Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Conversations in Caille: Thirty Three

There’s a little more security that might be expected, for a nursing home. Discreet, but there: the full-body scanner set into the front door, the well-muscled and alert ‘nurses’ at reception.

He barely notices, after two years. Making sure his pockets are empty of anything that might be considered ‘a weapon’ has become second nature, and the security staff are familiar faces, seen once a week.

He knows why they’re there, after all.

He’s glad of it.

Up to the second floor, third corridor, fifth door on the left, more ‘nurses’. He smiles at them, like always. They don’t smile back, like always.  Not unfriendly. Just on duty

He still smiles. Still brings the traditional gifts at the new year. They’d die to protect him: the least he can do is smiles and marzipan. 

Through the door, the man waits. Although waits might not be the right word – there’s nothing in the empty stare, the slack face, to indicate enough cognitive function to understand the difference between present and future.  Still, the man is there, and not doing anything else, so waits is close enough.

It’s a pleasant enough room, the medical necessities subtly concealed, a view of the gardens.  He takes a chair that lets him see out the window, lets the silence lengthen. Always, there’s the possibility that this time, he won’t be the first to speak.

And always, eventually, he is. 

“You’re looking well,” he says. It’s not entirely untrue. The medical care here is excellent. The residents have every chance of living a long, long time, and this resident is still in early middle age. “She’s looking well, too. I talked to her yesterday.” 

Not a flicker of response. Still, maybe, just maybe, there’s the possibility of a firing neuron somewhere deep behind those vacant eyes. Maybe, just maybe, what he says is heard and understood.

So he persists. “Just bought a new ship, she said. Some sort of rare … something, I can never work out what she means when she starts talking about that stuff, but I gather it was incredibly expensive. But then, she’s incredibly rich. I mean, even by capsuleer standards. And so happy, still so much in love, and her family … everything’s going perfectly for her.”  Is that a flare of a nostril or a trick of the light? “And for me, too. I’ve been chosen for the exhibition. They say I have real talent. And Cami is in an advanced computer sciences course – she’s a genius, you know, although mostly at skills that don’t have many legal applications.  She’s going to be able to do anything she wants with her life. Anything at all.”

Nothing. He studies the man for a while, noting the sagging flesh of his cheeks where the muscles are atrophying from lack of use, the unmarked, manicured hands. Nothing.

Always nothing. But he can’t quite believe it, despite what the doctors say, can’t believe that this man is, for all intents and purposes, gone: personality, will, mind all erased by creeping dementia. And until he can believe it, he will keep coming, week after week, bringing his stories of the world outside the walls and the worlds beyond the stars. 

Look how well we’re doing. Look how successful we are. 

Look how happy we are.

And there’s nothing you can do about it. 

The garden outside the window is darkening into dusk. The weekly visit is over.

Luc Roth stands, and leans down to brush a kiss on his father’s immobile face. “Goodbye, Papa. I’ll be here next week.”

And so will you.

With a smile for the unsmiling guards, Jorian Roth’s youngest son walks out the door and into the world outside his father’s walls.

Friday, February 22, 2013


DR. V. AKELL > It sounds as if you feel you are getting back to normal, in a way.
DR. N. TOIN  > No. I don’t believe that’s accurate.
DR. V. AKELL > Why not?
DR. N. TOIN  > To get back to normal would require me to have been normal at some prior time.
DR. V. AKELL > You don’t consider yourself to have ever been normal?
DR. N. TOIN  > No.
DR. V. AKELL > Why not?
DR. N. TOIN  >  I am a statistical outlier in a number of regards, Dr Akell. I am more intelligent than 97.8% of the population. I am a recognized expert in my field, and it is not a small one.  
DR. V. AKELL > You are not normal because you are exceptionally intelligent.
DR. N. TOIN  > Among other things, yes.
DR. V. AKELL > Are there ways in which you are normal?
DR. N. TOIN  > I don’t know how to apply that word to myself.
DR. V. AKELL > Why not?
DR. N. TOIN  >  I’ve never understood what it means.

