Tara frowned, but then her face went blank as her brain went into whatever state allowed her to predict opponents’ moves before they made them and recognize patterns of human behavior by connecting details no one else remembered.
Then she took a breath and relaxed, becoming the Tara I was more used to. “The True aren’t historians. We could have kept everything about the story if we’d wanted to, but it’s important to the leaders of the True to revere the Designer as the one who decided what it meant to be one of the True.
“My parents each told me their battalion’s version of the story and then I heard half a dozen different versions wherever we moved in Infinity City. Every group of the True has their own and they’ll tell it to anyone willing to listen.
“I don’t know which one is real. Maybe all of them are. I don’t know enough to figure that out, but I can tell you what’s common to all the versions I know. Maybe that will be close enough.”
She looked around the table, pursing her lips. With all of our eyes on her, she continued. “The True come in every race, culture, and body type found in the infinity of worlds in which we exist, sometimes even from every culture within the same world. Still, we’re united by the same things—we’re soldiers and every group of us believes in the vision of the Designer—that we’re the best humanity has to offer. It’s also what divides us from each other.
“Every world has its own version of the Designer and a different version of the True. The True know they can’t all be right. One version of the True must be the original True, the version of which all the others are only shadows. That’s what we aspire to become. So, we try to prove that we best exemplify the True’s values. Sometimes that means we fight each other. Sometimes we work together. Whatever we do, it’s also why each of our battalions needs to protect its own purity.
“The True believe that children of mixed battalions can’t be allowed to live. That’s why my parents were hunted and my mother killed. Mixed children force them to question everything. Some of us are better than full True on either side.”
Tara stopped. “I know it sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m not. It’s simply reality. When Nick’s sister Rachel and our friends were fighting the True, I was a little faster, a little stronger, and a little smarter. And they knew it. That’s one of the reasons they wanted to kill me.”
Stephanie nodded. “I was on that field trip too. We had to sneak out. I don’t think the True knew exactly what any of us could do at first. I think that’s the only reason we made it out.”
Shaking his head, Marcus said, “Don’t take it wrong, but they kind of sound like Nazis.”
Tara sighed. “I know, but I think that’s because it’s only the worlds where everything goes wrong that the True escape to Infinity City.”
In a quieter voice, she continued, “In my father’s world, the Designer was a man who brought a group of scientists to Mars because the Earth was slowly becoming unlivable for humans. The Designer created the True with the DNA of a girl (but by then a woman) that he’d never had the nerve to talk to when he was in high school. The spaceship was named Higher Ground.
“He sent the True back to Earth to prevent it from becoming completely unlivable. They did what they could, but in the end, they realized that destroying humanity was the only way to prevent change. So, they did.
“In my mother’s world, the Designer was a woman who worked for a company called Higher Ground. She found out that she was going to lose access to the artifact that she’d spent her career studying. Instead of letting them destroy her life’s work, she snuck into the lab of another researcher and used an Abominator birthing machine to create soldiers based on her own DNA and sent them out to destroy the people who were stopping her from completing her work.
“The problem was that they realized that the reason she was unable to complete her work was only a symptom of larger issues. The weak, they decided were preventing the strong from reaching their full potential. So they destroyed them. Then they realized that they were truly the strongest in the world and humanity was preventing them from reaching their full potential. So they destroyed them too—including the Designer.
“They revered her teachings, but not her person.”
Haley muttered, “That’s awful.”
“I know! I know,” Tara raised her hands in front of herself. “I’m almost done. I’ve met True from worlds where they didn’t destroy all of humankind. They went through Infinity City as bodyguards or alone, sometimes searching for something. In some places, they’d integrated into humanity. In others, they were the beginning of a clone underclass that later expanded into its own society. In the worlds where they created their own future, they didn’t escape to Infinity City as a group, so I don’t know much about them.
“But there are a lot of them where the Nine created the True. I don’t know who does it because the stories are all different, but Higher Ground shows up a lot. The problem is that it’s not always the same thing.
“But there’s almost always a betrayal and an Abominator birthing chamber. Sometimes it’s destroyed, but they recreate it. Sometimes the Nine secretly replace the original with a fake. Sometimes they use your friend Cassie as the base, but most of the time, the True look like me.”
Tara sunk a little in her seat. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you more. I haven’t run into a story exactly like the reality we’re in.”