He resolves himself to arrive at Sela’s habitat unit early in the day. She offered, of course, to study at his if he would feel safer. The thought of allowing an Affini, even one that’s proving surprisingly willing to compromise, into his final retreat is simply unconscionable. Sure they built it, and gave it to him and are almost certainly spying on him and everyone else all the time and that thought wakes him up sometimes at night. But having one there? Even Sela… Instead, he’s acquired the location of Sela’s unit and arranged to meet her there.
Without passive aggressive spite motivating him to leave far earlier than needed, he finds himself quite a bit later out the door than planned. At least he has found his coat along with a number of other missing objects. Still, everything he’s gleaned paints the Affini as polychronic, too busy preening after their pets to keep any firm track of time. To them, it does not mean money. And it’s almost nice not to need to keep the clock constantly ticking in the back of his head or risk some terrible fate.
The chill morning breeze carries the faint scent of chrysanthemum. Ever a seasonal hallmark, the Affini’s tendency toward greenery in urban planning has transformed a thing of rich people’s gardens into haphazard explosions of brightly colored flowers. In this, if nothing else, he finds it hard to find fault. Well, it’s probably insensitive to someone’s allergies, but it would be genuinely baffling if the Affini couldn’t fix that problem. How could you have a floret if she kept sneezing every time you tried to cuddle them? No, he imagines that pollen allergies must be one of the first things Affini set themselves to fixing among new species.
The city itself is, likewise, far less drab than it used to be. Much of the oldest stone construction is still there, but shoddy, unsafe, prefab units have been replaced by glorious plantech alternatives, lending the city an even more mismatched air than he remembers, for all he suspects that the madness has an artistic purposiveness to it.
Sela’s hab unit is, fortunately, in a part of the city he knows well. The archives, and the university built around them, are one of the least changed parts of the city. And yet, they’re even uglier in contrast. Twin black boxes of buildings, jutting awkwardly into the skyline in a way that seems more alien than the actual xeno-architecture that’s replaced much of their neighbors. He knows they were built to weather everything from unexpected weather to riots to planetary invasion. Sawyer-McMillan wouldn’t have anything less than absolute paranoia for their precious cash-cow: the fourth largest known cache of Terran historical documents. The data provided them with endless fodder to researchers, access to training and knowledge for human and AI alike, and the rent from data access gave Sawyer-McMillan a firm bedrock in a number of its core industries.
He skirts his way past the truly horrifically ugly building, idly, wondering what he would think of the invasion if he were still with the research unit; if he’d finished his degree. It would definitely be a golden opportunity, an easy path to tenure to whatever extent tenure ends up surviving Affini control of the production of knowledge.
He shakes his head and sighs. Were he the kind of callous beast who could have actually gotten ahead in the unit, he would almost certainly not be the kind of person intent on making these critiques of the Affini. He would probably also be a mindless drooling pet by now, empty headed and devoid of any thoughts save the feeling of his mistress’ vines stroking his chin.
He sets the thoughts aside. He has much more pleasant memories if he wants to get lost in thought. The archives themselves were always welcoming, a wealth of data speaking of a better time, something they could seize again; for all reading any of it cost an arm and a leg. With capitalism, there was some faint hope of clawing autonomy from the grasp of the incompetent autocrats running the show.
The Affini are anything but incompetent.
Of course, things won’t change. There is no point to resisting, not really. Maybe it’s okay to stop, to take a short break and focus on learning the language. If he could actually research these things, look through thousands of years of writing from everyone the Affini have colonized, surely some of them have carved something for themselves apart from the Affini’s gardens. The alternative is simply too bitter to contemplate.
He notices Sela’s hab unit, and keeps walking, too stewing in his own head to face this again.
Of course, Max would forgive him at least that much. Max would also tell him that letting an Affini drug him on the hope that this isn’t a trick, that it’s not a straight line from there to being a useless mindless pet, play-struggling lovingly in Sela’s shimmering vines; his thoughts would be consumed completely with his mistress leaving no space for guilt. There would be no room for a moral mandate to find some impossible way to divert an unstoppable force left in her pretty little head. Perhaps Sela would even let her write a little still on the side; nothing subversive obviously, but cute little articles analyzing this or that minutiae of life under the Affini so her mistress could praise her and tell her what a smart little floret she was.
He banishes the fantasy from his head and, with a start, finds himself again in front of Sela’s door, unable to enter; to convince himself that this isn’t the start of some inevitable slide down enough.
Of course, he doesn’t actually think it particularly likely that Sela would actually do that to him, even if more of the terror than he’d like to admit is how little he thinks he’d try to do the right thing and fight back. But, he wouldn’t be himself without the power to push for the world to be a better place, as exhausting and as impossible as it feels. That oblivion is just another kind of self-destruction, and he promised them he’d avoid that route.
No, if he is to fantasize it will solely be about being able to read all the books, all of them. The archive is free now, and rapidly being added to the overnet; to say nothing of the incalculable amount of knowledge written in Affini.
And the xenodrugs will let him learn that! And while he is at it, the xenodrugs he imagines will make him much better at actually doing that instead of wasting so much time getting distracted or procrastinating without any uncomfortable side effects. That still isn’t a tame desire, not entirely. But so minor a, presumably temporary, change is different from death; or so he insists to himself.
Steeling himself, he knocks on Sela’s door.