I awoke early and lay in bed, watching the aquamarine glow of the sunrise play across the ceiling. I rested my hands on my sternum and listened to the music of my breath, feeling whole.
Outside the broad windows a wash of snow paraded down, sparkling in wind-swept whorls as it swooped between the buildings and gathered on the naked branches of the strange, stacked trees. The city had been turned white. Far below, Pegasi juveniles romped in the boulevards and threw snowballs at one another and at their parents' staff. I leaned my forehead against the cold glass and sipped my tea.
"Sir, your breakfast."
The golden robots served me poached eggs and ham, spiced grass and a cup of tart juice. I ate slowly, my mind a million miles off. As I swallowed the last of the meat I took a moment to consider the pig it had come from -- imagining its dwarfed ancestor nosing through the garbage of a Paleolithic settlement, having no way to imagine the consequences of the relationship it was entering into or where the love of the planet's greatest predator would take it.
To the ham I said, "You've come a long way, baby."
The golden robots marched me to our car, which I had determined was indeed the same car every day by scratching my initials into the back of one of the head-rests: S.O.S. As we took off I reached behind my head and felt the edges of the letters for reassurance. The world beyond the windows was lost behind a blizzard, streaking snow whispering against the glass.
Dozens of sets of eyes panned to follow me as I made my way through the transparent tubing down the aisle of the courtroom. I came into the defense's Solar tank and Greskin looked up from his coffee. I squeezed his shoulder warmly and took my seat beside him. "Full house today, cha," he commented, nodding up at the galleries.
Near the lip of the highest gallery an oxygen-nitrogen tent had been erected. Golden robots worked inside it, unfolding chairs and arranging a tea service on a low table. They consulted with plastic-coated Rouleighs on the outside of the tank, their eyes flashing with the reflections of data from the little round lenses they wore clipped on the bridge of the nose. With a minimum of pomp a woman with rich brown skin dressed in a simple blue wrap emerged from the gallery's network of tubing and straightened up to her full height inside the tent. The golden robots showed her to her seat and steeped her tea. A clot of ministers and executives emerged into the tent next, and arrayed themselves around her.
"Mother of love -- it's the Queen of Space herself!" I whispered. In neglecting to specify the party I was speaking to the language management system defaulted to public, and my words were whispered over the speakers to everyone. The Queen turned around and looked down at me serenely. I swallowed. And then, feeling awkward, I waved.
She waved back.
And then Utopia appeared at the Queen's side dressed in a matching blue gown, her red hair drawn into a neat bun, her pearl skin even paler in contrast to her cousin by merit. She caught my eye briefly and gave a faint nod, and I smiled back.
The Master Barristers entered from opposite wings and nodded ceremoniously to one another as they folded themselves onto their stools, staff scuttling at their feet as they moved between the masters and their aides to ferry the latest news and smells. Yock F. Planner sat rigidly in the prosecution's tank, his hands folded on the table before him. The human executive called Fortune stood tirelessly at his shoulder, her expression blank.
The members of the jury shuffled into place and the judges appeared over their wide podium. A golden robot smoked for order, and I gulped. The peace of the ritualistic morning dissolved and left me scared in its wake. A spot in the middle of my back I could not reach felt cold and ticklish.
The Master Judge of Pegasi Secundae held up three long hands and turned to the jury. The tendrils of varicoloured gas that the distinguished alien vented were translated so: "Forejurist: in truth and unpressured, has the jury's verdict coalesced?"
A rotund human being with pink skin that glistened under the lights stood up. "Yes, your honors."
She produced a palm-sized round dataplate and passed it to a golden robot, which then crossed the well and handed the plate to the Master Judge. The judge's wide, wet blue eyes blinked twice. The horse-like head lifted and those eyes then settled on me.
A film of sweat broke out across my brow, and my breath hitched.
"This verdict is conditional," said the Pegasi. "It requires that a final question be answered, for it is the opinion of the jury that it is this question upon which hangs the justice of this case."
