Actually, the three main characters in our story shouldn’t have woken up when they did.

  They shouldn’t have woken up, shouldn’t have become friends, and shouldn’t have been sent to New Earth No. 3069…. 

  The adults at The Company would hold a number of long, drawn-out interstellar conferences to try and figure out where they went wrong. What caused New Earth No. 3069 to get so out of control, and to become so completely out of sync with the previous 3068 versions of new earths? They even began referring to this event using a nearly forgotten phrase. The Company called it –  The Random Number Incident. 

  Adults always consider things beyond their control as bad. They then insist that everyone “learn” from this bad thing, so it won’t happen again. This habit is really unpleasant. I suggest, if you are an adult, and especially if you are the kind of adult who thinks you can find some lesson in The Random Number Incident, to please go find a different story file.

  If you choose to ignore my advice, then brace yourself for the likelihood that there are going to be a few – maybe more than a few – things here that will make you unhappy or dissatisfied. 

  That is all I have in terms of a warning. After all, we know adults don’t always listen. 

Heimlich the Worm

  The boy, a real human, opens his eyes.

  He adjusts to the pitch dark that seems to be all around him. He begins to make out specks of red, blue, yellow, and green. They seem to be indicator lights on some sort of control panel, each flickering to its own rhythm. He realises he is still in the same position as he was when he departed. He hasn’t budged at all. He is strapped into a warm, soft bed of liquid gas that looks like a gigantic dust mite lying on its back, connected to tentacle-like tubing, each with a specific function. There is a non-invasive nutrition supply; automatic hair and nail grooming, and even tubes that produce dreamscapes and lullabies. 

  “This is odd,” he thinks to himself. “I remember the instructor saying if I open my eyes and see sunlight coming in through the green curtained window, with the display system on the right, and a warm plate of fried chicken, curry, and rice on the table to the left, then I’ll have arrived at New Earth Number 3069. What’s going on here?” 

  He runs his fingers through his raven dark curls, wiggles his toes and rolls himself to the edge of the bed to get up. He runs with a slight wobble to his closest porthole and looks out. At the high speed the vessel was moving, outer space didn’t look like an infinite darkness, but more like a flowing silver liquid. 

  From time to time, streaks of light from passing stars flash by, then fade.

  He moves in the cabin, triggering a sensor that causes automatic doors to silently  slide open. There’s another mite bed! He climbs onto the bed and sees it is hooked up to another fellow, around his own age, with sleek platinum hair. 

  “Lucky him. Not like me and my hair that always  goes every which way,” he murmurs to himself.

  It may have been the motion from the raven-haired boy or perhaps simply because it was the designated time, but the platinum-haired boy’s eyelids flicker for a moment, and then he opens his eyes. He yawns. “Did you wake me?” He looks around. “Where am I? What are you?”

  “Looks like we aren’t there yet. I just woke up too. My randomly generated name is ‘Flourish Richard Evergreen Hurricane’, but everyone calls me Kuro because of my dark curly hair.” 

  “Name? You have a name?” The platinum-haired boy stares at Kuro, observing the gap between his two front teeth, his freckled face, his natural raven curls, and small earlobes. He suddenly remembers and exclaims, “Human! You’re human! Pardon my rudeness for being so familiar. Your physical flaws are magnificent!”

  Noticing Kuro’s confusion, he realises he may have come across as overly excited.

  “Apologies. I’ve never seen a human before. I am a Model D Homunculus, serial number 10821001.” He opens the panel on his right wrist to show his model number and manufacturing date. “Waterproof. Withstands light impact. Complies with article two of the four laws of robotics to obey human commands…” 

  “Hold on a minute,” Kuro interrupts. “No wonder you look the way you do. You came off the production line 12 years ago. So, we are about the same age! Since there’s just the two of us, let’s forget about those ‘adult’ rules. Your serial number is too hard to remember. Would you prefer if I called you Didi? Or maybe Hoho, or Momo?” 

  The platinum-haired child’s eyes begin to brighten. “Really? Could I have a name too? Like you?” He laughs for the first time. 

  “Then let’s go with Hoho, because it sounds like your laugh. ‘Hoho, hohoho’,” Kuro mimics his laugh, which makes both of them break out in giggles. 

  While they are both lying on the bed chuckling, a low-frequency mechanical rumbling sound suddenly cuts through the otherwise silent cabin.

  “Now that I’ve found you, maybe we should go and find the final passenger?” Kuro puts his hands on the back of his head. When thinking, he often makes these old-fashioned gestures. 

  “Yes. According to the Trio Eye team quota specified by the Mirroring Project, there should be a chimera child onboard in addition to the two of us,” Hoho says. “But we need to find the navigator too and ask him what happened. We’ve been moving around so much that the navigator has probably already detected us.”

  Just then, they hear a mechanical humming sound approaching from behind them. A white rounded cuboid object whizzes by and abruptly stops in front of them. 

  “This is irregular. How could it have happened? I thought it was the excess gravitational pull of the RC-79 constellation causing a system malfunction causing the override that woke you, so I…” The lights on the guidance panel deck begin to flash rapidly.

  Kuro thinks to himself that if these little lights indicate a pulse, they must be out of breath. But even as the navigator rapidly rattles out all those words, the voice is even-keeled with perfectly enunciated words. 

  “Slow down. I can’t keep up with what you’re saying,” Kuro protests.

  “So, what you are saying is, you don’t know why we’ve woken up either?” Hoho asks while reaching over to adjust a few settings on the guidance panel.

  “Yes. This is highly irregular. The navigator has been designed to adapt to more random occurrences than other mission-specific robots. It responds to potential anomalies that may occur during the voyage, but this incident still caused my systems to crash for a while. Upon recovery, I went to the cockpit to inspect all the settings, so I didn’t get to you guys immediately.” The navigator looks embarrassed; his exterior casing turns slightly pink. 

  While the navigator answers Hoho’s questions, Kuro is distracted by a cuboid bot. “T… 0…,” He tries to make out the blurred type on its back panel. 

  “T07U,” the navigator rapidly responds. “T07U is the model number for all 5000 navigators from my series.”

  Looking at Kuro’s pensive face, Hoho says to the navigator: “I am guessing that you are about experience  something that none of the other navigators of your series have.”

  “Tofu!” Kuro claps his hands in delight. “My grandma was always hounding me to learn ancient English. It’s so boring but this is one word that I remember. Let’s call you Tofu!”

  Tofu turns to Hoho. “Tofu? What is that?”

  “According to legend, back when real vegetation was farmed on planet Earth, Tofu was a food item made from some sort of plant-based nut called ‘beans.’ It was white and came in cubes, and was said to fall apart easily, and had a tender and slippery mouthfeel,” Hoho muses. “But I don’t know what a tender slippery mouthfeel means.”

  “Beats me. Even though I’m an actual human, I’ve never eaten real food either. But now that you mention it, once we land on New Earth No. 3069 and establish the infrastructure, I want to set up a taste section at the recreation centre in addition to the audiovisual section. That way, we can download the taste of ‘tofu.’ Not just your average tofu, but fragrant tofu, stinky tofu, fresh tofu, and mouldy tofu can all be downloaded!”

  “Yay! And I want to be able to download cendol too.”

  “Yeah! I don’t know what that is, but let’s put all that in there!”

  “And let’s include bao and garlic and… Tofu, what’s up?” Hoho notices Tofu looking awkward, and asks. 

  “I wanted to ask…” Tofu says bashfully. “On New Earth No. 3069 could mission-specific robots… I mean to say, would it be possible for I to use the recreation centres too?”

  “Of course! I don’t know about the other New Earths, but I am in charge of authoring the module on 3069. So, what I say, goes!” Kuro says. 

  Right then, the loud clang of an object falling to the floor rings out from the other end of the cabin. Tofu quickly glides over to the automatic portal while explaining to them, “The three of you were put in three separate cabins. That was probably the chimera waking up now. Let me go and…” Tofu’s voice is cut off as the automatic portal doors close behind him. 

  Kuro and Hoho are taken aback by the mess that greets them when they walk into the chimera’s cabin. They see a petite dark-complexioned girl with brown wavy hair, scurrying all over the cabin, rummaging in every corner and under the pipelines. Tofu is right behind her, attempting to restore any setting she undid and to reorganize the wires she has pulled asunder. 

  The girl’s hands slow when she hears the two additional voices. Her big dark eyes fix on Kuro and Hoho. “Who are you two?”

  “He is Kuro, a real human. I am Hoho.” Hoho sees the girl’s bewildered eyes and quickly adds, “Oh. I’m not a human, I’m a Model D Homunculus. My name was just given to me by Kuro. You must be the chimera.”

  “Yes. I’m a chihuahua chimera,” the girl answers. “Did you guys find out where that sound is coming from?”

  “What sound?” They say in unison.

  Chee (yes, Kuro named the chimera girl right away) sits down in front of them and tells them that she was asleep in her mite bed when at some point she heard a mechanized voice say, “Come find me! Come find me! Come find me!” At first Chee thinks she’s dreaming, but the voice grows louder until she can’t ignore it anymore. She has turned the room upside down to find the source of that irritating voice: “Come find me!”

  “Can you guys really not hear it? It’s super loud now,” Chee says, wincing.

  “Maybe you can hear it because chimeras have sharper senses than we do,” Hoho says helpfully.

  “It would be amazing to have super senses of sight, smell, and sound. It must be great to be a chimera…” Kuro mutters.

  Chee, whose eyes have been anxiously darting around the room until now, abruptly stands up and says in a huff: “It’s not that great at all! Real humans have no clue about that at all.” 

  “Hey! Don’t get so mad. I’ve never met a chimera before. I’m just saying I’m envious, is all,” says Kuro, surprised at Chee’s apparent overreaction. 

  “Stop bickering, you two,” Hoho interjects nervously, feeling caught in the middle. “Kuro, you should know that chimeras have their struggles. She isn’t like you or me. I’m not human anyway, so I can’t be bullied. But a chimera is a hybrid of human and animal genes. They are always assigned on dangerous missions because of their superior heightened sensory perception, and…”

  “And it’s not just from the real humans, even our cleaning bot at home refuses to listen to my mom’s commands because we are nothing but ‘half-human, half-dog!’” Chee says with a slight quiver in her voice. 