It’s only when they start being streamed into vocational classes that her brothers and sisters discover there’s something wrong with her.

Nolikka’s ten.

There’s something (weirdo) wrong with her.     

Until now she has just been Noli, how she is is just Noli, like Tanyo is Tanyo and Yanis is Yanis. They were too few and too familiar with each other to make comparisons, to discover normal. Now they have classmates and even friends from other groups and so they have normal too.

And Noli is (mutant) apparently, not normal.  

Selected into science for a reason, she applies her intellect to the problem, realizes she needs to know what it is that’s wrong with her before she can design a remedy. Asking isn’t fruitful, although it does provide some new data: politely asking your crèche­-mates what it is that makes you a freak is creepy. Nolikka tries the same question on a supervisor, but all that gets is the lie that there’s nothing at all wrong with her, the advice not to worry about what the other kids say, and a general shunning for a few days when the supervisors assign extra scut duty to the two of her brothers and the sister who have been most forthcoming about Nolikka being retarded.

Nolikka continues to worry about what the other kids say, despite the supervisor, although not about being retarded: she is well aware her marks in every subject are well above expected norms for her age.  Eventually she badgers her closest sibling, Tanyo, into the reluctant revelation that Nolikka stares at people too much, when she talks to them, when they talk. 

Nolikka stops looking at people.  New data: not looking at people is also creepy. She spends several weeks timing the amount of eye contact her peers make with each other while conversing, and then trains herself to mimic their patterns. Someone comments that Toin musta taken a ‘normal’ pill or something.

Nolikka considers her initial efforts at behavior modification a success.

DR. V. AKELL > You adapted your behavior to meet the standards of those around you.
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > How did you feel about that?
DR. N. TOIN  > I don’t understand the question.

Don’t take that tone with me, you fucking Callie chatte

pain unimaginable pain unendurable red jagged red pain redredred

Mend your fucking manners, bitch.

And she does, she mends everything about them, every intonation in every word, mended
                              to meet perfectly the expectations of those who hold the trigger to her collar.

DR. V. AKELL > It seems to me as if you’re saying that you believe that you’re better able to imitate accepted behaviors as a result of those experiences.
DR. N. TOIN  > Shock collars are excellent incentivization devices.
DR. V. AKELL > I understand you mean that sarcastically.
DR. N. TOIN  > Was that unclear?
DR. V. AKELL > Not at all. But I am aware you can’t read responses through someone’s expression, and I wanted to be clear in turn.
DR. N. TOIN  > I was aware that you understood my meaning.
DR. V. AKELL > Do you mind if I ask how?
DR. N. TOIN  > Your involuntary nasal exhalation.
DR. V. AKELL > My – I snorted?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > I didn’t realize.
DR. N. TOIN  > It was not loud.
DR. V. AKELL > Are you always able to gauge other’s responses through those kind of clues?
DR. N. TOIN  > Not always. However, it has been my experience that others find my communication of meaning through intonation easily comprehensible.  
DR. V. AKELL > But not vice versa.
DR. N. TOIN  > No.
DR. V. AKELL > Does that frustrate you?
DR. N. TOIN  > I endeavor to be patient with the inadequacies of others.
DR. V. AKELL > I understand you mean that sarcast-
DR. N. TOIN  > I know.
DR. V. AKELL > Did I snort again?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.

Further streaming follows, narrower specialties, drawn from an even wider pool.  

Nolikka’s fifteen, and she’s learned to mimic normal, although she’s still not entirely certain what exactly that is.

Mimicry without comprehension is possible, but it takes a great deal of concentration, and as the work gets harder and the entrancing equations more all-encompassing, she forgets from time to time. Stares too hard, answers too precisely, or not at all.  Fortunately, though, it seems to matter less, now: the novelty of normal has worn off and being chosen for the Advanced Science Educational Facility is an explanation her brothers and sisters can accept.  She’s not a weirdo anymore, she’s Noli the nerd and it’s said with affection. Mostly affection, she believes, although interpreting the emotional register of remarks is not always easy for her.

