BEROWNE: Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep (Love's Labour's Lost I,i,48)
ROSALINE: You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day
Visit the speechless sick, and still converse
With groaning wretches; and your task shall be
With all the fierce endeavor of your wit
To enforce the pained impotent to smile
BEROWNE: To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be; it is impossible
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony. (LLL V,ii,840-847)
Under the circumstances, one can't blame them for being suspicious, so I had to endure a good deal of poking and prodding and being turned upside down and shaken and fluoroscoped and so forth. Fortunately this had all been anticipated and did not damage me. In most circumstances, Father is very good at making long-range plans, although the very circumstances leading up to my birth show that he was not infallible in this regard.
The boy who brought me couldn't wait to get the receipt signed and rush away before they decided to shoot the messenger.
Well. He was going back to base--back to the only home I had ever known. Here I was in this new and not necessarily welcoming environment. If they had a lick of sense--if they had developed a lick of sense by dint of suffering, they hadn't had one before--they'd recognize how useful I could be, and they would make full use of my capacities.
Papa's past experiences did not instill in him a very high opinion of the practical good sense of Blake or his lieutenant Vila, although when we were last in physical proximity, I would have sworn that his emotional coloration comprised a component of what they call "missing" them. Not that physical proximity is of especial significance to our kind. (People often say "comprised of." Such carelessness distresses me. If they ever went to decent restaurants, the phrase 'service compris' on the bill should serve as a mnemonic.)
"Who are you?" asked a man whose appearance was somewhat deteriorated even from the age-progressed image in my memory banks, but whose voiceprint was consonant.
Papa has never really liked the one called Vila. I am not sure how to attribute this. Search of Papa's memory banks reveals certain allusions to "fishtanks" and "drinks dispensers," but I do not believe there was any really credible threat. Papa, I fear, is something of an intellectual snob. Vila, although not lacking in intelligence, is not an intellectual. Part of the process of maturation and individuation is an understanding and growth in tolerance toward the flaws of one's progenitors. It's a wise child that knows her own father, but then again children don't come much wiser than me.
"Comprehensive Ordinater Research Apparatus," I said. (Father derived the neologism Ordinater from the mot "ordonnateur." That is en Francais.)
"You're not as big as--him," Vila said, unable to bring himself to say Papa's proper name. "But bigger than when he was shrunk down for--well, you know. Do you know?"
"If I am smaller than those that came before me, it is because Father has stood on the shoulders of giants," I said. "Improvements in nanotechnology have proceeded apace since Grandpapa's day."
"Where's your key?"
"I don't have one," I said. "Papa always found it most disagreeable to be summarily interrupted, and Father didn't think I would ever get a hearing if you could switch me off."
"Your voice sounds like Dayna," Vila said sadly. "But not exactly."
"My audible interface is synthesized from Dayna's and Avalon's voice patterns," I said. "Father thought it was a pleasing compliment to his employer and her partner." And he didn't think that the sound of his own voice would be welcome in that place, at least not for a while.
Then Blake came bounding into the room. He fastened onto my casing with a vise-like grip. Father anticipated this and machined my edges round. "Get that thing out of here before I take a machete to it," he said.
"Mislike me not for my complexion," I said. That thing! As if being carbon-based was some sort of personal accomplishment on Blake's part. Chauvinist.
Hence, shortly after arrival, I was exiled from the rebel headquarters on Silmareno to the Command Centre at the Royal Palace for several months. I was not pleased by this at first. The question of mechanized extraction of the last of the monopasium, followed by remediation of a severely environmentally compromised site, turned out to be quite interesting. It is restful to spend time among people who do not think they are clever.
It is only natural for the developing organism to want to learn the story of its origin, so I obtained an account by collating the accounts given by various witnesses.
Avalon says that after her two attack teams helped win the Battle of Gauda Prime, it was like having the whole Sixth Form auditioning for Hamlet at five-minute intervals. That would be enough to drive you spare all by itself, she says, but then they wouldn't get off the stage and all stood there soliloquizing out of synch.
She also says that she was running out of places to stash them all to keep them apart. So after he was well enough to walk, she commissioned Uncle DelTa as a lieutenant-colonel and put him in charge of the spaceship repair depot on Thorval.
Father she assigned to hospital duty, there were certainly plenty of wounded people to treat, and even if it did not teach him compassion he could be counted upon for accurate performance of technical tasks. Then many of the wounded people developed antibiotic-resistant infections. Father remembered how quickly Papa developed the antidote for the Fosforon Plague, so he told Avalon where he had hidden Papa.
Uncle DelTa did not want to fly back to Gauda Prime to retrieve Papa, but Avalon told him that he jolly well deserved it and anyway he'd feel better after taking his medicine. After the mission, they tracked him down to Space City (there is a locator chip in all Avalon's uniforms) on a bender of epic proportion. Father says that insofar as Uncle DelTa's teeth are so much better than Vila's, it's even luckier that he was persuaded not to make a necklace out of them. No doubt this is a carbon- (or calcium-based) allusion of some sort.