  “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m so ignorant. I’ve grown up around human children, and you are the first different being I’ve met…” Kuro bows his head, ashamed to meet Chee’s gaze. “I said I envied you because I’ve always been told by other real humans that I was unattractive or dumb or weak. They said I was a disgrace to humans and would suffer in comparison to a homunculus or chimera. I was thinking how clever Hoho is, and how agile you are, and both of you are so attractive too. I can’t help thinking that compared to you guys, there’s nothing to envy about being a real human. Look at me, I have this huge gap in my front teeth that makes me sound like I’m half whistling when I speak. See?” Kuro lifts his upper-lip to show Chee, who breaks into a laugh to see his twisted expression. 

  “Okay, okay. You’re forgiven,” Chee says. “If anyone makes fun of you in the future, I’ll stand up for you.” Both she and Hoho think to themselves that it isn’t so bad not being a real human.  

  “Chee, after setting my audio input to a higher sensitivity, I am picking up the ‘Come find me’ signal,” Hobo says. “Even at my highest setting, I can’t match your hearing, but I can definitely hear the voice.”

  “Like I said! The voice is there, and it’s getting louder. But I can’t seem to pinpoint the source of it even though I know it’s somewhere in this cabin,” Chee says. 

  “I still can’t hear it, but I’ll help look too!” Kuro says. 

  The polished metallic surfaces that line curves of the cabin look sleek and smooth, but on closer examination they conceal countless panels of switches beneath. Ears to the wall, they open up one panel after another, with Tofu anxiously on their heels, making sure none of the settings are disturbed. Kuro copies Chee and Hoho motions, pretending that he can hear the voice calling out “Come find me!” But all he could hear with his ear against the cold, hard wall face is a dizzyingly low-frequency mechanical hum that gets louder as he gets closer to the cockpit. Going through the motions, Kuro suddenly thinks of something:

  “Hey, Chee. When we came in here just now, did you say the sound started getting louder?” 

  Chee thinks for a moment. “Yeah. As soon as you guys came in, that voice got louder and louder, and is still going strong now.”

  “Do you think maybe the source of the sound … is somehow hidden on one of us?” Kuro says. 

  Chee runs over to Kuro and puts her ear to his head, back, hands. She pauses to think, then runs to Hoho to perform the same listening test. As soon as she presses her head against him, Hoho freezes up and blushes bright red. Kuro was just about to tease him when Chee shouts: 

  “Found it!” She has her ear to the left of Hoho’s back. “I’m positive the voice is coming from in here.”

  “How could that be? What… what should I do now?” Hoho stammers. 

  “I might be a bit out of line to ask this, but is there anywhere on your body where something might easily be concealed? Like a place that has to be opened up during maintenance?” Tofu asks. 

  “My chest plate opens up, but…” Hoho’s voice softens to a whisper as he says to Kuro, “I’m embarrassed to do that in front of a girl.”

  “Hahaha… Don’t worry. You’ll be okay.”

  The inside of Hoho’s body is much more organized than Kuro expected. Kuro remembers how he was taken aback and slightly disappointed the first time he saw a human anatomy diagram. Things look so unpleasant underneath the skin, like if a wayward child had been caught opening a box of toys, so everything was shoved back in in a hurry. Chunks of fleshy blobs and tubing look like they were just squished in there. His may have expected Hoho’s innards to look about the same except made of alloys and metals, and was wondering how anything could be found in that mess of blobs and tubes. The orderly arrangement of metal boxes under Hoho’s chest plate is not what he pictured. Each of the boxes under Hoho’s pale skin is clearly labeled: “lungs,” “heart,” “liver,” etc., and each quietly performs its function. Other than the sounds of his organs at work, now even Kuro can hear the voice saying “Come find me!” He opens up one box after another, and more boxes within boxes. Hoho is embarrassed and nervous at first, causing some of his metal boxes to churn at an increased pace, generating extra heat and making them hot to handle. But after some time, Hoho starts to nod off. Chee and Tofu, who have been waiting with their backs toward Hoho and Kuro, also begin to doze off. 

  Kuro’s grades in robotics have never been the top of his class, but he quickly becomes familiar with the way this android robot was built. At the very least, he is confident about what belongs in each box and what doesn’t. When he gets to the long rectangular box labelled “renal pelvis” that was inside a box labelled “kidney,” he sees the thing that was shouting “Come find me!” It is a pink spherical object, about half the size of a fist, glowing softly in the corner of the box. 

  “I’ve found it!” Kuro shouts, waking everyone up in a jolt. Chee ignores Hoho’s protesting gaze and moves in to have a look.

  “A micro-projector?” She asks.

  Hoho replaces his chest panel, and Kuro hands him the small sphere. “Yes. It’s some sort of micro-projector. It’s an inexpensive disposable model. A micro memory projector. It is capable of storing the contents of a person’s memories, and enables interaction between the memory and everyone who views it during the holographic projection. But this one is a single use model that can only project the memories once.” 

  “So, let’s press play!” Kuro says. 

  Hoho pushes the button on the micro memory projector and the “Come find me” signal finally stops. A ray of light is emitted from the lens, and the image of a human silhouette is projected into midair. It becomes increasingly three-dimensional, but the light source is unsteady. The bright flickers of light make everyone squint. 

  “Children, I’m Mr. General,” an androgynous, alluring voice is heard before the holographic image is fully formed. 

  Kuro and Chee look perplexed on hearing this declaration. But Hoho breathed a sigh of relief. 

  “Yes… Before we go into the serious stuff, let me apologize to our adorable 

  Homunculus for opening your chest panel without your consent while you were in induced sleep so I could hide this in your kidney.”

  The 3D hologram finally finishes buffering. Even though the image is still unstable, periodically rendering an incomplete silhouette, everyone can make out what Mr. General looks like. The middle-aged woman smiles apologetically. She is plump, dressed in a loose floral smock, and has short curly hair which has mostly gone grey. Kuro was a little disappointed seeing Mr. General. He had expected an angry man with a bushy beard, not someone who looks like his great-gran. Not cool at all!

  “Children. You’re too easy to read! Don’t be disappointed at my appearance. I may not look cool, but what we are doing is still pretty amazing!” 

  Kuro is embarrassed to realize that Mr. General saw right through him. 

  “You are all still too young to know about me. But a lot of adults won’t recognize us either because The Company has always outwardly denied our existence. Actually Mr. General isn’t just me, Mr. General is a group of people who have been around about as long as The Company has been around. It’s just that there are too many biological and non-biological informants working for The Company, so to enable us to work safely, Mr. General became an organization of one person. Each generation of Mr. General would be one person, who keeps pursuing the same mission over and over. Because it is only one person, and there is a lot of preparation involved, each Mr. General takes an entire lifetime to accomplish a single project, and you are my lifelong project. For the sake of confidentiality, this projector will self-destruct after I finish talking. So, please listen carefully to what I am about to say. Take notes.”

  Kuro has not completely made sense of what Mr. General is saying. He glances over at Chee and is sure she isn’t getting it either, but he knows this is not the right time to be interrupting with questions. 

  “Do you all know the history behind The Company?” Mr. General sees Hoho is the only one nodding. Kuro’s eyes are drawing blanks, and Chee seems to be distracted by her fingernails. Mr. General clears her throat and continues. 

  “After the Third Virtual World War, nations no longer existed on the old Earth, and intellectuals around the world gathered to establish The Company. Leaders of The Company realized that the reason world wars were fought, resulting in countless casualties, was because of the huge gap between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots.’ 

  So, when The Company was established, they had a simple mission: ‘Everyone is equal in The Company.’ Everyone had access to the best care, whether they were rich or poor, sick or healthy. Even a child could easily understand these six simple words.No one except The Company was able to live up to this promise. None of their opponents after the war could make it happen, and no other group could successfully resolve these human issues. Soon anyone who opposed The Company either faded away or else changed their stance, and joined The Company too. 

  “The biggest problem created by universal equality was that human populations grew to such numbers that the old Earth soon ran out of space and resources to sustain everyone. The solution that the directors at The Company came up with, was to improve on a solution that came up after the Second Simulated World War, which was…”

  Chee couldn’t hold it in any longer. She turns and whispers to Kuro, “What was the original solution?”

  Mr. General chuckles to see Kuro turn toward Hoho, hoping for answers. “If there is anything you don’t understand, go ahead and ask me. The original solution before the Third Virtual World War, was to build orbiting cities in outer space. The benefits of this were that it avoided any friction or conflict with sentient beings on other planets; but there were high costs that. Only the rich and healthy could afford it. To be honest, this failing was what led to the Third Simulated World War. Of course, you wouldn’t know about this. It happened so long ago, probably before your grandparents were even born. But afterwards, the intellectuals at The Company thought of a better plan, which was…”

  “The Mirroring Project!” Kuro, Hoho, and Chee shouted in unison. 

  “That’s right! So, what was The Mirroring Project?” Mr. General turns to Kuro. 

  ”The Mirroring Project was… was to find… find an uninhabited planet…”

  Hearing Kuro’s hesitancy, Chee interjected. “That’s not It. It was to find a planet without sentient life, and then rewrite it into the old Earth so the new Earth would look the same as the old Earth. The Mirroring rewrite process required choosing a child from three different lifeforms to form a Trio Eye team. Someone like me, someone like Kuro, and someone like Hoho, who would travel to the selected planet, and begin performing their specific tasks on arrival. The three would settle down on the new planet for the rest of their lives. The Company will maintain constant contact to let the Trio Eye know what to do at each stage. “Children are selected because they can spend the majority of their lifetimes executing the Mirroring Project. Kids like Hoho are responsible for all the hardware, like houses to live in and things to use. Kids like Kuro are be responsible for all the software, like recreation centers. Kids like me are responsible for population control, mainly by importing them from over-populated new planets, or by using genetic modifications if there are lower lifeforms on those planets, but always with attention toward genetic diversity to prevent illnesses.” Chee looks over at Kuro and Hoho proudly when she finishes. “My job is the hardest.”

