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Remaking

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Inside, they don't plan.  There's no linear a+b=c kind of thinking; no one sees a threat and deduces a solution and communicates this to the others.  Instead, they move with the swells and currents, and they perceive their surroundings in a thousand small ways, each one clear and precise as a struck bell: warmth, food, danger, depth.  These perceptions occur with them all at once, and the direction of their movement shifts accordingly, graceful and easy as an arm unfolded.  It's overwhelming, and then it's beautiful, and then it's not remarkable at all.  With the rest of them, Carl knows that water is food and life, replete and god-like.  With the rest of them, he holds the contradictory knowledge that the water in recent seasons has been dangerous, too.  This is not perplexing to them.  They don't expect to find reason in the world.  What is, is.  Carl is, until he surrenders even that Name between one swell and the next, lets it weave itself into the multi-syllabic fabric of their collective Name until, indistinguishable from the rest, it disappears.

*

Agree to do one small favour for the whales, Tom thought grimly.  He pulled the hood of his parka over his head, yanked the drawstring down until the fur around its rim closed over his face.  He had made himself a pocket of warmth to sit inside of and he didn't need the extra gear at all, really.  But if he was going to sit on an iceberg in the middle of an Antarctic snowstorm, he was damned well going to wear it anyway. 

The wind outside his pocket of protection was incredible.  He and Carl had had to build several grounding layers into the warming spell to compensate, and he still felt the pull of the storm at the edges of his consciousness, howling like the end of the world.  It made concentrating difficult.

"All right," he told himself.  "Wake up.  Pay attention."  He tucked his mittened hands into his own armpits and closed his eyes.  Somewhere beneath the ice under his feet, Carl was a copepod, a tiny zooplankton drifting in the frigid waters with a colony of others like himself.  He had gone down there on purpose -- planktonic lifeforms were notoriously insular and uncommunicative, and infiltrating one of their colonies had seemed the only way to find out why they were disappearing -- but he hadn't reported back when they'd agreed he would.  Tom could feel him down there, alive and sort of aware, but there was a strangeness about him, an unwillingness to respond.  Aloooooo'uah, the whale Senior who'd asked them to help in the first place, had warned Carl that this might happen.  Collective consciousness was seductive.  But Carl was stubborn, and more than almost anything, he hated not knowing the answer.  He had been determined.

"Carlo Adrian Romeo," Tom called now, aloud and within.  He repeated himself in the Speech, letting Carl's name fall into the depths, letting his own fear and annoyance lend the spell strength.  "Come on now, my friend.  It's time to come back."

There was not a murmur of response.

He needed something more comprehensive.  He and Carl had prepared a spell, something Carl had found in the manual and modified.  It had been built to sing coma victims out of the fugue in their own minds, but it seemed as though it might translate.  Tom hoped it would; he couldn't think of anything else to try, and he wasn't going to let Carl end his days as a nearly-microscopic crustacean.

It started with Carl's long-form name in the Speech, so he said this again, letting each syllable spill from him slowly: "Carl gregarious brother son, brown-eyed pig-headed far-seer Adrian grandson of artists, descendant of philosophers Romeo human male with too-blunt toes and a vulnerable heart, beloved inhabitant of the second continent, temporal engineer. I'm calling you back.  I'm asking you to return to yourself, live here in the topside world again."

Tom paused for breath.  Outside his pocket of warmth, the wind moaned like suffering. The rest of the spell was a kind of rebuilding of the person named, an embodying through retold personal history.  Yesterday, in preparation for this, Tom and Carl had sat side by side in Carl's room at the house he shared with the really devoted vegans and Carl had given Tom several of his memories, mind to mind.  He'd been blushing, laughing nervously about it, but he hadn't hesitated, had touched Tom's wrist and met his eyes, let him see. 