And what does it matter how it’s said when she can spend all day puzzling out the rules that run the atoms that orbit each other at the heart of stars?

DR. V. AKELL > You’ve spoken of observing changes in your interactions with others in recent weeks. Is that one of them?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > And it concerns you?
DR. N. TOIN  > The effect it may have on others concerns me.
DR. V. AKELL > Any specific others?
DR. N. TOIN  > Social interactions covers a broad spectrum.
DR. V. AKELL > It does, yes, which is why I asked.


Every circuit of her brain is immediately fully occupied tried to parse the tone of that voice, angry? impatient? Spirits and Ancestors, let it be pleased or at least indifferent. Spirits and Ancestors, let it not bring pain.


She learns to read that voice as clearly as algebra, and no matter how the exhaustion of sleepless nights on her cold, thin pallet shreds her concentration, she never, ever, lets herself slip.  

DR. V. AKELL > Let me put it this way. Your hypothesis seems to me to be that without constant reminders of your experiences, your acuity at understanding meaning will atrophy?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > Were you less happy when your understanding was less acute?
DR. N. TOIN  > I was a different person. The question is meaningless.
DR. V. AKELL > Happiness is not meaningless.
DR. N. TOIN  > It is difficult to quantify.
DR. V. AKELL > I’m interested in your description of yourself as a different person, since you also seem to be describing these changes you see in yourself as a return to an earlier mode of being.
DR. N. TOIN  > Perhaps I have changed back into that person.
DR. V. AKELL > Or perhaps you did not so much become a different person as the same person with an overlay of your experiences.
DR. N. TOIN  > Does that make a difference to my decision?
DR. V. AKELL > Not if you assume that the overlay completely obscured what was beneath it.
DR. N. TOIN  > To assume is to make an ass -
DR. V. AKELL > Yes.

It’s harder and paradoxically easier to mimic normal after her accident.

Nolikka’s eighteen, and she’s blind.

It’s much, much harder to work out what responses people are expecting from her when she can’t gauge their expressions, but she does her best with what she can glean from voices, intonations, hesitations, and mistakes seem to matter less now, with a reason they can see right there on her face.

They can see it, although she can’t. It amuses her, although she keeps the joke to herself when she learns it is considered odd.  It is also odd, or even eccentric, that she refuses the reconstructive surgery.

The doctors can’t believe she doesn’t want to see as they see again.

Nolikka can’t explain to them the things she can see now.

She is confirmed odd and eccentric, but she is in graduate studies now and thus part of a community of the odd and eccentric. She has friends, even some close friends, although some of those relationships fracture and cool for no reason Nolikka can see.  These inexplicable occurrences bring equally inexplicable sequelae, an irritating inability to concentrate, chest and abdominal pain, the at-times-irrepressible urge to weep.  The wife of her senior supervisor, known to all the students as “Mrs Professor Ren”, gives Nolikka advice such as there’s plenty more fish in the sea.  Despite Mrs Professor’s nonsensical statements, Nolikka finds that her symptoms abate after these conversations. 

It’s normal to feel sad, Mrs Professor tells her, and the word unknots inside Nolikka in a dark, dull blue. Named, she can untie it, coil it around her hands and store it away while she works. 

Nolikka is grateful to Mrs Professor for teaching her about sad, although the meaning of normal still eludes her.

DR. V. AKELL > Your strong association of emotion to color and shape is unusual. Did you have the same association before your accident?
DR. N. TOIN  > No.
DR. V. AKELL > How did you perceive your emotions then?
DR. N. TOIN  > I didn’t experience them.
DR. V. AKELL > Not at all?
DR. N. TOIN  > I have no recollection of analogous feelings.
DR. V. AKELL > How did you feel when your crèche-mates, your siblings, teased you for being different?
DR. N. TOIN  > I endeavored to change my behavior.
DR. V. AKELL > That’s an action, not a feeling.
DR. N. TOIN  > I don’t know of another way to answer your question.