  ”Excellent explanation. You must have paid careful attention during training. But, all of your roles are extremely important,” Mr. General says. “After The Company came up with the Mirroring Project, they successfully resolved all of the issues with amazing efficiency. And since the new Earths looked just like the old Earth, everyone was happy to relocate their families to the new planets. The Mirroring Project has successfully developed over 3068 new Earths since its inception. From Number 1 to the New Earth No. 3069, which you are on your way to now. The entire development process has been carried out as fairly as possible. No one has been discriminated against or subjected to any danger. The Company has finally achieved  its goal of equality. ’Everyone is equal in The Company.’ However…” 

  Mr. General gives them a stern, meaningful look. Kuro senses something oppressive in Mr. General’s gaze that makes him feel a little guilty for some reason, like the world’s biggest liar caught in a lie by an honest person.

  ”No wonder they call her Mr. General,” Kuro thinks to himself.

  Mr. General pulls up an image of a sunset, leaving it in midair. It shows a planet covered in black soil on the left, and an unnamed star on the right.

  It looks like a still photograph, but then Chee exclaims, “It’s raining!” 

  They notice on closer inspection that, what they thought was a mass of black soil, is actually made of what looks like short threads made by reflections of the light from the star as these raindrops move in a downward trajectory. They didn’t realize it was a moving image at first, with the fine black rain falling on black soil. 

  ”However,” Mr. General continues. “Everything you know is a lie.”

  ”Now, I’m going to tell you my backstory. I hope you won’t be bored.

  ”I’m a real human. At 113 years old, I’m not young any more but not too old either. When I was about your age, I became fascinated by everything The Company was doing. How are there such powerful people doing good in the world? I set my sights on one day working for The Company, so I could do my part to improve all life in our universe. I focused on my studies and passed every exam until at the age of 37 I became the youngest researcher to be accepted into the Trio Eye Training and Guidance Department, and finally was able to work with The Mirroring Project. My work was to analyze data from the New Earth, then select three suitable children from an enormous number of real human, homunculus, and chimera candidates. In addition to working with them in the classroom, we also relied on external sources to supplement the physical and emotional conditions of the Trio Eye when needed. I felt fulfilled and happy with my work. Even though I was in a classroom all day, every day, I really felt that my workspace was the entire universe.

  ”I clearly remember when I was promoted to the chief position at the Trio Eye Training and Guidance Department at age 53. There was a photo on my desk on the very first day in my new office. It looked very much like the one in front of you now, but only the bottom right corner had been torn off.

  ”In the days that followed, there would be another scrap of paper on my desk each day. I started to reassemble the pieces of paper like a puzzle. As the photo became more complete, I felt the excitement of solving a mystery, but also anxiety and fear. The department chief’s office is where many of the important classified documents and secret meetings are held. Not only is it the only place that is not under any type of surveillance, but no one besides the chief and a cleaning staff member sent from the Sanitation Ministry is able to enter. Somehow, there seems to be an invisible person who can come and go freely, leaving no trace except a scrap of paper. 

  “The day came when at last the photo would be complete with one last piece of the puzzle. I arrived at my office earlier than usual that morning to finish preparations in time to dispatch several Trio Eye teams. 

  “I sensed there was someone in there as soon as I opened the door. I unholstered my ray gun quietly and quickly, and pointed it toward my desk. But it was just the old janitor. With a head of white hair and a bald spot up top, his hunched back was turned toward me, and he was busy wiping down my desk. 

  “I breathed a sigh of relief, and re-holstered the ray gun, before going over to say hello. 

  “‘Good morning, sir. You’re working hard. How’s everything going?’

  “The old man didn’t look up and kept his eyes on the desk. ‘Everything is fine, but I noticed that you’re missing something here.’

  ”’Huh?’ I leaned over the desk to take a look.

  “He put his right hand into the pocket of his janitor’s uniform, and took out a scrap of paper no larger than a fingernail between his thumb and forefinger. ‘Now. That’s everything.’ 

  “I was still in shock when the old man turned toward me and held out his wrinkled hand. ‘Good morning. You were right about my name. I’m Mr. General.’”

  The three feel their legs start to go numb after giving the glitchy projection their total attention for so long, but Kuro, Hoho, and Chee dare not fidget. They are worried that any noise may cause Mr. General’s image to disappear. 

  ”Just when I finally breathed a sigh of relief, hearing the name ‘Mr. General’ immediately made me tense up again. Every employee at The Company knew that Mr. General was a sinister and horrible criminal organization. I should immediately draw my ray gun and point it at this criminal’s head, but the elderly lizard chimera who stood before me had a smile that completely disarmed me. He looked so thoroughly kind, with an expression that told me he had already seen too many tragedies. There was nothing threatening about him at all; and besides, one of his hands remained suspended in midair, waiting to shake mine. 

  “So, in the end, I  shook his hand. He spent the rest of the day explaining everything to me about Mr. General, about The Company, about the photograph, and about Mr. General’s Mission. You’ve probably guessed by now. Yes, this old janitor is the previous Mr. General. Only a few days after he made contact with me, he departed this world when his space sanitation vehicle was involved in a fatal crash with a derailed space garbage transporter. I knew it wasn’t an accident. 

  “Now let’s take another look at this picture. This isn’t a historical photo from some bygone era. This is a photo of New Earth No. 1970 that I secretly snapped ten space-years ago. And, what looks like raindrops falling to the surface in the photo are actually human beings. 

  “Yes. Human beings… 

  ”’Everyone is equal in The Company,’ is completely accurate. That might be the outward messaging from The Company, but to be honest, no one knows who they deemed to be ‘in The Company.’ Does anyone who agrees with their missions count? Or someone like me who works for them? I still haven’t figured It out. I only know that these humans who have become black rain are definitely categorized as ‘outside’ The Company. The powers-that-be in The Company have always claimed that if they find a new Earth to develop while executing The Mirroring Project, they would always execute the rewrite without harming interstellar peace. But in reality, the planetary exploration technology at The Company is not sophisticated enough to gather the needed data using bots alone. So, preparations for The Mirroring Project do not rely on high-tech at all. Instead, The Company offers to pay ‘trailblazers’ from among the poorest people on each of the planets at the lowest prices possible. They lie that they are sending these people to assist the Trio Eye in developing a new Earth. In reality, The Company merely connects the optic nerves in the eyes of these ‘trailblazers’ directly to the prosthetic eye of the databank at The Company. Before any necessary facilities are even built, they begin to dump large numbers of humans onto these planets, where environmental reconstruction work has not even begun.      

  “These people land like raindrops onto the new planet, and in dying they create a layer of organic matter on these planets, which may not have any lifeforms to begin with. After large numbers of human lives are consumed this way, and when The Company starts to see from images captured by the prosthetic eye that the survival rate has increased to a point where the Mirroring Project can begin, only then will they start the planetary conversion work. Then, when that work is near completion, they will declare to all the inhabitants on all the Earths, new and old, that ‘We have found another planet suitable for inhabiting.’

  “After the previous Mr. General told me these disgusting details that The Company had kept hidden, he asked me if I would agree to take over the work of Mr. General from him. At the time, I told him I needed time to think it over, but he died before I could give him an answer. So, even though I decided to accept the role as Mr. General, and even though I know the strategies previous generations of Mr. Generals have used to stop The Company, I have no idea what would happen after I accomplish what I am supposed to do. If large numbers of people are not sacrificed, then what solutions can be found for population control and resource allocation? If we do succeed in obstructing the project, would that mean even more people would be sacrificed? 

  “I don’t know what the answer is. I really don’t. 

  “Children, you might even wonder if I’m an irresponsible adult. Since meeting the former Mr. General at age 53, I’ve worked on the secret mission until today, at age 113. Each time I start to doubt the Mr. General mission, I would think back to that day, when the elderly man was leaving the department chief’s office. He was almost out the door when he turned around and said to me, ‘We can’t do much, and we can’t know much; but all that we can do and can know is to create more randomness in this universe.’

  “When you wake up, and when you find me and see the contents of the memory projector, I will have already died. But I have injected three random numbers into your journey:

  “The first Random Number is that you will wake up before schedule; and will very likely become friends.

  “The second is that after take-off, any of the communication devices implanted in your bodies would be disabled, and you would lose contact with The Company. They will not be able to command you to perform any tasks. Any decisions that follow have to be made by you.

  “The third is, when you reach New Earth No. 3069, you will realize that this planet is…

  “This planet is…”

  Before Mr. General could finish, plumes of white smoke start to come out of the memory projector and there is a stench of melting plastic. Mr. General’s image begins to flatten out. The light flickers a few times before the machine sparks with a bang, and she vanishes. 

  All three kids and Tofu are stunned speechless by the events Mr. General has just described. But there isn’t any time to digest this shocking information, because at that very moment, the entire cabin starts to tilt forward and to vibrate at a high frequency, which causes the internal temperature to rapidly rise. Tofu immediately glides over to the cockpit, and after a moment, he announces through the loudspeakers: “Everyone! Please return to your mite beds, and secure your safety harnesses. We are preparing for landing.”

  As he ran back to his mite bed, Kuro caught a glimpse out of the porthole, of a blue-green sphere embedded within the consuming blackness of space.

  Okay. So, there’s no green curtain; no display monitor; no fried chicken or curry rice; and as he exists the base, neither does Kuro see the unstratified atmosphere and barren landscape that his teacher talked so much about. He plucks a blade of grass and chews on it. Yup. Tastes just like vegetation on other developed New Earths. The nutrition development Company molds the same fiber molecules into various shapes, then dyes it into different forms of plant life. Despite the variety in the shapes and sizes of flowers, fruits, and greenery, everything tastes equally non-toxic, fresh, and sweet. The Company has long done away with any pungent, earthy, or bitter taste in fruits and vegetables. 

  “This here is … Have we landed on the wrong planet?” Chee is taken aback by the view that greets her when she exits the hatch.

  Tofu set the landing point on the flattest, emptiest lot available, so there isn’t anything around except weeds and gentle, undulating mounds. Stretched along the horizon in the near distance is a smart-city, with flying vehicles of every description shuttling across the airspace above it. From every angle, this place definitely looks like it’s been developed for a while. It’s clearly not a planet waiting to be rewritten. 

  “Remember how Mr. General didn’t finish telling us about the third random number?” Hoho says, his eyes cast toward the city on the horizon. “I’m guessing that the third Random Number Incident is that she secretly changed our destination, and sent us toward a planet that has already executed the Mirroring Project.”

