Scene 17B  1560 4D

Viantos and Inkurisar left the interview chamber. Guinban still had his arm around Piotras’s shoulders. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. It just takes me time to push all that away again.” Piotras lowered his head, dark hair falling around his pale face. He looked up, stared straight ahead. “All that waste – five years of my little andro life.”

“How much more time do you have before…?”

“I don’t know. Two andro-human partnerships were my grandparents. Instead of ten years, I’ve got maybe fifteen more now. No idea. But I’m on the Clock.” On the Clock – a mention of a song popular among andros.

“What’s it like for you? I don’t know anything much about andros, even if I saw them every day in the City. You come from a vat, right?”

Piotras looked for a long moment at Guinban. “Did anything about andros ever matter to you?”

“Not as much as it matters now. Andros were everywhere. I never noticed much. Now I’m sorry that was the way I was,” Guinban said. “I’m afraid for you, with these… animals chasing you.” His hand touched Piotras on the arm. “Help me understand. What’s it like for you?”

Piotras drew a deep breath. “Where do I start? Life with basic humans is just slavery. Your kind treats us like soft machines they can use and throw away. But that’s the outside part of the story. We live more on the inside of ourselves and each other. That’s how we survive you, until the Clock strikes and we wither.”

“What do you mean, ‘live inside’?”

“We have innerspace. It’s … like an imagination world, but we share it with other andros nearby. It’s part of our reality.”

“So you and Viantos were in it together?”

“Oh, yes. He spotted me right away. He wanted to be sure I wasn’t one of Gullinder’s Hounds, because if I was, he’d be dead now, and the City forces would be sent to destroy this place. The moment he saw me in innerspace he knew I wasn’t a threat to anyone. And I saw him and I realized he was safe for me. We just had to put on a bit of a show for you and Inkurisar.”

“Wait. Do you see me in innerspace? Or Inkurisar?”

“Of course! But there you look like shadows. We look the same way there that we do here, but… brighter.”

Guinban leaned closer. His sense of wonder grew. “What are those tiny pale flecks in your irises? And the dark ones?”

“You ARE curious!” Piotras laughed, a soft polytonal chuckle. “Only andros notice these. We have words for the two kinds, but they’re only pronounceable in anjive, out of range of your hearing. The pale ones are for seeing into the ultraviolet spectrum, the dark ones for the infrared. Humans know we can do this, but they don’t care.”

“This sounds beautiful! All that sound, all that color! I’d love to be able to…” Guinban’s voice trailed off.

Piotras looked sad. “It comes at a high price. We are made to be your servants. I broke your laws, even though I was supposed to be conditioned all my life to serve and obey you.”

Guinban reflected in silence. These gifts to andros seem like bribes or apologies or… just something precious to lose. A short life with so much beauty in it, putting up with us somehow, and then it all goes away. He looked down, closed his eyes.

“Did I say something that bothered you?” Piotras.

“Oh, no! I was thinking – we have these longer lives, but most of us are caught in the City serving and obeying, getting punished or getting little crumbs for the work we do. It’s nothing like what you go through, but our lives feel short at the end anyway. I’d love to… to make all our lives more bearable.” Guinban sighed. “And then after that, after it ends, then what?”

“We’re told – trained – that life just ends,” Piotras spoke, and now his arm and Guinban’s were in warm contact.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Guinban said. “Whether or not you’re like me or like you, something of us both goes on. Maybe without these bodies, we’ll be free.” He looked again into Piotras’s eyes. “Could we be friends and stay together, help each other? This trip we’re on now is going to be tough.”

And Piotras slowly nodded, smiling a little. That night they rested and comforted one another.


Next scene.

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