For Brin. Set pre-game, spoilers, Midori POV. An odd, quick look at the family Uzuki.
You hear your father in your dreams. He sounds different each time. One night he is composed entirely from sheet music. The next, cross-lingual puns, and when you stumble down for breakfast, you can't understand which voice he uses to say good morning.
Your father always fills your thoughts with letters, disconnected bumbling forms that are printed in cursive, black and white. They don't add up; they never string together properly into words, so much that the village teachers have started to murmur behind their eyes about developmental disorders and Mother has started to wonder about what she has birthed. This silent little girl, who understand more than she should at her age. The girl who crayons in red.
But you don't see much point in building order out of chaos, turning abstractions into concretes -- not when your father is just a sound on the tongue and a figment when you sleep.
Noise. Your father's mind is white fire, always crackling, always burning. He does not stop. You have lived with it for so long that your father seems hotter than the sun itself, vast enough to create his own form of gravity. He bends the paths of comets. Father's brain is too active to suppress, and rather than try and shield himself from penetration by suppressing his thoughts, the Guardian only lets his synapses run on overdrive. Intruders can drown in him. Father's mind is hungry, hungry, and whenever his eyes are filled with the inspiration for a new invention, you shrink away from him in the hallway.
Lest you be engulfed.
There is no single diagnosis that can keep up with your father. He wears two faces and lets the truth exist simultaneously in both. He has warring names. Laws are a temporary consideration for him; he fights for his country, he fights against it. He obeys an emperor who plots against his own nation. Your father speaks two ways: an unerring formality in Lamb-tongue, and a harsh series of contractions whenever he drops into Solarian cant.
Your mother is not very different. She is calm on the outside, even as Father pretends to be bumbling, but within her lies a coil of action which remains tucked underneath her skin. She is a military knife inside a thigh-high boot. You can hear your mother's brain like a faint signal through your father's scrambled static, and Mother is always waiting, always ready.
Originally, Mother had been an assignment for Father to seduce -- a word meant for adults, adult brains and adult bodies and adult betrayals, but that you have not been able to avoid learning -- and who is, by now, an affectionate wife. Who has been taken away from Shevat and a sage-grandfather, cozened by a Guardian's flattery. Who cooks meals for three and wears her hair up when she scrubs linens on the washboard, fingers chapping from harsh-lye soap.
But Mother hasn't forgotten her past. Neither has Father -- the Guardian Angel, an Element named Hyuga who invaded Shevat and won his way out of prison through her favor. That they love each other is unquestioned. That they fought to kill one another is as well.
You understand this. Reality is bigger than words. It's bigger than fact, or truth, or the happy little village you dwell near, with its painter-Contact-destroyer incubating inside.
Father is like one of your dolls. Put the right clothes on him and Father becomes a spy, a murderer, a scientist who has designed the very weapons he clucks his tongue over at night because he expects he will have to destroy them later. Turn him around and he is a doctor once more, thumb flicking his hair back over one shoulder while he fumbles for a wrench, and falls off the ladder.
Your parents both want peace, but at the same time, their own natures stretch like animals while they sleep. Instinct snuffles in the corners of their mediocre lives. Hyuga. Yui. On his good days, Father likes to pretend to himself that he is no more complicated than a village doctor named Citan. Mother only ticks off the sleepy hours of the afternoon and wonders if there's enough jam for the thick nut-grain breads that the locals serve up in stone-walled bakeries.
If you were born ordinary, you might have been fooled. But instead you are privy to the closed-doors discussions between your parents, hearing their thoughts rise out of the windows and chimney of your home like the smell of dough crisping. They say things that they do not intend for you to hear. Sometimes you wish you couldn't understand the words that they use, couldn't see the pictures in their minds and ghost-bodies on the floor of their memories, but it all makes more sense than Lahan's one-sided simplicity. Mother and Father are vast. You are like them, a girl who is old and young, who ignores language because she knows a better verse.
Fei, dead. Lahan, gone. Father talks about that sometimes, out loud and inside himself, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and dread. Mother brings up Shevat's dwindling population. They argue and agree and you hear it all, even the way that Father once said, very politely, very firmly, that there will be no other children now that they have had you. There will be no other risks. Additional loose ends are far too dangerous.
Father scares you, but that's okay. Father scares himself.
When he remembers to be frightened.
The village councilman takes the path down the mountain with a limp. Citan Uzuki, standing at the doorway in his white examination frock and a stethoscope around his neck, lifts a hand to wave farewell. His patient isn't looking back; the gesture is wasted, but Father smiles anyway to the afternoon, automatically cheerful.
"He will not last another six months," is the first thing the doctor confides. It comes out of the corner of his mouth, in Mother's direction as she steps out of the door to stand next to him, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
She frowns. "What is it?"
"Degradation of the muscular walls of the heart." From where you are sitting on the front lawn with your stuffed duck, you can hear him rattle off additional words in a primal tongue, an ur-dialect of diagnosis that he once claimed was Latinum. He was grinning when he said that, so you weren't certain if he could be trusted; he's grinning now, watching his patient hobble away. You flop the feet of your duck and listen. "I told him it was mere overexertion. I have sent him home with some herbs for tea."
Mother stirs, absently folding the towel into neat quarters and hanging it on her arm. "Can you do anything about it, my love?"
"If I had a laboratory, maybe." Hands up, sighing, but there is nothing of real regret in Father's heart, nothing save a pang of yearning for sterilized walls and bountiful resources. Beautiful, his mind whispers, desiring freezer-cold labs, surgical saws, anything but helplessness in the face of death. Beautiful tools, out of reach. "If I could take him back to Solaris -- "
"Or your home too." Voice a little harder. They have had discussions about their birth-lands in the past; Father agreeing to Solaris's flaws, but half-heartedly defending the process that had lifted him up from the slavery of the lower classes and their bio-engineered diseases. Mother has no such stubbornness. She was reared with a disdain for the enemy, and she has never had to put it down.
