A Child Remote
The child could feel the storm coming. He felt the heaviness of it; knew it as if it were mercury in his marrow. Though warmly dressed, the 8 year-old’s body trembled for the treetops molested overhead, their leaves silvering in a darting shoal. The kinesis reminded him of the delight that winter flurries lit in him. That moment where the leading edge of the wind was revealed, snow snarling over itself, like the teeth of some marauding ghostshark. A loose lock of hair licked the child’s forehead as a thought struggled to emerge: ‘Find shelter’.
Andi tried to raise his head to inspect the storm’s purple embankment, but fear slowed the effort. The roiling clouds loomed over the false horizon of the street like battlements of masticated mother of pearl. They forced the atmosphere before them as they toppled forward into Montreal. Again, urgency pushed the child’s intentions toward safety. Laboriously at first, the boy started for the park across the road. The swings whinnied against the wind, eeky and pendulous. A cyclist coasted past, heralding imminence. Under the climbing frame looked safe.
Andi could vaguely remember the bulge that was his unborn brother. He would reach up to the pale crescent moon that split his mother’s blouse from her skirt and press the other fingers to his chest to find the kick of his own heart. His memories had been so heavily gilded by her stories it took some effort to have them run clear. Her curious pain for the elephant he had one day stuffed up his undershirt. Her insistence on turning the shoes in the vestibule so that they all faced into the house. His abject confusion upon hearing of the death. Of the depths of their loneliness; his an empty brother’s, hers an emptied mother’s. It was the old way. Perhaps causality really ran backwards and remembering served only to change the past. Or perhaps there was something he’d missed.
From somewhere wafted the ruddy smell of burnt coffee but the child was under the play-set’s bridge. The rain had begun, tramping up the fiberglass slide, flushing down a finger plaster now wrapped around a rivulet. The sand pocked beneath all the force of a summer storm, the rain soddening the kneescabs of paintflecks, the wind here a stutter, there a lisp. Sycamore seeds joined the fray, tailspins bombarded from the sky. It had become murderously dark. Andi didn’t feel his right hand move toward a stream of water until it struck his palm. It was a complicated sensation, routed as it was through so many membranes. He forced the hand up to the face, and splashed, feeling his skin contract with the chill of it. Abroad, the child smiled and spat into the rain.
Benches glared like glistening, empty eye-sockets, fringing the basin of sand. They glared at Andi. He shivered and turned away. Pine resin caught his olfactory, but Andi knew that this emanated from the scent-vents hidden around the play-set. They hadn’t used pine in a kid-park probably for a good decade. It was for the parents, to recreate the smells of their youth. To push their sensations through their children. Oh, thought Andi, how irony oxidizes. Suddenly, before he could check it, a surge of pity compelled him to a crouch. A pigeon, broken feathers curdling, hunkering into itself beneath a step, puffed up against the intruder. It cocked its head, transfixing the boy with a yellow button. Andi successfully bridled the urge to pick it up mid-motion, the effort seeming to continue through the pigeon as it flinched exhaustedly. Using low, soothing tones, the child took a step back. The bird seemed placated, and closed its eyes. Andi could not suppress the question as to how long it would live. How long before the cats tiptoe out against the heavens to kill it? How long before it were stolen away from itself?
Revulsion welled up, seemingly pressing outward from within his skull. Striking images of rejection, of unwantedness, of an unfamiliar family framing smiles, a stray dog… all jostled for attention. Amidst them, segmented questions peppered Andi like the rain’s tattoo around him: It? Stolen? Who… not companion? Defy you! And with such quick determination it left Andi no power to resist, the child reached up beneath his cap and reset the cerebral implant.
Andi disengaged the Parasight. Once the spasms ceased, sensations of his body began to claw their way back through his nerves. Clumsy, he scrabbled for the pain reliever that he’d propped beside the monitor, thumbed open the IV jutting from his thigh and plunged the fluid through. His body sagged instantly, relaxed enough now to cope with the paring anguish, against which he was only moderately braced. He was reluctant to take the benzodiazepine as then he’d have to withdraw from the Aggregate, and many of his clients enjoyed the come-down as much as the experience itself. He toggled on the thought-dampener.
What the hell had happened during that occasion? He’d never seen anything like it before: The child had somehow rebelled. Booted him right out. Andi’d run across willful hosts before, but the ability to terminate a connection was just plain dangerous. It meant the child had been completely autonomous throughout the entire piloting. He wondered how much of his own distress had been relayed to the Aggregate. Had they seen him? If so, he hoped he hadn’t obscured the child. He was going to have to run a spec test on his gear again. And then find a host with a deeper implant. Tomorrow.
His room seemed a bit too warm. With shaky legs, he got up to turn the coffee percolator off.