The sound of clearances being exchanged woke me from my doze. With waking came a surge of pain behind my eyes, but I bore it. I would not escape into sleep this time.
Several pairs of doors slid open before the main one let her into my room. Milia brushed hair from her eyes, and put her stack of digibooks down on a nearby tray, where most normal hospital rooms would have had flowers. But I had no use for such things, and was always pleased to see she remembered that.
After setting them down, she lowered her head, and paused before lifting it again. "How are you?"
"Usual." I tended to speak more tersely these days. "I am beginning to feel like one Joseph Merrick."
Milia's expression was uncomprehending, but also pained. She didn't need to understand the reference, but... "It's all right," I told her. "I don't wish to be pitied. I wish for action to be taken on my part."
She frowned. "Max should be coming by today or tomorrow."
"Yes." I realized I should be more honest. "Breathing is more difficult. I don't want to keep sleeping." Some part of me also realized I should be far less lucid, but I was. There was some division between my mind and my body, the state of one not necessarily affecting the other.
Milia looked at me. "Is anything...good...happening with your mind?"
I wasn't eager to shake my head, so only said "No." By 'good' I knew she meant special, some justification for the difficulties brought on by my alterations, as characters in Micron movies often got with their swollen craniums. But there was nothing.
Milia's speculation was only myth, influenced by the fiction whose very existence had been hard to for us to comprehend, which had attained a semi-mythical status for some Zentradi.
But no Micron ever thought I had anything more than an unfortunate medical condition, and I knew Milia did not really take the contrary speculation seriously. This was no cerebral boost from above, but just the caprices of biology. Being dealt a black hand in the genetic game.
None of the transmission screens in the room were reflective. Likely they believed it would be therapeutic, like the music that was filtered into the room, usually Minmay or something classical.
But I knew. The comparison to Joseph Merrick, the ancient Elephant Man, was in some ways accurate. My hair had almost entirely fallen out, and my head was becoming a lumpish mass, an expanded brain and braincase weighing it down and distorting the rest of my face, so that now I needed this support chair because I couldn't hold my head up on my own. Other internal difficulties came, ones which I preferred not to describe except to the doctors.
I kept my feelings of anguish under tight restraint, knowing they would do nothing. It was better when I was alone, actually, but I welcomed the company of Max, Milia, and others who had passed through my doors.
Milia sat with me and talked, informing me of what had taken place in the outside world since I had last been visited. I had watched the televised versions, and the projected sky on my wall made sure I wasn't ever totally disconnected from the outdoors, but I preferred to hear a friend relate it.
Even if I would never have been a social, vigorous creature, I missed my freedom, yet was also sure what I wanted to be saved the most.
Max did visit, and brought a recording the latest of council meeting in which they discussed what to do with me. If I were anyone else, Zentradi or Micron, I would have been only of interest because of the sudden emergence of my disease. But because of the mind, the brain, I was a topic of great discussion.
Max was pushing for a series of extensive bio-cybernetic treatments that would make me more independent and durable. His justification was that the colony ships would be going into uncharted territory, and would be in need of the experience of someone who had travelled the regions of space that their people never had.
But the objections: the procedure would cost too much, be too difficult, they were unsure if it would be successful, to which Max argued that they should not be so eager to lose my knowledge to the deterioration that was coming, no matter how clear-headed I now seemed.
But the council distrusted Max's bias towards me, saying our friendship blinded him to practical needs, and it wasn't right for an officer to take such a soft stance.
It was confusing and upsetting to see myself the target of such vehement internal conflicts, especially when I had no direct input into the matter.
"Greetings, council. My name is Exsodel Folmo, former Zentradi archivist, advisor, and emissary under Britai Kridanik."
I wanted to say everything clearly, even though I had to pause between my words. "I am aware that I have been the topic of much controversy as of late. I understand why I was left out of these talks, but do not wish to be silent any longer.
"I asked Max to make this recording and bring it to you, and plea for clemency for this unscheduled interruption.
"Any statements I would make about my value would have an obvious ulterior motive. Therefore, all I can lay before you is my plea: I do not care about my autonomy, my dignity, or my memories; all I want is not to lose my mind. It is all that has ever brought value to my existence, and I simply ask it to be saved. If it will not be, there is nothing more for me in this life, and I ask that it would be ended before I lose my faculties entirely."
Some of these things were lies. But I needed to present my case in simple extremes in order to reach them; I had learned that much about emotional intuition.
"That was good," was all Max said to me afterwards. I had viewed his video of the council's reaction; my speech was short enough that none of it was drowned out by the talks.
I knew Max had no regrets, and gave him my gratitude instead of my apologies.
A small thin computer, the current substitute for documents, was dropped unceremoniously to the table of my chair.
This impact woke me, while the aide's entrance hadn't. When I opened my eyes, I saw that the young man was trembling.
"This is, uh, a preliminary plan for your, uh, enhancement, S-Sir. If you f-find it acceptable, please notify the doctors ASAP."