  “But if Mr. General asked us to defy The Company’s commands and to make our own minds up, wouldn’t it make more sense to bring us to an undeveloped place? Why did she…” 

  Before Chee rattles off her string of questions, a flying vehicle — zooming toward them at a high speed — makes an abrupt landing in front of them. A side door, printed with the words “The Company Travel Agency,” slides open. A heavily made-up young woman with vibrant red lipstick and wavy blond hair walks out of the vehicle and hollers to the whole crew with a big, bright smile:

  “Welcome, my dear friends, to the eternal summer of New Earth No. 306! I am the Model A Homunculus android responsible for receiving you. Please, call me Stacy! 

  “While here, you will enjoy the cleanest of spaces, the most convenient of surroundings, and best of all, the kindest, most honest, and friendliest of people. We have several tour packages to choose from. Or, if you prefer a customized itinerary, a private consultant can be arranged to provide a unique exclusive tour experience for the low price of 10,000 Newcoins!

  “Would you prefer the Knowledge Tour, the Worker’s Tour, or the Ecological Tour? We also offer the Depravity Tour and the Taboo Tour…” Stacy pauses and looks at this group of “tourists” in front of her, then clears her throat. “However, the last few tours mentioned are not suitable for little cuties like you.”

  Kuro, Hoho, Chee, and Tofu exchange glances. Tofu interjects, “Prior to landing, we thought we were coming to a desolate planet, so we didn’t dispatch a landing request. How did you know we were here?”

  “Well, our air surveillance system was keeping track of you. To be honest, we’re pretty used to landings outside the official protocols these days. Normally landing permits certified by The Company are required for entry; and anyone without would be forcibly expelled for illegal entry. But for some unknown reason, interplanetary travel restrictions have been extra strict lately.” Stacy lowers her voice and continues, “Don’t repeat this, but I’ve heard that there’s a group of idiots who oppose The Company out there, spreading interplanetary viruses. This is why travel has become so inconvenient, and visitors have to try to fly under the radar. A lot of our visitors are the mega-rich from other planets, so our Administrative Ministry bends the rules and allows them to land. I won’t bore you kids with an explanation; you’ll understand once you grow up how hard it is to make a buck!” 

  “By the way, have you decided which tour you’d prefer?” Stacy quickly recovers her professional smile. 

  “What do we do?” Hoho asks Kuro under his breath. 

  “Have fun, of course!” Chee leans over and suggests. 

  “But shouldn’t we first find out why Mr. General sent us here?” Hoho says.

  “We need to learn more about this place before we can decide where to start, so let’s look around with Stacy first. I mean, we can have fun and find answers at the same time.” Kuro tries to speak in a whisper too, but he is so bad at it that Stacy easily overhears every word. 

  She quickly walks forward, introducing the video on each tour package as she pulls the 3D projection into the air. “Each package includes a friendly professional tour guide who will assist you on your explorations of New Earth No. 306. The tour guide for the Worker’s Tour is Yung. He’ll guide you on an experience of the workers’ life of the past from building a chair to picking tomatoes by hand. This is one of our bestselling tours, and the price of 800 Newcoins per person includes all your materials and travel expenses for the day, this applies to Mission-specific robots, too. 

  “Joseph Walnut is the guide for the Ecological Tour. New Earth No. 306 may be a highly developed planet, but regions have been designated for the creation of wetlands, forests, and more, so visitor can safely and securely access the wilderness. The cost for this tour is 600 Newcoins. I won’t go into the tours not suited for your age group. So, which one sounds good to you?”

  “Wow! That’s expensive,” Kuro thinks to himself, remembering the most he’d ever spent on a meal was about 8 Newcoins. 

  “Didn’t you say there was a Knowledge Tour? What’s that one about?” Hoho asks. 

  Stacy reluctantly pulls up information on the Knowledge Tour. “Let me just say that I really wouldn’t recommend this tour for you guys. This one is super boring. I’ve gotten so many complaints about the Knowledge Tour. The tour guide is Heimlich the Worm. He’s the director of the only public library on New Earth No. 306. The tour is basically a quick look around where he works. That’s all.”

  “How much does this tour cost?” Chee asks. 

  “Cheap. Very cheap. Super cheap. Only 10 Newcoins per person. But, no one is ever tempted even by the low price. I mean, what’s the point of visiting a library in this day and age? History and culture aficionados can easily link to the Entertainment Center databanks from the comfort of their own homes. I highly recommend that you choose between the Worker’s Tour or the Ecological Tour. 

  “We’d like to go on the Knowledge Tour. As a matter of fact, these kids love libraries!” Tofu glides forward and enables Stacy to scan his electronic wallet. 

  After completing the payment, Tofu notices the expressions of protest on Kuro and Chee’s faces and says in a low voice, “Don’t grumble. Mr. General has cut off our links with The Company, which means we are flat-out broke. We are basically penniless. I’m using my meager savings to treat everyone.” Hearing this, the two had to relent. 

  After speaking to someone via holographic projection, Stacy comes over to tell the group, “I’ve just notified the museum director and he has received the payment. Everyone! Please board the flying vehicle so we can be on our way to the first, and last, Great Library on New Earth No. 306!”

  After ushering the group out of the vehicle at the library, Stacy says a quick goodbye and immediately takes off again. Chee mutters to Hoho under her breath, “She sure didn’t want to waste another minute time with paupers like us.” 

  The Great Library on New Earth No. 306 isn’t “great” in the usual sense of the word. It’s a small three-story house with a pitched roof and many small windows. At a glance, it would seem a stretch to fit ten people in the space. The surrounding garden is overgrown with weeds and in a state of neglect, with a couple of shriveled leaves dangling precariously a few small potted plants.

  Kuro walks up the narrow staircase that leads to the double doors, waiting for the doors to automatically open. He waits for a while before he realizes the wooden doors in front of him are manual, which he’s never encountered in real life before. He knocks on the door, and shouts: “Hello? Anyone home?”

  The wooden doors creak open outward, almost knocking Kuro down the steps. A boy between Chee and Tofu’s height steps forward. A pair of oversized eyeglasses sit on top of his chubby face. He seems timid and is sweating profusely. 

  “Hi there. We’re here to see the library director. Stacy made a reservation for us for the Knowledge Tour?” Hoho says. 

  The boy nervously gulps a few breaths before answering in a soft, staccato voice, “Um… I’m the director? I’m Heimlich the Worm. You can call me Heimlich or The Worm, or Heimlich the Worm.”

  Chee’s eyes widen in disbelief. “You’re the director? What? You look about our age, and you hold this important job?”

  The Worm shyly waves his hand, saying, “No. It’s not like that. I’m not important at all. It’s only because I like libraries, and I was the only one who ever came here to read. When the previous director retired, no one else wanted the job, so he submitted my name to The Company and they approved it. Everyone thinks information found in books is imprecise and outdated, and there’s no real money in it…. Anyway, come on in, come in!”

  There’s no furniture inside the building. In the middle of the floor is a square opening leading to an underground passage that looks barely wide enough to fit two adults stood side-by-side. Gusts of cold air from that seemingly bottomless pit blow toward them. 

  The Worm says, “The Knowledge Tour is quite short. We will only get to the Grand Reception Hall. The layout of the Great Library is ‘complicated’. If you get lost, I’m afraid there is no one to rescue you, so please watch your step, and let’s stay close to the wall. Now, follow me.”

  Walking into that subterranean cold draft, descending down and further down toward the reception hall, The Worm explains to the surprise of everyone that, only two and a half stories above ground, the Great Library is an underground labyrinth of countless stairs, corridors, and rooms. No one quite knows how far down it goes, and no one has figured out how many levels there are. The only sure thing is that this library is enormous. Even though the reception hall is the closest space to the ground floor, it takes a ten-minute walk to get there. 

  “The Great Library is a mystery,” The Worm continues in his rapid-fire whisper. Everyone follows behind him, walking softly on tiptoes to avoid drowning him out. “No one knows when it appeared and no one knows whether construction has been completed. We only know that the Great Library was here as soon as this planet was even designated as New Earth No. 306. New Earth No. 306 is a hot and humid planet. Even though the Mirroring Project was successfully executed, some preexisting climate issues were never resolved. When the Trio Eye were rewriting the planet, they made adjustments to the material settings of machinery and other implements to prolong their usage lifetime in this climate. But they didn’t really pay attention to  fragile things like papers or books that could easily disintegrate. They did not build the library.”

  The Worm doesn’t notice the exchanged glances between the three people and one robot behind him. He continues: “To this day, no one understands the logic behind the design or archives of the Great Library. Each new director attempts to excavate further down, like miners from the Old Earth. They make changes to the map as they go, hoping to piece together a small part of the complex puzzle that is the Great Library.

  “Okay! Here we are!”

  “It’s… It’s huge!” Kuro blurts out as he enters the reception hall.   

  The Grand Reception Hall is a rectangular-shaped room that is so cavernous that the echo of each footstep reverberates for several seconds. The vaulted ceilings are at least five-stories in height, and each of the walls are lined with books from floor to ceiling, the varying colors of the book covers create a mosaic-tiled effect. The room is flanked by openings to passageways in varying sizes and numbers. Some are as wide as fortress gates, others are so narrow that even Chee couldn’t squeeze through. 

  The Worm leads the entourage to the center of the reception hall, and invited them to sit around a boardroom table that looks miniscule in the grand scale of the room. He pushes open a hidden compartment on the table and takes out a scroll of paper that he unfurls.

  “Look at this,” The Worm points to a map that looks like a random scattering of color blocks. “No blue prints or floor plans exist for the Great Library, only this aerial map. If you excavated the entire Great Library and held a giant lamp over it, this is the shadow it would cast — if you can picture it.” Though still sweating profusely, the tension in his voice when they first met is gone, replaced by an unconcealable excitement. He clearly loves it here.

  “Judging from this map, the Great Library isn’t symmetrical in design. I’ve realized while exploring using these homemade maps from the previous head librarians, that the spaces were even stranger than I first imagined. Some storage rooms are tiny but hold a great number of books but can only be accessed through a narrow one-way passage; while other storage rooms are large and spacious, but hold maybe an eight-volume set of books. I’ve always wondered whether the Great Library was designed not to preserve things but to hide things!” The Worm’s eyes gleam as his voice rises to a crescendo. 

