Because last week was a game and this week I’ve been catching up on Life.
“Sending. Station M-12, sending. Ready to receive.”
She speaks normally now. Trainees are prone to shouting at first, or to overemphasizing their words, as if dealing with a deaf great-aunt. The instructors tell you that the implants can pick up a whisper and transmit it–well, “distance” really isn’t an issue for the transmission, or anything else out here, where time and space and other things are as close as the lashes on an eye–but the new fish never believe it. Not deep down.
In front of her, the screen is lit up, a point of blue against the starfield behind it. The entire chamber is transparent, plexiglass reinforced against any number of things. The chair is comfortable beneath her; around her, the air is warm, and the only sound is her own breath. Back on the main station, the humming is constant: lighting, computers, life support systems. You get used to it.
Out here, nothing hums. That’s important.
“M-12. Ready to receive.”
She stares out, ignoring the screen, not quite ignoring the stars. They’re important. So is the space between them. They make a pattern, stars and space; the stars define the space and the space defines the stars.
Not enough of a pattern and you don’t get a message at all. Too much and you get interference–or, at least, you do if you’re human. Some minds can take in unsorted data, maybe, and juggle it like a street performer with three lit torches and a chainsaw, but humans are still too much ape and not enough angel, or maybe not even “too much” or “not enough,” just not quite balanced. Not quite something else. There are a lot of theories.
Humans need the pattern stripped down.
She asked her instructor, when she’d first come out here and was still talking too loud, if that meant stripped down was better, if cities and books, gardens and jewelry, were mistakes, were things that everyone should be trying to abandon. She was sincere, in the way of the young.
“Can you eat while you’re sleeping?” he asked, lifting one red eyebrow.
“…no. Well, if you have a feeding tube–”
He waved a hand. “Does that mean you should never eat? Or never sleep?”
She keeps a framed picture in her quarters now, as a reminder: a man and a woman, locked in an embrace. Bright colors. We perceive the whole in separate parts.
You repeat yourself three times, at three minute intervals, three times a day. That’s the job; that’s the privilege. You repeat yourself, and then you sit back and watch as the screen fades, leaving you with the stars and the space.
The message, when it comes, will not be in words; it will not be in sounds; it will not be in anything independent of her, because “independence” is one of those concepts that works on some levels of the pattern and fails on this one.
She will listen to the way the silence shapes itself around the echoes of her voice, and the message will be there.
Everything will be there.