The concept of time is broken up. All updates assure the Ψiioniic that it is ticking on as always, but he knows that between updates sometimes everything rushes together and is over in quick successive flashes, or drags out until end and beginning are too distant to be seen.
He distrusts that part of his brain that lies outside of his skull. It tells him things he does not need to hear. It keeps reminding him of the importance of his service and punishment, the honor, the absolute rightness of established superiority. It claims that what made him forget his place was nothing but lies.
He'll be forgiven for believing them. He will be forgiven for being gullible. He will be punished for his actions regardless, because this is the law and the law is always right, but he should be glad that he is of value. His organic brain thinks different.
Worlds ago, when he was still living the (it's not one) lie, he'd joked about how this little lump of flesh could produce so much misery for him.
This little lump of flesh is too busy screaming to think clearly most of the time, but he trusts it more because it insists what they did was right. What they thought was right and this is not a just punishment. No glory to the empire.
Sometimes she comes to talk to him. At him, since the last time his vocal cords broke it won't be until he's run out of life and she refills the cup that he'll be able to respond. Sometimes her words shake loose words in him. She always makes a great show of looking at the screen, then, instead of ignoring his words of inconsequence. Gestures that are meaningless, that don't even show up against what else she is responsible for and unrepentant of, but they make him hate her more. Inconsequential things that somehow matter more. Everything else, all his other reasons to hate, have become internalized so deep that remembering what it was like before is close to impossible.
She doesn't have to talk to him, there is no reason, the way that her high status accent swallows the 'h' of the word is almost more despicable than the word itself,
Thii2 ii2 not my name.
Her eyes flicker over to the screen and she reads and laughs, a hiccupy little sound, and stares right a him. The Ψiioniic wishes that if no-one will get him out of here and no one will kill him at least someone would let him close his eyes. But even if the headpiece didn't hold his eyelids open permanently, he has many other eyes now. Dull glinting camera lenses scattered in every corner, that he can not close.
“But of course it isn't your name. Names are for people, not things. It's what you are. Is that clear? If it is, then why don't we move on to why am here?”
There are a lot of reasons why she could be here. Two he has reason to fear. Like she told him when he, first with his voice and later with text, pleaded for death because nothing could be worse than –
But it can be worse. There are ways to make it hurt more, and differently, and she will make it worse. If he is disobedient. If she's bored.
“We are far too slow,”
No. NO. II can't II can not iit'2 two much already iit hurt2 II can NOT do more
Maybe she doesn't mean it, maybe her threat is a way to get him to do something, out of fear, let it be that, but she's typing the code in already (badly) and it's not a long sequence so there isn't much more time left.
Do you want me two do 2omethiing anythiing II'll do anythiing el2e but thii2 ANYTHIING
This time it's not one short laugh, it's hysterics that calm down and become a sharp-edged smile again.
“What else is there for you to do, Helmsman? What other use do you have?” Her smile fades and she taps a fingernail against the keyboard. The enter key. She's not pressing down not yet she'll keep him afraid of more pain on top of what pain there is already and when it does come it'll be worse than he remembers.
And she looks thoughtful, “You want to do something for me? That's brilliant,” her finger twitches over the enter key, and her voice grows sharp and high and hysteric. “You can start by performing the god-damn tasks I give you. But before that, kill him.”
The pause is filled with the ship's sounds, and with the white noise of pain which has grown audible. She withdraws her finger and crosses her arms, and stares. He wishes he could close his eyes.
“Kill the Psiioniic. He's a liability, and nothing but trouble. A ghost in the wires, if you will. Kill him, and what remains will be a lot more satisfactory. Useful.”
The thought flickers up that when he was still a person he thought about it once. Wondered what killing himself would be like, and talked about it in a tone of boredom absurdly inappropiate to the content.
The Signless stopped a hair short of slapping him when he heard it, and instead told him that You will not, and I will do everything I can to make you stop wanting to.
Maybe he would get a pass now.
Too slow. Too slow because she's smiled and tapped the enter key and the capacity will be increased. It starts with the wires writhing and pushing in deeper to dredge up more. Old wounds split and fresh ones are dug along his legs and push deep into his spine, dislodging the clots and scabs with runnels of fresh blood.
The first wash of pain is worse than he remembers it, but he can feel each individual pinprick and his skin stretching out around it until the pinprick becomes a hole. A wire's sharp tip detaches from the back of his hand, repositions itself, and burrows under a fingernail.
That smallest fraction tips everything else over. Anywhere but here, anything but this, he'd rather be dead and he'd rather someone else be in his place and at someone else the Signless' face flickers up in what's left of his mind. And he would have thought NO in capital letters before but now the words anyone but me are in there somewhere.
2iignle22 iif you were riight and we can be diifferent we can be 2elfle22 then WHY do II wii2h that iit wa2 you iin2tead of me
II wii2h you weren't dead 2o you could take my place 2ave me
2uffer iin2tead of me iit'2 not FAIIR
you were the one who 2poke the word2 and II only lii2tened
hiim TAKE HIIM take the Doloro2a take the Dii2ciiple put them here PUT THEM HERE and GET ME OUT
II don't II don't beliieve iit wa2 all liie2 II admiit iit plea2e take them iin2tead II never beliieved anythiing he de2erve2 iit they de2erve iit
II don't de2erve thii2
Guilt should tear the words apart and when the pain lessens he should beg forgiveness from his (dead) friends, he should say that she tortured him and he was in pain and he didn't mean it but he needed to say something because it hurt so much he had no choice.
But he meant it.
The ship is flying at eighty-eight percent capacity and the Helmsman awaits the Empress. She will come. Maybe she will make it hurt more, but only because she's bored.
He is not disobedient. He was disobedient when he was still a person, and he fell for so many lies and convinced himself that all this delusion was what he really believed. The lies are purged now, and he's thankful for that.
She didn't take his organic brain out like she once threatened to do, but she did laud him for finally rewiring it. He has become so boring now, she tells him, so because of this and because of his past disobedience he still deserves to be hurt.
He agrees. It would be worse if he disagreed, she would make it worse, but that's not the reason why he does. She's right, he deserves this, so he should accept the pain. It still isn't easy, but it gets easier every time.
She's right about conquest and glory and about how filthy his blood is, too. Rightful and completely deserving of his respect and more than his respect. Except she doesn't really deserve that, because she is the Empress and he was a yellowblood and now he's a thing, but she's told him once that she doesn't feel insulted by it. That revelation was his reward for killing the Ψiioniic, and he can really not remember why he let him live for so long.