“We can use these,” Haiafe told Opal, who commandeered BD-A, as he picked out several deep purple flowers that grew along the beach of the lake. “We can crush them and turn them into the paint.” Off in the distance, several more Spider-Drones kept their distance from Haiafe. Opal had figured out their spider-like appearance would scare Haiafe, and she didn’t want that.
“We can also use berries, Haiafe,” Syfa sighed as several Hikari children crouched beside Haiafe, staring into the flowers in awe. “We have plenty of berries we could use.” Syfa turned to the youngest of the children.
She had just turned 5 several months ago per Haiafe. She was a quiet grey-haired kid with matching wolf ears and a bushy tail. The child was the quietest of all the children, and she had an oddly keen sense. It’d been just over a week since the Hikari had taken over the clearing on the foot of Opal’s pier. Each home had been built within two days of them arriving, mainly due to Syfa have the tribe move the next morning in fear of another attack.
Since then, this child – Lily – had always been able to sense when Opal took over a drone. Lily would follow her around like a lost puppy, and Opal had no idea how to deal with it. It wasn’t that much of a problem, in any case, the little child had great situational awareness and never got in Opal’s way. Which was why this child was here.
“Of course we could use the berries, but we need those to eat. I want to paint all of Opal’s drones,” Haiafe smiled before he turned to Lily. “Do you want to help?” The child in question only blinked at him for a few moments before she started to pick the purple flowers.
“You know she isn’t going to talk, why do you keep trying?” Syfa sighed and just shushed the other children who tried to pick on Lily.
She sent them further up the shoreline to pick more of the wildflowers. Opal had the ISDs spread out in the forest and had them climb up tree trunks to have wider fields of view. The AI also had several of the Spider-Drones accompany the children as they didn’t have a fear of spiders quite like Haiafe did.
“I do believe Ms. Lily will be of help in this venture,” Opal said as she looked over to Lily. The child looked up, gave a shy smile, and went back to picking the flowers.
“Now I’m jealous!” Haiafe threw his hands up, losing a few stalks before he scrambled to grab them.
“Looks like Opal is more of a womanizer than you,” Syfa chuckled as she finished picking her section of flowers. “Also, be careful not to pick all the flowers. We’ll want them to continue to grow. Nature is not ours to destroy.” She looked up at Opal before she looked across the shore where a few Spider-Drones were carrying way more than they were.
Opal had a few of the drones plant a few into the dirt. Strangely, she could feel their resentment toward that order. “Child wishes to pick more” the feedback she received from the LLAIs. Opal let out a sigh like she’d seen Syfa do when she wished not to deal with a situation. The AI then told them to pick carefully and just move onto another group.
“It’s not the same…” Haiafe whispered as he threw the bundle of flowers he held. They scattered across the treeline as he took a deep breath. Syfa and Opal both turned to him as his ears were pressed back. His trail trashed madly behind him as he looked up to the sky. “He’s not yelling. Why isn’t he yelling…”
“Who is not yelling?” Opal asked before Syfa could respond. The AI saw her flinch and her laid back as well.
“My old man,” Haiafe said as tears began to stream down his cheeks. “He hated me picking flowers, you know?” The teen chuckled before he just threw himself back, sprawling out.
“He hated a lot of things,” Syfa said as she stuffed the flowers in her satchel, before picking up his discarded bundle.
“Yeah… But he only yelled when I picked flowers,” Haiafe sighed, his chest trembling as he did so. “It’s not the same if he’s not yelling.” It wasn’t the first time Opal had seen him like this. The first few days had been the worst. Most of the Village had been in a lull after they had arrived. It was only the last few days that they had the energy to do anything, though, that seemed more like they needed to distract themselves than anything.
Syfa was the worst of it all, or at least, only the worst Opal had seen. Syfa and Haiafe were the only ones who’d been granted homes inside the Ark itself. Thus, the AI had personally seen her withered crying fits in the hallway when she thought no one was looking. Haiafe had been more open in his mourning, along with the children. Though, the children had bounced back quicker – much to Opal’s admiration.
“If you would like, I could yell at you?” Opal said as BD-A’s head cocked to the side.
Syfa chuckled as she finally broke down, right there on the beach. Haiafe followed suit, but also began to laugh. Opal was confused by the strange ability to cry and laugh at once. She didn’t comment on that and allowed them their space as she finally stepped forward to assist in picking up the thrown flowers.
The group returned to the Alpha VIllage, the official name of the town. Ark Omega towered high over it as its long vines dandled feet above the homes. Unlike the sprawling dirt mounts of tens of Hikari families on the slopes, there were only less than twenty wooden huts built. Each of them was more than enough to house the survivors as ISDs prowled the edges of the clearing.
Loud cracks filled the air as a tree on the edge trembled slightly before it began to fall. It gave a whirl of protest as it caught the air, then smacked the ground with a thunderclap. Within seconds, a score of Spider-Drones was there to dismantle it. Their blades giving out barely audible whirls before the bark protest with a “Wizzz” as sawdust flew.
