star pupil. When they arrive in the little practice room, she confirms this, and is delighted to see the young woman sitting on the floor with a parade of mice marching in a perfect circle around her.
“Kaleesta, this is amazing,” Feria compliments, even though it is a trick that four year old’s could perform where she grew up.
The recognition shakes the student from her concentration, and the mice suddenly scatter in all directions, apparently unharmed but obviously confused. It has only been six months since she started teaching the group, and she hadn’t expected any results this quickly. The hardest part about magic is not learning the spells, but becoming fully invested in the belief that they will work. Even those like herself who had grown up among people using magic had to come to terms with the strangeness of these powers before they could learn to wield them. Magic was not so much a science or art as it was a miracle of faith.
“I had them going for almost five minutes,” Kaleesta reports enthusiastically. “It was just like you said, they want to obey. All you have to do is fill them with gratitude, and they will do whatever you ask to earn it. The feeling…I can’t…”
“Don’t talk about it. Go to your room and meditate on it. Keep the feelings and sensations fresh for as long as you can, then write it down in your journal,” Feria instructs.
As her success story walks away, the instructor pries into the minds of the mice to see if any them suffered mental trauma from the magical intrusion into their mental agency. There are no signs of injury or long term cognitive dissonance, which is a major relief. One of the first rules of magic she was taught, and teaches her students, is to do no harm. On occasion animals have been damaged during the training of magicians, but most often as a result of unknown pre-existing issues, and very rarely at that. Feria was concerned that teaching older students would be more difficult and result in the thing she hoped to avoid most, harming sentient beings. A sensation of peace flows through her as she absorbs some assurance that her worst fear might be completely avoided.
Just as she sits back down to enjoy her soup, Bowie comes stumbling in, exasperated and out of breath from the efforts he expended in his hurried arrival.
“There are about two dozen of them,” Bowie manages to sputter out between gulps of air. “And it was the strangest thing. They just showed up and started walking around the store peacefully in a perfect circle. That lasted about five minutes, and then just as quickly, they broke up and went back to their usual homicidal mania.”
The commotion has caused the whole group to gather, except Kaleesta, who is following her instructions in her room. They all stand frozen, staring at Feria, waiting to see how she will respond. But she is also in shock, disabled by the weight of what has been suggested.
“Does this mean…” Riv begins, and the sentence is finished by her twin Niv, “that Kaleesta can control the robozombies?”
If that is the case, it is a game changer. As far as she knew the technologically possessed savages were impervious to magic. Though the people who had lived in their bodies before were susceptible, when their personalities were expelled by the virus, their bodies no longer responded to spells of any kind.
If Kaleesta has the power to use magic on them directly, and can learn to control it reliably, they will no longer have to use animals to fight their battles. Even though Feria always does her best to make sure that the critters easily outmatch their target, there is always some chance they could be hurt or killed by the ferocious technoghouls. Humanity had done enough damage to the animal kingdom before this all began, and she would rather her species perish than harm them further for their own survival. If Kaleesta can control the robogoons, they can gather them into herds and march them off cliffs, forcing the soulless beasts to mercifully end their own terrible existence.
Feria wastes no time making her way to the roof where she immediately calls for the creatures of the surrounding woods to exterminate the digitally deranged unhumans, all except for one. After an hour has passed she decides to test the theory.
“Bowie, go get Kaleesta, please. Don’t tell her anything about what happened, just tell her I want to talk and bring her here.”
As he starts to turn away, Feria makes a sudden decision, and grabs his arm. She spins him around and pulls him in close, face-to-face, and kisses him. It is short and awkward, but a perfect kiss nonetheless, if for no other reason than that they can now practice getting better at it. When it is over they stand there staring at each other, their minds reeling while their bodies cry out with an urgency to proceed forward in their romantic exploration, but Feria eventually manages to regain control and takes half a step back.
“Well hurry up,” she teases him.
Five minutes later Kaleesta arrives, wearing an expression of concern, as if she expects to be scolded by her teacher for some unknown offense.
“Relax, you have done nothing wrong. Quite the opposite, you have potentially done something amazing,” she interrupts, putting the other woman visibly at ease. “You see that robozombie down there?”
Kaleesta nods in affirmation.
“See if you can make it dance.”
For some reason, when she tries to summon up the vision of someone dancing, the only thing Kaleesta can think of is a ridiculous bit of choreography from a nearly three hundred year old music film that her family used to watch together for giggles. Once the jig is clear in her head, she attempts to implant it in the mind of the robozombie in the parking lot below. The snarling beast suddenly ceases its attempts to murder them and begins to move its arms and legs in a manner too joyous and absurd to avoid laughing about. The technoghoul continues to dance as those gathered to watch bellow raucously at the spectacle.
Bowie, who is also familiar with the ancient music film, is laughing even harder than the rest of them. He manages to control his spasmodic guffawing just long enough to sing aloud the only lyric he can remember from the song.