Silence, for a while. I never know what to say. Striking up a conversation with women had never been his strong point; he didn't need to be connected to his brain to be sure of that. It was even harder when you were having to supply both halves of the dialogue. Sunsfeathers, Cain - what am I supposed to say? To cover his awkwardness, he shuffled the daffodils haphazardly and wedged them into a vase he'd found, replacing a handful of wilted, thorny stems. Did I bring those? he wondered, then shook his head. Of course not. He wasn't the only visitor she had, after all.
"Ohh - I can tell you what's been happening. Just a minute - I wrote it all down..." Glitch fished in a coat pocket and came up with a creased sheet of paper. His spectacles were in there, too; perched on his nose, they brought the small, precise handwriting into focus, an echo of the sharp, sudden clarity that came with connection.
"So... okay. They started work on the City wall - the whole gatehouse is coming down. I don't know what they're gonna do with the stone, yet. They were talking about putting up a statue to the Mystic Man." He looked approving, then glanced in the direction of the Tin Men waiting at a discreet distance. My own protection detail... isn't it crazy? He leaned closer, confiding. "Cain'd like that, I think. He never talked much about him, but I think he was fond of the old guy..."
Did I know him too? He closed his eyes, trying to bring the grizzled mystic's face to mind, and was rewarded with a brief flicker of memory, bright as a darting shoal of freshwater mercuries and slipping through his fingers just as easily. So frustrating. Even with the help of several dedicated Viewers to act as conduits between his divided brain, the archive of his memories remained stubbornly elusive when he wasn't physically connected. There would be moments, flashes of recollection, but these faded the way a vivid dream will do, profound experiences eroded down to isolated, prosaic objects. What was he left with, this time? A telescope. A book with an inscription - the words blurred to meaningless, idiot scrawl. A blackboard, filled corner to corner with a breathless lacework of fragile chalk equations that turned, here and there, on solid pivots of formulae in a heavier, more certain hand. The tart, exhilarating taste of a purloined apple.
...to fuse the numbers together in such a way that the word 'number' is no longer applicable. They become something new - a curve whose slope is incalculable, undifferentiable, existing without measurable dimensions
...polished wooden puzzle pieces locking slickly into a new configuration, graceful undulations that seemed to carry with them a chorus of faint afterimages, intangible companion shapes, like the notes of a carelessly strummed harp, floating on the air...
He blinked, his immediate vision filled by a sheet of notepaper, and his mouth formed a guilty little 'o'.
"Sorry - I didn't come all this way to glitch at you. What was I talking about?" He ran his fingertip down the page. "Yes! The Papay fields - they're coming on really well - we went up in Aham- the Consort's balloon, and it's just beautiful... colour, as far as the eye can see." He neglected to add that he'd spent the majority of the time crouched in the bottom of the basket, trying not to add further colour to the scene. "Oh! And they've started to work on the Old Road. It's apt to take a few years, but we have the men to do it, now the Longcoats have been disbanded..." He shifted uncomfortably, tucking his coat around his knees. It was a sensitive subject, and Glitch knew tact wasn't always his strongest point. "They weren't all like - like him, you know. Some people just get so used to doing what they're told, they just don't question, any more. And if you're far enough down the pecking order, well..." he gave her a rueful shrug. "One boss or another - what's the difference, so long as there's clothes on your back and food on your plate?"
Aware that the silence seemed to have taken on a distinctly accusatory quality, Glitch raised his hand, gesturing placatingly on the way to pushing his spectacles further up the bridge of his nose. "I'm not making excuses for them! Seems like there's a trial every other day, from what the Tin Men say. They just haven't caught all the ringleaders, yet." One name hung heavy in the air between them, unspoken. "They will, though. I-I-I'm sure of it." It was all the comfort he could offer, for now, and he glanced hastily at his list for a change of subject. "Oh! We heard from Jeb - he's travelling all over the Realms. There's still Resistance cells out there who don't know that things have changed, and he's spreading the word." The thought brought a wistful smile to his face. "Can you think of a better job? Everywhere he goes, he gets to give people good news. The world's starting over again..."