  His palpable excitement piques the curiosity of his three human and one robot spectators. Studying the aerial map, Chee reflexively swipes at the paper’s surface with her fingers to zoom in on the page, which makes The Worm chuckle. “I did the same thing when I first dealt with printed paper. Paper looks just like a two-dimensional projection video, but what you see is all there is.” 

  “If I remember correctly, you said earlier that the Great Library was already here when the Trio Eye came to execute the rewrite. Am I right?” Hoho asks tentatively. 

  “Yes, this is something I’ve never been able to make sense of,” The Worm pauses to readjust his eyeglasses that keep slipping down his nose from the perspiration. “According to The Company, they always choose a planet without intelligent life for the Old Earth rewrite. But preexistence of the Great Library suggests that there were lifeforms present before the rewrite. Not just lifeforms, but intelligent lifeforms. The two possible scenarios I thought of are: Either the Trio Eye lied about the library appearing at the same time as New Earth No. 306, and built the Great Library for a specific reason; or else…” Suddenly alert, The Worm stops midsentence, leaving the second possibility hanging in the air. 

  He rolls up the aerial map of the Great Library and says, “So, um, the Knowledge Tour ends here. Thank you for coming. If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact the Tourism Ministry directly…”

  “We know The Company is a lie!” Kuro stands from his chair, both hands clenching the table in front of him and fixing his eyes on The Worm. “Sorry, Hoho, Chee, and Tofu. I know saying this to someone we’ve just met is risky, but I feel that The Worm is someone we can trust. 

  Chee shakes her head and says, “Not a problem. If you hadn’t said it, I would have. My instincts tell me that The Worm would willingly stand with us. I believe Hoho and Tofu feel the same way.”

  The Worm is taken aback, and at a loss for words. 

  “You’ve just finished giving us your tour; now it’s our turn to give you our tour!” Kuro says, smiling. 

  Hoho leaves no detail untold in describing the truth behind the Mirror Project for The Worm. That, in reality, The Company tricks the poor in every New Earth into volunteering as “Trailblazers” through a policy that is the opposite of “Everyone is equal”, and sends them to their deaths. He also describes what the black rain made of human beings looks like. 

  The Worm’s expression of disbelief fades away as he begins to connect the dots, and finally he nods thoughtfully. “Um, I don’t know where you’ve gotten all this, and it did sound far-fetched at first, but it makes complete sense. I thought of something while you were talking. Lately interplanetary travel has become more and more restrictive. Even though The Company’s official line is that there are criminals spreading viruses on some New Earths which means we need to restrict travel to protect New Earth No. 306. But a few days ago, there was an emergency incident when The Company’s live-telecast of the landing on New Earth No. 3069 suddenly went black in the middle of the broadcast. They say it was a problem with the old equipment, but everyone knows that the whole universe was waiting to see the live landing on a New Earth, and it’s a huge money maker for The Company. They wouldn’t have allowed the Trio Eye to take off without making sure they were equipped with the newest and most reliable of everything. Everyone says The Company is restricting interplanetary exchanges because they’ve made a huge mistake. A missing spaceship is a small thing, but losing track of a Trio Eye of elites who have taken so long to train and nurture, that  is a huge— Oh, wait…”

  The Worm sizes up the three humans and one robot standing in front of him, and takes in all their physical attributes. He points at each of them: “Human… Homunculus… Chimera…” He gulps. “And you are the navigator.”

  “It’s rude to point,” Tofu says.

  Stunned, The Worm leans back into his chair, causing the chair to momentarily tilt out of balance. Chee rushes over to catch his fall. “So… um…” The Worm stammers. “So, you guys didn’t vanish after all. You’ve arrived on a previously rewritten New Earth instead. But… How could you have woken up in time? How did you learn the truth about The Company? And how did you end up here?”

  Kuro, Hoho, and Chee talk over each other to detail to The Worm everything that has happened on their journey so far: how they located the source of the sound in Hoho’s body; Mr. General; the three Random Number Incidents; even the part about how Kuro and Chee got into an argument. 

  “So, what are you guys going to do now?” The Worm asks. 

  The Worm’s question hits at the heart of what everyone has been asking themselves all of this time, and all of them fall silent in thought.  

  “I… I just want to say,” Tofu surprises everyone by breaking the silence. “In the words of the previous Mr. General, ‘We can’t do everything; we can’t know everything. All we can do and all we  know  now is we have to generate a few more random numbers events in the universe.’ I mean to say, I don’t know what you think about this statement, nor whether you enjoy your current lifestyles. I was impacted by these words. Yes, it’s tragic what happened to the trailblazers; but I’ve also been thinking a lot about something else.

  “Mission-specific robots like we navigators don’t have personalities. Our hardware is renewed for each mission, but for the sake of stability, our software remains the same, and we are not programmed to have personalities like the homunculi. Even though we are designed with automated machine learning capabilities, the missions are always the same, and the Trio Eye we accompany are asleep throughout the journey. So, machine learning basically allows us to improve our navigation skills. What I mean is, I’m identical to 5000 others like me, and we have stayed this way for a long time, possibly longer than the combined tenures of the five Mr. Generals.

  “But I have started to develop a personality in speaking with all of you. I have discovered a sense of self. I want to know what The Depravity Tour Stacy talked about looks like. I want to know what happened to Mr. General, and I want to know what tofu tastes like. I’ve started thinking a lot, and when I am thinking now my thoughts often begin with the word ‘I’.”

  Kuro, Hoho, Chee and The Worm have never given a second thought to “personality.” It is as unconscious as breathing or living. It has never occurred to them that Tofu would consider having a personality an unexpected gift.

  “The concept of ‘Random Number Incidents’ didn’t exist for me before Mr. General mentioned it. Hearing it almost crashed my system, but after machine learning and processing this new concept, I’ve begun to imagine different possibilities, and to imagine that I could have something called a life, even though even imagining these things go against the four tenants for robots. Anyway…” Tofu pauses for a moment, then continues with great resolve. “Anyway, I don’t know what Mr. General sent us here to accomplish, but if we can tell everyone about this conspiracy, so everyone can… begin to crash their systems, this might be a way of randomization.”

  “If this is so, I would gladly join you in defying the four tenants of robots!” Hoho says, playfully punching Tofu to show his approval. 

  Chee smiles at Tofu too. “Very well said. I won’t wish I was more like a real human child anymore. Being like Tofu would be even more amazing.”

  “That is what we should do then! Let’s tell everyone what we know,” Kuro says excitedly. 

  “However,” despite his excitement, Hoho quickly reverts back to calm. “If we try to talk to each person on New Earth No. 306 one at a time, it would take forever. They probably wouldn’t believe us, and might even report us.”

  Hoho’s observation quickly dampens everyone’s excited chatter. But their silence is soon broken by the gurgling sounds of a very hungry belly. 

  “Um… Before we continue thinking about our next steps, could we get something to eat?” Kuro scratches his head in embarrassment. 

  “Great idea. I’ll take you to the Gourmet Center. That way you can learn your way around too,” The Worm says.

  “Is it okay for the library director to just leave the place unattended?” Chee asks.

  “That’s not an issue here. No one comes to the library even if I leave the doors wide open.” 

  Everyone laughs.

  Actually, all food on every New Earth tastes the same. All vegetables have the same flavor, and all meats taste the same. Fried chicken curry over rice may look completely different from beef noodle soup, but the fried chicken and the beef taste equally bland. It may have been the dining companions at the table, but the consensus is that the food served at this place The Worm brought them to is different, it is superb. Hoho reckons, according to the ancient food rating systems used on Old Earth long ago, this meal is definitely deserving of five stars.

  In keeping with the universal urban planning standards, all buildings and passages on this planet have been designed to radiate from the center. Every 5000 to 9000 residents automatically constitute a district. The Great Library is located in the most important district on New Earth No. 306. After finishing their meal, The Worm leads everyone on a walk around the gourmet center. They walk pass buildings that house The Company’s planetary administrative branch, the Nutrition Ministry building, the Security Ministry building, and even catch a glimpse of Stacy dozing off on the job when they walk pass the Tourism Ministry building. 

  “This is the district’s Recreation Center. I bet Kuro knows more about it than I do, so I won’t say too much.” After guiding them around a few corners, The Worm stops in front of a towering monolith at the center of a radial intersection.

  From the outside, the Recreation Center looks like a giant white bird beak with two mandibles that has been set into the ground. This design is universal to all New Earths. They say that, standing at 2527.1 meter in height, the original intention was to make Recreation Center the tallest man-made structure on each planet, but with the passage of time and technological advancements, other buildings now exceed the height of the Recreation Center. Even so, it’s importance remains the same. Databanks are kept behind the sleek smooth walls and cannot be accessed except by the human member of the Trio Eye team. All information required by the residents on each New Earth can be found here. The Recreation Center not only serves as a library, classroom, and laboratory where everyone’s visual, auditory, and taste perceptions are shaped; it also teaches them how to sense sense fear, excitement, and anticipation. In the early days, people had to schedule appointments to come in and update their knowledge, but things are much more convenient now. With The Company’s self-updating microchip implanted in each user’s brain (painless: like a little pinch behind the ear!), any changes in the databanks at the Recreation Center automatically updates to the microchip in everyone’s brains. A flight to the Recreation Center is no longer necessary, unless an old microchip needs to be upgraded. These days the Recreation Center is quite deserted.

  “Isn’t it a curious thing?” Kuro muses as everyone gazes up at the massive circulation desk in the middle of the Recreation Center and squeezes through the gap between the two mandibles. “The teacher used to say that the Recreation Center is like an omniscient being that exists in everyone’s brain which can answer any question you ask, but in our average 200-year lifespan, very few of us use even ten percent of the data. I mean, the answers are all there, but no one wants to ask the questions. Why do they give us so much information when they can just give us what we use?”

  “To be honest, I used to resent the Recreation Center because it made visiting the library obsolete for everyone. So even though I have a microchip, I refuse to use it to answer any questions. I prefer taking the time to find the answers in books instead,” The Worm says. “But after what Kuro just said, maybe the Recreation Center isn’t that much different from a library. Without a sense of curiosity, it is equally opaque. I actually brought you all here because when Tofu mentioned telling everyone about the conspiracy, I immediately thought… “

  “Shhhh!” Sensing the shadow of human silhouettes  at the entrance to the Recreation Center, Chee quickly directs everyone to hide underneath the circulation desk. Before Kuro can open his mouth to complain Chee yanks his arm hard. Chee’s hand is already covering his mouth. She shakes her head, and holds out four fingers with her other hand. 