Grey, devouring, black-streaked grey, rolling over her, a suffocating wave that she cannot swim through, a wave that will kill her, will kill her, will –

Nolikka names loneliness, names it and folds it and puts it away.  Names the sickly yellow tint of fear so she can crush it into a ball like discarded flimprint and shove it out of sight, names the dull blue ache of grief.  The small white-hot disc lodged behind her solar plexus, though, that she is careful not to name.

She needs it, its energy, its focus, its strength.  It can fill her, leave no room for the enfeebling, terrifying colors of misery and despair.

The closest she allows herself to come is anger. But anger is dull crimson, and this is not. This is –

She will not say it.  Named, it will lose its power. 

And she will lose herself. 

DR. V. AKELL > Can you name it now?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.  Rage.
DR. V. AKELL > Was that the first time you felt it?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > Do you still experience it, now you have named it?
DR. N. TOIN  > From time to time.
DR. V. AKELL > So identifying the emotions associated with these images is connected to managing them, not eliminating them.
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes. They become less intense.
DR. V. AKELL > Are there other emotions – images – you are reluctant to identify? Different ones?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > Are you afraid of them?
DR. N. TOIN  > No.
DR. V. AKELL > Are you afraid of lessening their intensity?
DR. N. TOIN  > Yes.
DR. V. AKELL > Have you considered that it may be the result of your deliberate strategy to contain painful feelings, this lessening? You spoke of crushing, or folding them away.
DR. N. TOIN  > I don’t understand your question.
DR. V. AKELL > Perhaps if you named these other images, you could nurture them, strengthen them. They might grow in intensity, not shrink.
DR. N. TOIN  > I had not considered that, no.
DR. V. AKELL > Will you take time to consider it? Dr Toin? 
DR. N. TOIN  > I believe our time today is up.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Charlie wasn’t the only one in the class. It’s a thing, cops studying law through night school. The ones who don’t try it, talk about it, and the ones who don’t talk about it at least think about it, think about all those hours spent in courtrooms watching lawyers screw up their perfectly good case and knowing they could do it so much better if they just had the chance.

I’ve taught enough of them to know the type, and besides, I’ve dated a cop or two in my life. Well, or three or four, really.

Look, I have a type, all right? Is that a crime? 


Charlie wasn’t the only cop in my first year Introduction to Trial Practice class, but he was the only one to stick it out.  Sharp enough in class, middling marks on assignments, which was understandable once I knew he had a couple of small kids at home. He was quick enough to tell me about them, too, not so much making excuses as politely letting me know he was off the market, or off the market where I did my window-shopping, at least.

Like I said, I have a type

He got through first term, and it was somewhere in the middle of Criminal Law Theory that I started to notice a few things about Charlie that didn’t fit so well with the law-school-at-night-cop that I had him pegged as. For one thing, he didn’t live on station. I saw him a couple of times after class going into the Interbus hub, and not the system shuttle either, the inter-system exchange. Now, I ask you, what law enforcement official has the disposal income to commute intersystem for a night class – even if most of it is by correspondence?  

I would have assumed he was on the take, but Charlie – he didn’t seem the type. Not that you can tell, always, but his suits had the shiny patches of long wear on the elbows and ass, and when he brought food to class it was sandwiches, not takeaway. So I figured that whoever was the other parent of those kids he carried pictures of on his datapad had money, and plenty of it.

Cia, he said she was. Not my wife or my partner, just her name, but the way he said it – you know how it is with some guys, they fall hard and that’s it, mortal lock, for life. He said her name like it was code for oxygen. Not that he talked about her much, or about anything much. Just kept himself to himself, did the work, came to class, let something slip sometimes in the chit-chat during break.

