The first time I
helped my father reprogram someone, I was twelve. It was one of Anatol Jidanu’s button men. Jidanu was one of the bosses of the Daissa;
he mostly ran drugs from here to there, but he had a pack of extortionists and kneebreakers as well. He liked my father, and brought us a
good deal of business.
This guy was
upgrading his hands. You’re not going to get an arm with a lockpick
built in at Daissa Main Hospital, but father could
add whatever they wanted. In this case, extra strength for climbing, pressurized
tubes for shooting poisoned darts out of his forearm, a strong focused magnetic
pulse that would take out most electronic locks, a different pulse for magnetic
locks, and some added dexterity and steadiness through the fingers for the
old-style tumbler locks, which were more prevalent in the poorer areas.
programmed his implant to connect the new additions to the prosthesis, we had
him visualize the icons he wanted to use for the first two repeatedly, until
the connection between those images and the pulses in his fingertips had begun
to sink into his neurons. This was the part where we excelled. No cheap
programs that would fizzle out while he was midway up a building, no imprecise
icons that would cause his fingers to misfire or his muscles to seize up. He
repeatedly demagnetized the practice lock we kept in the office until father
“You’ll find your
hands quite stable should you need to actually pick a lock,” father told him.
The man flexed his
new fingers. “You never know. Thanks, Dr. Banerjee.
This’ll come in handy.”
Jidanu was pleased and
feeling generous. He had made enough from an experimental drug for the
sufferers on Riseda Segunda
to reward father handsomely. Father invested in some heirloom tomatoes for his
garden, a treasure of old-Earth fruits and vegetables. These tomatoes were
purple and bulbous, and we ate them sliced in thick steaks topped with basil
Not all jobs were
big, or for important clients. By the time I was fifteen, my father let me
handle the smaller ones on my own: a street magician who taught me how to flip
a coin across my knuckles while I rewrote her bioware
to accommodate double and triple jointedness, a
dancer who wanted his tattoos to writhe along with his body, an artist who had
lost movement in her hands to a disease that deformed the bones and wanted
replacements with more than the legal ten percent deviance from base human
shape. Even when the jobs weren’t complicated, I took pride in my work, in the
clean elegance of my code.
Father was proud of
me. He taught me all I needed to know to work with him as a partner. It was
just the two of us; my mother died before I learned how to walk.
I had everything I
wanted in the Daissa of Harirra,
and I never planned to leave.
In the movies, being
kidnapped by space pirates is a lot more interesting. So far space is dead
Today is not the day
I solve the puzzle.
I toss the archaic
interface screen—gently; I don’t actually want to break it—and stretch.
Vertebrae pop along my neck.
“No luck, Priya?”
The computer’s voice
is annoyingly chirpy. Whoever programmed it must not have considered the
possibility of being stuck in a ship with only that perky voice for company.
“None.” I tap the interface
and my notes upload.
“Maybe next time,”
the computer says, voice loaded with programmed sympathy. As if it didn’t have
The puzzle would be a
lot easier to solve if I could use my implant. It’s not unlike the code I used
on Hirarra to alter bioware;
it’s just much clumsier to use the screen instead of native visualized icons.
My throat closes at
the thought of home and I swallow the loss. Hirarra
is only memories for me: sun-warmed stone beneath my bare feet, the taste of
heirloom blackberries, and my father’s face. Not as he was when I left, vague
eyes creased with pain and misremembered words, but as he was when he taught me
his craft; exacting, with sure, steady hands, eyes creased by his smile.
Memories they will
remain. Even if I were to turn the Orchid
around right now, decades would pass before I reached Hirarra
again. By the time we reach Riseda, my father will be
I’ll never know if
the Doc managed to cure him. I tell myself she will, when grief threatens to
overwhelm me. As long as we are in space, traveling, he isn’t dead yet, and he
might become himself again. When we reach Riseda, I’ll
know that it’s real and he is gone. But in truth I started grieving him years
I reach for the
interface. If nothing else, the puzzle distracts me from dwelling in memory. I’m
becoming adept at the interface—I’ve had to be, since they put the dampner on my implant. Afraid I’ll call for the Blues, I
guess, as if I hadn’t been dodging the cops since I was a kid.
