An Exercise in Restraint
Spoilers, pre-series. Daedalus and Re-l.
As a present to himself for his ninth birthday, Daedalus reads his own files. He lays them out with patience. He's had access to them since eight, really, but he'd been holding off, honing his self-restraint. It's been like playing an elaborate game of chess with himself while taking away his own pieces, imposing penalty after arbitrary penalty to keep matters interesting. Even on the day of his ninth birthday, Daedalus waits until the afternoon, after his AutoReivs have finished clearing away the cake -- of which there is a lot of. He was the only one who attended the small lunch that marked his decantation.
Eventually -- as soon as he's satisfied that his curiosity won't control how fast he turns the holopages -- Daedalus calls up his records and lays them across the screens, planning out his afternoon with the thrill of a reward claimed at last.
He skips the basics quickly, only reviewing them to establish a baseline of truth. His physical specifications come first. Then his personality. Everything's planned out. Some of his development is environmental, some inborn. Daedalus has to admire the elegance of it all: even if he wanted to rebel on principle, he wouldn't. Not so long as Re-l remains. It just wouldn't be interesting enough to move on to anything else.
The Proxy is important too -- he'll never forget the Proxy -- but Re-l is different. Re-l's story fits in a folder inside his desk. The Proxy is part of a story that's larger than anything else. Daedalus can take out Re-l's file and open the holo-book on his lap and scan the pages for as long as he wants. The Proxy involves floorcharts.
Despite being only nine, Daedalus is already well-versed with his assigned purpose, having been drilled in it since being unpacked from his nest of amniotic fluid. He knows every inch about Re-l, even down to her genetic ID number, the slot set aside for her and only her to fill. RE-L 124c41+. He knows how these digits are divisible and how they're multiplied; he has added and subtracted those numbers from each other like a father instilling discipline into a pack of rowdy children.
Re-l's genetic makeup is dissected, of course, in the records. She's a custom job, much like he is. Everyone in Romdo technically is, because what good is control over a genome if you don't exert it? Re-l is simply more carefully constructed than most. Her face, her eyes, her straight black hair are all deliberately chosen, unlike most citizens, who are allowed a natural physical range to develop within. Even specifically-tasked individuals usually end up with some variety. Daedalus's chin, for instance, should have been larger. His eyes are too narrow. Last week, Re-l called him a cat.
Daedalus doesn't know who -- or what -- Re-l is supposed to resemble. Or why. It must be a resemblance, because Donov and his Chorus never speak longingly of ideals that Re-l embodies in her height, weight, and body mass index, of perfection in a XX chromosome set -- yet her variance tolerance is almost 0.001%. They went through over ten false starts before her fetus was viable. Even then, she required some tinkering during gestation.
As Daedalus puzzles over the files that spell out his existence, nine-year-old fingers flicking the pages smoothly from report to report, it's not himself that he dwells on, or even Re-l. Along with citizen registration comes an established role within the community: a social womb that replaces the biomechanical. Unlike the biomechanical, each element in society can be analyzed, but not controlled. Random chance is a perpetual danger. People change unexpectedly. Disaster might strike.
Why even allow us to be born? he finds himself wondering. When so many things could go awry? When something as minor as wavy hair is the difference between a death and a birth for a Re-l, then why not simply leave everything as digital variables, played out again and again in the databanks before winding down to the inevitable finish?
He knows there's a reason that the people of Romdo are allowed to live as more than text on a screen. There is a logical justification for the risks. There must be.
He just hasn't been told it yet.
- - - - - -
For his tenth birthday, Daedalus disconnects his AutoReivs from the surveillance system. He's not a fool; they know to send back communication pulses on a regular schedule in response to inquiry states, false placid beepings in accordance to status queries. He tests them slowly, carefully, aware that there will only be so much leeway allowed for misbehavior, in the event that he should be caught.
There is no reason behind his fledgling rebellion. He has nothing to hide yet. He simply doesn't like being watched.
Despite his limited experience -- and he knows this too, how the structure of Romdo keeps him only as another cog, ultimately disposable -- Daedalus has already decided that the optimal way to tend to Re-l is not necessarily the method that her grandfather would think is best. It's endearing, how proud and untameable she is. She doesn't come to Daedalus often, and he can accept that, because she comes to no one. She does not play with him, but he does not need to be played with.
He will grow older, for Re-l. He will grow beyond such things.
