And The Days Are Not Full Enough: 2

Part 1

The corporal looked surprised.

“Hey,” he said, not unpleasantly. “Uhm.” Just above his breast pocket it read: A. R. Mance. Mance frowned. He looked as if he had something worn and practiced to say but was not sure if he should say it. What he said was:

“How old are you?”

And the boy said, “Fifteen.”

“No,” Mance said. “Too young. At least semimajor age.” He looked at the boy again. He said, “You’re tall for your age.”

“I’m sixteen,” the boy said.

“Okay. Give me your hand.” The boy stretched his arm out. Mance put a sticker on the back of his hand. “You can get it off after an hour. If it turns warm come back but otherwise that’s all there is to it. Now I need your name.” Mance passed a form over. “Write it down here, and then sign.”

“Sign?”

“Just write your name twice. Write it here, and then here.”

The boy looked uncertainly at the paper. It was a little slip. Mance felt sorry. A large number of undocumenteds had signed up at first for the partial amnesty but very few this young tried. “Do you have parents?”

The boy was silent.

“The best thing to do probably is just write down what they usually call you. It really does not matter. We’re not going to try to find your parents or anything like that.”

Mance thought that an undocumented child probably did not want to give anything away. Then he realised he was an idiot.

“Do you write? Can you read?”

The boy said, “It’s okay,” and wrote something down.

“Odd name,” Mance said. “Is that all there is?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. That’s all I’m supposed to do. Lieutenant Crane handles undocced applications if you’re below full majority age, so you should go over there now.” He pointed. “She’s probably in and she’ll probably be glad to have something to do.”

She was in, and she was glad to have something to do. She took a small bundle of papers out of the desk and adjusted them against the table. The cubicle was small; it could only hold two. The sound in the room was dry.

She said, “I’m going to ask you some things and you’re going to say yes or no. Some of these conditions you must agree to if you want to enlist; I’ll tell you which ones these are. Others you have a choice about but might affect pay. I’m authorised to advise you since you’re not yet full majority, which is why I look as if I’m stationed a bit below my rank. Just interrupt to ask. If you answer I will assume you have understood what I said. The full details are in here.” Crane waved the stack of paper. Then she looked at the boy and said, “What was it?”

“What? Oh. What made me enlist?”

“Yes.”

“It’s shit being undocced.”

“You know what the funny thing is? People say that, especially about the young ones, but no-one this young actually enlists. I’ve seen – what? – five, maybe, this month? What was it?”

“I thought it was the best thing to do.”

“They got your parents?” Crane said that very directly but she didn’t sound unkind about it.

And Crane was surprised when Ary said, “Yes. Well. No, they died.” And then he said immediately after, “I’m okay.”

Crane shook her head. “It’s a fucked-up world, kiddo. Anyway. Mandatory clause – do you know what mandatory means?”

“Yes.”

“Mandatory clause: Do you freely agree to join the Combined Military (CM) for a term of service not less than three years in length?”

“Yes.”

“Mandatory clause: Do you freely agree to carry out, to the best of your abilities and in good faith, all directives and commands issued by all superior officers, as specified the Codes and Protocols of Military Conduct?”

“Yes.”

“That’s it for the mandatory clauses. For all the technically mandatory clauses, at least. You get a pretty comfortable basic pay at this point. 4000 TUs monthly. All the percentages I will mention from now on are in reference to this amount. Do you understand?”

The pay was very good. Ary had always found it strange that the CM paid so much. But it took a lot too. And the CM had never conscripted people, so maybe it had to. “Yes.”

“Do you wish to waive a right to object to Class C missions? It gets you 20% more, which is quite a lot.”

“Class C –”

“Require or are very likely to involve the killing of self-aware AIs. If you object you exempt yourself.”

“Do I have a right to object anywhere else?”

“You have an overriding duty to report missions where you believe a commanding officer has ordered the deliberate targeting of civilians but that’s not a right to object. You’ve only got a right to object for Class C missions.”

“Should I?”

“Everyone waives it. It’s a big jump in pay and people don’t feel very much for the bastards. The Descendants, I mean.”

Ary paused. He looked as if he was about to say something, and then he stopped, and then he spoke. “What are the Descendants, really?”

“Small and stupidly lethal.”

“No, I mean –”

“Nobody knows.” Crane frowned. “I mean, really.”

“Okay. I’ll waive it.”

“Do you wish to waive your citizenship? Once you’ve got it, I mean. The little tab on your hand probably needs fifteen minutes to finish its job. Gets you 10% more.”

