Naia stretched, reaching her hands high above her dark red hair, squeezing her eyes shut, and yawning loudly. Jac shot her a glare and shushed her, but she simply shrugged and folded her arms across her chest. This was the most boring meeting she had ever been in. They were all faculty at the Naidow Center for Trislec Inventors, professors, inventors, and the various administrative staff that were needed to keep a center like this afloat. She, like most, if not all, in the room, was a human. Lowercase ‘h’ human. No powers, no forms, no pointed teeth, nothing. For a while, she had been taught, her kind had been called “No-Pos,” meant as a slur for those with no power. Now, many decades later, there were more No-Pos than Powereds anyway and she had taken to referring to herself as a No-Po. It couldn’t harm her if she embraced the title anyway, could it?
No. Things were better this way. No-Pos worked on finding solutions to the Power Problem and Powereds spent their time ruling countries and turning their noses at most of the new inventions that came from the Naidow Center. It wouldn’t be long until most of the world’s population was comprised of No-Pos and everyone would be glad of the work they did here. Running water, trislec powered lights and tomos (self-moving wheeled compartments that all people used to travel more than a mile) and much more all made the world a much better place to live in. Naia had no idea how anyone got on without screens in any case. Hers allowed her to view stories, read as many books as she desired, learn about anything she could think to, and communicate with people across continents. The world must have been a boring place without them.
Thinking of her screen caused her to squirm, “How much longer?” she whispered to Jac.
The man frowned at her, “This is important, Naia. Pay attention. They are giving us our new assignments, I think.”
She rolled her eyes, “What problem are we to solve this time, Jac?”
“I’m not sure, but–” he cut off as the large screen behind the presenter turned on, “Just listen.”
Sighing, she turned her attention to the large screen and the man, dark hair greying on his temples, who stood before it. He was wearing a long white coat over a dress shirt, a blue tie contrasting nicely with the grey, and on his nose perched a pair of dark-rimmed spectacles. Those had been a nifty invention several centuries ago. Naia commended the inventor who had thought of those. She tried to focus on him as he spoke.
“Faculty, colleagues, and dare I say, friends! We are coming to a time in our lives where there are very little problems left to be solved. Food shortages in the desert countries are nearly nonexistent, trislec has provided a near limitless power source, the discovery of synthetic materials and alternate uses for glass has afforded us luxuries such as tomos and screens and communicators. Soon, I predict that we will have everything we need to live long, peaceful lives!”
He paused and the entire audience burst into applause. Naia found herself clapping begrudgingly. She hated clapping, but if everyone else was…
“However, I fear that we will not be able to reach that time of peace if the current system of power remains in place. The Powered have already amassed control of every High Seat throughout the planet. Even in Naidow, the chancellor is a Dusk Human. We have had word that the Powered are looking to send ambassadors to the Trislec Centers. They have said they come to aid in our technological advances. They say they want to merge Power with our trislec to create new things we will all adore and benefit from.” He paused again, letting the silence stretch between his words. Naia leaned forward.
“Friends, I am not fooled,” his voice was low and each word enunciated clearly. “If the Powereds are allowed to come into the centers, if they are given access to our technology, we will not have new inventions, we will see our family and ourselves eradicated.”
The audience erupted into whispers, each member conferring with those who sat next to them. Naia leaned over to Jac, “What is he saying? That cannot be. Who is this guy, anyway?”
“You don’t recognize him? Ad Nega, he is the president of the inventors collective. He comes to our department often to check our progress.”
“That’s Nega? He looks different…”
“I think it might be the glasses. I think they are screen enabled specs. But I think he is saying what we’ve all been wondering about for years.”
“The Powereds wouldn’t come here. The Powereds won’t try and take us out. Why would they?”
“Haven’t you noticed, Naia,” Jac said, “Have you not been paying attention to the census? Every year there are more of us than them. No-Pos almost double the number of Powereds living. I think it has something to do with how much longer they live than us. That’s changing with the strides in No-Po healthcare, but still.”
“So, why does that matter?”
Jac sighed and shoved her, “Nailan’s breath you are dense, aren’t you. Every High Seat is Powered, but how is that fair? If they want to continue to claim that they are the voice of their countries, there will need to be some No-Pos in the High Seats and far more on the councils than there are now. The Powereds don’t want to give up their seats. Sh. He’s speaking again.”
Indeed, Nega had raised his hands and the whispers ceased almost immediately. The man smiled, “We are not without recourse, friends. I and a small group of inventors have been working on a tool that may be our salvation. Naia is head of the department. Could you please stand, my dear?”
Naia jolted. Her project was their salvation? But no, it wasn’t anything special. Her cheeks colored as she rose, one hand grasping her other arm tightly to her side.
“Ah! There she is! Naia! Could you please explain your project to us?”
A small man ran up to her holding a back rod with a black sponge stuck to one end. Naia recognized it as a projection device, meant to help carry her voice across the large hall.
She took it and gave a half-smile to the audience, trying to look at every face while trying to avoid every eye. “Um. Hi,” the device squealed as she spoke so she lowered her voice, “I’m Naia. Ahm. Our project revolves around the chargestic model we came up with a few decades ago for our No-Po guardsmen, but on a much larger scale. We have been testing a projectile that should render any individual caught in the blast radius unconscious.”
“Thank you, Naia,” Nega said and waved a hand at the screen. It flashed and a model of her project glowed behind him. “The idea is that if Powereds try to take our centers or deny us representation, we will have something to answer them with. As it is now, without this device, we can never hope to defend ourselves if it came to violence. The Powereds know this. They know that if they show up with their dragons and werewolves and elves and Light and Dusk and Dark Power, we will be powerless against them. But, with this, my dear friends, we will never need to worry again. Naia has told my secretary that the projectile is up and running and should be able to be reproduced on a large scale in a few weeks. It is then, friends, that we will be able to stop the Powered ambassadors. It is then, friends, that we will have a voice in our governments! It is then, that we will no longer have to fear!”
Each and every person leaped to his or her feet and cheered. Each and everyone except Naia, who sank slowly back down into her seat. What had she done? She had been told that it was a defensive precaution in case there was an uprising in the desert countries again. Or a would-be tyrant emerging from some hole. Or whatever else Natas or any Nai-forsaken person thought up. Not this. Not this countermeasure to the Powered. As much as she despised the treatment and the bullying that many No-Pos had endured in the decades before, she didn’t hate the Powereds. They had come so far. They had done so much. There had been so much healing. “Nai, what have I done?” she said to her hands.
The plot was evil, but she had never even known.