Kept coming, too, term after term, plodding through the work, Advanced Criminal Practice, Interjurisdictional Procedure, Principles of Evidentiary Admissibility … scraping through, sometimes barely, but by enough for his name to wind up on the list of students who’d accumulated enough points to graduate and maybe get into a real law school somewhere, or at least get something to hang on their wall, a nice holoscroll with their name and the course on it.

Charles Etay, Certificate of Legal Studies, his would say.

We have a proper graduation ceremony for them. It’s just about the only thing about the school that is proper, truth be told. Not that the students aren’t smart, some of them anyway, or the teachers dedicated – for this salary, let me tell you, you’re either dedicated or too crap to get a job elsewhere and we have a mix of the two – but we’re not exactly Pator Tech, or the Republic University.  

We’re affordable, is what we are, when you get right down to it, and we run our classes at hours that let people with jobs get to them.

But we have a proper graduation, so the students who’ve managed to stick it out can show off to their uncles and aunts and the rest of their clan or culturally-appropriate extended family grouping. Even hire a good hall, up on C Deck, with a view over the station undock and the students from first year catering studies circulating with food and drink afterwards.

I was glad for Charlie that he’d gotten through, even if I was a little sad to see him go.  Face like that brightened the scenery in any classroom, after all.  Certainly brightened the scenery in the hall as all the soon-to-be graduates milled around in their ceremonial robes or best clothes or some combination of the two, too nervous to stand still and craning their necks to see where their family and friends were sitting so they’d look in the right direction when the visiting dignitary of the day handed over the scroll.

It always makes me tear up a little, yeah I’m a sentimental old fool, I know, seeing them all together like that, not the best and brightest youth of the Republic but the ones who didn’t quite make the cut or came back here as adults or didn’t get their shit together and get serious about education until after formal schooling was done, but not giving up, no. Studying nights, working days, two jobs some of them, scraping together tuition by skipping meals, all to get here, today, bare-chested Brutor men and fur-trimmed Sebbies, a Vherry girl with a feather headdress and another in a shimmering nano-mesh that had to be the most expensive piece of clothing she owned for all the pattern kept glitching on the shoulders.  

And Charlie, in his well-cut, well-mended Gallente suit.

I always check especially to see where the students are looking out into the audience, because there’s always one or maybe two who aren’t looking, who know there’s no-one there to cheer for them.  I make a special fuss for them myself, all the teachers do, when they cross the floor.

So I was looking to see who had someone to look for, and that’s why I was looking at Charlie when it happened.

At first, I just figured we’d scored a bigger wig than the usual bigwig for the ceremony, when the security guys came in.  They had that look, not casual muscle or rent-a-guards, that serious professional look that goes with a career looking out for someone whose life is worth a lot and whose death would do more than leave a family grieving.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see people turning to look, staring, curious about who exactly this was all for.

But I was looking at Charlie, and he wasn’t even the slightest bit curious. He relaxed, and gave that almost-not-quite-a-smile of his, like it was exactly what he’d been hoping to see.

It still took me a minute to work it out.  I think it was how large the group was that came in next that threw me, too many of them too close in age and too different in heritage to be a family group. No, it was an entourage, and so I was still thinking V.I.P. when I picked out the handful who moved oblivious through the rest of them, knowing that people would get out of the way and move the furniture and damn well cut a door in the wall if it was necessary.

Two Caldari were the ones I marked out first, maybe husband and wife, the man looking a bit vague and distracted, the woman looking around with sharp interest and a grin.  And then a Gallie woman, a little kid on one hip and the other hand steering a determinedly-independent toddler along.  

When she looked our way and smiled with recognition, the coin dropped.  Charlie’s Cia had money, all right, she had the kind of money that makes you need round-the-clock protection by professionals, and why he was working at all in that case, let along working and doing night-school, was beyond me, if he didn’t need the salary and he had a woman who looked like that at home.

She gave him a puzzled look, not angry though, and when he replied with one of those Gallente shrugs she just laughed, and shrugged herself, and kept on steering the toddler – her son, their son – towards the seating.  Charlie watched them as if everything had come right with the world when she entered the room, with his world anyway, and I tell you, if a man like that had ever looked like that at the sight of me crossing a room …

But there you go.