“What does this mean? Giving up citizenship.”

“It means that CM is not obliged to bring you back here once your term of service is up.”

This was difficult. Ary was not sure what he felt about Tyne. There were many things he was unsure about but this was a different kind of uncertainty. It wasn’t uncertainty that happened because he didn’t know things. That was true, but that was not important. The problem was that the more he thought about Tyne and what he had been through the more things became unparsable. It was not just that there were good things and bad things and that they were equal in number or intensity. It was that when he thought about what these things meant they unfolded, and unfolded again. It went all the way down. It was some time ago but he could remember that when he arrived back home he sometimes saw his mother, the person he called his mother and therefore was it, sitting at the table and she would be asleep in a chair and small bags of ice would lie melting on her arms as they were put on the table. There were patches of skin on the arms that were grey or blue and the ice helped to take away the pain. Its effectiveness was constant even though all the other stuff was not working as well anymore and soon would not work at all. Mother’s job, the day job, was difficult, and if she wanted to sleep the ice was sometimes important. She waited at the table for him to return and fell asleep among the bags of ice. You could tell how long she had been asleep by seeing how much of it had melted. The bags were small and clear, plain transparent plastic that bulged and sagged and was covered in condensation. If it was evening the light came in and the bags put folds of it all over the ceiling.

“What do you think?”

Crane noticed without really realising it that the boy had a habit of bringing his hands together when he was nervous. “It’s pretty shit being an undocced, you said.”

“Yes, but I’m not undocced anymore.”

“Legally.”

“I can pretend. People might not care. I don’t know.”

Crane looked at Ary. “You don’t talk like you’re sixteen.”

“Okay.”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“Okay meaning yes you’ll waive your citizenship?”

“Yes.”

“You haven’t asked about where you’ll end up.”

“It can’t be so bad, with my pay.”

“Okay.  There’s some things now that don’t affect pay but which you’ll need to make a decision about. Cohabitation: yes or no?”

“Cohabitation?”

“Fucking. In effect.”

“I don’t know.”

“Everyone says yes.”

“Is it important?”

“Eventually, yes. It’s a war, darling. Sometimes there’s not a whole lot to do. And if you say no people look at you oddly. You’re undocced, mind. I don’t think you want to stick out more than you have to. We’re the niceish people, which is why we’re here doing recruitment. Not everyone up there has much truck with trying hard to be a nonshitty human being.”

“Okay. Yes, then.”

“You can record a sexual inclination if you want to.”

“I don’t know.”

“Thought so. And you don’t want to close down options at this age, really. Next: body modifications. I wouldn’t say no. I’ve actually not met anyone who has said no.”

“What do they involve?”

“I can’t say exactly since they keep adding things to the basic suite. You’ll get a bunch of them – the new stuff, usually stuff in the blood – when you’re offworld. But everyone gets the Interface and Implant. It is considered fairly important for communication and learning. You couldn’t do anything without them, really. Maybe you could become an admin in piloting. A slow one. No promotions. You but if you say yes I’ll take you round to the back and it takes all of ten minutes to get put in and there aren’t any real medical risks. Takes about a month to get properly used to if you’ve not had an Interface before. And it hurts  — I mean the putting-in in a non-trivial way. But it will keep you alive.”

“Do you have one?”

“Yeah, of course. Hard to imagine not having one now. So: yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. This next thing is quite tricky so listen. The Interface is basically a little computer that you use for communicating with people or machines. Usually that is all it does. But it can also be programmed to cause you to lose consciousness for an indefinite period. It’s a small function that Hynder sold to CM several years back. That idea is that if you are in extreme pain, you might want an Interface that, once you reach a certain point, knocks you out automatically. They’ve got the equipment onship to get you back out of it. I know it is a bit hard right now to see why this is such a useful function but if you’ve seen an onworld op you will know why it’s helpful. People get really fucked up.”

Mostly people became very quiet when Crane said this, but Ary said, “I think I understand.”

“The problem is that if you let this happen to you – if you lose consciousness in the middle of an op – you will almost certainly die, and almost certainly within an hour or so. You can’t defend yourself, you can’t get yourself to safety. There is an automatic signal the Interface sends out to indicate where you are, but we can only get you once the op is over and if you’re still alive.”

Crane paused because Ary looked like he wanted to say something. She knew what people said now. They said, I do not want to enlist.

