Everything smells like lemon window cleaner and the void of space and I’m still lethargic despite my limbs being liberated from the frost. My mind feels like a brick of concrete, neither human nor Miralayan.
What am I supposed to be? A doll, perhaps? A mannequin, maybe?
A hand brushes aside some of the hanging sheets denoting my partition in the medical ward, and then I see Mirt- first his face, then the rest of him as he approaches me and hands me a thin rectangle of shiny black plastic.
“What’s this?” I ask, turning to him.
Seeing that I’ve bothered to acknowledge him, he bows, keeping his gaze averted. “Serlis. You haven’t had any formal Miralayan education. Seeing that you’ll be receiving your memories in the near future, I didn’t think you wanted to spend your last few days before taking up status crammed inside of a classroom.”
Being crammed inside a medical ward isn’t much better. At least in a classroom- from what I gathered- there are teachers to listen to and knowledge to absorb.
Mirt gestures to the black plastic, taps it- and a screen comes on. “One of the security consoles the guards use. I thought it might be in your best interest to take a quick look around. I… can’t imagine the internet had much information on Miralay that wasn’t adulterated with mere speculation and conspiracy theories.”
I pick up the plastic… device. It fits perfectly in my hands. The screen has a neat little menu with muted colors and a basic font. There are hundreds of security cameras available for me to snoop around, all sorted by sector, purpose, resolution, latency. Too many options, so I go with something easy, something familiar.
The wide room that houses this very medical ward.
There are three cameras I can peer though, all of them designed to see through the curtains that keep me from snooping on the other patients, rendering the fabric as translucent gray shimmers. It must be a slow day for the medical crew- only about five or six people in here, including myself. Three adults I recognize from the outpost back on Earth; I don’t remember any of their names.
And a boy in the back with bandages over his eyes bearing soft little pinpricks of red stains and an IV in his arm and a quarter-size bald spot at the back of his head where the hair was shaved away to make for an incision site.
And the gauze taped to the space in between his eyes and up a little.
But I thought it would only be-
I look up at Mirt, and he clears his throat, already knowing my question. “Research done behind closed doors to try to emulate the brain-machine interface of the Providence. It won’t be as functional as yours has already demonstrated itself to be…” He shakes his head. “But we need to keep up appearances, and having a cripple as the Providence isn’t going to help much.”
Keeping up appearances?
Is there something wrong on Miralay?
Because then I need to fix it!
Eponine is too still to be lucid- I can just barely see the faint up-and-down as his chest as he slumbers on, probably still hopped up on the buckets of sedatives they must have used to keep him calm. He’ll probably wake up confused and scared and very much like I was when I first crawled out of a sleeping pod and tasted life. A directionless larvae fresh from the egg.
I go back to the list of cameras. There are no classrooms- there really isn’t much point in learning more than the absolute basics if you’ll just get all the other knowledge handed to you along with a life plan. The memory shedding lobby is empty, and a plastic sign in the far right corner proclaims that no recording or camera devices are allowed in the actual shedding room. There’s a black curtain swaying gently from the breathing of the ventilation. It probably leads to where the shedding machines are.
I guess I’ll find out in a few days.
I change the scene. A sector pathway, a hallway, countless pristine doors marking off residential quarters with numbers in the triple digits. This is Sector Three. All of the doors are closed. It is the same in Sector Four and Five and Two and the other three sectors I don’t want to bother checking because I know they’ll all just be the same old sterile walkways.
There isn’t a throne room. There is a meeting room with slightly more adorned chairs for the Providences- one with a swirling red and orange back and one as a mirror reflection of its mate but in blue and green. I can’t tell which one is supposed to be for me and which one will be for Eponine. Maybe we’ll get to choose?
“The ceremony’s going to be on Sunday,” Mirt whispers. “You’ll receive your memories and then be prepped up and presented to the public. That’s where you’ll receive your uniform and your cohabitation quarters with Eponine and become acquainted with the various officials on Miralay.”
“So I won’t have to do everything alone?”
Mirt sighs and rubs his forehead. “Fortunately. There are seven officials that answer to you, one for each sector, and they each have a retainer who answers to them. They operate without you for the most part, but they’ll approach you and Eponine for the final word on important matters. And, of course, you can always intervene.”
I can always intervene.
But there are set rules somewhere, I’m sure. Like, I can’t just have anybody murdered on a whim, can I? Executed for treason? Could I be executed for treason if I decided one day that I’d had enough of being Providence? If Eponine became so unhinged that I’d have to force him to step down for the good of Miralay? If I didn’t want there to be any more Providences, period?
I don’t… I don’t know anything trustworthy about Miralay. About the Providence’s duties, about what memory shedding entails, about the culture I’ll have to mold myself into.
But I have all the stories I read during my purgatory- of birth permits and mistakes, of kids illicitly born to parents without a birth permit who had to hide pregnancies for nine months and then were busted when they tried to smuggle the babies off to Earth or abandoned in a forgotten corner somewhere and mistakenly shipped off to Earth. Of people who refused to give up their memories to shedding and were forcibly strapped down and gagged, of people who refused to receive someone else’s memories and station in life and resisted to the point of suicide.
Someone received memories that weren’t supposed to be theirs and suffered through dysphoria all their life because of it. Someone who was my age tried to kill as many people in the waiting lobby as possible to save them from shedding. An Earthen smuggled themselves to Miralay, got someone else’s memories, was deported back to Earth, and spent the remainder of his days running around and proclaiming that he was a prophet.
I’m surprised that, assuming all these stories are true, there hasn’t been a fully-fledged uprising yet.
“Mirt?” I whisper at long last.
“Can you make me a promise?”
He kneels beside my bed, his eyes focused on a point above my head. “What is it?”
“That once I become the Providence, that you’ll help me do what’s best for Miralay. And that you’ll support me. Even if it means that I have to commit treason to make things better.”
Mirt’s eyebrows go up slightly, but he closes his eyes anyways and puts a hand on his knee. “As long as it’s for Miralay’s benefit, you have my unwavering loyalty.”
My throat chokes up. I can’t force any other words out, so I softly whisper, “Thank you.”
I pat his head- I think he tolerates it, but just barely, because he stands up again right after I retreat my hand and switch to a different feed. It’s the loading bay in Miralay, positioned countless miles above our heads at this very moment. Just small enough for a few ships like the one I came in; nothing hulking huge- but then again, it’s not like there’s dozens of alien civilizations we would need to cater to. Just shipments from Earth to Miralay and back again.
I wish Eponine could have been a pilot instead of the Providence. That would have been incredibly more helpful. But then… I’d have to learn to work around someone who might not be as loyal to Miralay.
Who might be too loyal.
I turn the device facedown on the sheets and close my eyes, leaning back until my head hits the pillow. The partition sheets ruffle. Mirt is gone, leaving me to rest, and I’m all alone without anyone to talk to.
I’ll get friends in two days. All the friends I could possibly want, and then I’ll never be alone ever again.