I looked back at Charlie’s woman, partly because I couldn’t look at him looking at her like that much longer without starting to hate her and myself as well, right as she turned to take her seat.

And I saw the glint of jewels and metal on the back of her neck.

Charlie’s Cia was a caspuleer.

The V.I.P. came in around then, in another little bustle of security, noticeably smaller than the one surrounding Charlie’s family, and no fucking wonder is it, given who or what was in that family.  I got busy lining all my students up and making sure they were in the right order so Harbuko Ardreas didn’t get Nia Reyspander’s certificate, and then the first one was off and across the floor and you wouldn’t think it would be possible but I did forget about Charlie and his capsuleer for a while, in all the cheering and whistling and hooting and stamping for each student. One Brutor woman turned and did a few steps of an impromptu war dance on her way back across the stage and got a standing ovation from the whole audience, and then every student had to get a standing ovation, even the tiny old Vherokior man who was so embarrassed by it he fled back to his seat at a sprint.  Even the V.I.P., one of the higher-up academics from a real university, got into the spirit and yelled and clapped like the rest of us as the students, my students at least until the ceremony was over, took their holoscrolls with as much pride as if they were graduate degrees from Pator or Caille.

And why shouldn’t they, after all?  I’d bet a year’s meager salary that there wasn’t a student anywhere in the Cluster who worked harder, all things taken into account, than mine.

When the registrar called out Charles Etay I looked back at his capsuleer, I couldn’t help it.  

She was staring at him crossing the stage like he had suddenly turned bright purple or taken off all his clothes or something, and then as he got about halfway there her face lit up with – I don’t know, exactly. Happiness, yes, but something else.

Comprehension. And, I could have sworn, relief.

And then she was on her feet, before he even had the scroll in his hand, smiling and clapping with tears streaming down her face, and that was the cue for everyone else to be on their feet too, so Charlie got his certificate in the middle of so much hollering and applause I doubt he could even hear what the V.I.P. said to him.  

He took the holoscroll and made his way off the stage, past where I was standing, and by the time he had, his capsuleer had scrambled out of her row and come running down the side of the hall – causing, I have no doubt, a certain amount of professional consternation among the hard-eyed men and women on her security team.  She was still crying and smiling at the same time as she threw herself at him, arms around his neck.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I head her ask. “I would have – ”

Then she pulled back and looked at him, and maybe she heard the words that had come out of her mouth or maybe there was something she saw in his face, because she stopped herself right there.

They looked at each other for a moment, one of those looks when there’s no-one else in the room even if you’re in the middle of a crowd, not that I know from personal experience but I’ve seen it happen, once or twice.

Then she put her arms back around him, and said his name.

Like it was code for oxygen. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


She has no scars.

They could have added them, of course, to this body, but it did not occur to Nolikka to ask, any more than it had occurred to her to ask to have them removed from the other, and so her young clone skin is as smooth and unmarked as her nephew Corin’s had been the first time she had held him, a soft, squirming eighteen-month old armful. 

In a way, it bothers her less than her hair, since cosmetic grafting to ensure her very-recently-commissioned jump-clone would have hair as long as she was used to was something else that had not occurred to her.  The ends tickle the back of her neck and her ears, and even worse, Director Roth has made her aware that the color differs from her own.  After nearly twenty years of wearing her hair the length and style it had been the last time she had been able to see her own reflection in a mirror, Nolikka finds it disconcerting to be unable to imagine what she looks like.  In that regard, at least, the lack of scars is not a problem: she incurred them many years after the accident that destroyed her eyesight and has never known how they altered her appearance.