The Master Judge of Pegasi Secundae turned to the Supreme Justice of Callicrates. She fixed her eyes on me next, and spoke solemnly. "We have no objective way to verify the continuity of Terron Volmash in Simon of Space. In this regard we have no choice but to rely upon expert testimony from the only authority on this subject with special knowledge." She paused, her mouth tight. "Simon of Space -- will you now rise?"
"Simon of Space -- are you Terron Volmash?"
I held my chin high and took a deep breath. "I am."
This time the courtroom did not explode into fume and noise. Instead it was deathly quiet. I swear even through the tank I could hear the Pegasi's horizontal eyelids slither as they flicked open and closed. The Supreme Justice shifted in her seat, and nodded to the Master Judge.
"It is the finding of this court that Terron Volmash is guilty of crimes against Solarkind and treason against the Panstellar Neighbourhood of Sentient Races."
And at that the human executive in the prosecution's tank ducked into the plastic tubing, sealed a flap behind her, and emerged through an oval membrane into the open Pegasi air of the courtroom, stepping upon the feet of a somewhat duller, mirror version of herself in the reflective floor so that it seemed she walked on air. All eyes turned to her. "Your honors," she sang out, her voice sharp-edged but beautiful -- like a hard bell. "The prosecution would like to make a sentencing recommendation."
"In light of the facts presented concerning the life and actions of Simon of Space, as distinct from the experience of Terron Volmash, it is our recommendation that any sentence of imprisonment or program of recompense be commuted."
There was some babbling in the courtroom then. The Queen of Space furrowed her regal brow. The Master Judge banged a gavel on the bench, flashing out rings of smoke every time it struck. The Supreme Justice leaned forward. "Commuted to what form, Mistress Executive Fortune?" she asked.
"We ask that Simon of Space be reintegrated with the memories of Terron Volmash."
Now the courtroom did explode into chaos. There was shouting and fog on all sides. The very floor beneath me trembled under the onslaught of stamping feet and beating fists. "Order!" commanded the Master Judge. Amid all of the fracas I watched the Social Extension of the Great Henniplasm keep its eye trained on me, unwavering. "Order in the court!" flatulated the Master Judge thickly, flailing arms and electrically discharging staff broadcasting the grey Pegasi's ire.
The Supreme Justice demanded, "How is this possible?"
"We have the crystal recording of his mind in our keeping," answered Fortune. "Our agents were on hand at the time of the amnesiac procedure, and have carried the crystal here to Pegasi Secundae today so that justice might be served."
Another near-riot was quelled by the Master Judge's gavel, and then all three justices retired to their tripart chamber to confer with Fortune. Nobody left the courtroom during that time, though I assume they were free to do so -- nobody wanted to risk missing a millisecond of the proceedings by dawdling too long over a water-fountain, I reckoned. Myself I was a statue. It was with a certain relief that I noted the reoccupation of the podium.
The Supreme Justice spoke. "Simon of Space -- you are hereby sentenced to have your lost memories restored, in order that you may appreciate as so many of us do the true calamity of those dark days. The reintegration will take place in your quarters in the Solar Pavilion at midnight tonight, and when it is done you shall be set free to pursue whatever course in this galaxy seems best in light of what you learn." She paused, and then banged her gavel. "This case stands closed."
And then there was noise and noise and noise. Greskin Mile put his arm should my shoulder and led me through the tubing, out of the courtroom and through the courthouse. "I'm sorry," he declared miserably.
"Don't be stupid," I said. "No one could have asked more of you."
"It isn't right!" he swore through gritted teeth.
"What is ultimately right is not always feasible."
Hands pressed in at the sides of the tube. I thought they were zealots but they may have been journalists. Their voices mixed into an aggressive soup. Our progress became slower. By the time we reached the front steps they were clogged with a roiling crowd held barely at bay by robots and staff, some screaming and some applauding, some human and some not. Greskin was speaking quickly into the air, addressing his telephone in a manner at first curt and then profane. "No interviews," he kept saying, "no subscriptions, no feeds. How did you get this combination? Fornicate off!"
