Mendril Caroway had been voted the High Protector the city by the computers under the earth, old and strange and unfathomable in their ways. He’d never been important - never wanted to be, truth be told - but they had given him the post, and technology to go along with it: with the gloves, he could create anything, change anything into anything else. It was a terrible burden, and his family has drifted away from him, as they had predicated.
A servant of the great city, they felt, should have nothing limiting him in his duties. No ties, no commitments. Only the people, and the computers. He didn’t know what he thought about that, tried as often as he could not to, but then some tourist had ended up leaving the quarantined zone and was, currently, in the cells.
“Report,” he said crisply to the two guards who smelled of stale sweat. The third, his security chief, smiled at him with eyes that were far too bright in her face.
Mendril stopped and looked over. “Omalu?”
“The - ah - it claims to come from there.”
“And this is?” he snapped. It had been a long day, and he was looking forward to some nice relaxing drugs and not having to order any more deaths or other things tgo keep the computer’s peace.. Something in her smile told him it wasn’t going to happen.
“The subjects name is Ililiiqi. Ki, for short. As near as I can tell, it is from Omalu,” she said.
“Neuter, sir. Probably some punishment, really, among some barbarian freakworld thing,” the one guard opined.
Desiree ignored it, smiling at Mendril for a few moments longer. “Carl is right: the creature is neuter, and a ghost.”
“Currently it is in the cell because we brought in a simple matter creator set to make dishes,” she said dryly. “Otherwise it’d be wandering through people’s homes and confusing many more.”
Mendril sighed, following her down the hallway and entering the cell she’d chosen, wondering what kind of joke he was the butt of this time.
The creature in the room looked human, at first glance. Thin and tall, with pale hair and bright eyes, it looked up curiously; if not for the fact that the High Protector could see right through it, he’d have thought it was a person. Hands were pulling things out, phase shifting them from the inside of the device to the floor beside it where it sat cross-legged, grinning from ear to ear.
Mendril moved around slowly, studying the creature. It had an extra set of thumbs, and was as androgynous as most dolls, disturbingly so. He coughed lightly, finally, and it looked up.
“Hello,” the voice said, though its mouth hadn’t moved.
Mendril froze, throwing up protections in his mind. “Hello.”
“I fixed the dishes,” the voice said proudly, as loud as before even though the meditative protections around his own thoughts.
“It gets the dishes sparkling clean now.”
Behind him, he heard Desiree struggle to suppress a laugh.
“On your vids, this is what you want yes?” The creature looked up anxiously. “Bright and clean and sparkly?”
“Ah. Yes. Your voice?” he prodded.
“Oh! We just talk,” it said earnestly. “We don’t listen. To thoughts? It is rude.”
It nodded. Mendril took a deep breath. “May I ask why you are here?”
“The Emperor is getting passage,” it said, looking back down at absently putting the matter creator back together. “So I was told to keep busy and not bother people. Have I bothered you?”
“A little,” he said. “But it’s okay. Ah. How does it work, now?”
It pulled a hand out of the matter creator, a tool in its hand vanishing into - nothing, it seemed. “Better.”
Mendril counted to ten. “What does better mean?”
The creature blinked a few times. “I don’t understand?” it sent, finally.
The guards were snickering openly now; Mendril ignored them as well. “How is it better?”
“Oh!” It reached out a hand and pushed.
The transmitter hummed, than began glowing a soft cherry red.
Desiree drew a slugthrower, alarmed, just as the glow faded and was replaced by the smell of melting plastic. A single dish was ejected, and he heard her drop her weapon, breath hissing out between clenched teeth.
It was diamond, thin as ancient china dishes Mendril had only heard of in reference to some dictator who liked tea. It was art, on this world, in this age. Made from a lowly matter creator.
He took a deep breath, staring into a worried face he could see the wall behind. “It’s - very pretty,” he managed, mentally connecting to the computers for advice. But there was silence. Silence in his head, where there had been only noise.
His voice was hollow when it came out, as if someone else spoke in his stead: “What did you use to power that?”
“You had sources below. I spliced,” the creature said.
“You drained the Computers,” he managed.
“Upgraded, too,” it said proudly. “Your systems were full of -” it hesitated, then sent: “confusion. Not nice patterns? Repaired. It should come back soon. I don’t know why is hasn’t yet?”
The guards stopped snickering. The silence behind him stretched, filled with things he tried not to think about
“I see,” he managed.
“I could fix more?” it offered. “Your computers are so old they reboot,” in disbelief.
“No.” Mendril drew a smile up from somewhere, knowing it couldn’t be reading his mind with that earnest innocence on its face. “It’s okay now. You can go.”
The creature wandered out through a wall, and Mendril had a moment to wonder if the Computers would return. He didn’t other saying it was only a job, that he had tried his best for the world; it wouldn’t have mattered. There was a shot, he didn’t know who, a flash of pain - mercifully brief - and nothing.