On another note...ARG! I have SO MUCH to tell you guys, but without contracts I just can't yet. So, what I can say: In Memoriam comes out in July and I'll let you know more soon, and also there's this thing happening on Friday...this thing I do every year...and it's coming around...is that non-specific enough? I hope so.
Title: Redstone Ch. 3, Pt. 2
From the moment Isidore met Symone St. Clair, she had seen more deeply into him than he was really comfortable with. Beggars couldn’t be choosers and he’d been glad to have a place to go after Paradise was taken away from him, but in a way, Isidore felt like he’d exchanged one prison for another. Not because he was locked in a cell or abused in anyway, but because he was desperately unprepared to be anything other than what he was. On Solaydor, stasis was synonymous with death. To Symone St. Clair, it was even worse: stasis was boring, and boredom was the touchstone of an uninspired mind. Such things could only be dealt with in one of two ways: burning the source of boredom out of her social circle, or coercing it into a chrysalis from which it would emerge, by force if necessary, completely rejuvenated.
She’d seemed doubly intent with Isidore because of her unfortunate insights. He’d tried to hide what he felt during their first meeting in her ridiculously large office, but she’d split his skull right down the middle and laid his brains out like a book.
“First point: you feel ludicrously guilty for something you had no control over.”
He’d frowned at her. “I wasn’t blameless, either.”
“But you don’t need to carry such an enormous stone around behind you. Good lord,” she’d sighed, rolling her vermillion eyes. “If I wanted to expose myself to this kind of self-flagellation I’d get a membership at the local masochist’s club. What was Garrett thinking, sending you to me?”
“I’m wondering the same thing,” Isidore had muttered.
“I’m sure you are. Second point: you’re in love with Garrett, even though you obviously know it’s hopeless because he’s ridiculously infatuated with monogamy, of all things.” She’d tilted her head at him. “He knows how you feel, of course. He knows everything, that little brat.”
“I don’t expect anything from him,” Isidore said, and that was completely true.
“No, you don’t, but not because you don’t want it or enjoy the drama of a star-crossed romance. You don’t feel worthy of it, on top of the obvious unsuitability between the two of you, which is, again, quite tiresome.”
“No one asked you to psychoanalyze me, you know.”
Symone smiled thinly. “Oh darling, I never have to be asked. It’s a pleasure. Everyone is refreshing, even if only for our first meeting. Third point: you have no idea what to do with yourself now. Your guilt has ruined your trade for you, hasn’t it? Your…mechanics. Engineering. Whatever it is you do.”
“Vehicle maintenance,” Isidore said faintly.
“Vehicle maintenance, good grief. At least Garrett’s other pet mechanic has a sense of creativity. Wyl is an artist and you’re, what, a wrench monkey?”
Isidore felt his face flush, not with shame now but with anger. It was unfamiliar, this burn in his chest. He hadn’t allowed himself to get angry in a long time, not since he was first arrested. The shame of what his cousin had done on Paradise was too much, and it was just easier to let himself be treated badly, because he deserved it, didn’t he? So many people had died, and Isidore had facilitated that, he’d damaged people he respected, people he loved. And yes, it had ruined his life, and he had been spit on and beaten and lost his family and his planet and on top of all of that, Garrett had come to save him and then sent him away, but what right did he have to be angry about that? About any of it?
“Poor little wrench monkey,” Symone cooed sarcastically. “Pulled away from all he’s ever known and thrown to the wolves. Whatever will you do with yourself now, since your mechanic’s hands are tied?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Isidore snapped.
“Because that would completely miss the point of this little exercise. And speaking of points, point four: you’re lying to yourself if you think you can continue not to care. You’re going to care sooner or later, and I suggest you get with the program sooner, because otherwise you’re going to spend some uncomfortable years here on Solaydor. Every immigrant to this planet is put to work, and if you can’t or won’t perform to your aptitudes, then you’ll be stuck doing menial labor. We could let robots do it, but…” She shrugged. “Then where would we send people to work through their life crises?”
She’d been smart and hateful and hurtful, and Isidore had gone away with an immigration counselor and absolutely no desire to ever see Symone St. Clair again. Sure enough, he’d failed his aptitudes and gotten put in a work group that did something new, and generally simple, every day. Gardening, trash pickup, chauffeuring, basic maintenance for large-scale city machinery, food synthesis, waiting tables: the list went on and on. As people gravitated toward something in particular, they were taken out of the general program. Isidore resisted for as long as he could, but then a random trip to a body parlor as an ink-stocker opened his eyes to something new.
They were as common on Solaydor as sand was on Paradise, but taken to a completely new level. These weren’t just iris insets or Regen-assisted programs for strength and speed. These were complete reimaginings of humanity, or in some cases the gleeful abandonment of it. These were people who wanted the legs of a giraffe, the wings of a phoenix, or eyes like a solar system. People who wanted to soar and dig and run, people who wanted to be three people at once, or couples who wanted to try living in constant contact. This was barely regulated insanity, at first glance, but it intrigued Isidore. He came back on his own time, to look and feel. A week later, he was moved out of the general program and into cosmetic modification. But first, naturally, he had to meet with Symone again.
“Cosmods.” She’d sounded surprised. “You’re going into cosmods! I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming. Sometimes the best change is the biggest one.”