But it would help if he had a better idea of what he should grow into, some role laid out in graph charts, some explanation for his own curiosity. Daedalus enjoys thinking outside the box. He loves to solve puzzles. Such a combination would dare to defy any system it was placed into; Daedalus needs to know why he was gifted with such traits if Romdo expects him to be obedient. Re-l is 124c41+; he is 021723. The numbers do not tell him anything.
They do not share the reason why people are allowed to be born.
When he is eleven, Daedalus goes looking. He tabs through screen after screen of the deceased. He makes discreet requests into the Mayer line, citing future planning for Re-l's health. The excuse doesn't last long, for Re-l has only traces of the genetic pool that the Mayers draw upon. It's lucky that she has no parents to fail at resembling as she grows older; luckier still that no one even thinks twice to ask why not.
He looks. He fails, categorically, across the board. The totality of his non-success is so absolute that Daedalus can't believe it. He keeps reviewing the folders in his lab, expecting to discover a printout with the words, Positive Match that had simply been temporarily forgotten about. He loops and reloops the video footage he has on file for Re-l, going back even to the data collected by his AutoReivs when his own fingers were too clumsy to hold a camera steady.
It's only after a year of cross-studying that Daedalus finds the answer. It's in the Proxy's files; naturally it's in the Proxy's files, the one shackle around his heart interwoven effortlessly with the other. Underneath the buckled mask, on a body that's been cut and analyzed and dissected, there's a face. In the evaluations that previous scientists had performed before the Proxy was entrusted to Daedalus's protection, there are answers.
He recognizes the lines instantly. He knows them better than his own. Everything about the visage is beautiful.
Her face, he thinks, remotely. It's her face. Of course it's beautiful.
- - - - - -
There are five things that Daedalus knows about Re-l that he will never document, not even in his personal files. The reason is simple. If there is some mistake along the way -- some calamity unforeseen among all the variables of life -- and they're replaced by second iterations, then Re-l can never be cloned exactly. Not without his secret knowledge. Not without him.
These things are Daedalus's to know. He's selfish; he won't share her. He holds the final key to Re-l's documentation, to the sum of her parts, to the truth of her that sometimes she's too stubborn to remember herself. He's her keeper.
This Re-l is special. This Re-l is his.
He knows her. He knows her better than she knows herself, because he's read her files and numbers and statistics. He's watched and rewatched the video footage. He's reviewed the analysis of her vocal patterns. He's tolerated her moods, her tempers, her quirks that she sometimes even remembers to apologize for. He alone would be able to identify the true Re-l, even if they might try to replace her.
The real Re-l is his to recognize.
- - - - - -
The hallway to the Regent's chamber is cool, radiating condensation along the walls and against the skin of Daedalus's cheeks. Fourteen, so far, has been a year of disappointment. He's going through adolescence at an irregular pace; his sleep is erratic, his voice is tight. He can't really afford the distractions of puberty, not when he needs to focus on tracking a particularly resistant strain of bacteria that's surfaced this year. He's been thinking about taking hormone regulators, except that Daedalus knows he runs the risk of being tempted to artificially accelerate the entire process, just to get it over with.
Patience, he tells himself, rubbing his chin as he walks. At least he stands a good chance of remaining clean-shaven; his DNA belongs to a category that doesn't retain much in the way of facial hair, though he once wasted an entire afternoon wondering what he'd look like with a mustache.
Donov Mayer is waiting for him in the Regent's chamber. Mayer barely speaks anymore; the AutoReiv Chorus does that for him, interpreting the small groans that Donov contributes and making decisions on their own. Daedalus can barely remember the Regent's true voice.
Lacan is the one who greets him first. "You have another question today, Daedalus Yumeno."
"An inquiring mind is a useful tool." Derrida, so often speaking as if Daedalus isn't there. "But be warned. Curiosity has been known to lead to ruin."
He ignores the warning; while he could choose to play their game today, there's a better field to fence upon. "I do. It concerns Womb-Sys." He launches into his line of questioning aggressively, trying not to be obvious about the periodic glances towards Donov, hungry for clues. The Proxy and Re-l are linked in more ways than one; he's guessed that for a while now, but he's not sure if he's meant to be know. "I'm aware that the genetic database requires a keystone to keep the data fresh, and to prevent degradation. But in the last several generations, the birth rate has dramatically shifted. It appears to have dwindled in certain demographics, and risen in others. Certain genotypes are no longer accessible, while new combinations are being allowed. How is this possible?"
