"She's at it again?" Parker asks Lenhart, the current guard on watch. "Not more crossword puzzles, I trust." "No, ma'am. Not the same pattern. That was more rectilinear; she's all over the cell on this one." They watch in silence for a long minute. She's pacing, running, tumbling, spinning, a shadow punch here, a kick there, handstands, fast, slow -- "It's not a dance, ma'am. But not kata , not an exercise routine -- nothing particularly rhythmic or repetitive. Patterns, maybe, but it's hard to see. No theme or story." "You have an eye for modern dance?" "Girlfriend keeps taking me," Lenhart replies. "Can't figure a lot of that out, either, but it's not this." "Well, make sure it's all recorded and routed to crypto. If there's anything to it, we'll let them figure it out, big brains to big brain." "Yes, ma'am." Lenhart double-checks the stream-and-record status, though she'd confirmed it once the prisoner began the gyrations. A standing order, and she'd heard what happened to Grogan. "What are you up to, Alycia?" Parker murmurs. * * * Pacing,
pacing, tiger in a cage, a zero-gee tiger, tracing the dimensions of the enclosure, buildling coordinates and vectors, creating a space for thoughts, trying to come to grips
with what's happened, what's happening, what happens next. Urgently ordering
thoughts, ordering feelings --
problem of course, that corner of the cell, traced back past the table, up the
wall there in a big dead-end. Feelings, or lack thereof. Feelings that should
be there, but aren’t.
We're an awful couple. Terrible, terrible foundations for a
relationship. Hour and hours of psych reading. "Western quackery"
he'd say, but he still made me study it. Fodder for learning to lead people,
but he could have used a bit of catch-up on "megalomania" or "narcissistic
disorder" or "fanaticism" -- or perhaps "psychopathy,"
though that's probably unfair, a judgment based on emotion, and how come I get
to feel emotions toward him?
Loyalty, of course. He never thought I'd turn on him. Neither did I.
But, then, I didn't think he’d turn on me.
The injections. That's most of what I remember at eleven, as my brain
caught fire. The injections, the experiments, the consultants, the dead bodies,
the late nights wracked with pain and hallucinations and a billion new ideas
and hatred and horror and orgasmic joy and utter exhaustion and his voice, his
voice always so stern, sounding worried, angry about being worried, but worried
Then, expansion. A world of thoughts all about me, constellations and
comets and belts of asteroids and --
Always loved the drug cocktails, Father. Always a bit too clever for
my own good.
"Forbidden Fruit" is another one of those terms. Can't have it? Find a way. Shouldn't do it? Must do it. "You're not the boss of me" --
Achilles, yin and yang, both blind to each others' mistakes and successes, both
repeating them in their own way.
Byron Quill, hacking hacker, hacks at chunks of memory, facts and
figures, always the cold, dispassionate technologist, treat it like a tape to
be edited, images and occurrences, sensory data, iconoclasts in the temple
bashing away at the statuary.
But the temple is not just the ornamentation. Read your religious
studies, professor. Shared experience, ritual, ecstasy and tranquility, fear
and trembling, awe, relief, transcendence.
(The true opiate for the masses. Not just words on a page or from a
preacher, but the feeling they are tied to. Nobody changed their life over a
statue; it was over the emotions that were bound to that statue.
Scylla ahead, or is that Charybdis? Will I be sucked down to the depths, or dashed
Achilles Chin, the leader of men, the hot revolutionary. People
aren't important when The People are the primary beneficiaries.
Father doesn't care about thought, except his own. Loyalty, devotion, joy, ecstasy -- emotions. Brainwashing, sure. There are scars in my head I've seen reflected in Jason's thoughts and
memories, puckered and brown. Do I want to fix those? Damn straight. But the
other damage --?
Always efficient, always taking advantage of an opening, an
opportunity, that's my father.
“Isolated Mutual Hardship." Couples, friendships, romances that form when stuck together
and suffering. Battlefield romances (wartime romances as a whole), research stations,
prisons, military bases, relief workers, long-assignment business workers,
soldiers, guards, doctors -- stress and fear and horror and grueling and shared
experiences that force-feed a hothouse romance, forged by forced intimacy,
desperation to perpetuate the species, the hardwired program in human brains to
be together . When the hothouse doors are opened, they wither, freeze, dry out, root balls of sand, adaptations no longer naturally selected for.
He's not my
boss any more. I left him, crippled, in that other place. He can't hurt me any
more. He can't control my life any more. That's exhilarating, amazing, terrifying. A
giant "Here Be Monsters" looms on the map of my life.
