A sigh of exasperation crossed her lips.
‘Heavens… Don’t you ever stop?!’
Suimeki just ignored her and opened the second drawer wide. She was as buoyant as always, concentrated sunshine on legs.
She had picked a light blue top and was holding it up triumphantly.
‘This… You should totally wear this, Kin!’
Rain wanted to say something, but she thought better of it as Suimeki was already furrowing through the cupboard for matching trousers. You couldn’t stop her when it came down to these things. She smiled in spite of herself and flopped down onto the bed with her arms spread open, listening to the familiar hustle and rustle of Sui’s unweary fashion quest. At 18, Suimeki was not particularly beautiful, but her happy smile and kind eyes beamed with cuteness.
A shine that would soon turn to ash if Asty finally decided to ‘take care’ of her…
Sui was the only one to see her smile, and that was probably why she was the only one to call her by her real name, Kin. And yet Rain was feeling the estrangement more and more: Kin was starting to wither away.
Rain got up on her elbows. ‘Do you want to watch a holo with me later?’
‘Awesome! I was hoping we’d have a comfy all-nighter together before we leave.’
Rain’s face clouded over.
‘Before we leave’… She still hadn’t figured out why Asty was wanting Sui now. Was it to make her pay for her previous failure when she wasn’t able to deliver what Asty had demanded to the Wormhole base? All she was certain of was that there would be no happy ending.
And there, Sui was at it again, rambling on how excited she was to go live with Asty, how she might become a capsuleer just like her, how she would be glad to meet Annie again who was such a cutie-pie or how she might become the one to unveil the Sleeper mystery. Rain clenched her fists and forced her lips sealed.
Asty… Will you never be satisfied?
Asty had created Rain, and she had taught her that Rain was to fall. So Rain had been falling, with the semi-god shining down her warped truth on fallen rain. But she had never wanted to see the sun burn and consume itself… Asty had the mastery of changing things; changing things into something they should not be.
She had to protect Sui, whatever the cost would be. That Sui who was now gazing at her with worried eyes. She pulled herself together and chuckled, ‘That’s quite the plan you have here. Though how about starting with dressing me up to the end!’
They both laughed, sweeping away the clouds, the rain and Asty. Yes, fashion was the important matter now.
Sui was now looking at her from behind a pair of gray trousers.
‘How about these?’ She winked ‘I’m pretty sure a certain Ren would feel faint all of a sudden…’
Rain blushed but shook her head. No, these won’t do, let me watch you a little more. Before I have to make my sun go dark, before I have never to see you again…
Pictures from the past were flowing back in her mind in fits and starts, back when she was 16 at the Lost Soul Asylum. The Ethernity solar system had been the nexus for the trade of souls for several decades, where Gods and Devils took turns in redeeming destinations for the Lost. That was where Kin had met little Sui.
They were often called to the Fifth Floor. On that day, as on all days of Fifth Floor summoning, they had strayed from the group after the Etiquette afternoon class and waited silently in a nook for all the educators to walk up the staircase behind the flock of Lost. The lift was forbidden. That was why Sui and her had been the only ones standing in front of the deserted lift shaft, where the only elevator within the Asylum slowly grated its way through the floors. Both the ground floor that was open to the visitors and the Fifth Floor that welcomed Patrons – most often virtually – displayed a surreal degree of asepsis. The vast disinfected emptiness was indeed sterile and had lost humanity long ago. These two floors were the only exits to the outer world. However, the old insular building, entrapped between regular office buildings in the upper town, was costly to maintain and the Lost were the most aware of it. In-between the ground and Fifth Floors, the foulness of the mid floors reminded them of who they were. They were the Lost whose humanity was found in-between, in the derelict floors. Such was the integration of the Lost to the Outer world: they were intruders in the universe.
The lift enabled Kin to know where she was going and to keep her personality at check. Directly from the ground floor to the Fifth Floor, she was Kin, the soul for sale. There in the forbidden lift, she knew the self who was summoned up to the Fifth Floor. She would have liked it not to be so cold though.
