She said, ‘How do you think of yourself – the first thing that comes to mind?’
He was ready for this one; they asked it about once a year. ‘Waste.’
‘Human material. All this time and human potential that’s wasted on me here – no offense, I don’t mean that what you do is waste; I’m grateful for what you do. But me myself. I’m a waste. Why didn’t they abort me?’ He made it sound like a cry of anguish.
‘I don’t have those records, Sven.’
‘I’ve got three mutant places on my chromosomes! That’s supposed to be a no-exception call for abortion! Why didn’t they abort me?’
‘You mustn’t get excited, Sven. It isn’t good for you. Please…’
He’d begun to weep. Big sobs. Dr Marinelli was a softie, he knew. She was at least two hundred thousand klicks away, and she’d still made a move toward the skene as if she meant to touch him. They looked at each other, and she was the first to break the eye contact. She said, ‘What’s done is done. That’s in the past; we can’t do anything about it. We have to work with what we have – the present.’
‘I’m a monster.’
‘You mustn’t say that; that’s emotional language, not clinical language. Sven, you’ve been very brave in your years on the island; you’ve never despaired, you’ve never withdrawn. Don’t give up now. You mustn’t!’
‘I’ll never be other than I am. You can’t change my chromosomes.’
‘No. But there may be…hope.’ She flashed a little smile, as if the word were too silly to be borne. Hope and Heisenberg Island hardly went together. She leaned a bit forward; although he was looking away from her to give the impression of sad resignation, he caught the movement in his peripheral vision and knew he had her. She was one of four mind doctors who rotated through his examinations, she the softest of them. Too much empathy, he thought, although her empathy suited his needs; the joke was that he had no empathy at all. He had learned to fake empathy; he had learned how to answer test questions that were meant to reveal lack of empathy, so that in the archives he would seem more recoverable than in fact he was. From his point of view, empathy was the curse of the species; it made them soft-headed, soppy, ‘caring;’ it was the reason behind everything, even the physical structure of the Outposts, with their deliberate, in fact obsessive rejection of merit and of ambition and their precisely equal living spaces and clothes and access to services, and their equally obsessive provision of public and inter-personal spaces that celebrated equality and being together. Ah, well: he wasn’t going to remake the society, was he?
Not yet, anyway.