“Priya?” I jump. The chirpy
voice sounds almost apologetic. “I need your help.”
“Me? What can I do?”
“There’s another ship
“So? Can’t we avoid
it?” I’m not afraid of sounding stupid. I’ve never been off Hirarra.
If the computer needed to know how to program prosthetics or implants, I could
provide expert advice, but the etiquette of rendezvous between smuggling ships
is beyond me.
“It’s a cruiser-class
Allied Systems ship.”
“You have to tell me
what that means.” The Allied Systems has a presence on Hirarra,
but my father and I lived in the Daissa, the slum; in
luxury that would have surprised the people from the richer districts when I
was younger, and in an overcrowded tenement after my father’s mind began to go.
I’d never been within spitting distance of the Blues, the peacekeeping arm of
the Allied Systems. I’d had enough on my mind keeping away from Hirarra’s local cops. For a moment I feel absurdly guilty,
as if my earlier thought had summoned them.
“This route was
supposed to cross between patrols in this area. We have to talk to them, which
means you have to talk them. Can you
do it?” It hesitates. “Will you do it? I am aware that you are not on this ship
of your own will.”
The crew could have
killed me; they only abducted me instead. “I’ll do it.”
computer sounds relieved. “They will be able to scan our manifest—most of the
cargo is legal.”
My mouth is dry and
my heart rate unpleasantly elevated. I wish they’d left me access to my wellcheck. A dose of serotonin would settle the unpleasant
spike of adrenalin speeding my pulse. “Can you take the dampner
off my implant? This would be a lot easier if I could regulate my physical
“You don’t have an implant.”
My hand rises to the
scar that’s been at my temple since I was a toddler, where a series of chips of
increasing complexity allowed me access to the datastream,
and later, helped me program prostheses and rewrite bioware,
like my father. The slightly-raised scar feels no different, but that means
little. I’ve used dermal accelerator myself countless times.
What I mean is I don’t want it to be true. After months of lobbying father for
an upgrade like his, I’d gotten one even better. My specifications were
precise, and I’d fired the first contractor who’d thought I was installing more
processing cycles than a teenage girl needed. The second one, more aware of who
father was, had installed what I wanted without argument. It was what I needed
to help father write programs and go into the business myself. For all of that
to be gone—if it’s true, I’ve lost a part of myself, and the most significant
gift my father made me.
“I have scanned your
body,” the computer says. “There are no subcutaneous devices anywhere on your
My eyes burn and the
galley swims, but there’s no time for that with the patrol coming closer. I
blink until my vision clears. “Tell me what I need to do.”
“Come to the bridge.
I’ll show you.”
The bridge is
intimidating to someone who’s never been off world before. I remind myself that
it’s just technology—only scary because I’m unfamiliar with what it does.
“Sit here,” the
computer says, and I slide into what I suspect is the captain’s chair. I resist
the urge to look behind me, as if Captain Pham is going to jump out of the
hibernation chamber and berate me for stealing her seat.
“I don’t know what to
do without...” My throat tightens at the thought of my lost implant, and I
A screen glides out
of a recess in the chair’s arm. I wouldn’t have known how to use it before I
left Hirarra, before the old style interface and the
puzzle. A row of icons appears onscreen, so much slower and clumsier than an
implant. Better than nothing, though.
“The flower should
pull up the manifest,” the computer says, so I touch the orchid blossom. A list
of the crew appears, along with the cargo. They are carrying boxes of seeds (my
throat tightens again when I see some varietals familiar from my father’s
garden,) a passenger, and the narcotic that I saw them loading when I stumbled
across the Orchid’s crew in the Daissa. The passenger Sarai Breit is interesting because I didn’t know another person
was hibernating besides the crew, but more interesting is that the Stemprasin is listed.
smuggling the drugs.” It sounds stupid said aloud.
“These cases of Stempresin were acquired legally and for medicinal purposes
on Riseda,” the computer says. I nod absently. Yes. The plague.
“But if the drugs are
legal, why didn’t the captain just let me go? There was no reason to keep me.” To take my implant.