The old lift had finally come to a surprisingly quiet halt in the impersonal hallway of the ground floor, and the worn crystalline doors had opened for them. It had come down fast on that day. Kin had not known whether to take it as a good omen or not. About everything was dimensional in the Asylum; perceptions and auras were otherworldly telling. In the lift, Kin had carried Sui up to let her press the fifth of the barely readable indicators. Sui enjoyed this responsibility; the responsibility to get them to the Fifth Floor of summoning. ‘You are Lost and there is no going back from the Asylum, I’m afraid’, the Director had told Suimeki on the day of her arrival, patting her gently on the head. ‘Obey the summoning and the Gentlemen and Gentleladies from the Fifth Floor will reward your gratitude.’ And Sui would always answer the call promptly, even with the spark of hindsight years had started to kindle in her young mind. Kin had chosen to protect the innocence that had made Suimeki smile to the Director. That random small girl had moved her although she had vowed to be alone. But it had been for Sui’s sake. Now she could tell it had probably been for hers as well: the cult of Sui’s smile had been a life-keeper. It had been the two of them and it had been better that way. Anonymous others would disappear every week. The curse of isolation can be a blessing, can’t it?
The door had shut Kin and Sui in the narrow compartment, with the muffled thump calling the regular black out. The soft lights from the diodes in the lift would always turn off when the cabin was set in motion. Why? She had no idea. Sui and she had a lot of theories going on and wild that still made them crawl under their sheets when talking about the Asylum lift. She had been scared to death the first time she had trespassed the Asylum Law. The lift had acted like the incarnation of her fear and enclosed her in the dark, going up, up to the Director and her chastisement.
And yet in the end she had developed a sort of deranged intimacy with the lift. She had come to tame the grating, the darkness and the uneasiness in a ferocious adequacy. In all the years spent at the Asylum, she had never ever seen anyone else use the frozen lift. And yet, the lift was always immaculate and fresh; it knew no dust; it knew no waning. It was flat out strange and unsettling but she had accepted the fact without further questioning. It just lay there in-between, waiting for her to call it to the Fifth Floor.
‘Kiiiiin! Let’s play Capsuleers!’
Sui is 9 and is infatuated with space. The children are allowed to go on the roof, but it’s winter and freezing cold. They’ll be alone. Kin picks up three blankets and a couple of candies for Sui. Suimeki likes watching the star-strewn sky. She wants to know what’s beyond; she wants to be on the verge of infinity. She wants to go see God.
‘Kin, where is the Key to the sky?’
She has that idea that the sky opens and closes.
Kin strokes her hair gently and wraps her in a warm blanket. ‘It’s probably looking for you as well.’ The night sky reverberates Suimeki’s star-strewn eyes and goes to look for its dawn.
It’s cold but she feels good.
On the Fifth Floor, she remembered the narrow inspection room – ‘You are Lost and there is no going back from the Asylum, I’m afraid. Only going forth, forth to your Benefactors! Be pretty, my Children!’
the anxious waiting in a perfect line – ‘Find God, as He found you and lit your path to the Asylum!’
the distorted faces around her – ‘Remember what it was to be Lost, because you will never be again!’
the grating hum of the hovering camera drones – ‘Remember the warmth of the Asylum forever!’
She could still feel Sui’s little trembling hand grasping her skirt… and her unfaltering smile despite the apprehension. How could she ever forget such smiling distress, such anxious hope? The inspection room ran throughout the Fifth Floor, in a straight horizontality that stated its blatant unilateralism; its lights were too bright, as if to dig the Lost’s truth forth to the gauging eyes; the smell of fear was too strong, but it didn’t matter to a buyer who couldn’t smell it.
Kin was waiting. With the years, she had gradually become somewhat insensitive to the inspections, but at the same time, she was now closing in on the Asylum specific graduation. She had noticed that those who were taken away were mainly those who had been trained enough to be of use – or so she had presumed. She was waiting for the camera drone to draw near, and she had always hated that moment. What was she supposed to do? Look good? Look away? How does a soul for sale look anyway?
