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"Rogue in Velvet", part 7

Part 7! Follows on from Part Six

Rogue in Velvet
(-- part seven --)

     By late afternoon, he’d acquired her a pile of magazines to go with her tea and biscuits – fashion, science, gossip, nature, tourism, even a few vehicle magazines… There was nothing in particular that predominated, and given the strange mix of subjects and publication dates she strongly suspected he might have swiped them from a waiting room somewhere, but she wasn’t about to complain after her unexpected success in making him get them for her. It had flushed her with a sense of false courage, given her the deep and distinct sense that he was mostly bluffing, that if it came down to it he’d shy away from harming her (although she felt reluctant to test the hypothesis too rigorously.) After all, machines were built to help people, right? To make peoples lives easier. Not to go around threatening physical violence if you worked out they were not a biological life form.

     She stretched out on her stomach on her bed, leafing through the journals and trying to savour each page, wondering just how long she’d be forced to just lay reading magazines. How many days she’d have to lay here, just reading. Because he couldn’t keep her forever, he’d tire of having to keep buying meals for her, of her using his ship’s power and resources, of her whining at him…

     Two days passed completely uneventfully. She slept, she ate, she bathed, she read her dwindling pile of magazines and watched the world pass by outside her window, and wondered who (if anyone) may have noticed she was missing, and that was essentially it. Every now and then, she’d experiment and wave frantically at passers-by, but they never paid her any attention if they could even see her.

     Even her unwanted host had become a quiet, barely-seen presence in the background – both the beautiful monster and the brooding thug had faded out, and now he was a study in silent efficiency. Unless she approached him, he was the living embodiment of the mechanised worker ever-present in Uuvern’s science fiction, gathering up her tray and the scattered cups then leaving again. He only paid the occasional visit to her comfortable prison cell, to remove used crockery and bring her next meal, and she mystified herself by starting to actually halfway look forwards to the infrequent company. She guessed some of it was down to the fact that she wanted company, and he was all there was, and since beggars couldn’t very easily be choosers…

     After a while, she took to distributing the used crockery around the room so it would take him a little longer to gather it up – primarily to annoy him, maybe make him more likely to make an irritable comment and perhaps start a conversation, and partly to keep him around for a little longer. He refused to rise to the bait, though – it wasn’t as if she had many places she could hide the things, after all. He simply gathered up the scattered cups and plates, not even making a pithy comment wondering just how she could disperse them so widely around the room, and vanished again.

     She was disturbed from a late afternoon doze by a low, pervasive rumble, reverberating through the vessel. In the haze of persisting dreams she felt alarmed, wondering what was happening and what was attacking her, but eventually it became apparent that it was the low thunder of distant engines.

     She tottered sleepily to the window, wondering (without much conviction) if it was a neighbouring vessel and they were still parked, but no such luck. The ground was already falling away far below; buildings had become child’s toys, and the people bustling home from work around them were barely even specks. Darkness was racing around the globe from the east, chasing the sun that was departing towards the west, and a sprinkling of bright streetlamps had lit up below.

      Well, that’s it, girl. Nowhere for you to go if you even got out. Unless she got some kind of message out, she was at the mercy of wherever he decided to take her, of whatever he decided to do to her. She watched out of the window, for a little while, watched the globe dwindle into a pinpoint of light in the distance, and the stars all grew brighter now they were out from under the light pollution of the bustling city… But then he turned over to the faster-than-light drive, and the window frosted over to prevent her suffering in the otherworldly, nauseating glare of infraspace. Small thanks for small blessings, she mused, grimly, settling on her bed and watching nebulous colours swirl across the dim window. Typical. My first journey offworld and it has to be with this lunatic. I wonder where we’re going?

* * *

     Another morning and another hairstyle, she noticed, as he brought her another bland breakfast – or should that be “featherstyle”, as he’d somehow acquired a long, traditionally flowing Kiravai mane of fine “hackle-feathers”. Wigs, maybe? Eri wondered, and smiled to herself. Maybe he’s just bald, really. It’d explain his shocking vanity. A bald Kiravai. Who’d have thought it.