 But her hair is a purely cosmetic matter.  The patch of numb skin just above her highest capsule connection where the collar’s neural interface burned out the sensory neurons is not even visible, let alone cosmetic: only her own fingers, carefully maneuvering the protective cover into place when she has finished flying, know about this daily reminder of years of random agony, and fear of random agony.  The tightness in the skin of her throat when she turns her head to the left is due to scars she can feel with her fingertips, and so assumes others can see if they look, but it is also a reminder of the constant misery of untended sores, and the pull in the muscles of her forehead every time she frowns one of Gallente boots, and fists.

For what it is worth, Val had said, and I am far less qualified to advise you on this than you are to decide for yourself …

 I don't know that you need any reminders of that time.

Once, Nolikka would have agreed with him, without hesitation.  Once, she would have said that she needed not only no reminders, but to have the memory of those years erased from her memory as cleanly as data was erased in a full reformat.

But that was when she had scars.

Without them, she has found herself more quick to speak, more confident in holding her ground.  She does not feel the memory of the collar lodged above her collarbone, too tight to force words past, at every raised voice, at every thought of No.  Without her scars, she finds herself lost in the thread of a discussion or the intricacies of an equation for hours, unaware of the body that houses her mind until she reaches the end of the line of thought and finds her muscles cramped, her hands shaking with hunger.

This is the self she remembers, from before. This is the self she knew as herself for almost all the years of her life, and part of her welcomes it back, with all its limitations. 

But …


It is not the self that was herself when she first heard a smooth taupe ribbon of a voice attached to the name Captain Night wind through the laboratory.  It is not the self that was herself when that voice offered her a home, a haven, on the Utopian Ideal, nor the self she was when they stood side by side before the steward, hands linked by symbolic red tape, and said the words that made them partners in a new enterprise. Not the Nolikka Toin he eats lunch with daily, nor Nolikka Toin he sends carefully-considered traditional flower arrangements to.  

Not the Nolikka Toin she was when her impulsive, intrusive question received not rebuff, but the quiet answer Val.

This is the self she knows best; but that is the Nolikka Toin he knows, the Nolikka Toin who is a colleague, a friend, a partner.

Just how important that has become to her is only now fully apparent, in the sharp grief she feels at contemplating losing it.  She has felt loss before, of course, many colors of it: the sickly iridescent green of betrayal, the dull blue ache of bereavement.  This loss, though, she can already tell, this keen grey pang, will sink into her like the blade of a knife.

Today, Nolikka Toin has no scars. 

But one way or another, that is a temporary condition.

Monday, July 16, 2012


((co-written with Silver Night))

She is
                                                                     free                                                             She
                             is in the stars                                     free
                                                          tasting comets
building worlds                       She is
                                                                             is not
          swooping through the rings of a planet and smelling the tart yellow lelen notes of the ice tumbling past her
                                      falling through the heart of a blue star
is there 

is here


diving to the threshold of infinity

is                 is not                   

                   fraying away into the equations she dives through, shedding skins and scales and feathers
                             honed down by the friction, by the fractions, a narrow knife that used to have a name, effortlessly slicing through impossibility and putting it together again in new and beautiful patterns that she can see, she can see them all, she can see everything

Flares coruscating off the surface of stars and moons and planets and interstellar dust, the orange of orbits and the tangy apple taste of gravitational flux and –


A pale, iridescent smell, sharp, out of place. It belongs with … with …

The pieces of herself that knows what it belongs with have flown away into the looping numbers and symbols that dance and spin and beckon her back to them. For a  moment     

                                                                   An hour
                             A year        

                                                She is distracted by them and follows, turns, loops through and around them and sets them to new shapes, more beautiful than before, more beautiful than she has ever seen, until that shimmering scent catches at her again and she reaches out to drag the memory free, cold crunching beneath her feet and kresh and a high blue note in the air that goes with the tiny points of chill settling on her face.

It’s snow, that smell. He tells her so, his arm steady beneath her hand as the delightfully treacherous footing threatens her balance. His voice weaves through the strangeness around her, warm familiar deep taupe, telling her what he can see, telling her what she can see.

It should not be here, that kresh. She had forgotten it along with everything else.

She did not put it here.