And then Avalon came to inspect the hospital and she and Dayna fell in love and Dayna always claims that she would never have pulled through without Avon, so Avalon gives him credit for that.
By the time all the hospital cases were recovered (or dead), and the operational systems at Avalon's bases were optimized, Father found that he had time on his hands, if he was unconscious more than about four hours a day he'd risk compromising organ system functions. Avalon always tells him to get off his backside and do something useful for someone else when he feels sorry for himself, and, really, what could be more useful than me? As Papa says, modesty would be dishonesty.
Papa says that Father took a rib out of his side to create a help meet unto him. I find the quasi-incestuous implications of such a joke interesting and worthy of study.
"Perhaps if I addressed the Parliament..." Blake began.
"Impossible. They've already adjourned and gone home to their constituencies. I'm sorry, Blake, but we can't afford to appropriate any more money for you. We're just one planet. Ask the rest of the Alliance to pull their weight."
"Ask for the moon!" Blake said bitterly. "....Sir." He couldn't or wouldn't call King Ro "Your Majesty," but the King condescended to pretend he heard an "e" on the end.
"But you can take CORA back," King Ro said. "She'll be a great help to you. Priceless, I should think." He patted my casing and opened a red box, signalling that the audience was over.
"Send it," Blake muttered as he backed out the door. "Thank you, Sir," he said through gritted teeth.
"He tried to kill me," Vila said.
"He tried to kill me," Blake said.
This was repeated several times, in tones of increasing intimacy and decreasing volume, climaxing with a unison "But he didn't kill us!"
I could recognize the pattern. It was similar to the "aria" portion of the musical performances known as "operas." Papa often accesses these when he has cycles to spare from his researches. His favorite one is Tannhauser--he likes the bit at the end.
Father, on the other hand, does not care for opera. He says that once something has been stated, there's no point in going on and on about it.
I also recognized this as the initiation of a courtship sequence. Father predicted that this was likely to happen. He said that Blake would turn to someone, probably Vila, who would enable him to reinforce his estimate of his remaining strength by transferring some of it to someone else.
"I suppose he sent you to plead his case," Blake said, allowing a pile of papers on his desk to slither over me.
"Of course not," I said. "Papa says Father's changed from the old days before I was born, but he'd still rather spit in your eye than ask you for help. Or take it, if it was offered. No, he knows that he's severed his last connection with you, but I'm what he can do to atone."
"Does he still wear those mad clothes?" Blake asked.
"No," I said, thinking of some of the images from Papa's databank. "Just one of the plain blue uniforms. Avalon lets him wear it without any unit patches or rank insignia. When he's alone with Papa--he usually is--he often puts a dressing-gown over the uniform."
"Yes," Blake said. "He always did feel the cold. Right, then, you have information about the planets in the Ancreon system, don't you?"
"Of course," I said. "What do you take me for?"
"Hmmmph," I said. "Papa says that Father quite often used to say things that he thought were funny, but he doesn't any more."
"Information relevant to strategy for an amphibious attack with limited space support," Blake said sternly.
A young woman with brown hair came in and gave Blake a tray. He accepted it with a wave of thanks. As we discussed the strategy for the Ancreon attack, he consumed the entire contents of the tray.
Avalon's people often bring trays to Father. Sometimes he consumes part of the contents shortly before they replace the tray with another. Papa says that Father used to devote considerable libido to the selection and consumption of metabolites, and frequently consumed metabolites in excess of system needs. I don't see the point of it, myself.
Father says, look at where Appetite got him.
Blake removed the files that flopped and shed papers around me. The gesture had no practical significance--I don't even have a fan, much less need breathing room, for the gods' sake. But I accepted it as intended.
"How could he?" Blake said, in a burst of anger and hurt. "After all we'd been..."
"Well, he wasn't much cop at being you," I said. "Even he admitted that. And then it looked like you weren't you anymore, he gave in to an emotional reaction. People were always telling him to do that, you know."
"How could he not understand?" Blake said. "He always expected me to disregard the superficialities and understand what he really meant."
"You weren't much cop at being him, I expect," I said.
"I don't know why I bother," Blake said. "It's like talking to a wall." His fingertips glided over my casing. "It always was, I daresay."
"Father built a wall," I said. "He prescribed himself a course of physical exertion as an adjuvant to his opiate dosage. At first the wall wasn't supposed to be for anything, it just stood outside the headquarters, but then people came and hung things on it. To remind them of dead people, or their home, or things they had lost."
Despite my many and manifest advantages, I do not feel confident in predicting the eventual outcome of the Rebellion. People do not have the advantage of ready replacement of modular components, so they do not like change.
However, it is difficult for imperialistic tyrannies to allocate their resources properly, particularly when the supply lines stretch close or past the point of contemporary technological feasibility. Whatever resources they devote to suppression of dissent must be withdrawn from conquest.
So, we win a battle, they win a battle, one planet joins our alliance and another leaves.
Papa says that when Father monitors transmissions from Silmareno, his knuckles are whiter than his hair.
Father says that although life is a small part of Regret, he can't keep it from growing, and perhaps that is no bad thing.