Day 31. 64 pages, 30,229 words.
Pod 9 was marched into Happy Gretchen’s presence – not actually onto her private deck, thankfully, but to one of the grim conference chambers where she held court – and pulled to a halt firmly by the flabby upper arms. The enforcers, a pair of muscular and cruelly-enhanced Blaren named Revemorn Blue and Revemorn Grey in spite of the fact that they were both brown and metallic-red of skin and cybernetics respectively, straightened on either side of him as though they were the ones in trouble.
Happy Gretchen was lounging in a huge divan especially designed to support her reinforced enormity. Close behind her and by her right hands stood the pale, terrifying figure of her chief enforcer, the Blaran known only as the Eunuch. He stood with all four hands behind his back, his featureless black eyes gazing over the top of Pod 9’s head. His skin was white like bone, and his clothing was flowing and translucent.
“Now, what’s all this I hear about a dead guest?” Happy Gretchen asked softly. “I think you can let him go, Revemorn … you’re not going anywhere, are you, Pod 9?”
“No, masata-Gretchen,” Pod 9 said promptly. Revemorn Blue and Revemorn Grey released his arms and snapped their own hands behind their backs with a quiet synchronised clang.
Of the forty sleepers to be awakened at Happyface, thirty-three had survived the process – ‘survival’ in this case being defined as successfully disconnecting from the pod without physiological collapse, then managing to live through the shoring-up and chemical dependency purging processes to become a minimally-responsive organic doll. Thirty of the thirty-three survivors had wound up capable of sitting upright, standing and walking when led, eating and drinking, and making some sort of sound to indicate that they were about to pass waste – or, in less fortunate cases, that they had just finished. Two of them, Pod 22 and Pod 23, had been taken away by Happy Gretchen.
“Well?” Happy Gretchen said. “Revemorn, perhaps you can start us off?”
“Masata-Gretchen,” Revemorn Blue said, “we were alerted to the private berth of Captain Mortimer Flonk, who as you know-”
“Yes, we all know the hilarious rhyme,” Happy Gretchen said. Neither Revemorn Blue nor Pod 9 disagreed with this, although Pod 9 did not think he did know the rhyme. “Our esteemed guest from the noble Chalcedony empire-in-hiding had stopped here to indulge in a little rest and relaxation – so very important to humans, don’t you know, they get so weary – before shipping out to broker a valuable trade agreement for us. Instead…” she paused, and there was a heavy silence in the chamber. “This is an open query for anyone present to jump in and clarify,” she said, with a slight edge to her voice.
“Captain Flonk said his head hurt,” Pod 9 said, “and then he lay down.”
“He suffered an acute cranial episode,” Revemorn Blue said, “which may have been incidental – we are still waiting for final confirmation from Reco – but it seems almost certain it was … imposed externally.”
“I could take Captain Flonk to Doctor Reco,” Pod 9 said helpfully.
As the thirty-third survivor of the group and the only one capable of independent action, Pod 9 had been left almost solely in charge of the whole ‘passing waste’ issue faced by his thirty catatonic p’bruz. As well as most of the other tasks related to their feeding and general upkeep. He prepared them for their assorted ‘tasks’, and cleaned them up afterwards – cleaned them up, and assisted in his own decidedly non-medical capacity whenever they needed to be taken to Doctor Reco.
Of the seven who had died, four had been simply too young and frail to endure the treatments; two had developed systemic neurological failures that had ultimately shut their bodies down; and the seventh had been the sad case of Pod 38 which had initially looked like a third breakdown but was later revealed to be something else entirely. What, precisely, Pod 9 wasn’t sure. But it worried him.
“Imposed externally,” Happy Gretchen repeated heavily. “Except…”
“Except there was no sign of external trauma,” Revemorn Grey put in. “The monkey – Captain Flonk suffered entirely unprovoked and massive brain damage with no sign of-”
“Just say it, Revemorn,” Happy Gretchen said, sounding almost jolly to Pod 9’s ears. She studied Pod 9 with confusing and – despite the jolliness, or maybe because of it – worrying intensity. “We have a dead human on our hands who looks like he was killed by an angry aki’Drednanth.”