     “Thank you,” she mumbled, shuffling over, still rolled up in her blanket. “So what are we going to do, now we’ve left the planet?”

     “Do?” He gave her a curious look from the doorway, finally stirred from his chilly silence. “Why do you want to know?”

     “Because I’m bored.” She picked disinterestedly at the little round toasted fruit rolls he’d brought her for breakfast. That nasty homeopathic-strength tea again. “Because you’re keeping me cooped up in here with nothing to do.”

     “Let me remind you that you are my prisoner,” he said, lifting a finger. “You are not here for your comfort.”

     “Well, that much was obvious.” She gave him a glare, then took her tray and plonked down on the bed, her back to the window and the still-shifting colours. “And that’s aside from the fact that it’s hardly comfortable here.”

     He pouted. He was rather proud of his little ship, and considered it rather luxurious, by the standards biological beings were used to. But then, he admitted to himself, she wasn’t getting to see much of it, so he temporarily held his tongue.

     “It wouldn’t exactly hurt you to let me out of here,” she went on, ignoring the flash of irritation she sensed from him. “I’m not going to go anywhere, am I? And if you can’t do that, you could at least find me something to do while I’m stuck here-”

     “I got you all those magazines,” he gestured, poutily. “I am not your personal butler, and I am not here to wait on your every whim.”

     Eri made an outraged little noise. “I can’t believe you dare to try and imply that I’m imposing on you!” she snapped. “After you abducted me-!”

     “Which I wouldn’t have had to do if you had kept your nose out of my business! You know what I am, what I’m capable of-”

     “Only after YOU told me!”

     “And YOU subsequently chose to try and use it against me as leverage!”

     For a few moments they stared each other out, neither willing to back down and admit to the idea of being wrong.

     “Because it seems so difficult for you to grasp the concept,” she scolded, frustratedly, “I am not a machine. I am a living being. I need mental stimulation. I need things to do, people to talk to. It is not this silly idea of being confined here that annoys me, just so you can be sure I’ll keep your ridiculous secret, but the fact that you expect me to sit happily like a little stuffed toy and be content with my only contact with the outside world being you bringing me the occasional dish of food! All I am suggesting is that you treat me like a fellow living being!”

     “But I am, dear,” he gave her a sickly smile and she felt like punching him. “You’re well fed, given a latrine and bathing amenities, have a roof over your head and a warm place to sleep… What more does a living biological being need?”

     “And if I was Kiravai? Would you treat me better?”

     He gave a funny little shrug. “Probably-”

     “Why?”

     “Because we’re a superior species. The facts would seem to speak for themselves.” He paused. “But since you’re not Kiravai, and never will be, I feel the point is moot. Enjoy your breakfast.”

     He did a curt about-face and vanished. She gave a bark of outrage and threw a round of toast at him, but it bounced off the closing door and instead landed in her teacup. Oh for the love of-

* * *

     It took far too long for lunchtime to roll around, she considered, even though the clock on her personal communicator informed her it was only a few minutes later than the previous day. She’d laid on her back, simmering with internal resentment and determined to put his skewed opinions to rights, and when he didn’t show up she felt a peculiar kind of outrage. How dare he make me wait to express my moral outrage!

     For once he hadn’t changed his hairstyle – perhaps he didn’t feel the need to, now he had no adoring public watching him, Eri considered, sourly. He set the tray down in its usual place, gathered the empty cups onto the empty tray and turned to leave, silent as ever.

     “Aren’t you ever going to start a conversation with me, even just the once?” she asked, grimly, before he vanished.

     He glanced very briefly back over his shoulder at her. “I don’t believe I will have anything to say to you that will require I start a conversation.”

     “I’m quite sure you’d be a good conversationist if you just tried, every now and then,” she pointed out. “I almost enjoyed our first meeting. You were almost being nice, until you turned all paranoid on me.”

