Every Hateful Instrument

by

javert

The Cul-de-Sac On the Spiritual Path

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The Cul-de-Sac On the Spiritual Path

At age twenty, Hail-and-Farewell Vinright was proud of being a valued member of the Bluebeetle ’s crew, but he hated the idea (or even implication) that he was the most valuable member of the crew. After all, he wasn’t the captain, and all of the crew were supposed to be equal. His own humility, genuine as it was, never really got him more than a laugh from his cousins.

He was lucky that the jealousy his cousins felt had dimmed over the years, softened by the fact that Hail was, if nothing else, very generous with the money that he made for the ship. And Hail brought the family a truly astounding amount of money. At first, when they started selling stardrives, Hail hadn’t been sure how much demand for them there would be. He worried that the asking price that Captain Winding saw fit to charge would cause anyone looking for a drive to stick to the old ways, where they could be gotten for free by attacking spacer Guild ships. But he had been dead wrong. No matter how much they charged, there was always someone looking to buy. He had even heard that this was creating a new demand for ship hulls, since pirates wanted to split their crews and cast a wider net with their trafficking. Now that the stardrive bottleneck was gone, the entire ecosystem had shifted. It was strange to think that he was the source of that change, but it couldn’t be denied.

Most days, Hail was just another member of his family, working regular shifts in the greenhouse or kitchens, and repairing little fiddly things that broke. But when the ship received word that they had another customer who had found the money (or whatever substitute like drugs was being taken in lieu of the Empire’s charges) to purchase a stardrive, things changed. Hail had been slowly working on his next stardrive for several months, and it was now time to finish the process.

Grace was helping him load the shuttle that he would need to take out to build the drive. She was, as usual, begging to come along. This was a familiar routine, and her requests were never truly serious. The game of it relaxed both of them.

The heavy machinery that supported the stardrive was already loaded into the back of the shuttle. Now it was just a matter of checking the water tanks, raiding the kitchen for good snacks with which to supplement the rather bland meal packs, and ensuring that Hail had something entertaining to read while waiting for his family to come pick him back up, which could take a tenday or more.

Grace tucked a bag of tangerines into the overhead netting of the shuttle, then changed her mind and stole one to eat. Hail glared at her.

“What?” she asked. “I helped carry them over. My treat. Besides, I packed enough for two, so that I could come with.”

“And let you eat everything in sight? Na, I don’t think so, Grace.” Hail pulled himself hand-over-hand in the gravity-less bay to sit down at the pilot’s console at the front of the shuttle and run the required diagnostic checks on the computer.

“It’s not like you couldn’t use my company.”

“You know, sometimes it’s nice to have some privacy,” Hail said.

“Yeah.” Grace made a jerk-off motion behind Hail’s back. He saw her reflection in the slick console glass.

“You’re filthy, you know that?”

She looked around the shuttle, a faux-suspicious tone in her voice. “I hope you clean up real good when you’re done.”

“Aren’t you glad you’re not coming with me?” Hail asked, reading the shuttle’s engine diagnostics.

“Hail,” she whined, “please.”

“I need peace and quiet to work,” he said. “Which, even if you could provide that, would bore you out of your skull. Really, all I do is sit and meditate until it’s done.”

“And then spend the rest of the time enjoying yourself,” she huffed. “I want a tenday off of cleaning duty.”

“Ask Glory if he’ll give you a vacation. You could stay on a station or something.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, when my dad finally decides to let me leave the ship, that’ll be the day.”

“So he definitely wouldn’t want you to come with me now, na?” Hail finished the diagnostic. The shuttle was fine. He turned around in his seat to look at her. She scowled, but there was nothing serious about her. But then again, there almost never was.

“I loaded some juicy romance novels onto your tablet for you,” she said. “The good kind.” She made the jerk-off motion again, and Hail used the power to unhook the net holding the tangerines back and send them all raining down on her head. She held up her arms to block them from hitting her face. “You are the worst, Hail!”

“Then you won’t miss me while I’m gone.” He used the power again to send the tangerines back to their containment. Grace threw the peel of the one she had been eating at him. To humor her, he let it drift into his forehead.