All of the surviving Happyface p’bruz had entered First Prime early.
This wasn’t in itself unusual. First Prime kicked off, whether the subject was Molran or Blaran or Bonshoon, somewhere after the age of twenty years, and had usually begun by the age of a hundred and fifty. It could start earlier, but for thirty-seven children to all hit premature Prime was quite an anomaly.
Of course, it hadn’t been an anomaly at all, but a result of the hormonal treatments and the supplements they’d been pumped full of as part of their long-term sleeper recovery. Their youth, and the pre-Prime chemicals in their systems, had kept them intact through their long sleep – but to remain intact after awakening had required a dramatic shift in gear. The children had ranged in age from six to eleven years, as near as anyone had been able to ascertain from their muddy cellular strata, and within three years of their awakening they had all entered First Prime.
Pod 9 hunched his upper shoulders under the joint scrutiny of the two Blaren in front of him and the radiating meanness of the two standing at his sides. He was not yet fully-grown despite his Prime – one of the hazards of premature blooming – but he was still fairly big. The flat top of his head was almost level with the enforcers’ upper shoulders, and he probably would have outweighed them if not for their augmentations.
For Pod 9, an estimated ten years old at his awakening and twelve by the time his Prime began, First Prime had come more or less the same way as it did for any other Bonshoon, or indeed Molran or Blaran. The physiological and hormonal shifts were largely invisible and low-impact. First Prime wasn’t about growth or maturity as such, although it did represent the first of three periods of reproductive viability in Molranoid species with accompanying shifts in health, vitality and confidence. This didn’t matter to the Happyface Bonshooni, since they were all as infertile during First Prime as they had been since coming out of their pods, but there were some noticeable changes.
Pod 9’s p’bruz had endured the onset of their premature Primes in their usual slack silence, but their symptoms had seemed to mirror his own experiences. Most of it was minimal, barring the occasional outbreak of what he had been told were classic First Prime afflictions. The major markers of First Prime, specifically heightened sex drive and agonising social awkwardness, were blessedly minimal in the broken boys and girls from the pods. Pod 9 might have actually felt a little envious of them for the relative simplicity of their experience, if he’d been worried about social awkwardness. Or the state of his sex drive, for that matter.
Pod 9 blinked and turned his full attention of Happy Gretchen. “Yes, masata-Gretchen?”
“Can you tell me what Captain Flonk was doing when he got his headache?” she asked, almost gently. “And how you felt when he lay down?”
Pod 9 shrugged unselfconsciously. “He had his clothes off,” he said. Since more seemed to be expected, he added, “I didn’t say ‘ewww’ this time.”
“That’s good,” Happy Gretchen said. “We like our guests to be comfortable, don’t we?”
“And then?” she prompted after a pause.
“And then they go home satisfied and they come again and they tell their friends, masata-Gretchen,” Pod 9 said proudly.
“No, I mean what happened in Captain Flonk’s room?”
“‘He got a headache, and then he lay down’,” the Eunuch said, his voice barely audible.
“He got a – yes,” Pod 9 said in confusion.
Happy Gretchen’s huge head swung heavily and she favoured the Eunuch with a dirty look. The Eunuch was the only person in the Happyface cho’gule who could stand up to one of those. Even only catching its edge was enough to make Pod 9’s digestive system feel watery. She turned back to face him.
“Did he say or do anything,” she said, “between taking off his clothes and getting a headache?”
“No, masata-Gretchen,” Pod 9 said. “I don’t think so. He was with Pod 12 just before, and he … I think he … he had – he was all…”
Pod 9 felt very confused for a moment. Something went crash, and the room went dark, and then he was sitting in his stark little home cell as though the scary interview with Happy Gretchen and the Eunuch had never even happened. His ears were ringing and the lights seemed too bright. He put his upper left hand to his head, and winced.
He didn’t have time to probe at the painful bruise for long. His cell door opened and Doctor Reco stepped in.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.