     “That was not paranoia,” he corrected. “It was an extrapolation from known data. Your people seem to have an irrational urge to turn things into money, and an irrational fear and dislike of people superior to you.”

     “Well, ignoring the fact that your views are so skewed they bear no relevance to anything that happens in normal society, I’m really not understanding the whole superiority thing you have going on.” Eri picked over the food he’d brought her – fruit, cold cuts, the usual – and made a point of not looking up at him. She didn’t want it to look like she was just trying to get a rise out of him, even if she was. “Even by Kiravai standards you’re being a bit over-the-top about it, don’t you think?”

     There was a thoughtful pause, as he considered her words. “No, I don’t think so,” he disagreed, at last, and there wasn’t the slightest hint of irony in his words. “Just look at me. I fail to see why you feel a need to ask me for confirmation.”

     “Now see that’s where I’m having trouble,” she looked up from her lunch, at last. “Because from where I sit, you’re a sophisticated perambulatory adding machine. And I hardly feel myself inferior to my personal computer.”

     “You’re biological,” he wrinkled his nose and folded his arms, lounging against the wall just inside the doorway. “Which means by default that you’re dirty, smelly, you need to eat and breathe, you squabble over inane little things like territory and bed-partners, and you have to indulge in coitus in order to replicate yourself.”

     “Your supposed superiority,” she argued, insulted, “seems to stem purely from the fact that the people who created you are a species of intractable prudes, and naturally see not needing sex to be close to some kind of aberrant godliness. And let’s face it, even your people have to indulge in ‘coitus’ every now and then, or there wouldn’t be any little Kiravai – and some even find it quite a pleasant experience.”

     “It’s messy, it’s emotionally taxing, it tends to produce unwanted offspring, and is a source of more strife among your kind than politics or religion,” he corrected, releasing a finger from his folded arms to underline his thesis. “All for a few fleeting moments of ‘pleasure’.”

     “I’m guessing you don’t feel the physical side of things,” she intuited. “You’d be far less scathing if you did.”

     “And there we go, just to prove my point you revert to type and relate everything to sexual contact.”

     “Hey, you brought it up!” she reminded him, with a smile.

     “Social. Differences. Aside,” he cut in, “I am superior, in all ways, to all equivalent biological beings.” He gave his head a frustrated shake, as if she were unable to grasp the obvious. “I am faster, stronger, smarter. I do not succumb to illness and old-age. Where you are tired in mere hours, I can operate for days, for weeks, without problems. Where you struggle to lift your own weight, I can easily carry several times mine. Where you can forget what is important the minute after it was said, I can preserve it for an eternity. Where you and all your kind are smelly, dirty, misshapen, asymmetric, vulgar little animals, I am clean, elegant, and balanced, and do not live my life by a long list of people I have argued with.”

     “For someone that claims himself to be so intelligent and logical you really don’t have much idea how biological beings operate, do you?” she argued, and countered his points with some of her own. “Where you are cold and hard, I am warm, and loving. Where you are rigid and unmoving in your dealings with the universe, I am flexible, and can work around a problem. Where you stare at everything with distaste and disinterest and try to bend it to your will, I take the time to appreciate things for what they are, not what I wish them to be. Where you have your ‘faultless’ logic, I have intuition, instinct and imagination. Where you have a shell and a simulation, I have life and soul. Plus I don’t have the monster ego that you seem to have, which I’d call a very organic trait. So who are you to speak to me of superiority?”

     He was silent for a while – eyes down, thoughtful. “It confuses me,” he commented, at last, “that you express a desire to have a conversation, but when I consider indulging your whim all you actually want to do is just call me names and attempt to assert your own self-righteousness over me.” Was that a trace of sadness in his voice?

     “Oh I’m sorry, did I bruise your ego?”

     He picked up the tray, quietly. “I think you proved my point,” he observed, and stepped out into the corridor.

     “What point what that?” she called after him, but the door had already closed. If he’s going to keep me cooped up in here he better be prepared to get as good as he gives, she thought, satisfied, chewing happily on her lunch.

-----

More later!

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