The ancient seal cracked open, metal groaning as gears and pistons long since seized were brought shuddering back to life by pure mechanical force.

One was still under heavy fire from the Guard, who were trying their best to flush her out with hand grenades. Only the quality of the elder machines’ manufacture kept her safe, as the high explosives and shrapnel didn’t even cause a dent.

In such a confined space, the concussions were enough to make One’s ears ring, and she could Three’s words in the muffled echoes that filled her head. “There’s nothing up there but death. It will be the end of you, don’t you see?”

Another shriek of long-dormant girders. One recalled what she’d been told by Two and pulled the dark welder’s goggles down over her eyes. Seconds later, the seal parted and a torrent of pure white light spilled from the widening gap.

This was too much for the Guard, it seemed. They abandoned their assault in a frenzy of terror, throwing down weapons, casting off helmets. One’s salvation, it seemed, was their damnation.

Fearlessly, she moved into the breach.

Even with the goggles, the light was at first overpowering, a solid wall of white that swallowed all nuance, all color. But gradually, as eyes long-used to the underground adjusted, new hues appeared. Greens and blues, browns and greys…

And the air. So fresh and clean and pure, without a hint of diesel fumes or ozone.

As more things became clear, One stumbled to the top of a small crag and looked around her. An entire world, just like the ones in the picture books, was open around and above and below her. The sheer openness was such that she swayed giddily and queasily, but One didn’t waver.

“This is my world now,” she said softly. “Mine to explore, mine to cherish…mine to share with the others.”

Inspired by the song ‘1 plus 1 equal 1’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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