“I don’t know,” the
computer says. “But the AS patrol ship will pass within hailing distance in
seventeen minutes, so we need to add you to the crew on the manifest.”
I turn to the screen
on the arm of the chair. Such a clumsy way to interface with
the ship. I add myself to the crew, picked up at Hirarra
as a temporary employee, contracted only to Riseda. I
figure that will explain the large gaps in my knowledge of where they’re going
next and where they’ve been. I go ahead and cover my tracks, tagging my data
with the appropriate timestamps and hyperlinks, as if it were a legitimate
entry. I’ve done this sort of thing to make prostheses and body mods scan legal. It’s unlikely that the patrol will be
suspicious enough to check, but it never hurts to be thorough.
“Done,” I mutter. The
process of falsifying the records has calmed my heart rate, but it speeds again
when the computer pings with the patrol’s message.
“Put it through,” I
say and sit straight, trying not to look too cowed. Then I decide that a street
rat from the Daissa can look intimidated and out of
her depth, and that’s what I am, though my hair has grown out of its slum crop
since I’ve been aboard the ship. They might be space cops, but they’re still
cops, and cops can tell.
They flicker into
existence on the viewscreen: two women and a man. “What
are you doing in this sector?” asks the older woman.
to Riseda Segunda,” I say.
she replies. “I need to see your manifest.” I tap the screen on the chair’s
arm, and send it to her. Her eyes drift slightly to the right and focus on the
information only she can see as she scans the manifest. She nods, satisfied,
then her gaze returns to me. “And you are...?”
Banerjee of Hirarra.” I remember too late
that spacers id themselves by their ships, not their
planet of origin. “I mean, of the Orchid.”
The man behind her smiles faintly, but it doesn’t matter. It fits with the
information they’re seeing.
“I’m going to scan
your ship,” the woman says. If I deny her, they have a pretext to board to
search more thoroughly.
“That’ll be fine,” I
Her eyes change focus
again as she activates their scanners, and I sit and wait, wishing I could use
my wellcheck to keep myself from sweating. Ship to
ship scanners are not supposed to sweep people—invasion of privacy—but how
would I know if they did?
“All right,” she
says, after an interminable thirty seconds. “You’re free to go. I’ve logged a
note in your captain’s files. You’ll need to send an unmanned shuttle down to Riseda—the planet’s under quarantine.”
I don’t have to feign
uneasiness. “I’ll mention it to the captain.”
Only after the Allied
System patrol signs off do I allow myself a shaky sigh and wipe beads of sweat
from my forehead. But I have questions and no answers. If the narcotics are
legal, why did they take me? And if the drugs aren’t what they’re smuggling,
then what is?
I don’t know how my
father met the Doc.
It was a natural
enough connection, through their not-entirely-separate careers. He was the best
wetware programmer in the Daissa, and she was the
best of the underground medicos. People who needed to get fixed up without
questions asked or needed something added on or taken away that wasn’t entirely
legal went to her, if they had the money. If they didn’t, there were scores of
other doctors, of varying expense and repute that could more or less patch them
up. The big bosses all went to the Doc. (I’m sure she had another name at one
point, but I never knew what it was. Nobody ever called her by anything but her
title in my presence.)
The Doc and my father
worked together several times, and he held her in the greatest respect. When I
was older, I occasionally wondered if they were lovers, but if so, they were
very discreet. She came to dinner at our house every month or so, and my father
had our cook prepare fruits and vegetables from our garden as the centerpiece of
the meal, spiced with cardamom or thyme or saffron, accented with proteins
synthesized to his specifications. The Doc had a refined palate; she had father
send her the menu ahead of time so she could bring a wine to match each course.
They did not speak of work on these occasions, but of current events, and of
family. Father never failed to ask after her son.
It was from these
meals that I knew anything of Riseda at all. Her son
communicated with her via ansible. They had gone
their separate ways from nu-Gaia when he was eighteen, but because of the
travel times to Hirarra and Riseda
they were nearly the same subjective age. He had lost half his vision when the Risedan plague attacked the neural interface between his
brain and his implant, and at that he was one of the lucky ones. The plague
scared me like nothing else; in a society where practically everyone has
augments of one kind or another, to be unable to use them was to lose the use
of limbs, or in the case of those with extensive illegal mods,
to be trapped in a body that refused to obey, like a brain in a jar in an old twodee movie. No one knew the origin of the plague, or at
first even the method of transmission. At first no one would help the Risedans; everyone was too afraid.
