Fifteen hours to the Night of the Swarm.
Dex and Alain
Psychiatry Wing, Electorate Research Compound
DEX LIKED being in the mental asylum, even if he couldn’t get out.
At least here he was away from everyone else. It had been much harder before, when he’d had to go to school, when his parents had insisted he spend more time with the other kids. They hadn’t understood why he couldn’t be near other people—and neither had he, not until he became older and realized no one was quite like him. Nobody felt the way he did. Nobody saw… not really.
So when Dex’s parents had finally given up and sent him here, he had been glad. He’d been ten at the time. Now he was fourteen. Here in the Psychiatry Wing, he had finally known relief. He was alone most of the time, and that was good. He only spoke regularly with two people: Agnes, the young nurse who brought him his food and medication, and Alain, who visited two or three times a week, depending on how busy he was. Lately he’d been coming less often, though. Maybe it was because most of his time was now spent in the Medicine Sector with the rest of the undergraduates. Or maybe he just didn’t like coming anymore.
Dex shook his head. He knew that wasn’t true; Alain loved visiting. He was the one person Dex could be himself with, and he was certain the feeling was mutual. If he didn’t come as often, it was because becoming a doctor was hard work. Dex had never told Alain, but he suspected the reason his older brother had enrolled in a medical career was a not-so-hidden wish to help find out what was wrong with Dex’s mind.
Dex smiled in his cell. The doctors who came sometimes would have figured it out long ago, too, if they had been willing to accept that there were things their science had yet to catch up with. Just because you can’t explain something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
“Dexter Fournier, you have a visitor,” a disembodied voice called.
Dex stood up and stretched, smiling. He had been thinking about Alain, and now he was here. Or was Alain here because he had been thinking about him? Sometimes he couldn’t tell the difference anymore.
He walked in small, precise circles around his room as he waited for Alain to come up. It usually took fifty-three steps from the time they announced him to the time he came in. Fifty-one. Fifty-two. Fifty—
The door opened.
“Hey, Dex! What’s up?”
“Hey, you really have to open the windows in here from time to time. What’s the point in you getting the deluxe suite if you’re not going to take advantage of it? The view is supposed to be great.”
Alain shrugged. “Sure, why not? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
Dex nodded faintly. He let Alain stomp into the cell and open the windows. He did not point out that he would have liked to open them himself, but the latch was set too high for him to reach unless he jumped on his bed, and he didn’t like to do that. Alain was more than a head taller than Dex, though, and he didn’t notice the height problem. He probably thought everybody should be as tall as he was.
Alain gave the glass a shove, and nice morning air filtered through. Outside, the sky was a bright blue. This part of the compound was set right at the edge of the city, and Dex’s window had a nice view of the wastes beyond. Dex sometimes dreamed of running outside in that arid desolation, away from the world. He knew he would die very quickly if he actually did it, but the idea was somehow comforting.
Alain snapped his fingers, smiling. “Hey, Dex, don’t zone out on me. I can hardly squeeze enough time out of my schedule to come see you, and I want to make the most of it.”
“Sorry,” Dex said. He sometimes forgot normal people spent most of their time talking, not thinking.
Alain plopped down on the bed and threw him a pillow. “No, you’re not sorry. You love to be off in your own little world, and you know it.”
Dex grinned. It was so easy to be with his brother. Anyone looking at them would probably think they couldn’t be more different, but that was just on the surface. They looked different, but they kind of thought alike.
Alain was really athletic, for starters. He was only twenty, but he had tried his hand at most professional sports around Haven VII and succeeded at nearly all of them. He was no prodigy, but he had an iron determination that usually got him what he wanted. Once he had even told Dex he had been invited to play in a Torus Racing exhibition match in Haven Prime. Alain had turned the invite down at the last minute, though. He had never said why.