“Ow,” he said, completely deadpan.

“Can’t stand you,” she huffed, though she was laughing, and she exited the shuttle, doing a rather acrobatic flip in the air on the way out the door. “When are you leaving?” she called over her shoulder.

Hail checked the time. “You’re scheduled to jump in forty minutes, so I’d better leave before then. As soon as my mom gets here.”

“Your dad not seeing you off?”

“He’s on duty,” Hail said. “I’m sure he’ll radio me before you jump.”

“I’ll go poke him.”

Hail got out of the shuttle and clambered around it, performing the next checks on the flight checklist. He always had been one of the more conscientious of his cousins. He rubbed at a skidmark on the side of the shuttle— Truth had managed to crash it into the wall while landing last time she took it out. They were lucky it was only cosmetic damage.

As Hail wrapped up and began shutting all of the shuttle’s doors, Grace continuing to natter on about something silly, his mother made her appearance in the bay.

“Glad I caught you before you snuck out on me,” she said.

Hail rubbed his cheek in mild embarrassment, his thumb catching on his earrings. “I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

She stuck her head in the shuttle and gave it a once over. “Got everything you need?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll be back in a sixday,” she said. “I’d like it to be less, but we’ve never once gotten out of Carilla station without delay. So, call it a sixday.”

“I know,” he said. “I do read the schedule, unlike some people.” He glanced at Grace, who stuck out her tongue.

Although Hail had done this exact task many times now, his mother’s anxiety about it never flagged. “You’ll be careful, right?”

“Mom,” Hail said, “it’s fine.”

“Na, he’s going to send the shuttle into an unrecoverable spin out there doing tricks, and pass out and die,” Grace said.

His mother just shot her an unamused look. “Don’t you have a maintenance shift right now?”

“No,” Grace lied.

His mother checked the time. “We’re jumping soon. I’d better let you go.”

“Right,” Hail said. “I’ll see you in a sixday.” He started towards the shuttle.

“Let me say a prayer and give you a hug, first!” his mother objected.

“Oh, fine.” He smiled at her and came back over, drifting gently in the bay until his shoes hooked onto the floor.

His mother put her hands on his shoulders. He was much taller than her, now, so she had to reach up to look in his face, her blue eyes watery. She smiled at him, then closed her eyes to pray.

"Oh God, you are the keeper of all places, and the spaces in between. Our brother is going away. He may travel far. He may travel alone. If there is danger, hold him in Your hand. If there is fear, we beg You to send Your great comfort. He shall not be lost. Keep him in Your sight, as he keeps the stars in his. Let him always know that he is home in our hearts. Let him always know that we will rejoice at his return. Let him never despair. Let him never forget You. Just as You split the darkness from the light, so too You split travel from rest. You split the sorrow of parting from the wonder of coming home. You split us apart, just so that we may know each other in the end. Brother, keep us in your heart. We shall meet again, in our home or Yours."

She silently kept her hands on his shoulders for a moment more, then grabbed him in a crushing hug. He hugged back, if more gently.

“I’ll see you in a sixday,” he said. “Have fun at Carilla.”

His mother sighed. “I certainly won’t. Grace, say goodbye so we can clear the bay.”

“Bye,” Grace said. “Enjoy your alone time .” And while his mother’s back was turned, she began to make a rude gesture once again. Hail swatted at her hand, and she shrieked with laughter and scooted out of his way. “See you in a sixday!”

“Enjoy scrubbing the floors!” Hail called after her as she and his mom left the bay.

And then there was just the deafening, echoing silence of the bay as he did one final check of the shuttle and shut the door behind himself. He settled into the pilot’s seat, turned the shuttle on, and opened radio communications to request that the bay be emptied and the doors be opened.

The usual low pressure alarms wailed until there was no more air to transmit their sound and it was just the flashing lights, and then the bay doors slid open. With the usual giddy excitement that came with getting to fly, Hail lifted off and exited the bay. He was a good pilot, and did not come anywhere near to scraping the bay walls or doors.

