There are too many words in my head wanting out. (Too many others wanting to never be said.) I make my way down the hallway, ping Jaci’s room to determine they are alone, send a request. The door to their quarters slides open, the interior being enough room for a couch-bed, chair, wall-screen and even a table and high-end personal food dispenser. One doesn’t become an Adjudicator without getting some perks, after all. I stop in front of the couch, shutting off my treads. The wall is off-white blank and Jaci stands up from the couch, eyebrows raised. We’ve met a few times, since they adjudicated me. Talked. They’ve been to my place a few times. I’ve never been to theirs; I don’t go to people’s places often, but we probably are friends.
That’s part of it all. The rest spills out, the only way it can: “I just finished my shift. I almost made a mistake.”
Jaci pauses. “Mechanics do that, even transfers.”
“It’s not that. I wasn’t – I wasn’t focused.”
Jaci stares into my viewscreen. I say nothing else. They are human; I’m not, a mind placed into another body after an accident. My body is a cylindrical chassis, with a viewscreen for my ‘face’, limbs as needed, treads for locomotion. “Dar, please turn on your projection.”
I flick it on, reluctantly. The image that covers me is ‘me’ if I’d lived to somewhere in my mid-twenties. I made it well, though sometimes – like with my vocal interface – it strikes me as too well made, giving too much away. They sit back down; I add a chair to my projection and sit as well, or at least seem to. Jaci blinks, not knowing I could do that, but says nothing.
Adjudicators are good at waiting.
I squirm nervously in the chair, unable not to.
“You came to me because –?”
“Because you know Orien. From before McLan. I have a good security clearance,” I add when Jaci says nothing.
“And he is why you were distracted?”
“Yes. He wants to-to....” I fall silent, feeling myself flush, bite my lower lip. The projection can’t draw blood doing this; it’s probably for the best.
I manage a nod, clasp my hands together, extending limbs into when Jaci reaches out a hand. The projection can’t fool touch, but Jaci squeezes my limbs anyway.
“You can say no; Orien will understand.”
I gulp, stand, and it’s too hard. I drop the projection to pace the room, treads whirring a little as I move about it a few times before coming to a stop again in front of Jaci. I don’t turn the projection back on, pull my limbs inside my body. “I don’t know if I want to. Say no. I’ve never –.” I gulp again, louder. “It’s not that no one has ever-ever offered, but it was always the wrong time or place, or-or-or....” I break off into silence.
“It always is, in my experience.” Jaci smiles. “What do you need, Dar?”
“I was looking things up. In the Infoweb. I think I could explain things if I write him a poem.”
Jaci stares at me. “A poem.”
“I’ve never done that.”
“You are a mechanic; that’s kind of poetry, you know. You could always build him something; an app, a linkage system?”
“It doesn’t feel right. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t.”
“All right. Why do you want to do this?” Jaci says softly.
I don’t turn the projection back on; they don’t press the issue. “Because Orien doesn’t mind if I don’t want to appear human. To have the projection on. Because he trusts me to fix him and doesn’t push me even when he maybe should. About anything. I’m not good at trusting, but I think he isn’t either. But he did, and he does, and the least I can do between us doesn’t feel like enough anymore. That we can talk, but I don’t talk about enough. My world is vehicles, and mechanics, and it’s never felt too small before. But it’s starting to, and that’s partly his fault but also not a fault? And – and it hurts in a good way. All of it.”
“All right. Write that down.”
“But it’s not a poem.”
“A poem doesn’t have to be a poem to be a poem.”Jaci stands. “Now go to your quarters, write, send Orien the message. Rest. No one wants you off your game, Dar.”
“Okay. Thank you.”