"You broke your collarbone when you were three," Tom said now. "Jumping from a swing in motion."  In the memory, Carl was small and sturdy and had everything to prove, the youngest of a bunch of cousins.  Barefoot in a dusty mid-summer playground, his knees gray with dirt.  He could swing startlingly high just by leaning back and then forward again, not even asking anyone for a push.  His cousin Paulo said Bet you can't jump off from way up there, and Carl hadn't even thought about it, had just done it, let go of the chains and launched himself into the air.  It was pretty spectacular, right up until the moment when he'd hit the ground, felt his shoulder give under his body's weight, heard the bone snap with a sickening pop inside his skin.

(Carl's shoulder was still a little strange because of the injury; he could move it around and around and then it would crack, loud enough you could hear it in a quiet room.)

Tom let that story settle in the spell, took a breath.  "You didn't move to New York until you were six.  You didn't really speak English yet, but you didn't know that was why you had to leave the classroom after morning recess to sit with Mrs. Parks.  You thought there was something wrong with you."

Public School Number 556 was this big brown building with a blacktop playground where the kids all played four-square and tetherball at recess.  Inside, it smelled like waxed floors and pencil shavings and crayons.  Carl's actual teacher was a friendly man named Mr. Taylor, who smiled a lot and read to the class from a book with children on the front, and even though Carl wasn't sure he understood what the book was actually about (adventures? A thief?  Something to do with pirates?), he had liked listening to Mr. Taylor read.  Afterward, they had been given sheets of paper with purple printing on them, still warm from the mimeo machine.  Carl had written his name at the top in neat printing and then had sat staring at the numbered questions without blinking for so long his eyes watered.  At home, he had always known the right answers.  Smart Carl, hand-in-the-air Carl, finished-reading-before-everyone-else, write-the-answer-on-the-board Carl.  It was part of who he was.  But here, apparently, he didn't know anything.  He wondered if they would make him leave the class, sit back in the first grade, or maybe even kindergarten.  He wondered if they would send him home to his mother: "It's hopeless, Mrs. Romeo.  Your son is a dunce."

When Mr. Taylor came and collected everyone's answers, Carl tried to pretend he didn't see him, his head turned steadfastly toward the poster of famous scientists on the wall. 

Unfortunately, this didn't work.  He watched as Mr. Taylor looked at the empty answer sheet, watched his bushy eyebrows lift, then lower again, watched him smile, kindly.  "It's okay," he told Carl, but Carl doubted that this was true, even when Mrs. Parks turned out to have cookies in her little cubbyhole of a classroom.  He ate them anyway, of course, but with deep suspicion; it wasn't until he saw Alex Perjovics, All-State Fifth Grade Science Fair champion and certainly no dunce, leaving Mrs. Park's room one afternoon that he really began to relax.

"Later, you made friends with Leland French even though everyone said he peed his pants, but another time, you tripped the new girl in the hall, made her drop all her books just so your friends would laugh.  You still regret it.  You joined the track team in seventh grade and it was a good thing you did -- you never would have survived your ordeal if you hadn't been able to run.  In tenth grade, you kissed Julie Landers.  In eleventh grade, you gave her your class ring, but at the end of the year she gave it back.  You graduated with a full ride to Columbia.  Somewhere in there, you met me."

Somewhere in there was actually January of Carl's last year at high school, and this was a memory with a good deal more dimension, because Tom had his own version of events along with Carl's.  In Carl's memory, Tom was a kid, fifteen years old, skinny and funny-looking, all braces and bad hair.  Carl remembered being impressed by Tom's fluency in the Speech and the way he had not hesitated to make the jump to Centauri 4; he'd thought that Tom was fearless. 

Tom, on the other hand, remembered being scared out of his mind, but far too concerned with impressing Carl, who was older and smart, who had come from New York and had dark hair curling over his ears and a t-shirt that said "Groove with It".  He'd nearly killed them both, trying to be flashy.  He still feels pretty bad about that. 