  Footsteps draw close and come to a stop near the group. Peering through the gap under the circulation desk, Hoho sees that there are indeed four pairs of adult shoes, three accompanied by walking sticks. 

  “What the heck are we supposed to do now?” says an irritable middle-aged male voice. “You guaranteed that there wouldn’t be any issues, that the public wouldn’t ask any questions as long as we spin the story to the public about an organized rebellion against The Company spreading an interplanetary virus on the New Earths. But now, look!” He slams his hand down on the circulation desk for emphasis, which made the four people and one machine underneath the table jump. 

  The man’s remarks are met with a long pause. Then a feeble old female voice says: “So what’s wrong now?”

  “I can’t believe you’re asking me that? Just today alone, I overheard at least five conspiracy theories on how the virus thing is a hoax. They are saying the Mirroring Project for New Earth No. 3069 was a failure, and that the truth is that the Trio Eye have gone missing.”

  The older female laughs. “You’ve only just been dispatched by The Company to serve as chief executive here so you might not know, but we’ve seen New Earth No. 306 grow from a population of 0 to overpopulation. We’ve reined in the spread of rumors too many times to count.” 

  “We have it all figured out by now,” another older voice says while pacing back and forth. Kuro quickly tucks in his foot to avoid being jabbed with a walking stick. “The key is to ignore negative reports, and to aggressively produce positive news stories during a crisis situation. The public’s collective memory is short.”

  “The public memory might be short but…”

  “We’re not trying to be patronising,” the final person in the group speaks up. “But younger folks like you worry too much. Let me quiz you on this. Since the three of us first arrived and laid the groundwork on New Earth No. 306, what percentage of the total number of residents would you guess immigrated here from other planets?” This voice sounds like one of an elderly person too, but one who speaks very fast.

  “Um, 30 percent? 40?” The chief executive answers with some hesitation.

  “That would be a stretch. The actual figure is around 14 percent. Less than one in five come from another planet, but there is a misconception that we live among outsiders, so you can imagine how much conflict and antagonism we have had to deal with since day one.”

  “That’s why,” the older female voice picks up from there. “When we say to ‘ignore the bad news, produce the good news’ — this is the lesson we’ve learned the hard way. By creating good news in a crisis, especially when it is one of righteousness, people will unify around the idea that ‘New Earth No. 306 is better than other New Earths.’ They would be willing to believe in the idea of ‘us’, and think of this as their home. They would automatically eliminate alternative opinions among themselves.”

  “Well. Okay then. If that’s what the original old-timers say, I’ll have to trust you on this,” The Chief Executive seems to be reassured. His tone of voice softened when he suddenly exclaims, “I have an idea. Tomorrow is the regularly scheduled update for the Recreation Center. Let’s hold an extravagant planetary linking ceremony where we announce a new initiative. A major breakthrough! We’ll tell everyone that, um… yeah, we will tell them that we have successfully raised the maximum number of users for the Recreation Center, that in addition to the three types of people, even mission-specific robots can now have access. We will be known as the planet that thoroughly implements the ‘Everyone is equal in The Company.’ New Earth No. 306 leads the entire universe on this.” 

  The more he speaks, the more excited and louder his voice gets. The words “entire universe” reverberate and echo through the Recreation Center and doesn’t dissipate for quite a while.

  The three elders break into simultaneous laughter. The female voice says, “Your rapid response really makes us stand up and take notice. No wonder you were appointed to chief executive at such a young age. I’d put money on a fast-track promotion when you return to headquarters in the not-so-distant future.”

  The younger male laughs, and the group make their way out of the Recreation Center, deep in discussions about arrangements for the ceremony the following day. 

  The four crawl out from under the circulation desk only when the footsteps are out of Chee’s earshot.

  “I have pins and needles in my legs,” Kuro complains while rubbing his legs.

  “Do you think the three elderly people were…,” Hoho turns with concern and asks The Worm, who is also rubbing his numb legs. 

  “Yes… Right. They are a Trio Eye team,” The Worm says as he takes off his glasses to clean the fogged-up lenses with his shirt. “More accurately, they are the Trio Eye for New Earth No. 306. Like you all, their team has one real human, one homunculus, and one chimera. They built everything here.”

  “But now what do we do? What if they do hold the global linking ceremony tomorrow? They will bolster faith in The Company and everyone will distrust us. Even if we tell them how many people The Company has killed it will be useless,” Chee says, defeated. 

  Hearing this, Kuro and Hoho are also overcome with a feeling of hopelessness. With downcast faces, they glance up at the white walls that seem to stretch endlessly upwards. 

  “Guys,” having recovered from shock of it all, The Worm serenely announces to the others. “The global linking ceremony tomorrow could be the perfect opportunity for us.”

  “What do you mean?” The three ask in unison.

  “I wasn’t finished telling you my idea when they barged in here.” With so many eyes and ears suddenly trained on him, The Worm gulps nervously. “Kuro, you are in charge of all of the software tasks for the mirror project, right?”

  “Yes. Basically, that’s the Recreation Center. Why?” Kuro asks, puzzled.

  “You do remember how to manage the databank retrieval system in the Recreation Center right?” The Worm says in an excited voice. 

  “Of course, I do. That class was such a pain. They made us do the same thing. Every. Single. Day. I could do it in my sleep: maintaining old bins, adding new users, deleting obsolete users, and how to add…” Kuro suddenly realizes where The Worm was going with this, and exclaims: “Hey! We can add the secret behind the Black Rain directly into the Recreation Center databanks!”

  “Shhhh…. Be quiet!” Hoho tries to hush Kuro from speaking too loudly, but he is clearly just as excited. “So how do we do this?”

  “This is not a safe place for this conversation. Let’s go back to the Great Library,” The Worm says.

  “Yeah. Who knows when the old Trio Eyes will suddenly come back again,” Chee says.

  “The other thing that suddenly came to me was that we are actually all going to get that old one day! Tofu, can you imagine me all wrinkled and walking with a cane? Huh? Tofu?”

  The four of them suddenly realize that Tofu is still hiding under the circulation desk.

  “Oh. Um, apologies. My system crashed from the unexpected situation earlier,” Tofu says. “Kuro, Hoho, and Chee were groomed for the mission of the Mirroring Project; but The Worm, you shouldn’t be dragged into this if you don’t want to be a part of it. You seemed very upset earlier. Are you okay with this?”

  The Worm braces his chubby hands against the floor and scrambles back on his feet. “Of course, I am terrified. I am anxious just speaking to another person, and nervous going to the Gourmet Center on my own. About the only thing that doesn’t terrify me is reading a book. But, you have all reminded me of a line from one of my favorite books,” he smiles brightly. 

  “’What’s lame isn’t losing the match. It’s to be scared of the match!’”

  The crowd begins to trickle in for the global linking ceremony at 9:45 in the morning. The young, the old, every man, woman, and child, human and non-human: everyone on New Planet 306 shows up, except for the Chief Executive, the other department heads, and the elder Trio Eye team. The silvery-white base of the Recreation Center turns kaleidoscopic in reflecting the multihued silhouettes of the crowd. Even though they can easily participate in real time using immersive equipment at home, everyone makes their way to the Recreation Center, not wanting to miss out on a rare opportunity to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of being in a crowd. The entire security department has been dispatched. In addition to the imposing security personnel and checkpoint detectors, bionic dogs are also out in  full force, patrolling the arena. 

  The team of four people and one machine have been there since the night before, when they meticulously formulated their plan. Taking advantage of the milling crowd, Chee and The Worm weave their way through the throngs, speaking in a voice just loud enough for those around them to hear, “Mr. General’s organisation planted a bomb in the Recreation Center. Let’s get out of here, fast!” Fear spread like a virus as more and more people caught wind of this. A few screams ring out as the crowd begins to push and shove their way out of the Recreation Center. 

  Meanwhile, the other two people and one machine easily slip into the center amidst the chaos. Hoho and Tofu disable the circuit board controlling the main points of entry into the Recreation Center, using the “Recreation Center Users Guide” that The Worm found in the Great Library the night before; so even those who have clearance to access the center cannot enter. Kuro takes over operations at the circulation desk and begins to upload information that everyone stayed up all night to compile. He saves them into the databank labeled “General Knowledge/History/Important S.” Any file with designated with “S” is automatically implanted into the brains of all lifeforms born on the island. 

  The uploading speed seems to crawl along much slower than anyone imagined… 23 percent, 24… 

  Everyone anxiously eyes the incremental progress on the circulation desk display, while worrying about Chee and The Worm. Those two are still outside playing cat and mouse with the security department, without any buildings around to shield them. The Worm seems especially likely to get caught.

  68… 69 percent… 

  The Chief Executive and the Security Department realize at this moment that the bomb was just a prank pulled by a couple of kids. The Chief Executive stands outside the main entrance to the Recreation Center and begins to shout: “Your two friends have already been apprehended. If you open the door now, I will let you leave and no one gets hurt.” As he speaks, the Director of Security issues an order to melt the Recreation Center doors down with flame throwers.

   …98 percent… 99… 100 percent. 

  The secret of the black rain has  been uploaded  at last. 

  As soon as the display reaches 100 percent, a total silence descends around them. The only thing that can be heard is the sound of droplets of melting silvery-white partition board reverberating as they land on the ground. The sudden appearance of this general historical knowledge in everyone’s minds has caused a complete system overload in the minds of all the people across the planet.

  That was supposed to be the plan, anyway. 

  Chee is the first one to be woken by the sounds of footsteps and the clickety-clack of walking sticks downstairs. Hoho, Kuro, and The Worm, who have been napping on the floor of the library’s Grand Reception Hall, wake up soon after. None of them are prepared for what they see before them: three teetering elders walking into the reception hall, each holding a tall cane that is taller than they are, wearing capes that cover everything from their heads down to their calves; one in red, one in white, and one in green. Behind them is Tofu, who left at the crack of dawn on a reconnaissance mission. 

  Even though their faces are obscured, everyone immediately recognizes them to be the elderly Trio Eye of New Earth No. 306. 

  “Tofu, you traitor!” Chee exclaims in anger.

