Have you read what’s gone before? If so you’re ready for Chapter fooooooour!
Winter 2.11 HC, 2210 (Day 41 of the Year of Winter)
Katie let me look over the photos I’d taken of the LVC3 in her throat as I tinkered with my own version. A week, we agreed. A week to rest and be off her feet. She wouldn’t let it be any longer. It might be safer to convince her to return to the Southern Coast, forget the whole thing; but the Outposts were at war with each other for space and resources. Not the upper class; just the lower one. Besides, I wasn’t about to let my half-sister vanish just like that.
One week to recover, to get some more answers here. I watched her patrol my lair – a word which probably suited the style of the place, and perhaps the man who lived here – me. I watched her measure it first, like it was a part of her recovery. Starting at one corner, Katie counted the steps to the other side. The pain in her foot made this a painful exercise, but to her it became a kind of physiotherapy. A pain that reminded her she still had her feet. I can’t imagine walking barefoot in snow. Really, she needed to get it x-rayed – I thought that it might be broken. That meant a hospital. We’d already ruled that out. If I had the materials, I’d have put it in a cast anyway, just to be safe, but again, she wouldn’t let me.
The main room was about sixty of her small steps across by eighty. There were two side-chambers; one contained a king-sized futon, but wasn’t much bigger than it. It had a low ceiling, too. I hardly went in that room. I didn’t sleep that much lately, and usually not in there, so the bed was made perfectly.
“Wow, Stephen,” she said, exiting the room. “I half-expected to find little chocolates on the pillows.” I smiled.
The second side-chamber was a step up from the main level, and sloped upwards and around a corner. When it flattened out, it was smaller again. It was about the size of the bedroom and otherwise empty, except for a bookcase filled with more boxes containing some of my old inventions, and a sofa.
I watched her pull at books when she thought I wasn’t looking, trying to find another chamber, a secret place… until finally I couldn’t contain my laughter any further. She persisted for a book or two more. She was right to persist – I did have one bookcase which hid a passageway – but you had to manually shove the bookcase. Perhaps I should’ve installed a book or a lantern as a mechanism to open it. It would’ve fitted my theme, I suppose.
“How have you managed to survive for so long without… you know, human contact?”
“Sometimes I leave,” I said, with a hint of derision. “I prefer quiet and solitude, for the most part. I can see you’re a people person, but as you can see, I invent things. I need space to think. I don’t need anyone around who’ll go through my stuff.” I could see she was climbing the walls after only a few hours. “Nothing’s off limits, just don’t break anything,” I said, catching her from the corner of my eye. I didn’t move much from that spot other than to do some training in my corner, or to get food or water.
In one cupboard, she found a bottle of 70 year old whisky. “Don’t open that,” I said, aware of where she was in relation to the good stuff. “That’s probably worth more than a human life at this point. As to whether it’s drinkable… that’s not for today to find out.”
I felt tired, but didn’t allow myself to sleep for too long. Katie, too, seemed to be avoiding long rests. Clearly, we didn’t trust each other completely yet. It seemed she was being open with me, and I with her. I always let her make her own food and drink, but perhaps that was a part of the problem. We weren’t moving forwards. I knew, too, that my discomfort was probably from knowing my father the way that I do. I didn’t know where she wanted to be – which side was she on? Not that I cared; that was why I preferred to be alone. The only way to avoid politics is to avoid people. I could understand her suspicions, too. Men had always been men, even though she had no idea about me yet. I’d be cautious too, in her position.
In one of the brief moments I had allowed myself to rest, I let my mind wander, eyes open. It went back to fragmented memories of my childhood, though some of it was mixed in with other pictures, words and short videos that didn’t have the same feeling of truth about them, like dreams always do. But, a bit like a child whose eyesight isn’t perfect, how do you know truth from fiction if it isn’t pointed out to you? Memories, over time, became impressionist paintings. How much was Katie telling me? A photographer. J. C. Stots. Her mother and father. Our father. The architect of whatever this was.
Katie called out in alarm, rousing me from my daydreams. A large raven had found its way in and was circling for a place to settle. It seemed to enjoy being near her. After her initial reaction, both guests found a more comfortable distance between each other.
“What the hell?” Katie asked, staring at it.
“A raven. No idea what it’s doing here. I don’t know anyone from Prophet’s Outpost.”
“Someone sent you a message?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
A small, rolled up piece of brownish paper was tied to one of its legs with a short piece of black ribbon, tied in a simple knot. The raven took a few uncertain hops towards me, both it and Katie dubious of each other. They danced around a circle until it stood perching on the surface next to me. It turned sideways and kicked one leg back, craning its head at me quizzically, as if asking me to relieve it of its burden.
“Amazing it knows how to do that,” Katie whispered. I guess, if you haven’t seen it before.
