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Interlude

Chapter Text

The Silent Mnemonist wandered, all too aware of the weight of the pieces of rubber tied to her feet to protect them as she picked her way through fields of bones and shards of glass and open cans.

The sun almost had a palpable beat (although that may have been the blood rushing in her ears), its rays bearing down upon the surface of the planet with a scouring, bleaching intensity, like the winds it inspired. Full of sand, and glass. Although, she recalled, glass was just the amorphous form of sand, melted, twirled together with small quantities of something else to keep the silicon dioxide molecules supple and disrupt crystal formation. So it was either all glass, or all sand. She decided to call it sand.

Words kept the Silent Mnemonist's mind straight. Nights spent with a campfire made of wood (driftwood, she thought, or shipping pallets), and maybe tinned meat (spam or tuna or chicken; she liked the spam best, it reminded her of vatmeat, a treat for the Calendrical Reset) or a can of vegetables to keep her company.

She'd found a can opener, the first night she was on the surface. She tied the little can opener, a rectangle with a sharktooth, to another string, and kept that around her wrist. She knew it was a can opener because it matched the one she saw in the books. It said P38 on one end. She thought maybe that was the ID number of the pawn - no, the Hero of Time said that his species called their fighting classes soldiers or police or militants - who had used it. Whoever "P38" was, their job-name was Standard Issue, and they were probably a soldiers. She was satisfied with herself for reaching this conclusion.

----

She had the light carapace of a Prospitian, though she'd joined the army of the Whiteblack Vanguard, so she was a Whiteblack, just like the rest of them. White was better here, it meant her carapace did not heat up so much under the planet's sun, so she needed to wear less to prevent blistering. Though it also meant her carapace was thinner, so she ran more of a risk of getting injured. Thus the rubber on her feet, after she had a festering cut from a shard of glass that kept her from traveling for two weeks.

The Whiteblack Vanguard had explained to them about how carapaces were grown. A thin black skin to keep the internal organs together; then a thick layer of white carapace, and a thinner layer of black carapace upon that if the pawn or bishop or knight was destined for Derse, rather than Prospit. Their internal organs were the same, the Hero who advised him had concluded.

The hero of Mind had also said something about epigenetics afterwards, too, but the Silent Mnemonist didn't really know how that worked. Back then, as a Surefooted Messenger, what she cared about and understood was that it only took a few chemicals' difference to turn the slime that would become a Prospitian into a Dersian, or vice versa. Chemicals that were kept in bottles in the Veil, to be dropped pre-mixed into the cloning tubes. The heroes set something up, that there were two identical pawns, in two identical tubes, facing - and one chemical in one, and the other in the other.

The two pawns were extracted, at the end of their gestation, and they were introduced to each other as brothers. She smiled. She asked why the Hero of Time was crying. Humans cried when they were sad and happy at the same time, he told her, and then he picked her up and sat her on his shoulders to get a better look at the proceedings.

----

Blood was more important to the Heroes, because they didn't have carapaces so the blood showed through their skin and crept up into their faces. Especially the Hero of Time, who explained to her that he'd come from a world where nobody liked the fact that his skin was darker than others'. He talked about racism, about the hundreds of years that people like him had spent as servants only because they were considered different from the ones with white skin.

He also talked about the fact that for his species, the difference between "races" was a little more complicated than one or another bottle of chemicals; that they were all grown inside one of the "parents" whose genetic material they came from, inside an organic equivalent of a cloning tube, and they usually came out wet and screaming and only half-formed. He pointed out that the "children" would double their weight 6 or 7 times before they reached their adult stage - "like me," he said, gesturing to himself. They were their species' adult stage.

She listened, asked questions. Listened intently to the answers, to try to memorize them. The Hero of Mind said something dismissive, but the Messenger had been told that the Hero of Mind had the habit of concealing her heart under her worlds. She thought hard, put her words together differently, and then said something else. "Does that mean I'm a carapaceman?"

The Hero of Mind laughed. She felt good about it.

----

She asked, and was allowed to stay, as the Hero of Time sat down at the ectobiology equipment for himself and created the Heroes, or players as it were, from paradox slime. She peered down at the tiny brown child he'd placed carefully in the crick of her arm, and the "baby" had grabbed for her uniform's top button, and she'd let him have it. It was nothing much, she assured the older version of him. Merely the class symbol of a Pawn, the emblem of the Whiteblack's squadrons. Which he wore on his shirt, she pointed out.

He stared at her, mumbled something about chess, or about caste systems, or about paradoxes. "Come again?" she said, remembering one of the words the Heroes used amongst themselves.

"Nothing," he said.

And then he told her about a kind of dream his species had, where they all knew that, if any of them really wanted to make a difference, they just had to work hard and take opportunities as they were given. She wondered if this was the kind of dream they had in their sleep. He said no, it was a kind of dream he said was "American", and he found out too late that the people who had told him it existed were lying to him. They'd fall to their planet as children, grow up "too quickly", and eventually end up in this Incipisphere because they played a game, instead. He said he'd wanted to be a philosopher.

Then he laughed until he started crying. He said it was bitter tears, although when she reached out and tasted one, they were exactly as salty as his other tears.