Alain’s skin, though naturally pale, had a healthy tan because he spent so much time outdoors. Dex knew he was popular with the girls, and he certainly had the looks for it. His face was edgy, so well-proportioned it looked chiseled by some sculptor, and his deep blue eyes had a haunting quality about them. He wore his hair at medium length but with an asymmetric style that left it a bit longer on one side than on the other. There were always a few strands falling over his forehead, covering his eyes. His hair was raven black, almost blue when the light was right. Even now, with slight dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep and too much studying, Alain managed to look good.
Dex was his polar opposite in looks. He was thin, frail looking even. His skin had never felt that much sunlight, and he had a deathly pallor that made him look like he had some kind of chronic illness. His hair, when he had had any, had been light brown. Now he always shaved his head—it saved time otherwise spent in combing, and besides, some of the pills Agnes gave him knocked patches of hair off anyway.
Alain had once told Dex he had weird-looking eyes. Maybe it was true. They were a light gray color that could almost look white at times. He had perpetual dark circles under his eyes, but they didn’t make him look interesting like Alain’s. Just tired. And weak. He wasn’t short, and he wasn’t even done growing yet, but he knew Alain was always going to be the taller of the two. Still, he didn’t mind looking the way he did. Dex knew that was the way people expected him to look. The poor, helpless crazy boy. Look at him. He needs help. In truth, he didn’t need anybody’s help. And he was stronger than even Alain suspected.
“Uh, Dex?” Alain said.
Dex snapped out of his staring silence. He was alone so much it was hard to concentrate on talking to someone else. “Sorry.”
Alain sighed. “No worries. I could use some peace and quiet for a while too, actually. Exams are coming up, and I’ve got to study so many things I think I’m not sleeping for a week.”
“Is it very hard?”
Alain crossed his arms behind his head and stretched on Dex’s bed. “More or less. You would ace the tests, I’m sure. You don’t have to cram knowledge into your brain like the rest of us mortals.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Yeah, but just once. And it sticks. I’ve had to read this paper on theoretic regenerative tissue properties so many times I think I might puke.”
Dex laughed. He seldom did, and only when Alain was around.
Alain smiled and sat up on the bed. “Feeling cheery today, huh?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. But you are.”
“What? Cheerfulness incarnate? Nah, not today.”
“Yes, you are.”
Alain blinked. “On second thought, I think I am feeling kind of cheery. It shouldn’t be weird anymore, the way you can tell. Right?”
“The doctors still think it’s strange. They don’t like being around me.”
“Meh. Screw the doctors. I’m beginning to think I should get you out of here as soon as I get my medical license.”
Dex’s eyes widened. “No!”
He got as far away from the window as he could and sat down on the padded floor, clutching his knees to his chest. He even trembled a little.
“I can’t go outside,” Dex whispered.
Alain got closer, slowly, until he was sitting next to Dex. He didn’t touch him.
“Sorry, Dex. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I know how you get. It’s just that… I don’t know. When Mom and Dad brought you here, the first time, I swore to myself I’d get you out someday. I thought they’d brought you here against your will.”
“I needed a place. To be alone.”
“I know, I know. It’s just that there’s this part of me that wants to make it right for you. Not here, surrounded by strangers. Maybe I can get us a place somewhere, later. As far away from everyone as you like. I mean, now it’s just the two of us. Nobody would bother you again.”
Dex nodded slowly. “That would be nice.”
They sat in silence for a while, side by side.
“Brother?” Dex asked at last.
“Do… do you think Mom and Dad loved me?”
“It’s just that… I knew they didn’t like coming here. I knew they didn’t like me. They only came on my birthday or when something was wrong, and it used to make me feel bad. Only now, I’ve been thinking a lot, and maybe loving isn’t the same as liking. Maybe they loved me, but they just didn’t like who I was. Only I’m not sure. Do you think they loved me?”
“Dex, don’t be stupid. Of course they loved you. They were our parents. They only brought you here because they thought they could make you well again. When that didn’t happen… well, I’ve told you how it got between us, back home. I had some pretty big fights with them over you. But in the end, they did what they thought was best for both of us. And they loved you very much.”
