Day 30. 64 pages, 30,229 words.
From the moment he emerged from his sleeper pod, there was something strange about the boy.
He was, technically, Bonshoon. All of them were, but then what was a Bonshoon? A Molran Fleet cargo-sleeper who had been awakened far too late, and had suffered any of a wide range of genetic and psychological disorders. But that was only the narrowest slice of the Bonshoon pie. The vast majority were not even sleeper-born, but second- or third- or fourth-generation descendants of awakened sleepers. And of the true sleeper-born, the vast majority were Molranoids who had gone into the pods millennia after the Fleet had set out on its journey.
The original Bonshooni, the sleeping cargo of the Worldship Bonshoo, had been strange and broken people – and when the Single Sigh cultists had woken up all seven billion of them at once it had heralded the emergence of a third Molranoid subspecies. Whether it was a new subspecies or an old one was a matter for historians and geneticists to fight out among themselves. Certainly their pod-born flaws represented a new alteration in the Molranoid norm, even as their long-gone genetic heritage set them aside when they emerged blinking into the new world. One way or another, they were different.
Over the centuries, the Bonshooni had settled. Traits had emerged, the overall stability and flawlessness of the Molranoid base reasserting itself. The result was still a dramatic divergence from the Molran and Blaran norm, but not even the Molren really believed that stagnation bred strength.
Thick of mind, thick of body. That was the Bonshoon axiom, handed down by their cruel sibling-species. Often substituting the even harsher soft or fat in the place of thick. Bonsh, bonshy became a synonym for something awkward, stupid, short-sighted. Bonshooni were physically larger and softer, more prone to heavy deposits of fatty nutrient cells, and compared to Molran and Blaran norms they were less intelligent and more vulnerable to memory and cognitive impairments. They were still an almost unthinkably superior life-form in most respects, of course … it was just that they were judged by the standards of their cold-eyed Molran peers, and there was no way to come out of that comparison looking good. Tens of millennia of targeted eugenics made a difference, even in a species in which individuals routinely lived for five thousand years.
What had happened with Pod 9 hadn’t been anything like the Single Sigh awakening. Indeed, all of the pods in the arc Happy Gretchen had acquired were special. Because the sleepers who had been awakened on the Bonshoo, to eventually become the Bonshoon species, were for the most part not original Molranoids of the Fleet homeworld. Despite the Fleet myths to the contrary. There had been some of those among the opened pods, but those ancients had all essentially disintegrated on awakening. Any who might have survived thanks to the malleability of their youth, like the new children of the Happyface cho’gule, were irretrievably brain-damaged. Little more than infertile, catatonic meat puppets.
Pod 9 was different.
Whether his pod was one of the original Bonshoo sleeper pods, whether he’d gone into the pod when the Fleet began its exodus from the lost homeworld, Pod 9 had slept for millennia beyond normal Molranoid life expectancy and should by all rights have emerged – from his pod and from his nightmarish awakening and stabilisation regimen – as the same blank-faced, neurologically-formatted pile of neutered flesh as Pods 1 through 8. And he was sterile, and he was afflicted with numerous disorders that the Happyface medical staff worked tirelessly to correct and stabilise.
But he was also conscious. His brain, and the mind fizzing and sparkling inside it, apparently completely intact. Damaged, yes, and traumatised almost beyond capacity by the shock of awakening … but he still clung to a kernel of self. And as the days and weeks went by, he clung to that kernel and hauled himself out of the chasm of brain-death.
He wasn’t the only one. Pod 22, Pod 23 and Pod 38 of the forty sleepers were also cognitive to some degree or other. Pod 38 was deeply damaged, to such an extent that her awareness was not noticed for several weeks and never quite recovered to the level of Pod 9. Before it could do so, Pod 38 had somehow managed to kill herself. Whether she had done it consciously, or simply stressed herself into a cascade lobe embolism, was difficult to be certain. And that uncertainty only increased the more they learned. By the time anyone realised they should be asking those sorts of questions about the sleepers, it was too late to really answer them.
Pod 22 and Pod 23, apparently birth brother and sister as well as sleeper p’bruz from the depths of forgotten history, were separated from the rest as soon as their anomalous condition was ascertained. They became Happy Gretchen’s special project, her little favourites – perhaps even her protégés. She took them up to her private deck shortly after they were stabilised and their brains proved higher-operational. And nobody set foot on Happy Gretchen’s deck without her direct invitation – without her insistence, in fact. And so only Pod 9 remained, a strange and sad curiosity amidst the ranks of doughy, glassy-eyed children from the recovered sleepers.
Pod 9 was not sure whether Pod 22 and Pod 23 remembered anything of their past lives. He had not been allowed to speak with them and was denied contact just like everyone else. And besides, he wasn’t really sure of anything. His own memories and identity were elusive, shadowy things like the ‘dreams’ that some of the diurnal species spoke of. When he tried to think about them, they fled. Sometimes they lingered just long enough for him to see something – a face, a structure, a vaulted blue sky and trees that could belong to a mythical planet or to a Worldship arboretum – but they always squirmed away.
When the doctors tried to force them to stay, he wailed in pain and fear and sank deep inside his great soft child’s body and his bruised and ancient child’s brain for hours, sometimes days on end.
Pod 9 was fortunate. He wasn’t spared the life of the Happyface cho’gule – not entirely – but he was spared many of the usages to which his broken-minded p’bruz were set. Happy Gretchen practically nurtured him, seeing in his condition a potential for something of greater value than a mere living mannequin for the entertainment of her customers. She was curious, and while she didn’t take him entirely into her domain the way she had with Pod 22 and Pod 23, she gave him a certain leeway.
This relatively blissful state of affairs lasted until almost two years after his awakening, when Pod 9 entered his First Prime and killed his first client.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.