"Thank you." I tried to sound as pleasant as possible, but knew that, even moreso than before, my appearance was an obstacle; the aide virtually fled the room.
Fighting the urge to nap again, I went over the plans, touching the screen and the scroll button with hands that I couldn't help but notice had grown withered over the past few months.
It was in fact a video, documenting plans for surgery on a scale never before performed, Lilliputians at work on Gulliver, for I was to be returned to my natural height. That had always been part of the plan, along with the cybernetics, but the rest of it...
I had never before met the doctor who began to explain the reasoning behind the procedures to me. "First, we will need to engineer you taller, about twice your original Zentradi height, to fit all the portable cybernetic life support components in, and we're hoping it will make you more able to withstand stress.
"We will also enhance your spine, so you will be able to hold your head up independently, but this planned collar here will help lend some extra support to your braincase.
"This jewel-like device will be a monitor that will help us keep track of your vital signs. It can be activated by touch, or a controller."
She had paused, then coughed. "Some other changes will need to be made." Something sprang to life at the shoulders of the demonstration image beside her, thick tendrils that each branched into three smaller ones. Then at the end of the trio emerged another bulb and another set of finger-tendrils, extending their reach.
She said, "None of the colony ships will be scaled for a fully-sized Zentradi, especially not one of your stature. These secondary arms are the best we could come up with to let you manipulate objects on the inside--they're as sensitive and mobile as regular limbs, maybe moreso. But it's also not likely you'll be able to use standard computer keys or handsets with them; instead you'll be restricted to touch screens and larger mechanisms."
"Before we move on to the final cosmetic aspects, we have to inform you of the plans your placement on the colony ship." She used her remote unit to change the display. "Your quarters will likely be placed under the bridge, with this opening here, for your head to come up when you're needed; we'd actually advise that you be in that position as much as possible, so that the crew could observe you directly, and alert the doctors if there are any problems. We don't need a staff of medical officers wandering around on the bridge, especially since they'll have other duties."
"This hemispheroid cap will help take some of the weight off your neck. Again, we are sure the spinal enhancements will let you support your head on your own, but there is no need to make you uncomfortable."
I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath. Obviously not the most dignified way of conducting things, but it couldn't be helped.
She wavered for a second. "O-Other openings may be set up like this in certain rooms. These are the plans proposed for your living quarters," The screen switched to a construction model, glowing lines displaying model displaying a tall, rectangular chamber, shaped something like a distorted letter "T". More details sprouted as the display took shape. The main chamber was the longest, with shorter offshoots: one where my medical needs would be met, and another under the room which would be used for video conferencing, and yet another branch for a different conference room for round-table discussions.
"As for cosmetic modifications, since, uh, you will mostly be seen from the neck up, we plan to mostly refine the appearance of your neck and head. With all the cybernetics, it would be too difficult to sculpt your entire body into a normal shape. Basic safety conditions will be met, and you should be able to walk on your own, but the rest will be covered with this cloak. There are weights in the hem, and the cloth contains metallic fibres, so it's very resilient."
The display changed again, showing a roughly humanoid torso sculpted of twining flesh that resembled exposed muscles but surely wasn't, liberally mixed with mechanisms and mechanical extensions. This did create an affair that was difficult to look at, somehow. A hologrammatic cloak entered the image and unfolded over that form, and this did create at least a suggestion of elegance.
The technician licked her lips. "Dr. Chiba told us about the 'uncanny valley', a term you're familiar with. He said you might be...easier to encounter if...you bore less of a resemblance to a standard human being. If you consent to it, your visible skin will be tinged green, with a blueing of your corneas, and slight changes in your facial structure beyond removing the tumescence."
Well, what else could I have said? I was not going to sacrifice my life for vanity, which I could never have afforded to hold regardless. And several Zentradi clone lines were green-skinned, so it was not unheard of to me.
But I found myself thinking about Konda's obsession with items of "science fiction" and "fantasy", and how I'd watched it from afar, understanding and appreciating this notion of making something from nothing. I would end up looking like a Matango, or a Metalunan Mutant, or any number of creatures like that.
"As to your mind, it was decided that the best thing to do was to make the housing as refined as possible, and leave the actual brain alone; the brain is still a mysterious instrument to us, and it would be best to treat it delicately. Your braincase will be reshaped, smoothed, to better accommodate it, but I'm afraid you're just going to have to live with the rest as it is, since there are no malignant growths on the brain itself, just a perfectly proportional enlargement. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us."
The recording finished, and a low-battery warning came up on the screen. I shut it off, and put the thing back on the tray.
And increasing the risks further would be how complicated it would all be, even at the normal scale. Even then, when the die had been cast, there would be many wondering if it was worth it or not. But I called them shortly afterwards, informing them that I was assenting to every part of the procedure.