Dex nodded. “Thanks, brother.”
“No problem, Dex. Whenever you feel like asking me those things just go right ahead, all right? I don’t want you thinking about the same thing over and over here by yourself. You should be having fun, learning new stuff. How’s the, uh, violin coming along?”
Dex pointed at the rough-looking instrument by his bed. “It sounds better now. I got Agnes to buy me some of that biopolymer alloy we import from Haven X for the body. I finished modeling the resonance chamber last week.”
“About time they got you your stuff,” Alain said. “I pay them way too much for them to ignore your requests.”
“I had asked for wood, first,” Dex said.
“Well, the originals were made from wood, according to the file. A special kind, and it needed to be prepared in a very complicated way for the instrument to sound just right.”
“That would be something,” Alain said. “The whole thing made of wood—I doubt even the Chairman of the Electorate could afford it.”
“I didn’t know,” Dex said. “But I think the biopolymer works fine too. The doctors were nervous about giving me the strings and the bow, but I haven’t hurt myself yet.”
A shadow crossed over Alain’s eyes, but he replaced it quickly with a bright smile. “That’s good news.”
Dex stood up and climbed onto his bed to look out the window. He knocked a lamp over in his haste, standing on tiptoes to see out.
“That’s strange,” he said.
“Huh?” Alain asked.
“There are some Enforcers coming into the building. It isn’t time for their shift change.”
Alain shrugged. “Someone could have tried to break in or steal something. You know how things are right now over at Haven Prime. Lots of unrest—maybe some people here are getting nervous too.”
“I know. I saw the news.”
“Well, whatever. I have to go in a little while, but we still have time for a match. Ready to lose?”
Dex smiled. “I have won 221 games. You have won 112.”
“Yeah, but this is my lucky day! I know I’m going to win.”
They sat down on opposite sides of Dex’s rounded-corner table. Dex pressed his palm on the surface, and the command console shimmered in front of him. He pressed a few buttons, and the chessboard flickered to life.
“I pick whites,” Alain said. “I lost last time, so I get to pick.”
Dex nodded. “I know—”
He staggered out of his chair so fast he knocked it over and went sprawling onto the floor. Alain bolted upright to help him, but Dex had pressed himself into a corner between his bed and the wall, looking around wildly.
“Dex! Dex, what’s the matter?”
Dex tried to talk, tried to warn him, but the words wouldn’t come. He only managed to raise a shaking arm and point at the door. They were closer now. Too many. The seizures threatened to begin.
“Dex?” Alain looked at the door. He opened it and peered out the corridor. It was empty. “Dex, what’s wrong?”
Dex’s vision was blurring. The seizure was coming. It was too much input, too much to understand. A jumble of conflicting emotions muddled his mind. But he had to…. Alain. Alain. He wanted to speak, couldn’t. And they were almost here!
The pounding of hurried footsteps filled the corridor now. Alain, Alain. Get away. Get away now. But no sound came out, he couldn’t warn him, and then they were in the room, four, five Enforcers storming in with their black boots, black bulletproof vests, black rifles. Too many people. Too many minds.
Alain didn’t have a chance. He was still turning around to look when the Taser prongs hit him. He cried out once and fell like he’d been shot. His brief spark of terror was like a dagger in Dex’s mind. The Enforcers grabbed his older brother, began to haul him away.
Dex passed out.
When he awoke, the sun was going down. He was alone.
Whimpering, he climbed on his bed, activating the control to raise the mattress so he could see out. He watched the empty street. He stayed there for a bit, then stepped back down carefully. He looked at the white walls as if they were threatening him. The table screen still showed a flickering chessboard with all its pieces, ready to start. The only sound in the room was his own shaky breathing.
Dex crawled under the covers of his bed, trying very hard not to cry. He didn’t succeed. After all, it didn’t matter anymore now. They had taken him. Something very bad was about to happen, and they had taken his brother away.