My father in turn would
speak of his sister, or allow me to tell the Doc of the progress of my studies,
though not of the work he and I did together in his office. When I was older, I
was given charge of the final course, and they both praised me when I paired
soft salty cheese with the figs from our garden, or wrapped cinnamon-imbued
pastry around pears sliced thin and sautéed in butter.
When father began to
forget words, it was to the Doc I went for help.
I no longer find the
computer’s voice annoying. After all these months, I’ve grown to like the sound
of her voice, even think of her as an ally of sorts. It’s not true, and it’s
certainly not rational, but it makes me happy to hear her. So when she asks me
for help, I’m glad to be her hands.
“One of the coldsleep units is reporting a problem, but none of my
diagnostic scans has turned up anything. I’d like you to take a look.”
“Of course.” I grab the interface
screen and jog to the hibernation chamber. The thought of the units
malfunctioning sends ice down my spine. There are only a few months left until
I go back into that dreamless sleep. I am not looking forward to it.
It’s easy to tell
which of the units is having the problem; the one with the blinking orange
indicator, when the others are a calm unwavering green. I check to see who it
is: Captain Pham. So no pressure, then.
“What am I looking
The computer runs me
through basic diagnostics, and I conduct a visual check, and then one by feel,
running my hands over all of the seals, making sure nothing is loose. We can’t
find anything, but the indicator blinks orange, as though telling me to hurry
“All right, I can’t
find anything wrong with the unit. Can you scan the captain herself?”
“I’ll display the
results on your screen.”
Images and lines of
code scroll across my screen. Nostalgia and loss knot my stomach; this is biocode, as familiar as the smell of lemon blossoms in my
father’s office. There’s the problem: Somehow the nutrient drip sustaining
Captain Pham has stopped regulating intake. She’s either not getting enough or
getting more than her body can process. I explain this to the computer, then add, “We’ll have to wake her. I can’t fix this from out
here, and if diagnostics didn’t pick up the problem, I’m not sure even you can
“Very well. Initiating
The blinking orange
light cycles to flashing red, then steady yellow, then green. The seal of the
hibernation chamber hisses as it breaks and the lid slides to one side. Captain
Pham is unmoving for a long minute or two, then she
sucks in breath and her eyes open.
Immediately her brow
furrows, and she lists to the side and vomits bile. I sympathize; I felt like
shit when I first woke up, and I hadn’t had a faulty regulator. By the time she’s
done, I’ve retrieved a glass of water and some towels from the galley and can
silently offer them to her. She cleans herself up as the computer chirpily
welcomes her back to the land of the conscious.
“Why am I awake?” Her
voice is rough from disuse. “It isn’t my rotation.” Her eyes narrow
suspiciously at me.
“There was a problem
with your nutrient regulator.” I show her the code on the interface. She frowns
at the screen, pushing lank black hair out of her face.
Her skin goes ashen
as she realizes what could have happened. “Why didn’t diagnostics pick this up?”
I shrug, and she
frowns at me. I realize that of course the computer is sending her the
information directly via her implant. I set the interface down gently.
Captain Pham frowns
again and looks at me more sharply. “We were stopped by a patrol?” I start to
tell her about it, but she holds up a hand as the computer gets her the
information much more concisely than I ever could. She nods, and the next time
she looks at me, her gaze is softer, almost approving. “That was good work you
did with the manifest. We’ll see what we can do about this hibernation unit.”
“About the manifest—”
I hesitate until she nods impatiently for me to continue. “I couldn’t help
noticing that the Stempresin I saw you loading is on
the manifest.” Her eyes have gone hard again, and her jaw tightens. “If I didn’t
witness a crime, why didn’t you let me go?”
She’s the first to
At first, it only
took my father longer to find words, but before long, code began to desert him
too. His elegant hacks of Daissa prosthetics began to
be riddled with holes. Nothing that I couldn’t fix, but it
worried us both.
