|Aid and Comfort
Author: Annwyd PM
In the years following his time at Station E-1077, Keith isn't entirely alone. In a way, Shiroe is there for him.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst - Words: 1,010 - Favs: 3 - Published: 06-05-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6026238
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
In the six years since he had graduated from Station E-1077, Keith Anyan had served on two space stations and three spaceships. All of them had Mother Computers of their own, and all appeared as some variation on that same first image Mother Eliza had used to enter Keith's heart. Mother Alice had different eyes, Mother Rebecca had a different color hair, and so on; in the end their images blurred together, and it was Mother Eliza he remembered. After all, she had cared for him and raised him. These Mother Computers mostly left him alone, their purpose only to coordinate orders and serve as the system's eyes and ears. He had left his training behind...most of it.
The problem was that he remembered something else, too, and it was this: no matter what name the Mother Computer went by, there was one thing she could not see. And that was Shiroe. Keith was the only one who could see him.
When Keith was at work among the crew, he only saw Shiroe rarely, and then only out of the corner of his eye. At these times, he did nothing to indicate he saw anything out of the ordinary. His dedication to the system could not be challenged by memories or ghosts. He was an excellent soldier, on a fast track-relatively speaking-to the Members Elite, although what he would do there he did not know. All that mattered was doing what was assigned to him now to the best of his abilities.
But no matter how hard he worked, there was always some time when he was alone in his room, with no duties to distract him. During these times, he reviewed what he'd accomplished that day, and then he slept, and then he woke and prepared for another day. But it wasn't enough.
Sometimes, when he turned off the lights to sleep, the shadows around him coalesced into a small, familiar figure. Still fourteen, still barely more than a child. Seki Ray Shiroe. Even in the dim light arranged for sleeping, Keith could do nothing but see him clearly. On the better days, he just sat there at the edge of Keith's bed, smiling at him. It was not a friendly smile. Keith had grown attuned to the different ways a smile could cut someone, and the way Shiroe smiled at him was mocking.
But on some nights, Shiroe spoke, and Keith could hear him as clearly as if he were real.
Keith didn't know whether to anticipate those nights or dread them.
"Why not?" Shiroe asked him once. "Why don't you know how to feel about me being here, Keith?" Then he laughed. "It's because it isn't in your programming, is it!"
Keith said nothing to that. He lay down in bed and waited for Shiroe to go away.
But the night came when he wouldn't go away so easily. This time, Shiroe perched on the bed next to Keith. "I hate this place," he said. "I hate that you've dragged me here. It's just like you. Empty and lifeless."
Keith looked up at the ceiling. "You're the lifeless one. Shiroe."
"What a cold thing to say! Only a machine's baby would say something like that, wouldn't he!" Shiroe jumped up and paced across the room, but he was trapped. He returned to Keith's side.
"If you hate it here," Keith said, "then leave."
"And miss out on seeing you like this?" Shiroe grinned. "I'm staying."
"This is how I was always intended to be," Keith said. "Why are you here?"
"Is it that easy for you, to say 'intended to be'?" There was a demand in Shiroe's voice now. "Of course it is. You're just a puppet. It doesn't bother you that you're just putting on a show every day. That's what you're for, right?"
"I'm serving the system," Keith said.
"This is so sad it's funny!" Shiroe laughed again. "I can't believe I worked so hard to beat you, Keith. There was nothing to beat. I would have been so much better than this."
Keith sat up in bed. The sheet fell away around him, leaving his bare skin exposed to Shiroe's demanding eyes. "Shiroe."
Shiroe looked at him. "There wasn't even any need to make you so pretty," he said. "So perfect. You were always going to waste it like this. I would have done more."
"You were a threat to the system," Keith said. "You would have only become more dangerous."
"Is that what you tell yourself? You're probably right...Keith!"
Keith wondered what he was supposed to say. Was he supposed to apologize? Did he want to apologize? He had been doing as Mother Eliza had ordered. He could not apologize for that. To apologize was to admit he could have done otherwise. How could he admit that?
Shiroe was still talking. "Computer got your tongue, Keith?"
"There's nothing for me to say," Keith said. "You should leave."
"Since you asked so nicely," Shiroe said, "maybe I will."
A jolt ran through Keith's body. Without thinking, without waiting for orders, he reached out to try to touch Shiroe. But his hands closed on thin air. There was nothing there. Shiroe was gone.
Keith lay back down in bed, the sheet still a mess around his hips. He waited for a message from the Mother Computer asking him why he was so disturbed. But that had been Mother Eliza's job; he was past his training now, and he no longer needed such comforts. Perhaps to the Mother Computer, this conversation had never happened. She couldn't see Shiroe, after all. He didn't know how to feel about that-about there being something only for him, and not the system. But he knew one thing. Although he had told Shiroe to leave, Keith had wanted him to stay.