The mystery is even more fascinating than the dance of the numbers and she turns and dives after that thin thread of molecular patterns, weaving down through a tumbling wave of blue and green navigational points, until she reaches –

Kresh, and ship-scrubbed air, and shapes that might be a desk, chairs. And wrapping around it, a warm brown ribbon backed with gold, a voice, a voice she knows

She reaches out and clutches at a passing opalescent trail that remembers voices, clumsy communication through sound, hears -

Yes, she would tell him, but there’s no words inside her, nothing but the numbers, and so she spills them all around her positive integers.

“ Do you know where you are?”

It is boring, that is where she is, this tiny space redolent of a place she knows she ought to remember, when right outside there are stars waiting for her to unpack the secrets at their heart.

He can come. Of course he can come. Anything is possible, here. She can show him, can show him all of it.  If he will only come with her …

No. He will not leave this room, the walls buttressed against the glorious tumult outside.  He is talking to her, slow and clumsy as he shapes equations, formula.  She recognises the interaction of neurons, of groups of neurons. Then more, fluid dynamics, electrical interactions, the mathematics of biology. A body, is what he is showing her, she remembers the concept, a cage for consciousness, limiting thought to the sluggish connections between neurons.  

Now something else.  Electrons neutrons resonance … yes, she knows those equations, has seen them spilling through her fingers every day in the lab.

Not like this, though. She would never pass this beyond concept, a shield running high and hot and burning out every piece of its hardware.

Words. More words. It is important to him, that she can grasp, these two pictures, the body, the shield burning itself and the ship it protects to ashes.

She tries to understand, picks up the looping equations from his mind and mimics them.  A heartbeat. The transfer of oxygen to the bloodstream. Weight. Height.  She pulls threads she had lost from the storm outside the walls to make sense of it. 


He wants more from her. Wants … she has not answered his question. He wants …

She reaches for more traces of herself.

And comes up empty handed.

Tries again, mining the endless streams of data that pour unceasingly from the infinite horizon for something that fits into the gaps, anything that fills the gaps.

For the first time she can remember – and now she realises how little she can remember – she is afraid.

There.  She recognises what he is showing her, almost, like a familiar melody in a different key. The hand that rests on his arm is her hand and knowing that she can identify another trailing strand in the whirling kaleidoscope around them, the amber richness of expensive fabric beneath her fingers, the warm solidity of the arm beneath … She knits the memory in to herself, finds another, adds that …  a voice she recognises as her own, heard through other ears, the orange tang of ozone from a shield simulator …  

 Thread after thread spin into her hands, called home from the brilliant turmoil around them, fitting together, making a seamless whole, fingers hand wrist arm … a body built of memory but for the first time she can feel the faint tingle of information coming from the pod-interface as it monitors her flesh and bone self inert in its bath of goo.         

A hand extended toward her, as illusory as her own. “Nolikka?”

She takes it, or imagines she does – but it is as warm and solid as if it were real, and it incontrovertibly belongs to the man who has come here to find her when she could no longer find herself. “Val.”

There is so much relief in the interface between them she can’t tell how much is hers and how much his. She holds onto his hand tightly. There are words, his, hers, about what happened, and she tries to concentrate on them, because wordsare how the woman she is trying to remember how to be communicates, but they are less important than the strength of the hand holding hers, the warmth of the concern still echoing around them.

Words. She shapes them, forces meaning into their confinement, boxes and borders to keep her here in this imaginary form. “Thank you for - 

Thank you for 
me                 saving
thank you for
no-one else ever
looking for
thank you
“- for finding me.” Perhaps he understands: there is a strange doubleness to her senses in places, shapes and colours that are new and unexpected, that do not come from her own perception, but – 

“I can see you," she blurts suddenly, magenta astonishment. “Not how I see, but - Is this what you look like? In the world?” 


    a million   


numbers perfect numbers




Nolikka puts her free hand on the door control, and Silver covers it with his. 

The door opens.

“Now?” she asks.


Hand in hand, they step together over the threshold to the world.