  “You were the one who convinced us to tell everyone the secret about the black rain, why did you go back on your word?” Even the typically mild-mannered Hoho raises his voice.

  “Stay calm, children,” the elderly woman in the red cape says. She pulls up a chair and sits down, then says lightly with a smile, “It’s still early. It’s not good to start the day in anger. You’ll know the whole story soon enough.”

  “Who cares what is good for us!” Kuro says, enraged, before turning to Tofu. “I thought we were friends. I thought we were going to develop a cache file of flavors? You have ruined every…”

  “Did you not hear them that day?” Tofu maintains a steady tone and pace as he says, “While we were hiding under the circulation desk, they said mission-specific robots would be allowed to use the Recreation Center too; and that this would be a new planet that fully realizes the ideals of ‘Everyone is equal in the company.’”

  The Worm’s face reddens with anxiety. “Those were all lies to trick you!”

  “No, no, no, my dear little library director,” the old woman says. “It’s all true. We have actually implemented it. Recreation center usage rights for mission-specific robots were passed at our meeting last night. This is not a lie. We truly want New Earth No. 306 to be a home for everyone, to allow everyone to live in freedom and equality. We are so grateful that T07U volunteered the information so that we could report it to The Company headquarters and be prepared for the unexpected.” 

  “I really felt it just now…” Tofu says in a dreamlike daze. “I experienced something better than the taste of fragrant tofu, stinky tofu, fresh tofu, or moldy tofu… I was able to ask the Recreation Center Databank so many questions. What is rounder than round? What is the newest new? What is most beautiful of beauties? What is the most liberating freedom? What is the most progressive progress?

  “The Recreation Center sent so many images to my system, and the secret of the black rain didn’t seem as important anymore. What matters is the here and now, right? I have always been executing missions in the universe, but this is the first time that I felt the whole universe… When I was using the Recreation Center Databanks, I forgot what I looked like. I… I could even make art. Art… the universe…” Tofu’s body begins to emit puffs of white smoke. 

  As Tofu speaks, Kuro thinks to himself “No. No. This isn’t right.” But he didn’t know how to begin to refute Tofu.

  “Allow me to introduce myself, young Trio Eye. My name is Verity. I’m the real human member of the New Earth No. 306 Trio Eye.” The elderly woman points to the Trio Eye member in the white cape, “He is the pigeon chimera; and the one in green is the homunculus android. We hope you understand that our intentions are good. We’ve introduced ourselves, and left the security team outside rather than bring them in with us. So, we hope you won’t be plotting any attacks on we three old ones.”

  Hoho is unconvinced by Verity, and says with agitation: “You have no idea how you have been lied to by The Company and  that you continue to do bad things for them! They…”

  “They illegally traffic people. They brutally kill countless people in poverty.

  They market the poor as ‘trailblazers’ and paint themselves out as heroes. They smear the existence of Mr. General. They lie to the whole universe. They spin their business enterprise into a charitable cause…” The elderly pigeon chimera interrupts Hoho by rapidly rattling off the list. “We know! Of course, we know. And it wasn’t your mission-specific robot that told us. We heard all about it when we were your age,” the old man chuckles meaningfully. “Hey! You didn’t think you were the first Trio Eye team that the General approached, did you?”

  “Before we decide how to handle our opponents. Let us tell you about the type of Mr. General we encountered,” the old homunculus woman says. 

  “The unstratified atmosphere and barren landscape – you didn’t see that when you landed but we did. It might have been over two hundred years ago, but we could still remember the feeling of stepping out of the base. Despite the empty spaces all around us, there was a faint smell in the air that reminded us of the countless lifeforms around us. 

  ”We didn’t encounter Mr. General until we landed. Not long after landing on New Earth No. 306, we heard a knock on the door of the base, and opened the door to a man in a crisp suit, his hair neatly combed into a side part, with a metal briefcase in his hand. He said he was ‘Mr. General,’ an organization that had been around for as long as The Company, dedicated to resisting The Company. Through him, we learnt about all of the past atrocities committed by The Company. We invited him to live on the base with us, and asked him more questions about Mr. General. This Mr. General was like a teacher to us. We gained a perspective on knowledge and understanding from him that was completely different from the curriculum set by the Ministry of Education. In the world described by Mr. General, everyone was compensated for their labor. Since poor people didn’t exist, there were no families who had no alternative but to sell their family members to The Company to serve as ‘trailblazers.’ We worked together and played together. Before Mr. General came along, we used to each hole up in our own rooms when we weren’t working on our rewriting tasks. But after he came, the living room was where we spent most of our time. In the process, we became more and more disgusted with The Company and with ourselves for executing The Company’s orders. For us, there was no reason to differentiate between real humans, chimeras, or homunculus, because we were all mission-specific robots. 

  “After Mr. General lived among us for a while, my work on the foundational construction of New Earth No. 306 was almost complete; Verity had prepared all of the files in the databanks at the Recreation Center; and the chimera had scheduled the first wave of residents to arrive from the Old Earth and other New Earths, Mr. General called us together for a meeting one night. 

  ”‘Children, I’d like to make a request of you on behalf of all life in the Universe.’ Those were his exact words. And he also said, which I repeat word for word: ‘Even though I told you that Mr. General has always been a one-person organization, living with you has led me to believe that the Universe belongs to you. Of course, we are still here, so it is also ours; but ultimately it will be yours. So, I wanted to break with precedent here and invite you all to join Mr. General and liberate New Earth No. 306 from the control of The Company, and make this a place where all lifeforms that resist The Company can peacefully grow and nurture their families.’ 

  “How would you react if a teacher you respected said this? 

  ”The three of us were so moved that we immediately accepted Mr. General’s invitation. We asked Mr. General what kind of new Earth is best suited to serve as a base for resisting The Company, and began rewriting and adjusting the orders, not only for architecture and urban planning, but even the population ratios and the contents to the memory banks at the Recreation Center became further and further from what was established by the Mirroring Project. 

  ”But a few weeks later, when the chimera got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, he overheard Mr. General conferring with someone by hologram. He hid behind the door and listened. It seemed Mr. General wasn’t talking to one person but to a group of people in what looked like a conference. He was giving a progress report to the Mr. General headquarters. Clearly, Mr. General was not an organization of one. He said he would soon be able to take over another New Earth from The Company to add to the dominion of Mr. General. After that, he discussed the profit shares, etc. 

  “When Mr. General left the house the next day, the chimera sadly told us everything he heard. I’m sure the chimera would rather I didn’t mention this, but that was the first time I’ve seen him shed a tear. We pretended nothing had happened for a few days after that, and still asked Mr. General to hang out with us and tell us stories during our time off. One day, when Mr. General wasn’t looking, we secretly opened his metal briefcase and saw several 3D projection models of infrastructure, from the plaza to the factory, from the living room to the kitchen; there was also a chart detailing plans to bring in alien populations from a list of New Earths that we’ve never heard of. At the bottom of the briefcase, we found a few dynamic business cards of Mr. General smiling and making a power fist gesture, with the title ‘Director of Business Operations.’  

  ”Yes. Mr. General is not some kind of resistance movement against The Company; it’s just a rival company, another big space developer.”

  The four kids didn’t know what to say. They think back to the motherly Mr. General on the spaceship with her steely gaze, and cannot believe that they are pawns in a larger conspiracy. 

  “The Mr. General we know would not ever lie to us. It must have been the ‘Mr. General’ you met who lied!” Kuro told himself in anger and disbelief. 

  “The look on your faces brings me back to the emotions I felt at that time,” the Verity says. “Of course, you can decide that it is we who are lying, but we are only telling you our reality. When we realized our revered teacher was just a salesman, we didn’t know what we could do as children. We contacted The Company headquarters, and the lady on the other end of the line gently reassured us that we were doing the right thing. She said that soon some reassuring big brothers would come and help us handle the situation. Not long after we ended the call, the Security Department arrived. Ten men, who did not seem reassuring at all, violently kicked open the door to the base and dragged Mr. General out.”

  “We were afraid to look out, and afraid of making eye contact with Mr. General. While we were hiding inside, the chimera heard a voice that made her tremble all over. I think I heard it too, but I didn’t want to believe it. 

  “Mr. General didn’t shout or scream when the Security Department took him away. He didn’t get angry either. He just smiled in resignation. Before he left, he took a 3D projection model from his metal briefcase and shoved it into my hand and said: ‘I think this is the kind of living room you deserve. Later we constructed Mr. General’s living room here.” 

  “You… you’re saying,” The Worm gulps with difficulty. “You’re saying that you built the Great Library?”

  “Yes. And no,” the old homunculus woman says. “Some parts of the Great Library were already here. We don’t know who built it. There may even be more conspiracies behind it. We just built this Grand Reception Hall. Actually, since we had to build it under The Company’s radar, the facilities are limited and not entirely like the model. This was just a souvenir for ourselves; a souvenir from our lives as mission-specific robots that has nothing to do with The Company. A souvenir of a non-standardized living room with a sofa, carpet, wallpaper and mirror.”

  “I still don’t believe a word you’ve said,” Chee, who has remained silent for some time, suddenly bursts out in protest. 

  “Child, I’ve told you, it doesn’t matter if you believe it,” Verity says. “But when you know some aspects about The Company, and some aspects about The General, it isn’t possible to choose to believe just one side.”    

  The old chimera man walks toward the four children and teeters as he sits down with them on the cold floor. “After we sent Mr. General away, the three of us weren’t able to concentrate on work for a long time. We would sit in a daze in the living room, sometimes from sunrise to sunset, not even remembering to eat. Afterwards we resolved that New Earth No. 306 would not be a New Earth for The Company, or a New Earth for The General, but our own New Earth under the cover of The Company’s protection.” The old man chuckles, “Hey. Even though we weren’t too sure what this decision actually meant, we still worked toward it for over two hundred years.” 

  “Let’s keep everything we talked about here between ourselves,” Verity leans on her cane and slowly rises. “Because beyond one of The Company’s New Earths, this New Earth also belongs to us and we will not allow you to go ahead with your plans. Your plan may lead to the emergence of a non-existent New Earth No. 3069, but it cannot guarantee the safety of New Earth No. 306. We brought many new lives onto a planet covered by the corpses of the ‘trailblazers,’ and allowed them to propagate more lives. Lives upon lives upon lives… This is an immediate and important responsibility that can’t be risked. I don’t believe for a second that any impromptu plans you’ve hatched after hearing some sad history can take this new earth very far.” She stabs her cane on the ground, and a beam of blue light glows from its tip. Moments later, groups of security personnel arrive with metal briefcases of varying sizes and surround the four children. 