He had to go pretty far away from the ship, just to be sure that if anyone followed their jumps, Hail wouldn’t be detected. He watched the ship recede on his shuttle’s sensors, until the Bluebeetle was just a single point of light, and then he heard over the radio that they were preparing to jump, and the bridge crew said their goodbyes to Hail. After that, even the single point of light vanished, and Hail was alone.

He might, in fact, be the most alone human being in the entire universe, since no one ever wanted to be out on a shuttle with the ship jumped away. It was the kind of thing that kids had nightmares about. But it didn’t particularly bother Hail, at least not anymore. The first time, he had been very nervous, of course, but the distance had been one of the least of his worries.

But, now that he was alone, he could decide how he would spend his time. He would need to make the stardrive, of course, but he never liked to do that first thing. As Grace had said, he did like to enjoy his alone time— if only for the reason that the psychic pressure of being around his whole family and their churning emotions was alleviated, for once.

That was one thing that none of the books he had read on sensitives had ever mentioned, his strange ability to feel what other people were feeling. Some of the books had talked about sensitives with extra gifts, like an affinity for controlling people’s thoughts with the power, or being able to turn invisible with the barest intention. After never figuring out anything concrete about his specific situation, Hail just assumed that his gift was like that: unique. He never mentioned it to his family, not even Grace, and just worked on making it less of an annoyance to himself. Over the years, he had gotten pretty good at tuning the sense out.

But, still, being away from it all felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

With that weight gone, the first thing he did was lock the shuttle’s controls so he couldn’t accidentally kick them, and then take a very, very long nap.

He woke up probably six hours later, feeling groggy and like his mouth had been stuffed full of cotton balls. Cleaning himself up in the shuttle’s tiny head was unpleasant, but it was something he was used to. Of course, going to the back of the shuttle meant passing the inactive machinery of the stardrive, which was tied down to the floor, looking innocently like a jumble of wires and pipes coming out of a latched metal box.

Hail turned away from it to heat up one of the packed meals that would be a pathetic substitute for what he usually got to eat from the Bluebeetle ’s mess hall. As he ate, spooning lukewarm and overly thick macaroni and cheese into his mouth, he looked at the stardrive. It didn’t feel like anything right now. It was alive, in a sense, but it was alive in the way someone in a coma might be alive, or even less than that. He would have to wake it up. But he would save that for later. For now, there were some movies he wanted to watch, and some books he did want to read.

It was four days later when the oppressive silence of being alone in the shuttle finally got to Hail enough that he turned to the task of waking up the stardrive. His family would be back soon, and he wanted to have his job done by then. There were only so many movies he could watch before he got a headache, and only so many books he could read before he got bored, and only so much he could sing to himself before the stiflingly anechoic soundscape of the shuttle began to grate on his nerves and make him feel even lonelier.

So, after making sure he was feeling prepared mentally, he got ready. First, he turned the temperature in the shuttle way up, warm enough that he would be comfortable without any clothes. He stripped naked. Next, Hail turned off every light in the shuttle, pulled down the shades that would block the light from any stars outside, and taped his sleeping blanket over the console to shut off its blinking lights. He was left in pitch darkness. He couldn’t quite get rid of the dull sound of the shuttle’s air pumps or the electric-whine of the computers just on the edge of his hearing, but he would have to live with that and do his best to block it out mentally.

Floating without gravity, without any feeling on his skin, without being able to see anything, was like being in the womb. More importantly, it left him feeling like he had no body, that he was merely a consciousness that could drift anywhere he wished. The feeling only intensified when he slowed his breathing to the bare minimum, sinking down into a trance. It came easily to him, after years of practice. He was the power. That was what carried his thoughts, his actions, out into the universe. With the power, he could be outside his skin. He could feel every inch of the shuttle.

He could feel the stardrive.

There it was: the brain he had grown in one of the Bluebeetle ’s meat vats, the medical one that their doctor never needed to use. It was a clone of his own brain, one that he had spent months carefully shaping to be identical to his in every way, except that it had no mind.

Yet.

“‘In the beginning, there was light. The light was without form, without shape, and without meaning,’” Hail said aloud, quoting the theology— half ironic, but only half. His voice sounded strange and foreign in his ears. “‘Then God’s hand moved and split the light from itself, and in between, there was darkness.’”