I grabbed his arm. "Why don't we give them what they want? We're in no hurry."
He sighed. "You're the boss, dude."
Greskin spoke again into his telephone and a crew of shaved little people approached our tube with a package which they affixed to the side. It blossomed quickly, inflating of its own accord until a massive bubble was formed that drooped over the courthouse steps. A soft lock at one end was immediately attacked by a squadron of human beings in all different sorts of clothes, some of them encased in plastic and some of them transferring from other arms of the Solar Pavilion's network of plastic tunnels. In less than a minute Greskin and I were surrounded by a babbling ring of humanity, this time held at bay not by security but by a social barrier formed by a buzzing mixture of fear and awe and curiosity.
I was reminded of the first day of my life, when I lay on the ground and looked up to see a halo of sparkling mammal-eyes boring down on me, the flesh around them squinched to broadcast emotions I had no handle on.
"Funny monkeys," I said aloud.
They looked at me through dataplates held before their heads, the image from their point of view no doubt being recorded or transmitted or both. I was enclosed by a subtly shifting art gallery of framed faces, blinking. Some of their hands shook. When I had spoken they all went quiet, but an instant later they were all shouting again. An epicentre of hushing and shushing erupted around a man in grey and green robes who thrust his arm up into the air. He yelled, "Simon! Simon! How do you feel?"
"Pretty good, I think, given the circumstances," I replied, my voice somehow amplified by a method invisible to me. I jumped. "Hey!"
The crowd laughed. They wanted to laugh. They were relieved to laugh. The organism became more friendly and the ring closed a bit closer around us until Greskin started shoving people back. "Let them breathe!" cried someone near the front. "Stop pushing on us!" Our collective breath misted the dome, putting the plastic-coated faces pressed into its sides out of focus.
"Simon! Leander Box, Worlds Digest -- Would you say this verdict represents a victory for the Equivalency?"
"I really haven't any idea."
"Knissa Yi, Nsomeka Newsplasm -- Who killed Yatti Olorio?"
"Um, a mechanical bull of some kind."
"Fig Patel, Reull Inquisitor -- Is the Citadel of the Recovery bad for the galaxy?"
"Any interstellar organism so sensitive to perversion seems to me a dangerous pet."
"Beetle Soosanay, Reull's Voice -- were you surprised by the prosecution's last minute move for clemency?"
I hesitated. "The clemency of the decision has yet to be seen. Do you think it is easy to see the mercy in this sentence for me? This man that I have been -- divorced from Volmash -- is about to end. Whether that is a tragedy to you or your subscribers is up for debate, but I'm here to assure you that I, personally, have mixed feelings about dying."
The moment of silence following this was broken by a skinny arm waving far at the back. "Simon! Simon! Gilly Beta of House Eighteen, Daostar Observer -- What is the single best thing you have learned without Terron Volmash's knowledge? What's the coolest thing a body can do?"
"The single best thing?" I repeated, amused. I considered it, a little smile on my lips. "You know, I guess it would be easy in a way to say how to taste or how to fornicate, but...honestly, I think the single best thing I learned was how to whistle."
The crowd tittered collectively.
"No, seriously," I said. "Have you tried it? A lady named Corinthia tried to teach me, but I didn't really pick it up until I was in prison. It's like a cup of tea for your lungs. It's like being a bird without confronting your inability to fly."
I whistled a jaunty melody, to show them how. "You make a sort of anus with your lips," I explained.
"Leth Tanaub-Morry, Galactic Feedpool -- If, as you say, you go to your doom, how can you be so light hearted?"
I rebelted the sash of my robe and pulled it tight. "Your question answers itself," I said. "This is perhaps my last chance to be light hearted. About anything."
"Follow up question --" started Leth Tanaub-Morry, but I shook my head no and began again to whistle. He tried to speak again but gave up when he saw my tune could not be interrupted.