We're all getting a second chance, he added, but only in the confines of his own head, because this particular 'all' excluded quite a few people, present company included. The OZ was putting itself back together hesitantly, survivors of a fifteen year unnatural disaster, rebuilding more than just the material structure of better days. There was a Council once again, operating under the auspices of Queen Iskra, and relationships to be rebuilt on every level. The Munchkins, the... Glitch struggled with the barely pronouncable growl of a name Raw's people gave themselves and settled for 'Viewers' - they would require reparation. The trade between City and the seven Realms had all but collapsed as Azkadelia's Longcoats had moved across the lands, like a swarm of locusts with a special line in brutality, he thought, a little frown tightening his lips. There's just so much to do... Which brought him to...
"I'm working on my Sunseeder again!" he announced, then laughed at his own eagerness. "Sorry. Did I even tell you about the Sunseeder? The crops were failing, and the farmers kept saying that if they only had more time, they could salvage some of the harvest... and..." He gestured, unable to convey with a sweep of his hand the cascade of logic that had led him to the conclusion that some small cosmic manipulation might be the answer to their problems. Just for a season or two, and it would all balance out... more images, slick-sided and impossible to hold onto - an eye-twisting diagram that only made sense when you saw it through the facets of a cluster of green crystals, and something to do with... rainbows? "I'm thinking of something different, this time." And when he got back to his laboratory, and his Archive, he'd remember what it was.
"I'll tell you something, though." He reached out, tugging a stray daffodil into a more pleasing position. "When it's finished, it's gonna shine." The thought warmed him, and although he couldn't for the life of him fathom the purpose of the various angled panels cooling fins and fluted conduits plasma cycling ducts, the Sunseeder in his mind was no longer the forbidding black tower that plunged its vents and tunnels into the parched earth like gouging fingers, drooling smoke into the sky. It was faceted like a quartz rod, the walls shielded in marble panels that fit so neatly together that they gave the impression of being seamless. From its apex, radiating projections stretched sunswards, where they would... would...
He tugged his spectacles away and pinched the bridge of his nose, warding off the shadowing of a headache. They seemed to come more often, these days, but he'd kept quiet - no sense in bothering anyone. "Besides," the spectacles went back into his pocket and he smoothed the sheet of paper on his knees. "if I did say anything to Deeg she'd want to call in the medicos and..." his hands set to work on the paper, creasing and folding it rapidly, "...Just between you and me, I'm not so fond of doctors. Once the Sunseeder's finished, I'll take a vacation. Get my noggin straightened out." And maybe there'd be some sort of ceremony, and he could invite...
"D'you think he'd come, if I wrote to him? To the activation thingy? You know him better than anyone and I," he shrugged awkwardly, "I got kinda used to having him around." Even now, six months after Cain had departed for the South, Glitch still found himself cheerfully announcing some random observation or small epiphany to the Tin Man, only to find that he wasn't there. Perhaps it was strange, to miss something as simple as Cain's familiar expression of longsuffering exasperation, but there it was. "You know how it is, you must miss-"
"Sir?" Glitch started, looking back to see one of the Tin Men Copeland? Cooper? I know it begins with a 'c'... standing directly behind him. "Sir," the man repeated, more gently this time. "It's time to go - it's getting dark."
"Already? We only just got here!" The Tin Man, whose name was Seaton, shook his head patiently - he was used to the zipperhead's tenuous grasp of time by now.
"No, sir - you've been here for almost two hours. We ought to get going." He offered a hand up, and Glitch rose unsteadily, looking down in bemusement at the flattened patch of grass where he'd been kneeling. Had it really been two hours? Must be - they don't get those shiny silver stars for their imagination... Which reminded him...
"Oh, just a moment!" He dropped to one knee, briefly industrious, while Corton or Carlton or nametags - they ought to have nametags. Or shorter names'd do at a pinch... whatever he was called, looked on with stolid forbearance.
Seaton, for his part, said nothing. He and his colleague weren't paid to question the former advisor's whims. They simply had to accompany him on these monthly visits and stand watch while he babbled aimlessly at an old grave marker and polished the tin star that rested there. Usually he left flowers - daffodils, today, Seaton saw - and this time he'd set a little origami swan beside them.
If the Tin Man's curiosity had got the better of him, Glitch could have answered him readily enough. He might have a little trouble telling left from right, or making it down to dinner two days in a row (the signal to stop working was most often the arrival of DG with a tray and a sound scolding), but some things he did remember. Someone's got to remember the dead. Mystic Man got a statue and a national holiday, but all Cain's wife got was a lonely grave and a grieving family. And maybe he wasn't a palace big-shot these days, but Glitch figured that so long as he still had a uniform to wear, he could represent the Queen in his own way.
Just until Cain comes home.