Ary said, “Why do people say no to this? They would be dead anyway if they were in such pain.”

Crane was surprised again. She thought about this. The answer to the question was so obvious it was hard to articulate. “There’s two – no, three things. The first is that they want to have a higher chance of surviving. It’s not a much higher chance but it is higher. It’s quite difficult when you are in full gear to lose consciousness even if you lose a lot of blood. You can run around without an arm for a couple of hours before you collapse. You can seal up a punctured lung. That sort of stuff. The little Hynder protocol cuts out all that. The second is that it scares them. It’s automatic. Maybe you’ll die anyway if you manage to get to safety but you’ll manage to get that far at least, you’ll actually know you will get an operation. It won’t just be sudden blackness out of nowhere.

The third thing is the calibration. The Hynder protocol is suicide. I mean that seriously. If you say yes to it you are saying: there comes a point where I would say, I wouldn’t mind dying now. So we need to know what that point is.”

Ary realised what she was saying. “What’s the test?”

“They put a small filament up your arm into your brain and they make you hurt until you say stop. Then the Interface remembers that and if you feel that again – technically, if you go a little above that point – you lose consciousness.”

Now the boy was quite for a while. Crane knew what she had to do, which was to say nothing. Eventually: “Why — okay. Why does the CM let people kill themselves? It looks like a waste.”

“Because the war is awful beyond belief and because it takes a special kind of monstrosity not to let people find ways to let themselves out of it.”

Crane felt that she should not have said that, or that she should not have said that that way. She didn’t know even now if she actually wanted any undoccs to join CM and, if she didn’t, whether it was because she felt for them or because she could not feel for the war anymore. But the strange boy was thinking. He had a sort of wounded look to him when he was thinking. “Can I say yes without having the calibration?”

“Everyone asks this. No. It’s meaningless otherwise. We are asking you to tell us when you are happy to die. It’s not a numbers thing. You couldn’t possibly consent to having the Interface kill you unless you actually knew when the point came where you  would just want to fuck off into the great unknown. There’s no way you know it unless you actually go through it. And even if we developed some scale, a numbers thing, I suppose, it would be meaningless because it would be incommensurable – I mean the thing wouldn’t tell us a damn thing because point on this scale on it might make someone go: that’s it, no, more, press eject now no matter what and someone else might say: I can take this.”

“Did you get it?”

“Hynder? No. The idea that I would be made to sit and be forced to experience pain until the point where I would actually want to be dead horrified me.”

“How many others get it?”

“In Ebannen, where you get the most troop landings, nearly everyone has gotten it. When the troops got sent there the Hynder protocol had not been developed yet. But immediately after it got released, nearly everyone got it. It was very surprising then. Not so surprising now given what’s happening on Ebannen, or what we know is happening there. Most of the troops there had already seen combat when Hynder got released.”

“It must hurt a lot. Does it hurt a lot?”

“What – well, yes. It’s definitional. It goes to the point where you’d want to die. It’s a constant because that’s how it works. Everyone must go all the way to that point where, you know.” Crane looked at Ary with what might have been pity although it was hard to tell. “Look. There is no need to feel knotted up about this. You can just say no to Hynder. You don’t even have to answer now. Technically you have two days before you make a final decision on any of this. You could come back and say you don’t want to enlist.”

“If I say yes now when will the calibration be done?”

“The day after you get your Interface put in, which is tomorrow.”

“You said that –” And the boy stopped and looked down. He breathed. “Hynder works because the Interface remembers when it is during calibration that you say you want to lose consciousness. Can Hynder be used for other things?”

“Like what?”

“If you just wanted to die, and you weren’t feeling any pain. Could you just.”

Ary has had a dream. It is a stupid thing but it comes again and again. In the dream a person, maybe even a thing, some living thing, carries a light in a vast blackness.  It is carrying the light and walking in a straight line, just like this, sheltering it with a hand, maybe two hands or maybe not with hands at all, just like this, going from right to left, slowly, shuffling. Sometimes it stops to look at the light because it wavers and then it raises its head to look ahead at where it is going. Sometimes the thing stops moving altogether before it starts again. The small circle of light moves as the thing carrying the light moves. That is the problem. Anything outside the circle is invisible. There is no tracking. What moves outside that circle, if anything moves outside, it is unknown. There is no line.

“No.” Crane leaned back in her seat and looked at the ceiling and shook her head slowly. “Gosh, no.” She looked at Ary. “Hey. Are you okay?”

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Part 3