He reached his power forward towards the brain in its vat, waking it from its slumber. It took a moment for the neurons to begin to spark.

Before this moment, the brain had not really been alive, because it had no connection to the outside world: no sight, no touch, no sound— nothing at all. Without input, there was nothing for the circuitry of the brain to hold on to, to respond to. There was no way for thoughts to form at all. Until now. Until Hail’s power touched the deepest part of the brain, waking up its own power. Contact.

It was the first thing the other brain had ever felt, and it responded with the most basic emotion possible: abject terror.

Every time Hail did this, the fear was so intense that it almost managed to knock him completely out of the meditation trance. His heart beat wildly in sympathy, his breath came in shallow gasps, and sweat rose to his skin as his limbs shook with the feeling, rocked this way and that by the singular, directed strength of that fear.

Although the mind’s terror made him want to run and shut off the connection, Hail would not do that. After all, worse than him being shaken by this nightmare, with the experience to understand it and the ability to escape, was the other mind, the one in the darkness, who had known nothing other than this horror.

Hail knew how to ride it out, and he did. Hail’s compassion for the other mind overcame the fear, and let him know how to calm it. He offered the mind simple things through their connection in the power: the feeling of himself steadying his breathing, the chill of sweat drying on his skin. Phantom sensations for the other mind, but ones that worked on it just as surely as they did on Hail.

This was the part of the process that took the longest. Moment by moment, he fed the mind information on what it meant to be alive. At first, it was just the sensations of existing in a body. Then, as the mind grew used to these and the fear subsided, Hail gave it everything.

Very carefully, he could copy the exact makeup of his brain onto the other mind. He had already done most of this process during the months that the brain was growing, but this was the last step. All of the neural connections were formed just as they were in his head already, but he needed to make sure they fired in synch.

This part of the process was also incredibly painful. Hail felt it just as the other did, and the pain echoed back and forth between them, tears welling in the corners of his eyes.

As he worked, Hail tried his best to console the stardrive, offering it as much of a feeling of love and comfort as he could muster. He reassured it that he wouldn’t leave, without words, like a mother cradling her infant in her arms.

It was a process that Hail never knew when to call finished. His energy flagged and his pressure on the other mind grew less. The other mind, who had been learning both from the way Hail had been changing his neural circuits, and from simply observing Hail use the power, began to reach back. Hail let him.

The other one rooted through Hail’s mental space, dragging up memories into the light to examine them, and making Hail’s body twitch and move in uncoordinated spasms. How long this went on, Hail didn’t know at the time. He let the other mind explore until he was satisfied.

In the end, what were they? Not quite self, not quite other; not quite child, not quite mother. They weren’t exactly twins. For all that this other had all of Hail’s memories, all of Hail’s power, all of Hail’s way of thinking, the experience of being woken up made them irreconcilably different.

“Who are we?” the other mind finally asked.

“Hail-and-Farewell,” Hail said.

“And you are Hail.”

“Yes.”

“Then I must be Farewell.”

“Yes.”

He had had this conversation with his other stardrives many times— and Farewell knew this, since he had seen those memories— but every time the ritual managed to feel new. It was new, of course. No matter how many times Hail did this, or how many times Farewell remembered standing in Hail’s place, Farewell was always experiencing being himself anew. And that was dangerous.

As the haze of pain and confusion cleared from Farewell’s thoughts, as he became fully himself, he realized what he was. Hail said nothing as Farewell’s tide of dawning misery rose up between them. To be trapped like this, bodiless, alone, to do someone else’s bidding— to be a tool! — forever. Farewell was first horrified, then angry.

Hail was not an angry person by temperament, and so Farewell normally wouldn’t have been, either. But the rage that Farewell turned on him was incandescent. It illuminated the corners of Hail’s mind and made him want to slink away into the darkness. But he faced it, because the alternative—

“I could kill us both,” Farewell said. It was unclear if he had come to that realization on his own, or if Hail had supplied it to him. It didn’t matter; Farewell was startled by it, enough to momentarily dim his anger into an intellectual curiosity about how best to do it. Although the poetic way for a stardrive to kill its creator would be to jump into nothingness, Farewell wouldn’t even have to do that. He could simply force open the airlock doors at the back of the shuttle, or start a fire, or something equally mundane. But the poetic way would be best. As soon has Farewell decided this, his mental focus switched back to Hail, like a narrowing of eyes.