“I don’t want to learn this for myself.” It was tantalizing, the thought of just changing everything, never looking at his same old face again in the mirror, but it wasn’t what he wanted. Isidore needed…something, something larger than himself to provide him with a sense of purpose. He could change his appearance, but he could never reach into himself and change the parts that hurt the most. But maybe he could help other people with their pain.
“You need a medical background to be a fully-licensed modification surgeon,” Symone had said. “It’s about thirty years of study, all put together. Not impossible, of course.”
“I don’t need to go that far,” Isidore said.
“How far do you need to go?”
“I’m…not sure yet.”
“Hmm. Well.” She’d smiled and shown him the door. “I’ll be in touch again when you are sure.”
The learning had been a slow process. There were a lot of different levels of cosmodification, from simple surface work like skin tints and hair dyes to changing the very bone structure and vasculature of an individual. In five years, Isidore went from knowing next to nothing to being able to do entry-level surgical work on skin and nails, more carving and shaping than tinting. After ten years he’d moved on to custom visual fabrication, bone seeding, and had a certain reputation for surprising self-defense mods.
“Why self-defense?” Symone had asked on one of her infrequent visits, which had sweetened more over the years as the sourness of Isidore’s guilt had gradually been beaten back. It helped that he’d had visits from Wyl and Robbie, even from Garrett and Jonah once during their honeymoon trip. It helped to see them happy together now, far more than it hurt. That sweetness didn’t diminish the sharp flare of wanting in Isidore’s chest, but he was able to ignore it and show his friends a good time regardless.
“Obviously, but why is it so important to you?”
It was hard for Isidore to put into words. He tried anyway. “Here, it seems like appearances are everything. Back home, though, they were…almost nothing. How you looked mattered far less than what you could accomplish. Both places have their own endemic problems with assault and rape and murder, though. Same problems, different reasons. Here, your appearance invites comment, sometimes criticism, sometimes more. On Paradise, you ruled through strength, however you could get it. In both places, you’ve got to be careful not to get hurt. I can help people do that. Quietly.”
“Sneakily,” Symone corrected with a sly grin.
“You put a sap in someone’s palm that only activates at a certain velocity. It fractured her attacker’s skull. That’s not discrete, that’s deliciously disturbing.”
“You’re welcome,” she’d said. Her hair had been a whirlwind of flyaway locks that day, each one dancing to its own private hurricane. The algorithm that kept them from tying themselves into a knot had to be fantastic.
Symone’s approbation, it seemed, only went so far. The next time they met she was fuming, but for once not at Isidore. “Before we get started,” she’d said coldly as he’d entered her office, “I want you to know that I disapprove not only of the messenger of this offer but also of the message, its ramifications and the effect it’s going to have on you.”
Isidore had just stared at her, completely lost. “What are you talking about?”
“I can’t tell you unless you agree to certain draconian privacy restrictions,” she’d snapped.
He had only ever seen Symone this affected by two people: Tiennan, her ward, who frankly affected everyone like this, and Garrett. Isidore had nothing to do with Ten, so it had to be…
“You haven’t even read them yet!”
“I agree,” Isidore had said firmly. “Now tell me what’s going on.”
The story he got was complex. Even with all the revelations that poured over him, Isidore knew he was only seeing a small part of a much grander picture, but he didn’t care. Because the person telling him the story was Garrett, and the task he was being asked to do, while dangerous, was important.
“I’m not asking for your help lightly,” Garrett had said. They’d spoken over the comm, and to Isidore he looked washed out, more than the interference of light years of distance could account for. He was tired, burdened: that was something Isidore could ease. “If we’re lucky it won’t be needed at all. Kyle will be sent to Caravan and I’ll leave his extraction to Robbie and Wyl, but on the off chance that he goes to Redstone…you’re the only person with the necessary background to get a berth there, given the timeframe we’re working with.”
Garrett had sighed, run a hand through his loose hair. It was longer than Isidore remembered. “If he goes to Redstone, his safety has to be your first priority. However you keep him alive, you do it. I’ll get you support staff, we’ll work out the details, but you have to understand: this could kill you. This could mean you giving your life for someone you’ve never met and have no reason to support.”
“But it’s important.”
“He thinks it’s important,” Symone had interjected, but without her usual venom. Apparently she thought it was important too.
“Then I’ll do it.”
“Of course you will.” Symone shook her finger at Garrett. “If anything goes wrong, this is on your head, do you understand me? You can’t just do this to me! You can’t give me your people and then expect me to hand them back to you to do with as you please!”
“If I recall, the last transaction of a personal nature between us was your own ward being handed off to me and my family,” Garrett snapped right back. “So get your head out of the self-righteous clouds and get to work, Symone! You didn’t have to agree to help but you did and now you’re committed. And so is Isidore, so calm down and help me figure out how to make this as foolproof a plan as possible. But first,” he turned back to Isidore. “I need to introduce you to Sir.”
It had only sped up from there. Isidore became entangled in a web with strands that extended beyond his sight, but that was fine. He liked his place in it. He liked being needed, being necessary, having a purpose beyond carving a niche for himself.
And if he’d come to Redstone with a few more little secrets that his fellow inmates didn’t know about, well…he’d probably need them all once Kyle got here.