One morning over tea
and thin bread scraped with strawberry preserves, he called me by my mother’s
name. The sugary jam went sour in my gut. A tiny line formed between his thick
black eyebrows. A moment later, he was talking of the project he was working on
as if nothing had happened.
When he went to his
office to work, I pinged the Doc. A quick message,
asking to meet (I didn’t want to commit my father’s problem to the net) to
which she responded almost immediately. She was coming to dinner at our house
the next day; she knew it was something important if it couldn’t wait until
then. Or maybe she too had noticed the missing words, the shaky code, and had
been waiting for one of us to bring it up.
She met me at a plaza
several blocks from our house. In the middle of the square there was a fountain
that worked intermittently, and when the weather was fine, people gathered
around it to sell each other things, or pass messages or play games together,
or only to drink in the sunshine. Rain was threatening and had been all
morning, so there were fewer people about, but the really dedicated drunks and
gazers were still there.
“So,” the Doc said,
sitting beside me on the rim of the fountain, “What is it, Priya?”
father,” I said, and then stopped, not sure how to begin. She waited, turning a
thick gold ring around the smallest finger on her right hand. “I don’t know if
you noticed. He’s been forgetting words. Not just words. Biocode
is his second language but he’s been forgetting that too.”
“I’ll observe him
tomorrow. If I think he needs it, we’ll schedule an exam.”
I should have felt
relief at telling someone, but instead I felt only dread. The feeling dogged me
through dinner. At the end of the meal, the Doc stood abruptly, wineglass
clutched in her hand. “Rakesh, I’d like to ask you
“Of course.” My father leaned
back in his chair and waited courteously. “If it’s within my power, you know I’ll
She smiled sadly. “I’d
like to give you a physical exam and run a series of tests.”
I expected anger or
denial, but my father’s gaze slid toward me, and he acquiesced.
The news, when the
Doc brought it to us, was not good. My father was in the early stages of a neurocognitive disorder unlike anything she’d seen. Had it
been any of the normal permutations, it would have been easy to correct, but as
it was, she was unable to help.
“The effect is
similar to abnormal protein folds, but my attempt to use a phage on the misfolds was unsuccessful, and my scan of the foreign
bodies indicates that they are nonorganic. My conclusion is that this state is
said slowly. “Someone did this to me? How?”
“And why?” My father
and the Doc exchanged glances and I flushed. He did illegal things for
criminals, and those criminals had enemies. He was not what most would think of
as a good man. But I didn’t love him any less. “What can we do?”
“I’ll continue to explore
options,” the Doc said.
But whoever had done
this to my father was very good. She didn’t find alternatives, and he continued
to slip away piece by piece. I took over working for him for a while, but soon
his condition was obvious, and while many people didn’t mind dealing with me,
people like Anatol Jidanu
wanted Dr. Banerjee.
I sold the house,
bitterly regretting the loss of father’s garden, and we moved to an apartment
in the Daissa. I got enough work to support us, but
most of it was low return: adding a tail to a dancer, hiding subcutaneous
weapons along a kneebreaker’s arms. The Doc came to
our apartment often, checking on father, but there was nothing she could do. He
was going, neuron by neuron.
“I’m so sorry, Rakesh.” I was bringing a tea tray up from our galley
kitchen. She was sitting next to him, his hand loosely clasped inside both of
hers. “We’ll never be finished now. I wish I knew what you wanted me to do...”
he said, low but clearly, and I swallowed past the lump in my throat and
coughed so that she would know I was there.
The hibernation pod
is beyond our capability to repair, which causes Captain Pham no end of
frustration. I know she’d like to send me back to sleep, but there’s no way I’m
getting in the damaged unit until it’s seen by a specialist. Not willingly
We never become
close. I still don’t know why they kidnapped me. I keep asking her, but she
usually just grunts. She keeps me at arms’ length either because she doesn’t like
complicating a simple job with getting to know the victim, or maybe just
because she’s tired of my questions. I ask the computer too, but she doesn’t
know, or she’s been programmed not to tell me.