"We lived through that first mission somehow, and you must have decided you could put up with me, because you asked me to work with you again and again, until it got to be a habit.  You're my working partner now; I still haven't figured out how I got to be so lucky.  You're part of the worldgate team, too, and you're Indari's protoge, and the only person who's ever managed to beat her at 5 card stud. You're on your college's fencing team, and you're David's friend, and Ari's, and Janice's.  You're Olivia's favorite uncle and Annalisa's big brother.  You're your mother's only son.  You'd leave a lot of holes up here if you weren't with us anymore.  We need you.  I need you.  Up here, with us -- it's where you belong."

He stopped there, not sure what else he ought to add.  The spell's parameters in the guide had been vague.  In the end, he decided it would be enough.  He knotted the spell with his own name in the speech and lowered it toward the distant, Carl-ish presence he had felt in the ocean waters.  And then he wrapped his arms around his chest and waited.

*

The drifting was rarely disturbed in these waters.  There were not many creatures who could live here, where it was so cold and so dark for so much of the season, and the school was usually alone with itself, its drifting unimpeded.  But the golden string of Words found its way to the school's heart and hung there, strange and shimmering.  Most of the school was uninterested in the disturbance except as an obstacle to their movement.  But one of them broke away from the others, interest peaked.  The spell was a name, it saw, and the name was familiar; the name was familiar because it was his own.  Carl.  He was Carl.  He was the guy in the stories.  

The realization was startling and he lost his bearings, tumbled upward and away from the school.  Somewhere in the midst of that disorienting ascent, he accidentally began the shift from one shape to the other.  He panicked and nearly died like that, halfway into his own true form, a hair's width from safe.  But Tom was speaking to him within, his voice carefully calm and urgent, reminding him of the transport spell.  Carl found enough presence of mind to speak the spell along with him, and was surprised to find himself alive a moment later, gasping for air with human lungs in the muted snowstorm sunlight on the ice. 

"Oh, thank god," he heard Tom say aloud.  Something heavy and warm covered his shoulders a moment after that, and that was good, because it seemed he was naked, hunched on his hands and knees, shivering and wet.  Tom was crouched next to him; it was Tom's coat draped over him, the one he'd teased Tom about bringing with them, not so long ago. He was grateful for it now.

Tom was saying something in the Speech above his head, and then they were transporting again, back to the light and real warmth of Carl's own room.  He recognized it by the ugly green carpet beneath his palms, by the familiar fitz-fitzing of the radiator near his head. 

"Here," Tom said.  He'd disappeared for a moment, but he was back now, and he had Carl's bathrobe with him.  He draped it over Carl in place of the parka, helped him put his arms into its sleeves, one by one.  

"Do you think you can stand?"  

When Carl nodded, Tom got to his feet and levered Carl up too, one hand under Carl's left elbow, the other around his back.  Carl wavered a moment, but he felt all right once the dizziness had passed.  He tugged his bathrobe closed and gave Tom a grateful smile as he knotted the belt.  "It worked," he said, and spread his hands.

Tom let out a breath.  "Barely," he said.  "When you started to shift back down there, I really thought you were done for, Carl.  I really.  I really did."  He was flushed, his eyes cast down; he pushed a hand over his face and into his tousled hair.  

Carl blinked and tilted his head.  He remembered the pieces Tom had added to the naming spell, his own memories from their first project together, the words he had said at the end.  He smiled, slowly.  "You said you needed me," he said.

Tom's blush deepened.  "I do need you," he said, low and grudging.  But when he lifted his eyes to Carl's face again, they were solemn and a little hurt.

Carl took his hand.  "That's mutual, you know," he said.  Tom swallowed hard and nodded, his eyes still on Carl's face.  Carl cleared his throat.  "I'm sorry.  It was too much of a risk."

Tom huffed, his adam's apple moving as he swallowed again.  "Damned right it was," he said.  

Carl opened his mouth to answer him, then thought the better of it and kissed him instead.