  “What are you trying to do!” Kuro roars loudly, knowing that if he didn’t at least make an effort, he will soon be overwhelmed by his feelings of powerlessness. 

  The Worm trembles uncontrollably and mumbles, “Don’t touch the books… Don’t touch the books…” 

  Hoho and Chee glare angrily at the security personnel as they attempt to comfort The Worm. 

  Recruits who join the Security Department seem like clones. They are all the same height, the same build, and have the same expressionless faces. They are more robotic than any mission-specific robots. They all lay their metal briefcases on the ground at the same time with a loud “Boom!” and skillfully open them. The four children huddle together in fear, and close their eyes tightly in anticipation of the pain that might suddenly descend upon them. 

  But… Nothing is happening.

  They squint their eyes  to sneak a peek, and realize that the security personnel are taking things out of their briefcases that are not weapons, but components of various equipment. Some are putting together a sound system, others are assembling lighting rigs and 3D live projection systems. Most of them seem to be working on a transparent projection screen that covers the ceiling, bookcases and floor of the entire Grand Reception Hall. 

  “We don’t trust your methods, but we are moved by your passion,” Verity says. “We won’t stop you, but we won’t help you either. If you want the whole planet to know the dark, evil past of The Company, then go ahead, young Trio Eye. I will let you find out firsthand whether the residents of New Earth No. 306 want to learn about it.”

  Small pixels begin to appear on the screens, each of which on close inspection shows a family waving at the crowd. These tiny silver, grey, and black squares gradually fill the space. Kuro, Hoho, and Chee have sudden flashbacks of the feeling of floating through the universe in the spaceship.

  To their astonishment the 3D projection of the Chief Executive suddenly appears a few steps away. “Yes. Thank you to our beautiful Master of Ceremonies, and thank you everyone for participating today. New Earth No. 306 is our home. If it wasn’t for everyone’s efforts and contributions, this planet would not have achieved everything we have achieved today. Not only have we kept up with technological advancements, we are also one of the few planets in the universe that has retained the heritage and traditions of Old Earth. Let’s have a round of applause for those on the other side of the screen, those beside us, and for ourselves!”

  A wave of applause rings out throughout the reception hall. The Chief Executive’s voice is so heartfelt that the four children reflexively clapped along too. Even Chee momentarily forgets that the image projection in front of her eyes is the same ill-tempered loud-mouth she heard in the Recreation Center the day before. 

  “Since its founding, The Company Division on New Earth No. 306 has continued to explore ways to ensure that everyone – and I mean everyone – feels like they are being treated equally. We have optimized the subject construction programing of the homunculus, we have improved working conditions for the chimera, we have provided various activities to help interplanetary immigrants integrate into the community, and we continued to attend to groups disadvantaged in terms of resources. However!” The Chief Executive pauses dramatically, and the entire arena falls silent in anticipation. “However! We want to do more! We’ve decided to launch the universe’s first initiative to welcome mission-specific robots into our family by giving them the same opportunities to use the Recreation Center like everyone else. Not only that, they will also have the right to vote in the future!” Applause rang out again, but The Worm saw people on some of the screens whispering with suspicion among themselves while applauding. 

  The chief executive continued, “What does it mean to be able to use the Recreation Center? This means whether you are a mission-specific robot in charge of sweeping, cleaning windows, or waste management, you will be able to gain a further understanding of the historical thought, politics, economics, and culture of New Earth No. 306. With the assistance of these mission-specific robots, New Earth No. 306 will definitely become the most unique New Earth under the direction of The Company; both groundbreaking and with traditions of our own. At this historical moment, we have invited the first mission-specific robot in the Universe to use a recreation center, Pilot T07U, to say a few words.”

  A beam of light homes in on Tofu and a hush descends on the whole planet to hear him speak. 

  “From the moment the restrictions were lifted on the Recreation Center, I’ve been asking questions non-stop. I thought I was learning new things, but I found it harder and harder to find my… myself… I realized that I wasn’t learning, I was just accepting stimulation. What I have, belongs to me. Mine. My own. I can’t break away from being a mission-specific robot, and I can never become a homunculus, nor ever a human. My spirit is a spirit that is unique to a mission-specific robot, but I seem to have gained more, more of my own…” Puffs of white smoke come out of Tofu’s body along with a strong smell of burning. 

  “Um… Let us… Let us thank T07U!” The Chief Executive quickly cuts Tofu off when he realizes the profusive words of gratitude aren’t forthcoming. “Now, we have another issue that concerns all of the residents of New Earth No. 306, and we need the opinions of everyone, young and old, rich or poor. There are two buttons on your screen. You will just have to choose between them. Allow me to explain this sudden referendum to everyone . 

  The spotlight quickly moves from Tofu, and shines down on the heads of Kuro, Hoho, Chee, and The Worm. 

  “Here in front of all of you are … wait, can someone please guide our Library Director to one side… Here in front of us are our unexpected guests. 

  “Everyone has heard rumors about the failure of the Mirror Project on New Earth No. 3069, and about the disappearance of the Trio Eye. We initially thought this was nonsense, so took serious, careful measures to rectify any falsehoods, but the fact is, what everyone has observed is accurate. Indeed, the guests you see in front of you are the Trio Eye who were originally bound for New Earth No. 3069 to execute the rewrite, but who accidentally made a landing on our planet.”

  The tittering sound of discussion could be heard from each of the tiny screens. Hoho sees an older woman faint on a screen near his right shoe. 

  “After their long interstellar journey, they have brought important information that they were planning to transmit directly to the Entertainment Center this morning. We are grateful for the enthusiasm of our three guests, but I must express disapproval for these undemocratic methods. To be honest, I am not sure what the content of this information is. I only know it has something to do with the unspeakable history of The Company, that may completely change our understanding of The Company, our understanding of others, and even our identification with New Earth No. 306. The Company has always adhered to principals of freedom, equality, openness, and transparency with our public so, after discussions with The Company Headquarters, it was decided that the power to decide whether to disseminate this information will be handed to all of you. You will see the topic of the referendum on your screens:

  “’Are you opposed to storing the unspeakable history of The Company at the Recreation Center, and the Trio Eye be invited to live with us on New Earth No. 306?’ If you vote ‘agree,’ that means you believe the past, present, and future residents of New Earth 306 should not learn about the unspeakable history of The Company.; if you vote ‘disagree,’ that means you believe that the past, present, and future residents should all learn about the company’s unspeakable history.

  “Before you cast your ballots, do any of our esteemed guests have any thoughts they’d like to share with the residents of New Earth No. 306?”   

  Only a few hours ago, Kuro, Hoho and Chee had vowed that regardless of any obstacles they may encounter in the process of executing the plan even if one of them has an issue or gets hurt, the rest of them would strive to transmit the secret of the black rain to the databanks. But now they find themselves caught in an unexpected conundrum. Even with the undivided attention of every resident on the planet, even though they could easily uncover the ugly mission of The Company simply by speaking up, the three of them found it difficult to utter a word in this moment. They’ve never given a thought to how the act of “knowing” something may change a person, a planet, or even an entire solar system. 

  Ever since waking up unexpectedly on the spaceship, they have encountered one unforeseen event after another. What they knew as The Company turned out to be different from The Company; what they thought was a New Earth was actually a different New Earth; whom they knew as “Mr. General” turned out to be a different sort of “Mr. General.” 

  New information keeps overturning the world they thought they knew. But just as they were on the cusp of irresponsibly changing the universe by repeating the tactics of The Company (perhaps with the addition of The General?), the past, the future, causes, and consequences that the three of them have always known have been torn apart. They feel suddenly deflated. They were prepared to fight a big battle, not to canvas for votes. 

  Outside the spotlight, The Worm raises his chubby hand and says in a soft voice, “Can… Can I say something?” .

  “Let him speak! He’s one of us. Let him speak!” Chee shouts, with Kuro and Hoho nodding vigorously beside her. 

  “Hello everyone. I’m the director of the Great Library, Heimlich The Worm.” The Worm’s raises his voice unnaturally out of nervousness. “I became a library director because I like to read. I don’t have any other skills but reading. Even though everyone says that there are more books and newer books in the databanks of the Recreation Center, and that it would save me time — that isn’t what I want. If I access the stories in the databanks, I would know the beginning and ending at the same time. With books…” he gulps. “With books, if I linger on a page, a section, or a sentence — as long as I don’t continue reading, then anything can happen. And if I read further then more random events may occur. Um… I learned about the phrase ‘random events’ from Tofu. 

  “I thought that random events would not happen in the real world outside of storybooks, because each day, I get up at the same time, follow the same route to the Great Library, eat the same food, do the same work, encounter the same people, go to bed at the same time. Not just me, but my father and mother, and everyone I know live like the stories inside those databanks. 

  “But not anymore. When something that shouldn’t be made public is presented, you can make the choice to find out about it or to reject it, just like… like you can close a book at when the story gets to the part where the prince draws his sword to slay the dragon. The Prince might succeed or he might fail. You might have wanted the prince to succeed yesterday, but hope that he fails today, or perhaps there was a mix-up in the binding so the next page takes you to an entirely different story. What I am trying to say is, the story we find ourselves facing right now is not a story from the databanks, this is like a story in a book.”

  The Worm stands in silence for a moment and then, in a very soft voice says, “I’m finished speaking.” Then, he sits back down. He asks Kuro what he thought about what he said. Kuro whispers, “You made a lot of sense, even though I didn’t understand all of it.” 

  The spotlight shifts to the Chief Executive, who clears his throat and says: “Thank you, Library Director Heimlich The Worm. Now, everyone please cast your precious ballot and vote.”

The End – 

Heimlich the Worm

Written 3 Space Years after the Random Number Incident 

Addendum: Key Events on New Earth 306 in the aftermath of the Random Number Incident

Global Referendum on New Earth 306

I am opposed to storing the unspeakable history of The Company at the Recreation Center, and against inviting the Trio Eye to live with us on New Earth 306.

Agree            Disagree