Before the scheduled time, I was visited again and again. Warera, Rori, and Konda cried openly at their visit, apparently convinced they would never see me again; their female companions were also trying to hold back tears. Most others were more stoic, including Britai, who told me he knew I would meet my fate with a bravery that had always been mine. I had coloured at the notion, flattered.
Though there were no timepieces in the chamber, I was sure they had come shortly after I'd awoken, in three long-necked, basket-topped machines similar to what used to be called "cherry pickers". In low voices the doctors had went through the usual disclaimers: the sight would be shocking, it was all right if I had a negative reaction, there were counsellors waiting to help me, and so on.
About six men were there, two in each basket, and after they were finished with this, they had rolled into place a large mirrored panel for me to look into. But it wasn't only a mirror; as I watched, the reflection was replaced with multiple images of my body from various angles.
The first thing that I said was, "How interesting."
One of the technicians made a loud, choking sound of surprise at my reaction. But what else could I have said? It was partially true, regardless. I was intrigued, fascinated to see myself now different, though there also was a deep, shuddering feeling inside me.
They went through an updated explanation of my new body; little had changed.
Max and Milia were the first non-medical personnel to visit me. As they did, I remembered when she had decided that there should be friendship between Zentran and Meltran, friendship among the five of us: myself, Warera, Rori, Konda, and her, friendship to truly show our people's transition, and because she'd wanted to. Milia had wanted to help me, when I'd been feeling despair at the inability of my people to adjust to this new life. Against all odds it had succeeded, and I counted them all as close friends; naturally that included Max.
"Are you all right?" was what Max asked now, after the greetings had been exchanged. "You look very tired."
He knew that I still had to be fed intravenously, but I explained the rest. "Since I won't be moving very much, and my requirements would be great, my nutrient level is kept a bare minimum. I don't mind it; there's always been an abnormal division between my physical condition and mental alertness, after all." It wasn't only my lucidity from before that had shown this. I knew from experience that my mind could run at maximum on very little nutrition, while physical exertion always taxed me quickly regardless of what I'd done to prepare for it.
I paused for a moment, then added. "But I must confess that part of it is...but I shall not dwell on it. I want to be useful." I lifted my chin, as if to show both my determination and that I could move my head independently
Max smiled a bit, then pushed his glasses up with one finger. "Of course."
And I did feel, in some senses, freer. I could breathe normally, felt sure that I could walk on my own, and my head certainly felt clearer.
What ended up happening was that I was sequestered at one of the nearby bases, in a test version of my quarters, though one without head openings. If it was to my liking, a similar plan would be followed for my place in a battleship, using much for its structure that would be cannibalized from my current quarters.
The walls and floor were entirely padded. I recognized the connotations of that, but also that the softer floor made walking easier (which I did, slowly and repetitiously circling the long body of my quarters to avoid atrophying what leg muscles remained; similarly, I worked my real arms and hands to make sure they didn't also weaken), and the soundproofing (which was actually what the padding was for, I was told) made sure that nothing distracted me from my reading.
I had wondered if the soundproofing was also to make the personnel subconsciously think that I was not there. I chided myself for such thoughts, for they were nothing but courteous when dealing with me. Just because I looked like a creature from a movie, did not mean I was one.
As for reading, obviously I could no longer hold books or digibooks, but my enormous chair could move from underneath the bridge opening to align itself with the long wall and its projection screen.
I had a small voice-activated robot (which was thankfully as silent as it was compliant) and I could direct it to select a cartridge from the library and insert it in the machine. Most of the cartridges contained slideshows of book pages, a tie to my old Micron discovery, the concept of scholar, of searching out all types of knowledge for your own sake. It was a notion that had affected me on a different level than Minmay's music, even as I knew I could never be one. So I simply read whenever I had free time, an activity I would not allow to be changed.
Sometimes I would walk around the open areas of the base, conscious of my new size but enjoying the air. When I was on a colony ship, I wouldn't move among their city. Some fresh air was not worth frightening the populace over, though Max had said when a habitable planet was found, it would only be fair for them to let me walk around again.
I was assigned to the Macross 7 fleet. Its mission would take it to the centre of the galaxy, which made it the most in need of my services. I was also secretly glad that I would be working with two of my friends, who remembered me from those old days, though Milia seemed to have grown distant.
I felt the same as I always had, though much more tired, and somehow far older. But there would be no more emotional outbursts, no points where the truth of my situation becomes almost too overwhelming to bear. I would accept my existence as it was now.
On launch day I was allowed to walk onto Battle 7; Max trailed beside me in one of the cherry picker-like devices, after having said good-bye to many. The crowds were pressed close to the surrounding fences, the Microns and Zentradi who had remained to make something of Earth and came to cheer on every colonial launch.
"Look," Max told me, and pointed to a place in the crowd of cheering Zentradi. In the midst of it, Rori was being carried on the shoulders of Konda and Warera, all three of them looking like they were trying to cheer the loudest. Close to them stood Britai, arms folded and grinning in a more dignified fashion. The sight made me smile myself.