“They’re bred and trained for it,” I explained. “There’s a bit of tech, too, which they’re trained with.” I removed the ribbon and letter from its leg, which revealed a small circuit which had been strapped onto its leg, like a tiny watch.
“For navigation? Does it hurt?”
“No, no. It just makes different noises which it knows to mean certain things. It can find anyone from their implant chip. There’s also a contact lens in its eye, with an image of the face of the person it’s trying to find.”
“Wow, that’s pretty advanced, I had no idea.”
“It’s specific to Prophet’s Outpost. It’s where he Died, according to the Book.”
“So you have read it,” Katie said.
“You have to study it in school, of course I have. Just… I failed Mandarin, so…”
“How can you fail Mandarin? Nobody fails Mandarin, you’d just be kept back.”
“They couldn’t hold me back – first, my – I mean, our – father, wouldn’t allow it; and second they needed my um… talent, I suppose. For the economy. It was too expensive to hold me back. I repeated a year, and I just did Mandarin. Even now I can only say the basics. I’ve forgotten so much of it, but I don’t really speak to a lot of people.”
“Anyway, what does it say? The message.”
“What? Oh, right… I didn’t finish telling you before. Ravens are for messages of death. So, someone’s died. Someone I know.” I unfurled the scroll and started reading. As I did so, the raven cawed and took flight, doing one full lap of the room before vanishing up and out in a noisy beat of its dark wings.
“…Gabriel,” I sighed.
“A… close friend.” I crumpled up the paper in a fist and slammed it hard onto my desk, making everything on top of it jump.
“Does it say how he died?”
“Yes. He fell.” I paused here. I knew full well what had happened. My father knew about Gabriel and I. He didn’t care about that, not many people did now. What mattered to father was power. Knowing who was close to me, so he could push me. This time, I pushed back. I had refused to do any more. The first time I refused, he had me kicked out of Aquatia. Out of his paradise. That was no big thing for me; I actually rather liked having my own workshop. Father thought he was putting me in a prison here – but to me, it was a wish granted. To be away from him. To be away from the people who were barely human. If that was the apex of society…
“Stephen? That was a two word answer. What aren’t you saying?”
“Nothing. I just… later, can we please? I need to focus on this.”
I put the crumpled notice to the side and picked up my tools. Some amount of time must have passed, for the next time Katie spoke, her voice came from somewhere else.
“Do you have any stronger painkillers?”
I’d begun some solder work on some very tiny wires and sighed, exasperated to be interrupted and brought back to reality. “Sorry. This is very fine work, and I don’t have the robotics down here. Yes. Let me take a look. How are you? Not good, if you’re asking for stronger painkillers, I’m guessing.”
“No, it’s alright.”
“It’s not. I’ve been ignoring you. Turn around, let me see your head.”
He carefully pushed my hair out of the way of what I quickly became aware of as a deep graze in the back of my head. “It’s easier to see now that you’ve washed the dirt out. You need that to be taken care of properly… you probably ought to go to a hospital, but…”
“It’ll be fine.”
“So, what did you have in mind? We can’t leave it like this, it won’t heal well or quickly.” I moved to one of the stations in the middle of the room with a number of large sheets of thin paper with sketches of ideas on them, above which was a cupboard that I opened to reveal a number of prescription-grade drugs.
I found the small brown-tinted medicine bottle from the cupboard which I knew to contain potent analgesics in the form of large blue capsules, and placed it on top of the drawings. I took a step back to let Katie examine the bottle, but not before she read my expression. Was she trying to tell if I was drugging her?
Had someone put us together deliberately? Perhaps both of us were victims of some larger force at work. But I also couldn’t shake the thought that Katie was a very good actor. Maybe she thought I was some psychopathic creep who drugged women, installed weird implants in their bodies then buried them for kicks. Was that a thing?
Katie picked up the painkillers and looked at the designs under the table. I stepped back and let her flick through my inventions. The first was a design for regulating serotonin in the brain. She didn’t look surprised; living on your own in the winter tundra outside of the city was obviously miserable. The second was a drawing of a metallic tree, with carbon converters for leaves. The third was a contact lens that would look for the facial signals of lying. I smiled as I recalled drawing these, then sighed at the lack of progress I had made on them. The fourth was an athletic man with a strong jaw standing proudly with a really huge penis. And the fifth and sixth had the same guy in different positions. The seventh was of two guys, one of them had exotic, sun-kissed… features. Shit. I forgot these were there.
I flushed red with embarrassment. “Sorry, I… you shouldn’t have… I forgot these were here.” Katie was staring at me. I averted her gaze.
“No, I… don’t worry about it. To be honest, I was starting to worry that you were… never mind.”
“I spend long periods of time here… without any contact. When I go with Jessie to the Outpost…”