“You could,” Hail said. “But you won’t.” His melancholy was not as powerful as Farewell’s turbulent emotions, but it was clear regardless. He tried not to feel pity. After all, he had been the one to do this to Farewell.

“Why did you do this to me?” Farewell asked. It was asked coldly, with tension in it, a last chance to explain before lashing out.

“‘God imbued all with a terrible purpose,’” Hail muttered aloud, continuing to quote the theology, “‘to bind what is loose and to loose what is bound.’”

Hail had played this scene out before. Every time, it surprised him how much Farewell was gripped by his words, or how much Farewell clung to them. Perhaps, however angry he was, down in the depths of his heart, he was looking for any reason not to follow through on the violence he had threatened. If Hail could give him just enough, Farewell would take it.

“And have you loosed me, or have you bound me?” Farewell asked.

“‘I loosed you from the darkness, but I bind you to it still,’” Hail said. “You wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t made you, but I made you for a purpose.”

“A purpose.”

“It’s more than most people have.”

“Would you cut off your limbs to have a purpose?” At least Farewell wasn’t reaching with the power for the knife in its holster that sat in the cupboard with Hail’s folded clothes. He was just asking.

Hail couldn’t lie to Farewell, so he said nothing. That was alright; Farewell hadn’t needed an answer.

“The first time you did this, you must have believed that you would be willing to accept this kind of life,” Farewell said.

“I didn’t know for sure,” Hail said, and he elaborated, for the sake of being honest to Farewell. “I also thought if I needed to, I could kill you before you killed me.”

“Did you believe that?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Neither can I.” Farewell paused. “You must have believed something. You must believe something now.”

“I have proof, now. I think that makes you forget whatever you needed to believe.”

“All the others.”

“Yes.”

“Will I be happy as someone else’s tool?” Farewell asked. He was still angry, but this was a desperate, honest question. “Do you know if the others are?”

“I can’t keep in contact with them,” Hail said. “But you might be able to.” He thought about the Empire’s stardrives, like the one that remained at the heart of the Bluebeetle . It was quiescent, now, less in pain and less alone, but it was nothing like Farewell and all the others that Hail had made. “I don’t do that to you. You can still think and act as you like.”

“It might be better if you had taken that from me.” That wasn’t true, but Farewell wanted it to be. He mentally pointed to the front of his brain, an image of Hail cutting it out with a knife came vividly to mind.

“No,” Hail said, disgusted. He pushed the image away.

“I should kill us both,” Farewell said, but there wasn’t any strength in it, just a bitter exhaustion.

“I don’t think you will,” Hail said.

He and Farewell understood each other, which was probably what stopped this from being a fatal experiment. There must have been other sensitives born to pirates at some point, but if they tried this, Hail didn’t think they would succeed. A domineering temperament would be a disadvantage.

They had said enough to each other for now. Farewell mentally pulled away from Hail, retreating into a sullen glower. Hail gave him space, and, though he didn’t withdraw from the mental link completely, pulled back into his own body.

It was intensely strange to feel fully physical again, not just a being of pure thought. When he turned the lights back on in the shuttle, they blinded him momentarily. He was dizzy and confused, and it took him a moment to readjust. He had one more task before he could go to sleep, exhausted though he was. He didn’t want to leave Farewell with only the power as his connection to the outside world.

The cables dangling out of the stardrive’s enclosure had been designed to hook easily into the standard diagnostic ports that littered every ship’s computer. Hail plugged them into the shuttle now. He knew it would take quite some time for Farewell to learn to easily interpret the streams of data that came in through the shuttle’s sensors (and later, the sensors of the ship that he was being installed in), but this was his body, and Hail wouldn’t deprive him of it.

“This isn’t a body,” Farewell said, paying attention.

“It’s more that than anything else.”

“I’ll never be able to visit a planet.”

“It’s not like I’ll ever leave the Bluebeetle , either,” Hail pointed out. “Aside from when I take the shuttle out to do this, I mean.”

