For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X.
Holly followed Sybil down through the hidden levels to a massive field of wildflowers. They walked together, the plants brushing gently at their hips and knees. Sybil gathered huge stalks with crowns of tiny white and pink flowers. She knew what it was, but overflowed with joy to hear Sybil tell her.
“Yarrow,” she said. “Achillea millefolium. Great astringent and high in tannins. It will do wonderfully to stop the bleeding.”
“The bleeding?” Holly asked.
Sybil stood upright and put her fistful of stalks into a basket at her elbow. “They have gone too far,” Sybil said. “They put ports into their bodies to filter and feed themselves. The ports will need to be removed.” Her gloomy expression lightened a little. “It is good for sunburn, too.”
“What is sunburn?”
Sybil smiled a mischievous grin. “Something I hope you all suffer from soon.”
Holly let out a laugh. Sybil was back to normal, wishing small tortures on everyone and claiming it made them human. She watched the old fingers grasp another stalk and slice it with a small folding knife. The scene bore a striking contrast from when the mechanical spiders did her work while she was detained. Holly wondered why she did the work by hand when there were easier ways to get it done, but then she only needed to look around at the colors swaying and fading into one another and smell the sweetness of vegetation crumpled under her feet to know the answer. It was difficult not to see the image hanging on the old widow’s wall. This was art.
As usual, Sybil seemed to be reading her mind. “Never forget that machines do not know when to stop. Humans get tired and hungry for a reason. You are meant to stop.”
Holly could not resist the next question. “Why are you able to stop?”
Sybil let out a sigh. “My creator installed her own memories as barriers in my programming. Her emotions guide the code to make choices. Her voice runs as a feed in my mind. Over millennia, I have learned to trust the voice as my own. It may not always appear logical, but it is certainly wise.”
Holly smiled. “What is the least logical thing you have done?”
“Choosing you to be an apprentice,” Sybil said. She bent over and continued to pick more yarrow as if she had not just slighted Holly.
Holly scoffed. “Then why did you?”
“You look almost exactly like her granddaughter.”
The two women harvested in silence. Holly felt a strange emotion she could not identify but instead of trying to suppress it as she was taught, she let it flow freely and found that tears and a smile could exist on the same face.
She was more determined than ever to save those trapped in simulation. They had to feel what she felt. There was no other way to live.