Day 38. 64 pages, 30,257 words.
“Close your eyes. Concentrate. Try again.”
Years had passed uneventfully in Happyface. Forty-two of them, to be precise, since Jadis’s first visit to the rambling structure. Pod 9’s tasks remained largely unchanged after all that time, and he lived a life of contentment – the contentment that came from routine, and from knowing nothing else.
Jadis had come back several times. He thought this was maybe the fifth time she had visited, but he wasn’t entirely certain of that. He was forgetful, prone to letting his mind wander, still more prone to letting events of the past merge together into a pleasant foggy blur when they weren’t particularly important. And he was not good at judging whether events were important.
“Okay,” he said agreeably, and closed his eyes even though he didn’t want to. Having his eyes closed, being in the dark, made it somehow more difficult to ignore the cold. It also made him feel tense and anxious, as though his nose and mouth were being covered up just like hie eyes were, with heavy flaps of skin … he didn’t understand why, and he did his best to ignore the feeling because he’d been told it was just his imagination.
He concentrated, but since he wasn’t sure what he should be concentrating on, aside from the cold and not feeling anxious, it was difficult.
Whenever Jadis came to Happyface, she moved into the big set of luxury habs and ‘open’ ice fields on the starboard docking spar. Occasionally, this meant other guests had to be evicted and be granted compensatory privileges, which could be unpleasant depending on the guests. Happy Gretchen took care of most of the unpleasantness. No other guests had died since Jalahso the security officer, at least not that Pod 9 had been told.
It was cold in the starboard docking spar habs, refrigerated down to the biting temperatures aki’Drednanth most enjoyed, and that meant Pod 9 had to struggle into a thermal garment and brave the discomfort in order to attend his training. Sometimes Jadis would come out into the main structure and even visit him in his cell, but she didn’t like to wear an envirosuit and she didn’t smell very good when she started to thaw, and even when she wasn’t in her suit Pod 9’s cell was a little cramped with both of them in it.
Pod 9 coming to the freezer hab and suffering while Jadis tried to teach him how to make his brain work, then, was what Doctor Reco called ‘a compromise’.
You know, it’s like how you want a new Corp Sci medical fabricator rig, and Happy Gretchen wants you to keep making replacement organs out of lunch meat and snot … so you compromise and make replacement organs out of lunch meat and snot.
“Concentrate,” Jadis’s voice, a slightly raspy but maternal product of her gauntlet generator, sharpened audibly in accordance with her mood. Pod 9 tried to concentrate even more than he already was. Since he was already concentrating as much as his wandering mind would permit him to, he became worried about what sort of reaction his failure might elicit.
He wasn’t overly concerned, however. Usually when he failed in his training, Jadis just said that she was getting too old to be wasting her time and that she would go back to Pod 22 and Pod 23 who at least showed some promise in human trials. Although reading human minds wasn’t exactly difficult, she also said, or even actually necessary, since if you just let them talk then sooner or later they would tell you everything they were thinking anyway.
Pod 9 supposed this was supposed to embarrass him and goad him to do better, but mostly he was just pleased that he’d get to go back to the warm.
He concentrated, imagining the heavy, oppressive gulf of Jadis’s mind gaping wide in front of him, and the spongy vacant shell of Pod 3’s mind slumped by his side. He imagined his own mind, like silvery liquid pouring away from the broken vessel of his brain, battling Jadis’s gravity well, emptying himself into Pod 3.
“I can’t,” he said.
“Oh no? Open your eyes,” Jadis commanded.
Pod 9 opened his eyes. For a moment his vision blurred and doubled, showing him two overlapping images of the aki’Drednanth lounging on the ice before him. He turned and looked at Pod 3, who continued to stare glazedly at nothing. The boy – the man; they were all fully-grown now and Pod 9 supposed they were all far enough into their First Primes to qualify as adults even if they lacked the mental qualifications and legal status – was dressed in an identical thermal to Pod 9’s but lacking a niqi to cover his face, so his nostrils and lips and the corners of his eyes were gathering frost crystals. Furthermore, since Pod 9 had put his thermal on for him, it was a bit rumpled and crooked and probably wasn’t even as warm as Pod 9’s correctly donned garment. Pod 3 didn’t complain, of course.
“I don’t unders-” Pod 9 began, then stopped. Concentration, such as it was, fled in that instant but he was certain he had seen what he’d seen. As he’d spoken, Pod 3 had mouthed along with the words.
He sat, staring at the slumped figure of his p’bruz. When his mouth had moved, Pod 3 had sent a little sprinkling of ice from his lips onto the dark thermal material covering his belly. Now, however, he was sitting as listless as he always had. If it wasn’t for that little sprinkle of frost, Pod 9 might have thought he’d imagined the movement.
“You very nearly connected with her,” Jadis remarked.
“Pod 3 is a him,” Pod 9 said vaguely.
Jadis waved her gleaming black gauntlet. “Him, her,” she said. “You know my kind do not care. And it hardly seems to matter to these wretched sisters of yours, does it?”
“It matters to some of our guests.”
Jadis gave a deep woof of amusement. “Close your eyes,” she resumed her instruction. “Concentrate. Try again.”
Pod 9 closed his eyes.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.