Every Last One Chooses
A hazard-pink Brightmoss Dove hops out along the branch and bends it down over the trail, holding out its little purse with the other foot, looking inquiringly, inviting, offering, forgiving.
The man yells, “Shoo!” and the dove flies away.
The child laughs, “Why do you hate the doves so much?”
The man: “They’re not real animals, you know that. They’re robots.”
The child: “Shy’s a robot.”
The man: “But Shy isn’t pretending to be something else. Shy’s honest. And Shy picks weeds for us. He helps us. These doves don’t do anything for anyone. All they want to do for you is make you eat Apophys. They want to find you when you’re at your most afraid and reckless and convince you to do something to your body which you can never undo.”
The child: “They’re funny though.”
The man: “The Tempered made them funny on purpose. It’s calculated. They’re manipulating you. And if you ever fall for it, and put that stuff in your body, I’ll be really-… I’ll be really sad, okay? So don’t.”
The child wonders what “manipulating” means.
The man and the child have hiked out to Marlowe’s huts to tell him the news. The computers all stay at base camp, so he wouldn’t have heard.
The man: “Hey Marlowe!”
Marlowe: “Good to see you, what’s up” They slap hands.
The man: “Hey. Franship Camp is leaving.”
“Leaving earth. They’re all tempered.”
“All of them? Fran’s tempered? And Bailey’s tempered! Oh, hell. We shouldn’t have let her move out. We should have gotten Julian to move here instead.”
“Turns out she’s been tempered for about a year. Didn’t tell us. All of them were in on it, they were “afraid that we'd react badly if they told us”.”
Marlowe: “I hate to break it to them but I might be reacting badly now that they’ve told us. Christ I’m really sorry man. Are you doing okay, I can’t imagine what that must feel like for you.”
The man: “It’s really just… I’m just angry that she hid it from me.”
The child pipes up. “Hey Marlowe, how do you feel about the Apophys Doves.”
Marlowe is caught off balance: “They’re alright? Brightmoss might have saved my grandma’s life, I guess.”
The man explains: “I was saying on the way over here, they’re not honest, yeah? They’re wearing the skin of a bird, but on the inside they’re not a bird at all. Kinda like a tempered person, in a way. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but what else can I think at a time like this.”
The children are using a computer. One calls out, “Uh oh, Bailey’s coming to visit.”
The man is sitting in his pillow throne, reading a book, Ducky panting beside him. “When?”
“Okay.” The man walks out to the balcony. He shouldn’t leave the kids alone on the computers, but he also shouldn’t let them see him angry about Bailey. Not now. This will be the last time they’ll see her.
The computer room is on the third floor of this broad mass timber compound. Has to be up here for the internet receiver. Second floor is family bedrooms. First floor is elders’ rooms and the kitchen. Everything that anyone should need. Why couldn’t she have just stayed here.
Quietude and magpies’ chortling is torn through by the low buzz of an arriving delivery drone. It nestles in under the gable of the landing pad. A hatch opens, and a witness fly comes out and joins the house. That would be the replacement for the one Ducky chewed apart yesterday.
Bailey was the reason we got those flies. She’d been reading stories about domestic violence in other screenless retreat communities and thought that it could happen here too. The man told her it was a bad idea. We don’t want big tech spying on us. Bailey said something about "hardware security" and "social proofs" that the only people who’d ever be able to decrypt the recordings would be the people who featured in them. But there’s no such thing as a social proof, especially not social proofs about vast industrial systems, and there can be no technical proofs about anything as complicated as a microchip fab. Ultimately, though, the rest of the retreat voted with Bailey. The man had been angry about it at the time and now he was angry again. She got her witness flies, but she still left.
Bailey arrives on foot, weeping. She says “I understand how important everything is, now”. An elder who has known love and parting nods sagely.
Bailey needs to talk to everyone, but no one knows where the father is.
She goes out and she combs tirelessly through the woods for three hours until she finds him smoking on the other side of a stream.
She sees something she'd never seen before, and she says without any condemnation at all, “Oh. You’re a coward.”
The man gets up and walks to the streamside. “What I was afraid of, was that I was going to be angry.”
“Are you angry?”
“I don’t know.”
“Turns out you couldn’t hate your own daughter.”
“I was worried I wouldn’t be able to tell whether you were still you.”
“Well I am.”
“Maybe you are.”
“Meet us back at the house in a bit?”
And he does.
All are relieved.
The tempered ones are throwing the children in the air. Almost to the ceiling. It's not dangerous, they say, because they'll never fumble. Their hearts are the same as ever but their hands and eyes are faster. The man doesn't ask anyone anything about the cognitive or sensory impacts of tempering, nor about the work of the tempered, about Peace, about how Fran's scene went from hating AWSAI like the rest of us to forgiving them, nor about why they ate Apophys, nor why they wanted to leave to join the solar cliques above. It was as if he thought he didn't need to know. The tension builds until Bailey hurls a question at him. “Don't you understand I'm going to be away for a long time, and when I come back I might not be the same person?”
The man shoots back, “Oh you'll never change.” The relatives laugh, and Bailey yells and almost starts to cry again, and the man, unused to that, frowns, and apologizes, “No, I understand. A lot can happen in a year, for people like — people who're going where you're going.”
“You're not coming with. You're not going to be with me a single step of the way.”
“That's okay. You've grown up. I always thought you might. This isn't how I expected it to be, but it never is.”
Julian raises his Kombucha, “To growing up!”
The man raises his Kombucha.
They said all they had to say but no one wants to admit that this is the end, and a terrible silence hangs over them all. It's dark out. The spirit of the house senses the slaughterer waiting for it in the driveway. It's looking for an excuse to stay whole. There isn't one.
Julian puts it down. “Are you sure you don't want to come with?”
The man glares. “No!”
Bailey moves to him.
The man holds her. He hums something.
They reach a point of calm. The man raises Bailey's head and looks her in the eye. “But you're supposed to go on your own.”
Bailey's tears have dried. “I know.”
“I think I'll see you later on.”
“Something like that.”
The ones leaving hold hands as they go.
A shout comes forth from the man's throat. It's a song from the army. An old song about the seasons, decay, renewal, rivers, things growing as they always have.