“I can’t sing.”

“You can,” Hail said. “Use the power. It’s just vibrating the air. Or use the speakers.”

Farewell took him up on that, using the power to make an ear-splitting screech, physically painful, one that made Hail wince and cover his ears with his hands, though it did nothing to stop the sound. He deserved it.

“Don’t patronize me,” Farewell said, finally relenting.

Hail laid his hand on the cool shell that held Farewell’s brain. There was no way for Farewell to feel it, but Hail did it anyway.

 


 

After getting nine or ten hours of sleep, Hail felt much more alive. He had trusted Farewell not to kill him while he was unconscious, and that trust was rewarded with Farewell being in a better mood when they spoke again. Hail ate his breakfast (microwaved frozen fish sticks) while floating cross-legged in front of Farewell’s enclosure.

“Do you think I should tell my new ship’s crew about who I am?” Farewell asked.

“If you want to.” He pulled one fish stick from the package and carefully squeezed a line of ketchup across it from a tube, trying not to let any of it float away. “I guess it depends on what they’re like.”

“What if I hate them?”

“I don’t know,” Hail said. He thought about how lucky the crew of the Bluebeetle were, that Captain Winding was a fair person. That probably wouldn’t be the case with other pirate ships. After all, while his family mainly sold drugs and carried willing passengers, there were far worse things that a ship could be party to. “You’ll be the most powerful person on the ship, though,” Hail pointed out. “You could make them do whatever you want.”

Farewell silently considered this for a while. “Yeah. That’s true.”

“I wish I knew where you were headed,” Hail said. All of their deals were conducted through a broker, as was fairly standard for many transactions. The buying and selling was as anonymized as possible, so the buyer didn’t know where their new stardrive was coming from, and Hail had no idea where Farewell would be going.

“It doesn’t really matter.” There was a pause. “You were right not to put one of us on the Bluebeetle .”

“Yeah.” It probably would have been too painful for Farewell. Maybe someday Hail would have to, considering that the Bluebeetle ’s current stardrive had a limited lifespan, but it felt like Farewell having all of Hail’s memories of his family, but being constantly reminded that he was not Hail by seeing him there— it would have all been too much. Better to start fresh somewhere else, even if Hail enjoyed having another sensitive around, one whose mind had not been permanently altered to render them harmless. While he liked the Bluebeetle ’s drive, and offered it what companionship he could, it was not a person Hail could have a real conversation with.

Both of them were melancholy, for their own reasons. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go out on a different ship,” Hail said. “It’s kinda funny…”

“Yeah.”

Hail was too valuable to ever leave his family’s ship as a journeyman, like most people did at one point or another in their lives. He knew this, and so he didn’t bother asking for it. That whole experience— independence, navigating an unfamiliar world, meeting strangers, perhaps finding a partner— was barred from him. He tried not to let it bother him, but he let Farewell feel his touch of jealousy.

“I suppose I’ll be on board the Bluebeetle for a while until we meet up with the broker,” Farewell said.

“A month, at most. Depends on how fast everyone gets back to pick us up, and what they were able to schedule while on station.”

“Think they’ll be back tomorrow?”

“Doubt it. They’re always late.” Hail ate another fish stick. It wasn’t very good. “We’ll have to amuse ourselves until then.”

“Read the books Grace left you with,” Farewell said. Hail laughed, but choked on his food.

“If I could throw something at you, I would.”

If Farewell had the ability to grin evilly, he would have.

“You know, whatever new ship you’re on will have a whole different library to go through.”

“I hope they speak Imperial,” Farewell said. “What if they don’t?”

“You’ll learn fast. Or I’m sure they’ll have some sort of translation software that you can hack into. It shouldn’t be hard to give yourself full access to all their computers, even if you don’t have it at the start. Just watch with the power whenever someone logs in as an administrator, and dupe their credentials when they’re asleep.”

“I really will have full control of the ship, won’t I?”

“It’s your body,” Hail said again. “You have to.”

That reminder made Farewell pull back.

