Abyss & Apex : Second Quarter 2007

WEEPERS AND RAGERS Illustration

Weepers And Ragers

Aliette de Bodard

 

Sylvia shakes off the last of her nightmare, and goes to prepare herself. The Reformer is coming again today, as he does every month. He wants to make sure she is still re–adapting to the world of flesh.

She does not know how many more times she can lie to him.

In the bathroom she rakes the knots out of her hair, carefully spreads concealer under her eyes. Goes through the motions, as she’s done for three months. No matter what she does, she is still gaunt, still as hollow–eyed as a walking corpse. Still feels like one.

But she has a real body now. She went through the full Reformation Program, through every painful step of it. She atoned for her crime. So the Council rebuilt a body from her DNA, and uploaded her mind into its brain. And then they released her, left her to pick up again the threads of her old life.

But every night she dreams her bodiless mind is back in the Containment Banks, decaying with each processor cycle, with each update of her memory space. Every night she hears the mad voices of the Banks, and wakes up gasping from a nightmare that has no end.

The house AI warns her that the Reformer has arrived. Sylvia takes a last look at the mirror.

Her reflection leers at her, lips parted in a maniacal laugh she can almost hear.

No.

This is the real world. Not the simlife of the Banks, where the weepers and the ragers endlessly reshape reality to their whims. She has done her Reformation; she has paid the full price to be free of them. To feel again real wind on her face, and the joy of walking, anonymous, through crowds that pay no attention to her. To be free.

In the mirror there is only herself, Sylvia Russell. A hollow, rebuilt thing.

The Reformer waits on her threshold, a tall, dark man leached of color by the sunlight. His eyes rest on her, unblinking, and though he does not smile, she feels his amusement. She fears him, and he knows it.

“Mrs. Russell. I am here for you,” he says.

She can only nod, ignoring the threat in the words and in the tone. She watches him sit down at her table, and after a while joins him.

He is looking at the flawless makeup on her face, at the pristine walls of her living room. He seems to be thinking about some unpleasant thing. He says, grudgingly, “You still seem to be re–adapting particularly well. I am surprised. Few people have your fortitude. You have had no trouble since our last interview?”

I hear them every night, she thinks. The weepers, the ragers. Those who have refused every chance of Reformation, and are decaying, their personalities corrupted by hundreds of processor cycles, reduced to their primal components. Those whose frenzies rule the Banks. Those I left behind in Hell.

She does not say that. He would send her to a psychiatrist, for endless sessions that would come to nothing. Or, worse, he would send her back to the Banks.

“No,” she says.

“I am glad.”

Without warning, he is Jamie. Sneering at her, as he did so many times before he beat her into unconsciousness. Hatred flares. No. This is impossible. The Reformation suppressed the hatred that led her to kill Jamie.

“Mrs. Russell?” The Reformer is himself again. Not Jamie. Never Jamie. “You have completed the questionnaire?”

What is happening to her?

The Reformer still watches her. She nods, with difficulty, trying to convince herself that everything is as it should be. One of his eyes blinks faster as he retrieves the data from the house network. He frowns. The correlation program is taking her answers apart.

She cannot bear to watch him probe into her mind, endlessly hunting the flaws, the things that will break her. So she leaves him for the sanctuary of the kitchen.

She stands, for a while, staring at the white–washed walls. Her hand trails to a table, the marble’s coolness a reassuring anchor to the normal world.

Her eyes catch the edge of the stove: the surface, which she scrubbed clean the previous evening, shines like a mirror.

Blood slowly washes over the surface, until the reflection of the overhead lights becomes a dark, rippling red. No. No.

Far away, someone is weeping, a fading echo. The sound of tears brings her back to the weepers, the ragers. Two faces of one coin. Equally selfish, equally dangerous. Equally behind her.

“Who are you?” she asks, not expecting an answer.

Something speaks, chuckling.

We are Sylvia.

“No,” she whispers. “You have no place here.”

You brought us.

“Brought you?”

Laughter, bright and terrible. She wonders whether the Reformer can hear it.

“How?”

We bleed. Into one another. We fade, we merge with each cycle.

“They retrieved me from the Banks. Only me.”

We are each other.

She remembers her last day in the Banks: a city of molten stones shifting under her blistered feet, and the smoldering towers above her creaking as they strained towards some new shape, some other diseased imagining. Carrion birds hovered overhead, mocking her, becoming pale faces that spit acid at her, and then changing again, into a rain of steel thorns that pierced her skin.

She trudged on, even as the world reshaped itself—again and again, a nightmare without end. Every part of her was pain, but beyond the city, beyond the rain, lay a gate that was real, that would not taunt her or melt back into itself.

A gate to the real world. To her freedom.

“Mrs. Russell?” the Reformer asks suspiciously, behind her. “The personality matrix seems to be . . . split. Did you ask someone else to fill in part of the test for you?”

No, she thinks, but her lips will not speak.

We are Sylvia.

She has not left the Banks. No one leaves the Banks.

She is no one. She is all that remains. She is the Banks.

The Reformer is Jamie again, looking up with his hands raised and a bloody gash across his left cheek. She sees bone within the wound. She grips a knife she does not remember seizing.

Her blood–smeared image leers up from the stove. She screams and screams until her voice is a hoarse memory in her throat, but only terrible laughter answers. The Reformer’s shocked face swims out of the fragments. His lips move, soundless.

She falls to her knees, her useless hands pressed against her ears, against the mad peals of laughter.

She has not left the Banks. No one leaves the Banks.

 


Aliette de Bodard is a speculative fiction writer who moonlights as an Applied Maths engineer by day. She lives in Paris, France. Her short fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and is forthcoming in Interzone and in Writers of the Future XXIII. Visit her website at www.aliettedebodard.com.

  





Above button is for PayPal. Donate any amount. All monies go to authors and web hosting.
 


Click here for Patreon to become a Patron for as little as $1 a month!

 

Banner Art by
Mondolithic Studios