Beyond that cold metallic eye was a fate they had no grip on; a fate whose owner they could not see nor hear. She wished the drone would just skip her, forget her. And Sui too. They were fine just the two of them. Somehow…
Meanwhile the Director would speak aloud, praising number 38 or 72, pouring forth his unctuous business tone and manners with that grandiose sense of self-importance talking to high-status people conferred to him. The Lost were disallowed to hear the words of the Redeemer. The elegant anonymity offered to our Benefactors by the Asylum! he’d say. Maybe those had been the worst moments; hearing the silences of a half-discussion, hearing the conscious mutilation of polyphony. The curse of ignorance can be a harsh one.
‘[…] Oh, no, I wouldn’t recommend this one Madam; he wouldn’t be to Your… taste. […]’
The Lost would see the Director nod, see his eyes look askance at some section of the line, see him stroll leisurely along the line, see him affectionately tidy hair here and there. The Lost would hear the Director speak, hear his steady steps wandering from them or getting closer, hear the ruffle of his movements. The Director was their everything. He was what they could see and what they could hear; or rather what they were allowed to see and hear.
‘[…] Since You are our most renowned Patron, why not take 64 along, just next to the one You are looking at? These too are a deal and would work well together. Although she’s well skilled for her age, I’d be willing to give her for half the usual price. […] That’s how precious Your benevolence is to the Asylum, Milady […].’ He had said that with the delighted grin on his face, the one that raised the sides of his brown walrus moustache and showed his teeth the most (except for the coping smile). It probably meant they would be freed from inspection soon, apart from the anonymous one or two who would leave to the anonymous Patron: 63, 64, 65? She didn’t want to know. She had never wanted to.
Of course, the Lost didn’t know who these numbers designated. They were just put in a line and numbered for the eyes of the Director and the Benefactor only. Every one of the Lost could feel the ambivalent tension filling the room, wishing to be, fearing to be the one. But nothing happened; everything had already happened. The long and narrow room was just a digression of space, a digression of their peripherality.
‘The one outstretching his hand to others truly is the most excellent in New Eden!’
It had been the Director’s last aphorism before Kin and Sui had been taken away. Lying on her bed, Rain shuddered. Had she been 64? Or had Sui been 64?
Asty had come; four years had passed and Kin with them. Times with Sui were the only sunny spells that could summon Kin back to life, that could sweep Rain away like an eerie misunderstanding, that could tell the story of the Kin who vanished to Asty, as if it was all figmental and forgotten. Somehow she was still grateful to Asty for having taken her out of the Asylum, together with Sui. Perhaps that grateful victim syndrome, was it. That was why she had decided not to run with Sui and to continue serving Asty to the bitter end.
Anyway, it was all ending tonight. Once Sui would be asleep, Geinkor and Ren would take her far away in a rapid frigate hull. Rain didn’t want undue attention. They would take her far away where Asty wouldn’t find her. Suimeki would find a mission datapad when waking up on an alien world: such had been Miss Astydameia’s will and orders. ‘[…] Never leave this planet.’
And Rain would fall freely, heavier than ever.
Suimeki looked at Kin thoughtfully, disquieted eyebrows arching over her wide eyes. Kin was acting weirdly but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Was it the destination that was worrying her? Sui knew she had never been at ease in Wormholes. It was definitely a big change in their lives, but they were still together, weren’t they? She wasn’t going to ask for more.
‘Kin? I should go and get ready too for dinner now. I’ll be back in ’20 to pick you up, okay?’
When she left Kin’s room, she had taken her decision: she would contact their Benefactor. She too could take care of Kin.
‘Good evening, Miss Astydameia, Suimeki speaking. It’s about Kin…’
She could hear Miss Astydameia’s smile from the other end of the line, and she only knew warmth from a smile.
‘Oh really? Don’t worry, I’ll have someone watch over her closely right away. Isn’t she such a delicate person?‘
‘I am blessed having so many kind souls around me. Thank you.’
Suimeki cut the communication, relieved, and got ready for their last evening in the station.