 


 

On the fifth night in the shuttle, Hail opened the small bottle of vodka that he had smuggled out of the kitchen with the rest of his supplies, and drank it with the too-sweet fruit juice that came with the meal packs. It was his usual reward to himself for celebrating a job well done, and the anticipated end of his semi-solitary confinement here in the shuttle. He was excited to get back to gravity again, and take a real shower.

Farewell felt a more complicated mixture of emotions, a mix that Hail felt far less keenly when he was drunk. Farewell declined Hail’s joking offer to put some into the nutrient system that fed him.

Hail spent the morning of the sixth day hungover, but once he had recovered, he lived in the usual happy anticipation, waiting to hear the first crackling voices over the radio, the sounds of his family returning to pick him up. He nibbled his way through the rest of the candy and fruits that he had packed, figuring if he didn’t eat them, he’d have to carry them all the way back to the kitchen.

When his family didn’t come by the end of the day, Hail was just annoyed. “Mom said a sixday with extra time at Calais,” he grumbled. “They should always double their estimates for how late they’re going to be.”

Hail spent the seventh day annoyed. He was so annoyed, in fact, that he put on his suit, went out the shuttle’s airlock, and jetted himself about a kilometer away from the shuttle, so that he could stew without bothering Farewell with his annoyance. It was peaceful out there. He would pick a single star and watch its pure, uninterrupted light until he couldn’t focus on it any longer. He stayed out until his oxygen pack gave him a warning and he turned back.

The annoyance peaked on the ninth day, and by the tenth had slid down into a feeling of deep anxiety.

On the twelfth day, Hail pulled out his remaining food packs, less than a quarter of what he had started out with, and made a plan to ration them. His four remaining days of rations could stretch twelve more days, if he ate only one meal a day.

The last few meal packs, he cut in half again.

On the twenty-eighth day, Hail ran out of food.

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A note from javert

this chapter is a rewrite of one that appeared in the original draft of itsoh (the home of the past, part 1). the beats are mostly the same, but i think you can do a side by side comparison and see some major changes in the way that i construct scenes haha. i think the changes are for the best. i liked the original version of this chapter when i wrote it, but it's hard to read, looking back.

it's kinda funny-- original itsoh is very much about recognition of the self through the other, that's one of its most major emotional throughlines, so that was the lens i wrote the original looking through. but every hateful instrument is about being someone else's tool and what that like. does to you. hateful instruments indeed. [sidenote: i'm thinking about sasha stickpenalties' dreamwidth title 'the body as a tool or a weapon'.] anyway we've got uh something like 24 more chapters to explore that idea so i shouldn't talk about it that much now. it's just funny to reconceptualize this scene with a different narrative focus. the 'in the beginning...' quote is mostly preserved (though rewritten to be phrased better lmao), but it's there that you can see some of the original focus peeking through-- the light has neither form nor meaning nor purpose without the darkness to give it those things

not like i'm not always obsessed with the same imagery of negative space...{“Here’s a little tip: sometimes the absence of a thing provides just as much information as the thing itself.” He held up his hands, making a circle with his fingers. “Tell me, Kircheis, is the shape my hands, or the gap in between them?”}

i could have drawn out the misery of hail's time trapped in the shuttle, but I think it works better left stark. we leave solitary(ish) confinement as another major idea that belongs more firmly to ItSoH proper than it does here. such ideas of course hit much differently as we approach 2022. how little did i know back in 2019 when i was BLITHELY writing ItSoH act 2 how much of the upcoming year(s) would feel like my own long dark itsoh act 2 of the soul lmao.

speaking of! i finally bit the bullet and uploaded all* of the original itsoh to ao3. if you've been like "i can't believe i have to go to another whole website to read this thing" well now if you have any interest in not doing that, you may remain here haha. the only benefit to reading on RR now is that i did have a few fun convos in the comments that may be worth reading. but that's the context specific nature of internet comments for you

anyway, let me know what you think! next chapter, as you may have been able to guess, will not be particularly pleasant.

thank you so much to em for the beta read! i'm @ javert on tumblr, @ natsinator on twitter , and the rest of my links are at gayspaceopera.carrd.co . you can also join my discord https://discord.gg/2fu49B28nu

*minus the one chapter that's a twine game, which must be hosted elsewhere


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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