When we’re within
weeks of Riseda, the captain tells me we’re waking up
the rest of the crew.
“And the passenger,”
I say. The captain looks at me and cracks her knuckles. “Sarai
Breit. I saw it on the manifest when the patrol
Captain Pham mutters
under her breath in a language I don’t know. “All right.
Come with me to the hibernation chamber.”
I don’t know why she
wants me there, but I go with her. We stop in the galley to gather nutrient
drinks, prepared to Captain Pham’s specifications. She initializes the units
one at a time, and they cycle through red and orange and finally green. The
seals pop and the lids hiss open. The three crew members I only met briefly at
the beginning of the trip sit up, complaining and reaching for their drinks
with the confidence of those habituated to coldsleep.
The thought makes me shudder.
The final pod slides
open, and a woman sits up, coughing and shivering. The captain passes her a
steaming cup, and she cradles it in shaking hands and sips it as though it were
a fine Halvenar red from her cellar. I can only stare
at Sarai Breit—the Doc.
Pieces click into
place. It’s not a coincidence she’s here, and no accident that brought me
aboard the Orchid. I have the corners
of the puzzle, but the middle is still a blank. Why? Then I realize this means
that my father died alone, without anyone, never cured. I hadn’t been aware how
much the thought of her caring for him—maybe unraveling the degenerative
progress of his dementia—had comforted me.
My knuckles pop. My
hand is gripping the beveled edge of the doorframe as though I could crush it.
I make a sound—of rage, of grief, even I don’t know. The Doc looks up.
She’s still trembling
with hibernation aftereffects, but her gaze snaps to the captain. “Why is she
awake?” she croaks.
“I think you need to
tell me what’s going on.” To my surprise my voice is steady, and as cold as
starlight in the void.
She sets her cup
down. “I suppose I must.”
The last day I saw my
father, we ate blackberries in the courtyard of our apartment building. They
weren’t heirloom, not like his, but the best synth I’d
been able to afford. He smiled at me as I got ready to go. The vagueness of his
smile pierced me. I imagined black haze closing in the bright details of his
The Doc asked me to
meet. Her ping hadn’t gone into any detail, but she said she had a promising
lead on a phage. I was ready to try anything. The other palliatives we’d tried
had done nothing, or so little as to be unnoticeable.
I met her at the
fountain in the Plaza Sirocco. It wasn’t working today, but the square was just
After we exchanged
pleasantries, she explained what she needed. The problem, she said, was the
phage she wanted to try was only available at the Daissa
“You want me to steal
drugs from the hospital?” I was a programmer, not a thief. “We should hire
someone who has a shot at it.”
“Until we know who
did this, I don’t want to trust anyone. Not the lowliest pickpocket. And you
won’t be stealing. This is not a job for a, um, a thief.” She bit her lip, then
shook her head and went on. “I have a friend who works at the Main who’s
willing to help. This will be easy, Priya.”
She outlined a plan:
I would pose as a courier to the office where her friend worked, the friend
would hand over a package containing the phage, and I would take it home by a
route she’d mapped out for me. She sent the map into me and my implant pulled
it up, the route obligingly outlined in a nice calm green. “That’ll get you
around the security routes, and I’ll give you a courier’s pin, so no Blues
ought to question you.”
I thought, but I nodded anyway. I could go right away; she couldn’t do it
herself, because too many people knew her at the Daissa
Main, knew she was usually on the wrong side of the law. But me—I was unknown.
She had the messenger uniform and pin, and I changed into them, eager to get
this over with.
It worked exactly as
she had said it would. I followed the map in my head, ducking through corridors
as though I belonged there. The technician that handed me the packet didn’t
even blink. It was just a normal day’s business. I continued following the
green line, through hallways and down staircases, through the door that should
have led to the outside.
I stumbled and drew
up short. Instead of sunshine on my face, I was in a small white room with four
women looking at me with varying expressions of surprise and hostility. I had
interrupted them unloading boxes from a dolly. The
boxes were clearly marked STEMPRASIN—a class C narcotic only scheduled for
strictly supervised medical use.
