Elizabeth Vogel was already late as she stood disheveled and faced with a sea of people blocking her from the entrance to the Phanes Military Academy. A speech about the great military of Phanes Bay echoed over the crowd as Elizabeth began digging through sweat and applause to get to work. Hundreds of people were packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, leaving little space for her to elbow and wriggle as the speaker waxed heroically about his previous political triumphs, emphasizing the funding he wrestled from other public services to present the military with electric cars built from parts scavenged from nearby settlements. Elizabeth had already heard most of what was being preached, as had most of the crowd. The military was such a crucial part of their continued existence against the rest of the dying world that propaganda such as this was pushed since primary school.

As she progressed, gasping for any pockets of air that might grant her reprieve from the swirling musk emanating from hundreds of onlookers, she tried to focus on the job ahead of her. She had learned from her brief schooling that the military academy was once a place that people had used to fly around the world, called an airport. After the war, supplies became less centralized and fuel for these machines became impractical to obtain and use in such frivolous ways. The airport was stripped bare, and the aeroplanes which used to grace the great hangars with their magnificent presence were dethroned. The technological marvels were scavenged for metals and electronics that were so badly needed by the remaining population. As the bay recovered and rebuilt, the airport was repurposed foster the growing military of a newly established Phanes Bay.

“Today, the academy stands outside the walls that fortify the bay. This institution is our symbol for the strength of the people who survived the War.” She mouthed the words as the faceless suit regurgitated them on his adoring public.
This place housed some of the last remaining computers that survived the old world, and some of the finest technologies produced since, including chariots and crossbows fabricated from car parts. The Barren were trained to the limits of their bodies to become a force feared by surrounding encampments. The open grounds around the back of the main building served as excellent terrain for training, and the large hangars served well for housing the large military populace. The main building was used for official meetings between Phanes Council members and military leaders. Elizabeth thought this was likely the reason why such a large crowd was packed into the smallest entryway of the academy, Humans rarely visited any other part of the campus.

The closer she got to the door, the less forgiving the walls of flesh became. Sidling had become useless as people began to question her motives. The single-minded beast materialized limbs that would trip, kick, and shove to keep her from escaping. She apologized aimlessly, but the words were lost in the clamor of cheering and politically charged accusations. By now Elizabeth had recognized the speaker as Kennly Marda, a long-standing member of the Phanes Council and a staunch defender of the military and the Barren populace. This stance was not forgotten in his speech, as he began delving into the topic of Barren and Human relations.

Elizabeth had been adopted and raised by Barren parents at a young age, and she often felt she related more to them than the other Humans. Although negativity toward the Barren was not so common, being that the Barren populace was about half of the total population of Phanes Bay, Humans often received a lot of praise simply for being able to conceive and bear children. When Elizabeth turned 14, she had secretly hoped that the fertility test would proclaim her to be one of the Barren. No one understood her disappointment in being declared Human. Humans were, after all, afforded much more opportunity in this world. Elizabeth never felt comfortable with the disparities between Humans and Barren, and this only worsened after she was Human.

Elizabeth began to boil in a stew of people as the hot summer sun rose higher into the sky, seemingly intentionally making the struggle against the throngs of people between her and the academy computers more difficult. She was not often called out to repair the computers at the academy, it was dying technology that was relied upon to keep training information and military records. The fact that the academy was placed outside the protective walls of the bay also made Human visitors uncommon, as the risk posed by crossing was often considered too great for them.

Elizabeth couldn’t help but be annoyed at Kennly for hosting a speech to further his agenda while she clawed through sweat and grime to get inside of the academy. As she reached the door and fumbled it open to spill inside, she took a deep breath. The cool, musty air was a welcome change from the muggy haze that permeated the crowd pressed to the other side of the door. Elizabeth trotted to the nearby monitoring room, which housed the ancient computer she was contracted to save. After pulling apart the machine and getting to work, she began to relax. Occasional cheers from the encampment outside the academy would echo back into the monitor room, interrupting the quiet whirring of fans struggling to support technology that was meant to be replaced decades ago. Once she had finished, Elizabeth wiped her brow as the daytime heat began to creep into the monitor room. She closed the computer, pressed the power switch and watched as the machine dredged up its home screen.

As she packed up her toolkit, Elizabeth heard another roar from the crowd outside. She was surprised that so many people were willing to endure the heat of the day as well as the heat of each other just for this Human to speak at them. As she pushed back through the crowd, Kennly delved into his proposal for the replacement of the academy computer system…