Notes: My brain needed a break from plot, so you get this!
Title: Chelen City: Interlude: Pol
This home was too quiet. Pol didn’t like it.
Home home was never this quiet. There was always someone there—one of his siblings or parents, or a vid playing somewhere, or he was out with his friends in the garden, or something. Here, it was like there was no sound at all—the walls seemed to eat it up even from one hall to the next. When Pol called for his mother, it was the house’s AI that had to let her know he wanted her, because the doors didn’t let sound out.
His feet made almost no noise against the floor, not even when he stomped extra hard. Once, just to see what would happen, Pol picked up the tab that the Man had left for him and threw it as hard as he could against the carpet. It hadn’t made any noise, but shortly after that Mama came in to ask him why he was upset.
“I’m not,” Pol replied, but he was. He was, and he knew Mama didn’t quite understand why. This was a nice place for her, with grown-ups she liked and a kitchen she could cook in and a system she could use to talk to Szusza if she wanted to. Which she didn’t yet, and Pol understood that part just fine. He didn’t want to talk to Szusza yet either, not after she left him. He missed her terribly, but he was also so, so angry at her…
Mama like it here, and so Pol tried to like it to. He tried to like it for a whole week: a week of learning school from a new teacher, of getting a new doctor’s checkup and being assigned a therapist (which he didn’t like, and neither did Kieron, even though she was Kieron’s therapist too. “What does he need therapy for?” Keiron had demanded. “He’s just got settling in to do, that’s all.” “Settling in can go a lot better when you have someone to talk to about it,” Mama had replied, agreeing with the Man, and Kieron had given in).
So he had new school and new therapy and none of the other Traktans around, which was shitty. He felt a little guilty using that word, even if only in his own mind, but it also made him feel better. He used to hear his older siblings use it when their parents weren’t around, and they always seemed so cool. Pol wanted to be cool, but he knew he wasn’t. Catie was the cool one, and Catie…well. He wasn’t sure how he felt about her yet most of all, even more than the Man.
(He knew his name was Elanus but it was hard for him to say for some reason, the “s” always came out with a bit of a lisp and Catie had told him not to say her daddy’s name if he couldn’t say it right, so he said “Fine, I won’t” and started calling him the Man instead, and then Lizzie had gotten sad and withdrawn after they began fighting, and it was so hard to have friends sometimes. There were days that Pol wished he could be a computer—not a special computer like Catie and Lizzie, just a regular AI, the kind without emotions who didn’t have to worry about feeling at all and who everything made sense to. Then he wouldn’t be so afraid of letting his mama down, or making Kieron or Lizzie sad, or making sure that the Man and Catie at least liked him enough to keep him and Mama around, and… This was usually the place where Pol started crying, too overwhelmed by his thoughts and emotions to process them anymore. His therapist had helped him with that once, and Mama had helped too, but mostly he tried to bury his head in his covers and cry until he felt better.)
Anyway, so now it had been a week and Catie and Lizzie were playing a game of hide and seek, and Pol wanted to play but he kept getting found immediately because they were hooked into the AI and that was no fun at all. In the end he sulked off to his room, but that was no fun, and Mama was on an important phone call with a per-son-el…elle…al? With a personal explo-ra-tion agent or something, and Kieron was gone—he was gone a lot recently, so Pol decided to go and visit Ryu instead. Ryu couldn’t talk to him from inside the Regen, of course, but that was okay. Pol could pretend.
As soon as he stepped into the room, though, he saw the Man. Pol froze, then tried to back away, but the Man heard him and looked over from what he was doing. “Hey.” He took in Pol’s frightened posture and sighed. “Are you okay?” Pol didn’t move. “Do I need to get Xilinn?”
“No!” That was enough of a threat to get Pol to respond. “No don’t get her, she’s busy! I’ll go!”
“Whoa, calm down!” The Man held up his hands. “I won’t get her, I just…” He sighed, then glanced at Ryu. When he wasn’t looking at Pol, it was easier to be around him. He was just so tall, it hurt his neck to look up like that. “So. You like being around Ryu?”
“He’s quiet,” Pol said after a moment.
“Yeah, being stuck in a tank of Regen will do that to you.”
Pol tentatively crept a little closer. “Why is he in there?”
“Because he’s sick,” the Man said, still not looking at Pol. He was fiddling with the interface of the tank instead. “And we’re trying to make him better.”
“Oh.” Pol came a little closer. “How?”
“A couple different ways. One is medical—we’re doing a special treatment for Ryu that’s going to regrow his skeleton.”
“Oh, gross!” That was so cool! Pol looked into the tank, where Ryu was almost invisible in the thick blue liquid. “What else are you doing?”
“Well, Kieron is going to do some investigating and see if he can help find a cure, but to do that I’m making him a special shield to protect him from digital eyes.” The Man didn’t quite look at Pol, but he tilted his head in Pol’s direction. “You know…it might work for hide and seek, too. Or at least make it tougher for the girls to find you, if you want to help me beta test the shield.”
A special shield that hid him from computers? That was so amazing! “Can I?”
“I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t mean it.”
In Pol’s experience, adults offered all sorts of things that they didn’t mean to and ended up taking back. It had happened all the time at the refugee center. But…the Man might be too tall and kind of scary and a little grumpy, but maybe he could be trusted with this. “Okay. How do I wear it?”
The Man grinned, getting into it now. “There are a couple of ways. We can insert an algorithm right into your implant that project the shield in a variable radius, but that takes a few little surgeries to get the extended batteries and transmitter in place, so…” The Man shrugged. “How about a special hat?”
He stepped away from the tank and rubbed his hands together. “Great, come to the lab and let me measure your head.”
Pol followed him, free from the paralyzing fear that had overtaken him a few minutes ago. The lab was pretty great, with real-time prototyping that he even got to pick the color for! It only took half an hour to make the hat, and the Man chatted to him the whole time about different projects and stuff he was working on and how the shield functioned, and Pol didn’t understand most of it, but it was so cool anyway.
Even cooler was sneaking up on Catie in her docking bay half an hour after that and making her scream when he shouted “Boo!”