The shortest woman
stepped forward as the door snicked shut behind me. I
whirled, reaching for a doorknob that wasn’t there. The woman jabbed a button
with her thumb, and the earth shifted beneath my feet. Earthquake! I thought, but then my stomach dropped and my inner ear
sorted out what was happening. We were rising.
The short woman
sneered. “Welcome aboard, street rat.”
“Your father and I
were working together.” The Doc taps the rim of her teacup, watching the steam
swirl up over the table. The crew has given us privacy in the galley, while
they make whatever adjustments they need to on the bridge. “As you are aware, I
have family on Riseda. Your father was so talented. Gifted. He has—had—the ability to help those suffering
people, and when I asked, he agreed to help. So we collaborated.” She stops to
pull in a shuddering breath, her eyes glistening. I am too angry for tears yet.
I rest my own hands on the table next to my teacup to keep them from balling
“We were close. But Jidanu found out what we were doing.”
over me. “The Jidanu clan sells Stemprasin.”
“Yes. Had we
succeeded in helping the Risedans, an enormous source
of Jidanu’s profit would have dried up.”
“So they destroyed my
Her eyes close. “And his ability to help my son and grandson.”
Pain scalds my hand
and I hear the ring of tin on the galley floor before I realize I’ve knocked my
cup over. “So you left him to die alone. Fine. Why
take me with you?”
“You’re the only one
who can finish what we started. I have his notes, I have the program, but I don’t
have the skill to understand it. To complete it. Only
you do that.”
“I could have done
that on Hirarra. You didn’t have to take me.” Now my
voice catches. Did he die thinking I’d abandoned him?
“I did. I’m not the
only one who knows how much you helped him, that you were his successor. They
were getting close to me. How long do you think it would have been before you
began to forget what you knew?” Her eyes follow me, dark with guilt or pain.
“You could have
“I could have. Maybe
I should have. But we were short on time. I knew you’d never leave him.”
I wouldn’t have. I
understand why, now, but I don’t forgive. It was not her choice to make. “Tell
me, why take my implant?”
“I’ve removed mine as
well. Only non-enhanced humans are safe from the Risedan
plague. We’ll use interfaces once we get there. You have learned how, yes?”
I shake my head in
agreement. The puzzle, so similar to biocode.
There was never any point in solving it, and maybe no solution. The point was
to familiarize me with an interface that the plague couldn’t touch. She has
been nothing but thorough.
“We’ll be there soon,”
she says. “Will you look at his notes?”
I understand then
that I do have another choice. I could refuse to help her, so that all of this
would be for nothing. It’s so petty a revenge that I only consider it for the
time it takes to think of it. The people dying on Riseda
are doing so in an awful mirror of my father: his mind fled him, but his body
remained a relentlessly healthy shell. These people are trapped fully aware in
bodies that are slowly losing all function. If there’s a chance I can prevent
such horror then of course I must try.
“Yes,” I tell her, “I
Reading his notes, I
can almost hear my father’s voice in my ear, making suggestions. He is...he was not a doctor, and his solution is
not a doctor’s solution, but a biocoder’s. It’s a
workaround rather than a cure, and it will probably have to be adapted once I
get on the ground and see the precise dimensions of the problem—and it may have
to be tailored to each individual. None of that matters.
I see a way to build
a bridge around the misfolds that deformed his brain.
He saw a path to connect augments to neurons that had stopped communicating; I
see a way I could have helped him when all the Doc’s phages could not. If only
it were not too late. A stupid what-if paradox I can’t help: If he had not
suffered from dementia, would he have seen that his research contained a clue
to help with his dementia?
The Doc listens to my
suppositions and her hands tremble. Her lips thin until they are chalk-pale
from her pressing them together, and I understand: they did not come close to
her, back on Hirarra. They got her. What my father
suffered, she is suffering.
“It doesn’t matter,”
she says when she sees realization in my eyes. “I brought you here for my son,
for his children.”
My father’s face in
my memory, smiling as he taught me to code. I could let her
suffer as he did. I could let her die alone. Instead, I pick up the interface
and prepare to do for her what I could not for him.
“Lie down,” I tell
her, tapping the icon that summons up the interface’s clumsy version of biocode. “I’m going to fix it.”