She was babbling at him in her soft, female voice; he wasn’t listening much but would catch any important word she dropped, and so he became alert but gave no outward sign of that alertness when the words ‘new medication’ fell out of her mouth.
New medications were frightening. He had mastered all the old medications, had developed ways to get rid of the ones he didn’t want (those that suppressed his aggression). A new medication might mean having to do all that over again. He looked straight at the skene and said in a mild, deliberately hopeless voice, ‘New medication?’
‘Experimental, Sven. It looks to be the best anti-aggressive we’ve ever tried, although it has side effects, of course.’
‘Hair loss. Headaches, of course. Muscle weakness in lab robot subjects’
‘And you want me to take it?’
‘It hasn’t been tested on humans.’
‘Test it on me!‘ He didn’t mean that, of course; he hated anti-aggressives, but he knew what she wanted him to say. ‘Test it on me! What am I here for if not to do something that isn’t just… waste?’
‘It’s early days. I hadn’t meant to bring it up today, except that you appear to be grieving in a new way over your guilt, and perhaps the new drug could meliorate that.’
He smiled his number two wry smile. It always worked. ‘Nothing can meliorate my guilt, doctor.’
‘Your feelings of guilt, I meant.’
He gave the wry smile number two again and looked down, said, ‘I’d give my life not to have those feelings.’ When he looked up, she was smiling at him. The smile was protective, perhaps motherly; he didn’t know about that part. But he’d take the protection it seemed to offer because of what he could do with it. (Of course, if she were ever actually in a room with him, it wouldn’t protect her.)
‘Sven, I think you’re ready for another step upward. I’d like to report to the Committee that I see improved movement toward socialization, and your eagerness to give yourself as a test subject should be given serious consideration. Would that be all right with you?’
He blinked his eyes, bit his lower lip. ‘Thank you.’ His voice was just faintly husky.
When she had turned off her skene and his went blank, he sat there for a dozen seconds, then stood and walked slowly around his room. He was watched all the time, of course. Listened to, too. Smelled. His irises were checked twelve times a day. His urine was tested daily. Twice a week, he put a finger into an orifice and felt the needle prick for blood. There was nothing that he did, nothing that he could do, that wasn’t seen, heard, smelled, weighed, tested, analyzed. Even the virtual sex device was an observer, taking readings of his heart rate, blood pressure and VO2-max and, after he had ejaculated, his testosterone and prostaglandin.
It had taken getting used to. Over the years he had been there, some of the devices had changed, but the two constants had always remained: he had no contact with other humans and he had no privacy. He thought sometimes that he would have to scream. He thought in the bad nights that he would store up all his disgust with people, all his hatred of them, until he found a way to be among them again, and then his disgust and his hatred would flow like blood.
His major relief was the interesting boredom (he could think of it no other way, a contradictory pain-pleasure, like wanting to slice flesh but keep it alive to bleed) of his loom.
The loom had come to him as one of those do-good notions that the outside wished on prisoners. The concern for him and others like him was quite real, although it could never be real to Sven because he had no empathy and so could not imagine being concerned with somebody else’s pain. But the loom had been an offer, at first theoretical, from a branch of the archeological service tasked with re-creating lost technologies. Fabric had not been woven by the Outposters for a thousand years, not since the perfection of the three-dimensional printer. As well, there were few materials suitable for weaving in the Outposts – no sheep, for example, so no wool. Still, from an archaeological point of view, weaving was important. And there were the prisoners on Heisenberg Island, with nothing to do.