Special fun note: This is the 1,947th post on this blog. Spooooooky.
John continued to deliver food and messages for a short while, and then the routine changed. This was not in itself unusual – Predericon had already noted that Ansel Munroe liked to keep a certain amount of unpredictability in Area 51’s security – but now Doctor Brackish began to bring some meals. Even the late-night ones. And he would stay and ‘chat’ while she ate.
Predericon wasn’t sure whether this was because the humans who ran the facility suspected her of communicating with John, or it was simply a new phase in their study of the aliens. She didn’t suppose it mattered.
She still made a point of repeating the questions she’d been asking all along, despite the fact that they’d already been secretly answered. Again, whether or not this was part of some over-complicated human psychological study was anyone’s guess, but she could only act in the way she would have acted regardless. It was just simpler that way.
Brackish kept smiling, kept putting her off, but didn’t expressly lie as far as she could tell. He didn’t tell her Lelhmak was alive, just that he couldn’t discuss the details with her. He didn’t tell her they were going to let her speak with Gyden, just that it was a distinct possibility in the future. A possibility, after all, could mean just about anything – and not come within a Dimension’s-span of probability.
His questions also continued, and his little physiological tests. He didn’t take samples from her, although some of the tests were sufficiently invasive that a minor modification to his primitive equipment here or there would have made it possible.
“My friends are dead,” Predericon finally said to him, point-blank. “Are they not, Doctor Brackish?”
Brackish flinched visibly, but his overall demeanour did not change. “Gyden and Lemlak are not both dead, Predericone,” he said, but had the good grace to look ashamed about it.
“Which one of them is, Doctor Brackish?” Predericon asked patiently.
“I’m really not at liberty to discuss-”
“If I cease to cooperate with your study,” Predericon asked, “will I be starved? Tortured? Sedated? Killed and dissected?”
“There is no need to answer that,” Predericon said. “I will find out soon enough and I will not hold you responsible in any case,” she stood up, and heard a muffled commotion both outside her door and behind the mirror as Brackish hastily stepped backwards. She raised all four hands carefully. “I still have peaceful intent and mean you no harm,” she said, and eased back away from the white-garbed human. “But please leave.”
“Predericone, please reconsider this-”
“I do not know if your civilisation has accords of the treatment of prisoners, or in the dealing with non-human sentients,” she said. “If it does have, and if there is any use in me calling upon them, I do this now. I want to know about my friends. I want to see them. I am thankful for the way you have cared for me after we crashed our vessel in your territory, and I will continue to cooperate with you, but this is an opportunity for exchange.”
“But I don’t have-”
“Unless I am a prisoner, or designated non-sentient animal for experimentation,” Predericon concluded coolly, “which we will discover, I think, soon.”
Brackish continued to talk, but Predericon tuned him out. He took a half-step towards her with his hands out beseechingly, and she flared her ears and drew her lips back from her teeth in a way she’d almost immediately noted humans found nothing short of terrifying. Brackish skipped back, his plaintive babble became decidedly half-hearted, and finally he withdrew.
She waited another few hours. Her next meal did not come at its allotted time. She waited a few hours more. Then the door to her cell opened, unexpectedly and without the usual warning from the communications system to stand back against the far wall. A human stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and smoothed his clothing for a moment, staring into the one-way mirror that dominated Predericon’s cell. He was, she was instinctively and queasily certain, waiting for witnesses to file out of the room behind the glass.
He was another silver-haired elder, dressed in a sombre style that was somehow recognisable as powerful civilian or corporate executive rather than the military and near-military and medical uniforms with which she’d grown familiar. A political figure, perhaps. She was certain, whatever his role in human society, that this man was the one John had referenced – the true commander of Area 51.
She stood by the end of her bed, feeling cold and small and strangely frightened, as the human turned away from the mirror, smiled, and strode towards her. Despite the fact that she towered over him as she had with every other human she’d encountered, she felt … there was something familiar about the gaping feeling of vertigo inside her, but she couldn’t immediately identify it.
“Hello, Predericon,” the human said, his English much like the others’ but his pronunciation of her name more or less perfect. “My name is Mercibald Fagin, but you can call me Mercibald. I run this place,” his smile widened briefly, and Predericon felt the vertigo inside her swoop and turn. She knew, suddenly, how the humans felt when she bared her teeth at them. She spared a moment to feel regret for the way she’d treated Doctor Brackish.
“Hello,” she said as calmly as she could.
“I understand you no longer wish to cooperate with our hard-working researchers,” Mercibald said unhappily, “until you get a chance to speak with your friends. That is understandable.”
“I am … grateful that you think so,” Predericon said, cautious.
“Perhaps you can help me with a theory,” he sat himself on the edge of her bed as she backed away further. “You came from out around the gas giants, yes?” she nodded. “We – or at least I – wondered if the outer planets of this system had been formed at least in part out of the material that made up Cursèd. Can you confirm that, Predericon?”
“I-” Predericon found she had no idea what to say, and just stood dumbly with her mouth open as the planet seemed to shrink beneath her bare feet. Mercibald smiled again.
“How long were you out there, Predericon?” he asked. “And – I know this is a long shot, but … did you happen to run into Odium?”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while picking up the kids.