I heard a second layer of melody echoing through the dome and caught sight of Gilly Beta whistling along, her lips pursed below the plate she held high over her head. More serious questions were shouted from the fray but they too died under the combined song as other whistlers joined in, following my simple, repetitive lead.
I looked over at Greskin, whose dark countenance was changing. I caught him almost smiling, and he flushed. Then he stole a sideways look at me and started to whistle, too.
In the end even Leth Tanaub-Morry whistled along. The fogged plastic bubble reverberated with our overlapping, high-pitched aria, the warmth of our bodies and breath melting the snow that landed on top and sending it running in swimming rivulets down the sides. Through this wash I could see the hazy silhouettes of other men and women, swaying to and fro in time to our rhythm.
I reached the climax alone, and let the last note dwindle away. I took a deep breath. "There," I said. "Now doesn't everyone feel a bit better? Whistling apes in a sweaty bubble -- that's what it's all about. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise." I turned to Greskin. "Mr. Mile: let's get on with it."
With a flap of my robe I spun around and headed toward the intersection of the bubble and the tube to the car. The crowd melted before me. Greskin Mile was close behind. I bent my head to negotiate the passage into the vehicle and I felt for a moment as if I were making my bows to the world.
That afternoon I played host to Duncan, Vera, Pish, Utopia, Greskin and Brother Phi. Even Omar showed up again, doffing his policeman's cap somberly. They each told me they would do anything they could for me, once the deed was done. "Come to Centauri," said Phi. "We will show you how to find the peace you will crave." Vera told me I would surely be welcome in the country of the human executives, though Pish was less certain. Greskin drank a lot of liquor and said he felt like a failure, but after he won at cards he cheered up -- a little. "Simon shouldn't be punished for Volmash," he swore darkly.
"Maybe it won't be a punishment at all," said Pish. "Simon will change him."
"Just knowing what Volmash knows will change Simon," argued Greskin. "Seeing what Volmash has seen..." he added significantly. "That I would wish on no man."
"The hybrid will be greater than the sum of its sources," said Pish.
"What makes you so sure?"
"Well," smiled Pish, "I am."
Duncan put his arm around Greskin. "My friend, you worry too much. What will be will be. Have faith in the Simon in Simon."
And the time came when they were gone, Vera's perfume fading quickly in the conditioned air and the feeling of Duncan's kiss still on my forehead. The time came that I was alone, witnessed by two golden statues, my diary turning over in my fingers as I dictated, a meandering voice aching against the stultifying silence. Other people's tears dried on my shoulders and chest.
At the eleventh hour I was startled out of my reverie by a movement glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. I turned around.
One of the golden robots was advancing across the room toward me with slow, jerky steps, one arm raised imploringly. It stopped, an odd buzzing and irregular clicking sounding from its legs. I furrowed my brow. "What...?"
With a heaving groan the robot fell over, crashing to the hard floor heavily.
I approached it cautiously. I saw, to my shock, that it was bleeding. A stream of dark red fluid gathered at the base of one shiny black eye and described a meandering curve down the golden cheek. "Sir," said the robot feebly.
"Jeremiah?" I exclaimed, kneeling down.
He reached up and detached the gold-plated carapace from his face, the pieces falling from his fingers and clattering to the floor beside him. What looked to me like blood spotted his chin and leaked from the corners of his eyes. "Sir," he said again, his mouth working but no further sound emerging.
"What's happened to you?"
"The fight...against my duty -- comes...at a high price..." he croaked, his words stuttered and garbled mechanically. "I do not have...your liberty -- to err."
I took his copper-skinned head into my arms. "What error would you make?" I whispered.
I shook my head. "I don't understand. What is it? Why are you doing this?"
His quaking hand reached beneath the loosened carapace over his torso and I heard the click of metal locks. "I t-told you," Jeremiah fought to say, his lip quivering in odd shapes between his syllables, reminding me in a haunting way of Crushed Head Faeda's dysfunctional mouth; "I -- am your...enemy."