Poor Jason, holes in his head like a redacted file, but the
Iconoclast forgot the emotions, damn his crippled soul as well. Thoughts, feelings, feelings, thoughts, the gestalt of experience, but not for Byron. Feelings obey thoughts in his hornbook. Redact the transcript, erase the tape, delete the file, reformat the storage unit -- Poor Jason. Irrational joys,
attractions, loves, lusts, affections, swirling about like leaves in a wind, no tree to hold them up. All vaguely associated with a girl-woman
he hardly knows any more, hardly remembers. I can abstractly feel the terror that must have
been for him, questioning his own sanity about me, wondering if he's going mad, others looking at him like he has. .
Intrusive feelings with no anchor, because the anchor points were wiped
out. Perhaps Father respected my mind too much, perhaps he was daunted as a parent by the emotions of a growing human, the rebelliousness, the lust, the desire for change that might not coincide with his, the disloyalty, the disdain for his own passions. Why not chop out those bad emotions, snip-snip? Cull the herd, wipe out the rebels, crush the dissenters -- no, the leaders of the rebellion, the ones that inspire dissent among others. That's what the Autocrat does. Win minds by winning hearts. Crush minds by crushing hearts. Find the places where
I felt whatever I felt about Jason Quill, the color and vibrancy and
sound-track that went with those events, those encounters, those timeless
moments, that gave them depth and meaning beyond a transcript.
I need to remember this. Record these
thoughts, these feelings. In case they get forgotten, too, overridden like a robot's program. Find a space, a coordinate, to tuck them a way, bury
under a loam of distractions, birthday wishes, paper and bows and thing I've
seen mostly in cinemas.
Chemicals are not lasers. Drugs are not scalpels. Doctor Chin can't fine tune his particular form of butchery. Can't chop them out -- so maybe batter them down with a hammer. Paint
them out with a heavy white base. Remove the emotion, remove the driver of the
individual, remove the heart of rebellion.
Saving his little girl just for himself.
Maybe that's why this thing with Jason is still alive. We're still
living in the hothouse, still living under extremes, stress, danger, fear,
afraid to let go of the only thing we still know we have.
Or maybe we still have this thing because of our fathers who fought so
hard against it, not just out of Forbidden Fruit (tasty, delicious, dripping),
but because they locked it up in twisted, fractured amber.
The iconoclast hit the Cerebrum, of course. Byron Quill is a thinking man. Frontal,
Parietal, Occipital, Temporal. Neat and tidy and cataloged. Thought and perception and memory, elegantly organized, cubby holes and file drawers and disk drives and clouds of data,
taken in and processed and associated together.
The "higher" memory, thus the most important.
That's all anyone ever thinks of.
Save this record, thougths and feelings, feelings and thoughts, don't talk about it, pull
it out as my own checksum, my own comparison. Later.
Not my father. Don't touch the pretty gray of the Cerebrum. The Limbic System, deep,
deep down. More crude, more delicate, more powerful. Father was always about
power over others. Power over me.
I remember almost everything about Jason.
I feel almost nothing.
Is that Scylla, or is that Charybdis? Will I be sucked down to the depths, or dashed against rocks? The few places the Autocrat missed still haunt me. A whisper of passion. A
bubble of affection. A passing breeze of wonder and content. A whiff of need.
The rest is gone.
He looks at me and I know his face and it's people telling me stories about someone and then meeting him, silent newsreels in back and white. I see, but I don't feel . Except anger and fury and rage at the loss, horror over what was done, terror over what it makes me, sorrow over the loss, insecurity over what the future means to me. Does the
Toymaker realize this? Does his little machine, creating collective memories, address something that the
Iconoclast and the Autocrat failed to even think of?
We are our memories,
Jason told me. Even he doesn’t understand.
Scylla. I have no
doubt it will heal Jason's scars -- that's what he wants, after all. But my
very different injuries? Charybdis.
Do I really
want it to?
Or should --? * * * The cell chime breaks into my furious contemplation, the zero-gee tiger slinking into shadows, mental constructions slipping into storage, evaporating with the wind. Never let them know -- "I thought you'd like a shower break before going to your job interview, Alycia," Parker's voice comes over the hidden intercom. I realize my prison pajamas are wet with sweat. My body is trembling with exertion. I run back over the topic list, and I'm not surprised. "That's very thoughtful of you, agent." A corner of the cell rotates in a certain way, revealing the shower area, the water already flowing from a recessed ceiling head. I take a step, and the disembodied voice adds, "Penny for your thoughts." "There's your problem, Agent," I say, stripping off the damp clothing. "Thoughts aren't what you should really be concerned with." I step under the water, stand still, and try to think and feel nothing for a short while.