Tabris strolls beneath the big blue vault of an artificial sky.
The interior of this Lifeshell has been altered to make its subterranean conditions more palatable for Lilin. From what he knows about the surface of this world — tragically little in terms of first-hand experience —, this “Geofront” seems to be designed in imitation. Concentrated sunlight, transmitted through the subsurface and scattered overhead; the hemispherical vault given a reflective coating to crudely mimic an atmosphere; the once-dead earth conditioned, and large stands of coniferous trees established. The effort they have put into making a purely functional interstellar transport intended for a single physical passenger something they might find “comfortable” is strangely charming.
He follows a path into one of the forests. The first time he has set foot in one, here on this world. The path was not worn down over time by the habits of sylvan life, but was arbitrarily etched into the earth for the people of “Nerv” to tread upon in leisure. Tabris has encountered little in the way of animal life down here, aside from Lilin of course. But neither would he expect to, as this is not a true ecosystem, but false, like so much else in this underground.
One thing that is unchanged is the specific layout of plates in the vault overhead; the original material has been covered over, but the perfectly joined seams are all still exactly as constructed by the original architects. Fifteen years ago, with a different set of eyes, he looked upon a vault with an identical configuration. From the central section of “ceiling” — where his prior self had opened the dome of her own Shell to the sky with a stream of blazing photons — peculiar edifices hang through, dangling like stalactites. What utility could such things possibly serve? he wonders. Perhaps they were crafted not for any reason of practicality, but simply so that engineers could say they had accomplished the feat. There is a sense of child-like optimism that comes through in such extravagant frivolities. If resources can be spared for no other reason than to elevate spirits, then it is not truly a waste.
Even here among the densely layered evergreen needles, many eyes follow him. They follow him everywhere. But this is nothing new or unusual — he has been carefully watched for this entire existence. Not a single exterior moment has belonged truly to him. Even the contents of his spiritual interior have been subject to constant observation and meticulous measurement through every means the Lilin have at their disposal. Try as they might, though, there are some domains even they cannot violate. Sacred spaces that Tabris need only open to someone of his choosing, should he choose to share them at all.
He wonders if he should make another attempt to contact her — the one with whom this body shares a sire. Her response to him was entirely expected, and there is a strong temptation to languish in thoughts of futility and inevitability. But that would be far too preemptive a surrender. He has spent his time here at “Nerv HQ” thus far engaged primarily in observation of how the Lilin communicate with one another in nature. Perhaps there is a pattern he can yet detect, something he can use to minimize the fear response he induces...
There is no doubt in his mind that the Patriarchs intentionally withheld from him such basic working knowledge of their world in order to keep him isolated. Most of what Tabris knows about human interaction was not received in this life, but remembered from another one. However, as radically similar as all humans are to one another, successful communication is regrettably dependent on the most delicate of subtleties. One who does not receive appropriate social conditioning for a given group is fated to alienation. Lilin’s souls are hidden, as well, and not revealed through a core, so their ways are uniquely opaque and make primary contact more difficult to achieve.
As Tabris proceeds along the path, he lets his fingertips caress the trunks of the trees, taking in their individual growth patterns, unique arrangements of textures and colors… Like all life, they are possessed of elegant architecture and characteristic complexity. He can feel the soul flowing within each of them. In such beings, soul is much closer to its original state, something akin to a streaming fluid. The individual is not sharply delineated, if at all. At any moment, a cutting could be taken, capable of developing into a complete new being.
For humans, of course, this is not the case. A unique human being — both the body and the soul that inhabits it — is produced through an act of sexual congress. Lilin biotechnology can achieve the former, but it cannot consistently produce new souls through analogous methods. The body his soul currently inhabits is the wholly unique fruit of a sexual union enabled through entirely artificial means. Perhaps the paradoxical nature of his creation is why Tabris remained an empty shell long after conception, only being ensouled under laboratory conditions months later. Even he does not truly know, as the circumstances that produced one such as him had never occurred before, and were never made to happen again.
The chronometry device mounted to his wrist issues a gentle alert. Presently he is expected to appear at a tutoring session, to be held on the second floor of the large pyramidal building. It’s not far; through the canopy he can see the reflective blue of its sloping outer walls.
Tabris advances out from the forest edge, and within several steps he finds that the soil underfoot turns barren. From the pattern of disturbance, this appears to be not the result of erosion or parasites, but born of a conscious desire to cultivate specific botanical forms. The most notable specimen is some kind of vine, a climbing plant… The fruits are quite large and globular, with a striped hull. A cucurbit, bred selectively by Lilin as a source of food. Its leaves and flowers look rather wilted; Tabris does not need to touch the plant to know that it is dying.
How very curious. Someone took pains to prepare this ground, sprout seeds, nurture seedlings that could thrive, and tend those young vines into mature form. But these fruits have simply been left here to rot. The end of this particular story must be a sad one. Years ago, when Tabris was still but a child innocent of his spiritual memories, “Mama” taught him of the sadness inherent in the human inclination to encourage life into the world… only to abandon it.
The lesson was one of many intended to help sculpt Tabris into a kind and gentle soul despite the cruelty of his captivation. While well-intended, it would eventually cut the boy deep in a way Mama surely could not have anticipated.
He wishes she were still here. But if she were… would she still love him? Or would the ego-transformation caused by his awakening memories have pushed her away? The former, surely. After all, she found it in her heart to love the abomination born from the union of Man and God, and continued to love him through changes far more radical than any that would come later. Truly, a soul worthy of elevation to Most Exalted Mother. Does her spirit still linger, he wonders, or has it already vanished?
Wistfully, he turns his eyes toward the blue vault once more, and his gaze seems to penetrate through the remaining layers of armored plating, seeing whatever lay beyond.
“You won’t disappear,” he says. “I’ll come and get you. You’ll be safe again, inside me… back where you began.” Tabris smiles gently. “The start of a new journey is coming soon for all of us. Just a little longer, my sisters, my brothers… my children.”