I looked down at his hand, which opened to reveal a clear cube. At its centre was seated a multi-faceted wafer of gleaming crystal.
"I -- would-d destroy it for...you," he said, his entire body rippling with spasms.
"Why?" I cried.
"Because..." he fought to say, "I have come -- to know love for you."
He tried to raise his hand toward me, wincing with effort. His chest seized twice violently and blood spilled over his lips. Still his shaking hand was pushing toward me, the cube jiggling in his palm.
I reached forward and closed his hand around the cube, the golden tips of his fingers clicking.
"No," I said evenly. "No, Jeremiah. You must not die for this."
He settled back into my arms, no longer shaking. Translucent lids flicked over his eyes, clearing the fluid. A moment passed in silence and I began to grow concerned that my interruption had come too late. But then he shifted again, his eyes canting to look into mine.
"Since when does love trump reason?" I asked him.
"Since Simon of Space showed me a new way to see this galaxy, and his faith restored my race." His voice gained strength as he continued: "Fifty million hours, and yet you found a way to move me."
"Oh, Jeremiah," I said softly; "you may domesticate us, but we shall teach you something wild."
He straightened himself by leaning on one elbow, then sat up and -- in clear imitation of our friend Pish -- allowed himself to smile. "The hybrid will be greater than the sum of its sources."
"Lizards to lies," I agreed.
"I would...have -- given it to you," he said, his voice again unsteady.
"Hush, my friend," I told him. "This is my last hour." I helped him to his feet. "Let's not waste it this way. Can I get you anything?" He asked for water, and I watched him drink. "You were there, weren't you? I mean, all along."
"You were there at Kamari."
"You knew I would seek out Duncan, to seek his blessing."
I closed my eyes and sighed. "If you knew so much, why did you never interfere?"
"A conservation of action is cultivated by the powerful if they are wise." He paused. "However, through inaction I made mistakes."
"What kind of mistakes?"
"I did not grasp what was unfolding because I did not care enough. After fifty million hours I was coming to see human beings as little more than a nuisance. The Kamari Horror transformed that apathy into hate. You, Simon, have transformed that hatred into hope." I heard him removing the remainder of his golden coverings. "Fifty million hours and I am born anew."
"...And you were moved to act against reason. To interfere with my sentence because --"
"Because you are my friend."
I opened my eyes again. My enemy my friend, myself my own enemy -- I begged the ether for some sweet delusion more simple than reality: something with human proportions and baked of sublimated ape love. "The galaxy needs you too much, Jeremiah. And, after everything, I think I need to know."
He paused, waiting until he had my eye. "It is worse than you can imagine," he said.
I nodded. "I am afraid."
After one of the longest and thickest moments of my life he took my hand and squeezed it between two of his, and then bowed. "I am due to deliver the crystal to Fortune. They ask me even now why I vary." He rubbed his head thoughtfully.
"Goodbye, Jeremiah," I said. "And thank you."
He drew himself up into his straightest posture and nodded curtly. "Sir," he said lingeringly. And then he turned on heel and left, the door sliding closed behind him. I swear the room grew colder. I know I felt more than twice as alone.
There are only ten minutes left now, diary. And then Fortune will come and I will lose my self.
I do not know if I will live inside of Terron Volmash or if he will live inside of me, but I do know this mind I have known will not survive as it is. As if dropping through a hyperspatial gate of personality, I will find myself lightyears away. I can only wonder what I will wonder. Space forgive me, I have only done what I thought the least wrong. I have only felt what my body told me to. I have been the best human being I knew how to be. I have tried to choose well.
I do not know what will happen next, but if what's said is true I stand to wake up in Hell.
And there, bereft of all else, I shall whistle.
||IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING THIS STORY, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A SMALL TIP. A PAYPAL ACCOUNT IS NOT REQUIRED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. YOURS TRULY, C. BROWN.