"Can't you order medicines?"
"That man," Father replies, tart, "is as good as dead, Yui. A doctor of my supposed caliber would be unable to observe the proper diagnosis, nor would he be capable of curing such a condition even if he found it."
Mother sighs, turning and disappearing back into the house, trailing a line of silent disapproval behind her. The Citan-Hyuga-Guardian watches her for a minute over his shoulder, eyes dark and cool behind his false glasses, but his mind is already shoving the medical victim away in favor of a debate for ceramic plating upgrades in certain types of missile silos.
Your duck has a grass-stain on the bill. You rub at the mark, and then try to pretend it isn't there.
Your parents are not enemies, not co-assassins, but the war has not left either in peace. It's for this reason that they understand one another so well. They do not deny the other's right to exist, but only prepare for the worst. Some miracle might cause the apocalypse to pass them by unharmed -- but neither Mother nor Father believes in luck, except the bad kind.
That's what they taught them, Solaris and Shevat. That's what your parents teach you in turn.
Mother fingers her kitchen knives sometimes, when Father is off tinkering with machines in the backyard. You can feel her thinking about the clinical necessities of murder. If Father has been corrupted too far, too young; if Solaris will lure him back with another invention to be developed, and honey-mouthed rationales that the Emperor's goals would be better fulfilled by doing so. If Shevat will lose its patience, or possibly its nerve, and will abandon its wandering path over the mainlands to hide forever in the oceans.
Neither wonders what might happen to you. Both assume you will end up with the survivor, if their parent-countries ordered them to quarrel.
Awareness of the other's capacities also grants them a twisted love. They will kill each other if it comes to that. They will have other people kill themselves. They will destroy the other because it would be the last loving act that a spouse could grant: above all, they will do what they have to, your parents, because the invasion never ended and war is full of brutalities.
It can't be any other way. Both of them are dangerous, simmering in the bucolic village of Lahan, being real and not-real at the same time. They are sleeper agents. It's just luck that made them come from opposing nations.
It's just luck. The Uzuki kind.
Lahan's borders have deteriorated to a 75 percent risk of security contamination.
"More butter, Midori?"
Father likes to take tea from three p.m. to four. He abandons work during this time, hanging a chalk-scrawled sign on the rickety door to his examination room, and walks back and forth across the meadow lawn. Mother brings out a blanket. She pins down each of the corners with a rock or a plate or a spare saucer, and assembles what she knows will be her husband's only real form of lunch. He eats sparsely, his attention fixed on the distant steeples of Lahan far below; Mother offers a cup as he paces by, serenely adding two sugars in the process and only managing an arbitrary stir before he has taken the tea away into his own hands.
If Solaris is alerted, the projected calculations run no greater than three hours for the total extermination of Lahan. Gear deployment: four maximum, one minimum of the current standard model. Variance may range up to 40 percent of the population surviving. Unacceptable: yes, no?
"You shouldn't worry about the villagers, my dear." Mother cuts off another pat of butter and laves it over a chunk of bread. This, she sets neatly upon your plate. "They always get fussy during allergy season. You can't cure it overnight for them, no matter how much they complain."
"That was not what I was thinking about," Father replies smoothly, "my love."
The Guardian smiles fondly as he circles past you, reaching out his fingers to brush them over your head. His mind is a metronome of homicide, babbling along to itself as innocently as if he were debating a crop harvest.
You refuse the bread. Instead, you scrunch your face together and press your hands over your ears until your father's thoughts morph into concern, and then curiosity. In that order.
Of your parents, you know which is the more dangerous: your father, whose mind builds engines of holocast in his sleep, while Mother only tosses fitfully through fears of katanas lost. In Father's dreams, he destroys worlds, all out of fascination to see if the equations could be made to work properly. Civilizations crumble underneath the touch of Science, and Father strokes his fingers down imaginary viewscreens and sighs into his pillow.
Your father makes your breath clench up in your throat sometimes and smothers your thoughts in sticky napalm; you didn't want to know the meaning of that word either, but it poured into you one night while Father was reading in his study, careless. The nightmares lasted for weeks. Your father has given you an entire lexicon of violence over the years, all studiously packaged in sterilized wrappers of indifference.
But he is a gentle man. Or tries to be, when he has the luxury for it. You see it in his mind, paired hand-in-hand with his aptitude for genocide. When the night is over, Father wakes up and stares at the dawn through the chipped-pane windows, wondering if this peace could last forever. He brushes his hand across Mother's hair where it spreads out over the sheets, and when she stirs, he smiles at her and offers to do the dishes.
Mother loves him, but watches him too.
Everything exists in five dimensions. Your family unit, which is simultaneously a cover excuse for Father to stay out of Solaris, and also the focus of what he hopes to be his retirement. Your birth, which he knows weighs in his favor when Shevat doubts his loyalty to Mother. Yui herself. What you see at night when you sleep is the same as what burrows into your head each day: your father's wish for mercy mixes together with his love of artificial creation. He serves and hopes and wants, and your mother does the same, dreading the hour that the two great sky-nations will finally call for action.
No one knows when that time may come. Fei is a time-bomb festering inside Lahan, unaware of the potential buried within him. Father straightens his glasses and tastes his own self-destruction lingering in the syllables of his names.
And your mother unlocks the cabinet that holds the sword which Father swore abstinence from, checking each week to make certain that the world is dormant and still.