"How indeed, unless our god truly has not left us entirely." Husserl now. Daedalus resists the urge to turn in place as he's addressed, artificial voices echoing and bouncing around him like crazed moths. "But his attention has turned. Tell us, Daedalus, what is the use of retaining the flesh of a god when its love has already departed?"
Derrida's patronizing tones intercede before Daedalus can reply. "What we could not keep, we stole. And what we have stolen, we have now made our own. He will come. He will return."
From his left, next. "This is your task, Daedalus. You will safeguard Re-l, and safeguard the Proxy. This is why you exist. Be grateful that you have a reason. Question not the irregularities along the path."
The metal chorus falls silent then, allowing for a potential response. Daedalus racks his brain to make sense out of AutoReiv riddles when he hears the rattle of an indrawn breath.
It is Donov himself who speaks next.
"Re-l is very... special, Daedelus." The aging voice is hollow with disuse. It rasps around the breathing mask strapped across the man's nostrils, wheezing and whispering like aged linen over wooden boards. "She is... a creature who has never wanted... for anything. Provided everything she asks... without effort. Why would such a person seek more?" With that, Donov stirs, an even rarer motion than his speech: a mere twitch of the fingers of his right hand, dry and skittering as they slide over the armrest of his chair. "Why... indeed. Re-l is the perfect incarnation of Romdo... given life, but for no consequence. No struggle... in living. What... does such an individual desire?"
Briefly, Daedalus thinks about the possibilities of Re-l let loose on her own in the world -- both inside and outside of Romdo. He decides he likes none of them. All of them involve her being in danger; all are unacceptable, but Re-l's will is strong, and prone to contrary decisions. "If you have a specific purpose in mind," he says aloud, delicately, "perhaps you should think about informing her so that she'd be better prepared. Or so her physician could be."
As expected, this suggestion does not meet with overwhelming welcome. The statues are not designed to be able to physically recoil, but they can turn their heads dismissively away. He feels the weight of their approval pass from him.
The unison of four voices reverberates the air. Donov's is silent.
"Have faith. She is cast in a mold that will attract our god. Have faith, Daedalus. Have faith."
- - - - - -
Attraction -- not faith -- is what Daedalus considers when he returns to his offices. He is attracted to Re-l; it's natural for him to find her attractive, because she's half of why he was made in the first place. It's like a conditional formula. Re-l thinks, therefore Daedalus is.
That fact being established, he doubts -- seriously doubts -- that the Regent has any plans to mate him with Re-l. For one thing, both he and Re-l are sterile, along with the rest of Romdo. For another, she doesn't think of him like that. He's a comfort item for Re-l, at best: more than a sibling, less than a pet.
But even that has its purpose, its own unique value, and Romdo provides Daedalus with a means of keeping his connection in place: he is Re-l's assigned doctor. She's forced to return to him even when he's faded from her scant attention span, patiently gathering dust in the corner until she can be reminded of how useful he can be. He's nonintrusive in the best of ways. He's trained himself out of being needy.
He is necessary for her; he is included, and so Daedalus takes satisfaction in that. In the meantime, he has the Proxy. The Proxy is his self without Re-l. The Proxy is himself alone, when Re-l is doing other things and Daedalus can only watch from afar. The Proxy fills in the empty places.
As long as he has them both, he can endure.
As he closes up files in his office, archiving records that he's been puzzling over for the last month, Daedalus finds himself lingering over one of Re-l's photo stills. In it, she's smiling. She's lifting a hand towards the sky, her expression lit up in a glow of happiness, young and guileless as the dawn.
He holds the picture up between his fingers.
"It's hard sometimes," he tells Re-l's face, "when the things you need don't need you back."
Deleuze sets down a tray beside him. "Sir?"
"Nothing. It's nothing."
When he is older, as a present to himself, Daedalus gives things to Re-l. He gives patience and attention; he gives her unwavering dedication that would defy even Romdo itself. He gives himself to her, all his intelligence and perception, his flawed narrow chin and his love of intrigue. And when she doesn't even notice, he gives her that too: he tends to the Proxy instead, offering Re-l time away from him, suppressing the urge for her company so smoothly that he can even almost forget she is a pillar of his life.
But most of all, Daedalus gives his own restraint to Re-l: his awareness that he is made for her, but that she is not made for him. His purpose is as clear as his genetic code. Re-l lives inside him; he adores her, and admits nothing. He loves her, and does not tell her. He misses her when she is gone, and he never, ever lets her know.