Several of the women were by the lake, washing themselves while children quietly played in the sand. Their arrival hadn’t gone unnoticed, as the children called out to the group and the naked women bathing waved at them before going on their way.
Syfa and Haiafe waved back, and Opal followed suit. The Spider-Drones did so as well, as it seemed to be the customary greeting.
“That’s quite the haul,” Oki said as they arrived at the village’s newly established center. Unlike their smaller center before, this one was big enough to hold everyone at once. Even when their numbers were more. Several Hikari were molding clay urns and other pots. A few others weaved new baskets while the younger ones chopped away at a freshly hunted deer.
No none of the adult males could be seen. They were out in the forest, training out of sight. There had been an unspoken agreement that no one wanted to see another sword or spear being brandished. Though, Opal knew no one would tell her not to display her firearms. Not that she would have cared for their opinions. The AI needed them to protect the village and herself.
“Anyone up for making paint?” Haiafe announced as their little convoy ended the leveled and neatly organized square.
“What is the paint for?” One of the older women asked.
“We are going to paint flowers on Opal!” Haiafe grinned, and a few girls rolled their eyes. “Come on, she saved us, and isn’t it tradition to decorate our warriors with paint when they win?”
“But Opal isn’t one of our warriors?” Another spoke up.
“No, but yes,” Syfa said. “She saved us and built us homes on her land. Now, she protects us. So, we are her people as much as she is our warrior now.” She patted her hand on the cold glossy armor of BD-A’s back.
“But why flowers?” The first woman asked.
“Because Opal is beautiful!” Haiafe beamed. “And so, flowers are the only thing I will accept for our beautiful warrior!” He pointed his finger to BD-A like he was some soviet era poster child.
“And so that’s why we’re making paint?” The old lady asked.
“Yes,” Haiafe nodded. “We’re going to paint the Spider-Drones and maybe her big drone too! But I wanted to paint the floor of her Bay. We have enough flowers to do that. Maybe not all the same color~ but painting is still painting!” He pointed to the line of Spider-drones and they filed into the clearing and dropped baskets of flowers.
The ladies all looked at each other for a moment, then set aside their tasks. Each of them looked frayed around the edges, and even Opal could see none of them looked well. A few of the girls kept their distance from the drones, while others approached without a second thought. The children were less subtle about their stance. The younger ones approached the drones without pause. The ones who’d seen them in action stayed with the hesitating adults.
An hour later, when the sun had reached its summit and began to dip in the north-east, no one was scared of the drones anymore. Clay bowls of deep purples, blues, whites, and reds had been made in abundance. None of them were the vivid deep colors of the old world. A quick cursory scan of the materials they had used to make those paints told Opal that they wouldn’t last longer than four days on her drones. At least, not with the amount of work they did.
But, she didn’t say that. In fact, she hadn’t spoken since the entire tribe had sat down and begun their little paint session. If she had, Opal felt she’d ruin whatever atmosphere was holding them together right now. She wanted to comment that berry juice, dirty and whatever fish oil they’d just added into a bowl was not a good mixture. But if she did, she’d have to tell them why and how to make a better one.
Which she couldn’t. She didn’t have a recipe for paint, and for all the servers in her Ark, she would never be able to formulate one. At least, not without a plethora of samples added to her databanks.
The first victim of the Hikari’s painting was SD-1 and several of its kin. Their arms were lathered in the sticky substance that was their paint, then their heads by the women. Then, the children rushed in and began to draw flowers across their legs, some even painted a weird rose on SD-1’s rear end. The next victim the painting mob turned too was the IFV on the pier.
Like a mob of zombies, their eyes glistened with desire as Haiafe asked Opal to move it over. To avoid all of them clogging up the only route in or out of her Ark, the AI complied with the request – Moving it into the center of the village. There was enough room, and she had it lower itself until its camera was three inches from touching the leveled dirt.
From there, the IFV had become an impromptu jungle gym as the children mantled its thick armored legs. The others went below and begun to paint its hull with flowers and trees. Lily also joined in on the fun and had been the first kid to reach the UGV’s turret. She painted strange symbols around the barrel.
“What is Lily painting?” Opal asked as she watched from BG-A’s camera.
“I think she’s writing a very sloppy fortune charm,” Syfa sighed. “I never knew she’d been watching me make charms.”
Both of them watched as Lily tried her best to write neatly with her fingers, though the paint wasn’t the best. It took several minutes for her to draw the strange and sloppy symbols that looked like an arrow piercing a diamond and a square at once.
“Is that the Fortune Charm?” Opal asked as she examined it from a far.
“Nope,” Syfa grinned. “She’s missing the Hedge rune, Yock rune and seven other major ones. But don’t tell her. She looks so proud.” Indeed, Opal had to admit that seeing Lily standing back to admire her handiwork was quite nice.
With the whole village consumed in painting the IFV, Opal stood back as Syfa finally decided to join the fray. In that moment, Opal felt a sense of home. She captured the moment with a picture, immortalizing this moment, and everyone in it. Their smiling faces that’d set aside their grief for a few hours. Even if the IFV and her drones came out looking like peacocks. It was nothing compared to the joy they all felt.